Every Day is a Winding Road: Lessons in Recovery

I think we all know that recovery is not a linear process. It is a long and winding road with many stops, starts, detours, and swerves. There are constantly forks in the road, places where you must decide to keep taking the path of recovery or go back on the path of addiction. I believe that every time you make the choice to take the path of recovery, the decision gets easier, and you encounter fewer forks.

However, that doesn’t mean that they go away forever. I think that sometimes, no matter how much time in recovery you have under your belt, those little opportunities to slip back into old habits can present themselves again under the right circumstances. This happened to me recently, and I think you deserve to hear about it.

Over the past year or so, I’ve been inviting more and more positive changes into my life. I’ve been focusing on my future, getting through school, working as a nanny whenever I can, and writing, writing, writing. I created Writing for Recovery and it’s really taken off; doing this has made me incredibly happy, and given me such a sense of purpose. I’ve had my articles published in many places and begun to feel like a real author, not just some random person spewing her thoughts on a blog. I’m completing the courses I need to get into nursing school, which I am so excited about! I’ve also been thinking about and considering something I’ve never really had before: an intimate, adult relationship with another person. Thinking about dating and the potential that comes with that has been kind of confusing, new and intense for me. After all the sexual trauma I’ve endured, having a true relationship is an overwhelming prospect, but something I do want to undertake.

While all of these things are very positive and forward-looking and life-affirming changes, they are still stressful. And over the past six months, I have been without my therapist, as I have been unable to afford to pay for therapy. However, for the first time since I was fifteen years old, I actually felt stable enough to be without her. I felt ok going about my days, working in school, doing WfR, etc. But towards the beginning of April, I began to notice that I was having a hard time eating. Not every day, but just sometimes I would get to late evening and realize oh crap, I haven’t eaten anything today. This began to happen more and more. I noticed that when my mom would make dinner, which I always adore, I began to refuse.  I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening. Was this just a stress reaction? Was this normal? Would it go away? Or was my anorexia trying to come back? I talked about it with my mom, told her honestly that I wasn’t quite sure what was going on; I just had no interest in food, wasn’t at all hungry, just didn’t want to eat period. She thought it was probably stress and there was no need to panic. But one night in early May when I tried to make myself eat a bowl of soup and felt unbearably full, I purged. That’s when I panicked and thought, Oh my God. What the hell did I just do?

Fortunately, school ended the first week of May. I wrapped up my final Writing for Recovery campaign a couple of weeks later, and this guy that I had been stressing over and having issues with, we finally talked and worked everything out. Three major stressors were out of my life, and at that point my eating patterns did improve a bit. But I was still scared and didn’t know how on earth to get back on track to where I was before this little detour.

As I keep finding out though, God does work in mysterious ways. Just as I was feeling like I had no way to get out of the hole I had dug for myself, I got a phone call from my therapist. She told me that she had some scholarship funds come available and wanted to offer them to me so I could see her, since it had been several months. The fact that I was the first person she called, the first person she thought of to make this generous offer to, was so kind and so wonderful that I cried. It was simply perfect timing and I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Of course, I accepted her offer and I will be able to see her once a week until at least the end of summer.

So far we have had two sessions and I am already doing much, much better. Just having that one person to be accountable to, to make goals with and to kick my ass and to process my thoughts with is such a privilege. And when I come to those forks in the road, I have her voice in my ear, guiding me to make to right decision. She helped me see that as many good changes as I was making, I just became a little inattentive to my recovery. I lost track of my healthy coping skills, so when the stress became too much I began to fall back on my old, unhealthy coping skills. Looking back I can clearly see that. It’s frightening how insidious that can be, how easy it is to get complacent about recovery and forget that it needs as much attention as any other daily practice, like brushing your teeth. It’s easy to forget those coping skills that keep you on track. But as I found out the hard way, it’s those little things that prevent you from falling back into your old ways of thinking and behaving, the ways that kept you sick and addicted.

Even though this was a painful and scary couple of months, I’m so grateful for this experience. It’s been a wake-up call, a startling reminder of the things I need to do as I move forward in my life to stay healthy and recovered. I don’t consider this a “relapse” or even a “lapse,” and I don’t believe it means I have to start from day one. I simply believe it’s a part of life, a lesson to learn and take with me as I continue on my path toward a brighter future every day.

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2011

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About writingforrecovery

Sarah is a writer and poet who speaks out about issues that make people uncomfortable. Sarah advocates for causes such a sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, and mental illness, and often speaks openly about her own experiences. She is determined to abolish the stigma associated with these issues and believes that it starts with people telling their stories, so she started a blog called Writing for Recovery where people can do just that. She is the author of three volumes of poetry and is currently at work on her fourth. She is convinced that there's a novel somewhere in her, and occasionally picks at the chapters so far. View all posts by writingforrecovery

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