Drowning in Calm Waters – The Stress of the War for Worth

Stress feels inevitable in our fast paced world. And what do we expect when we live in a culture that prioritizes production? Our world wants us to constantly do more to prove our value. And if we fail to do so? We are less than. Those of us plagued with perfectionism know this story all too well. It is one of Ed’s favorite stories to tell us – that we can never be enough because we never do enough, and even if we are doing everything we aren’t doing it well enough. There is always a higher expectation to meet in order to be enough. To be worthwhile. So we take on too much, and then we begin to fall apart, and we use that as evidence that something is wrong with us. Not that something is wrong with our workload, or our expectations, or our beliefs about ourselves. With us. We are the problem. We are what’s wrong. We are why we will never be good enough.

I have been drowning in this story lately. This semester has hit me hard. I am taking more credits than I have in the past, am in harder classes, and am trying to do countless things on the side. I have been justifying it all with the ‘fact’ that I must do these things to achieve my goals, I must do them because I want to do them and I should be able to do them. Because I’m supposed to be in recovery, and doing well, and living the life I was denied for so long due to my sickness. So, need to get a perfect score on the GRE to beef up my grad applications? I’ll add that on. Independent research will look good, so lets add that too. And writing a blog. Learning to cook. Playing the fucking ukulele. Developing my artistic voice. Overcoming codependency. Doing trauma work. Learning Python and R. Reading 50 books this year. And painting everyday. And building my daily meditation practice. And maintain a healthy social life. And…

And suddenly, I am drowning. But these are all things I want to do. These are all things that are meant to help me – help me progress in my recovery, help me pursue my dreams and goals, help me develop into my authentic self. These are all so important. So how can I possibly give any one of them up?

It has been two weeks since classes started. I am sick. My body is angry with me about the stress I have put myself under and is fighting back. I am feeling the full weight of my neuroses. I am already behind in my school work because I am so overwhelmed it is hard to get things done. I am angry with myself for not being good enough to do what I need to do. For falling apart as soon as things get hard. For doubting myself. For struggling. For wanting to give up when things are just getting started.

Every one of my friends from treatment have relapsed. Many are back in treatment, at high levels of care. The only reason I have not returned to treatment is that I have been able to see my team as often as I need. Last semester it was 5-6 times a week. This semester, its down to 3. Everyone is relapsing and I feel like I’m next. I hear Ed’s voice creeping in, using my overpacked, perfectionist schedule to convince me how bad I am. How little I am capable of doing. How much I ruin everything. How much I don’t deserve the things I have. That I am just delaying the inevitable. That I am fighting an unwinnable fight. 

‘If you can’t win, at least you could be thin.’ he whispers in my ear.

Ed is so good at finding your cracks. He loves to feel you out and find any little place he can sink his teeth into. You don’t even realize he’s there, rooting himself anywhere he can. Lulling you into his trance. Ready to bring you down and drown you as soon as he has his grip.

I don’t want to drown. I don’t want to relapse. I want to live. But I so often miss the ingrained habits that lead me back to Ed. Straddling the line between underscheduling in fear of too much making you sick, and overscheduling in an effort to prove you are beyond the sickness. Either way you are trying to prove the validity of an identity crafted by him. You handicap yourself in fear of your eating disorder and of your mental illness, or you drown yourself in an effort to prove you are above it.

What is the middle ground and how do we find it? Are we Warriors doomed to constantly flip back and forth, from one extreme to the other, in a desperate attempt to take back control of our lives from his grips? How is that any different than simply being in them?

I keep trying. I keep fighting. I keep drowning. I try so hard to convince myself that I don’t need to prove my worth. That I don’t have to validate myself. That I am already valid. That I am enough. That I deserve to be. Because I do. I know that. But unfortunately knowing and believing are two very different things.

I want to be more than my eating disorder, than my illness. I don’t want him to own any part of my identity. I have had glimpses of who I truly am at my core these past few months, and I love that person. I love who I am, untainted by the grips of this disease. I am awesome. I am a bad bitch. And I want to be her — to be me — 100% of the time. No need for validation. No need to question my worth. Owning my life, and living it – for me and no one else.

I think the most difficult part of recovery so far has been finding my true self inside me, getting to be myself, and not being able to be that person all of the time. To feel trapped inside the shell of this sickness, only able to bob for air through the sea of sickness every so often instead of getting to experience all of life as myself all the time. I know what it feels like to be free now. And that makes drowning so much harder. I never would have thought that getting better would make being sick so much harder. But that is the reality of this fight.

I don’t have the solution. Every time I act in defiance of Ed it seems he finds a way to use it to his advantage. All I can do is keep trying. And that is incredibly difficult when life is putting you down at the same time. I am trying to remember that I don’t have to try to be someone worthwhile. That what I do and am able to do is enough. That I am good. That I am kind. And that I matter. All I can do is look for another opportunity to bob for air, and hope that maybe I will be free a little longer this time than last. Believe that one day I will live above the surface. That all this struggle will have been worth it. Because I survived.

I will survive.

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