It's been longer than I'd like since I've written a blog post, and I feel like that is reflective of everything that's been going on, both in a good and a not so good way. (Dialectics, anyone?)
Quick breakdown of everything that's happened since I last wrote:
-I started a dream job doing community health research
-I graduated with my Master's in Public Health
-I turned 24
-My first book, A Girl Called Shame was published
To say it's been a whirlwind would be a complete understatement. It's been a complete up and down, and while I'm so grateful, it's also been very challenging.
About 5 weeks ago, I had something pretty terrible happen to me.
I won't go into any details, but it left me reeling in a way that I hadn't experienced before. Words like "trauma", "acute stress reaction", "dissociation" have been thrown around and to be honest, it's one of the hardest places I've found myself in, in a long time. Here's the thing about surviving trauma and the aftermath: it doesn't just impact one part of your life, it affects all of it. My mood has tanked, my anxiety has been extremely high, and in the wake of this, I've become a little indifferent about my eating disorder recovery. And that's terrifying. There's nothing I want more than my recovery, and at the same time, these feelings have left me so drained that doing the right thing (following my meal plan and nourishing my body and mind) have felt so out of reach.
I'd been registered to attend Camp HEAL with Project HEAL for as long as I've been back from treatment, and the weekend was finally upon us. As much as I willed myself to be excited to touch down in Los Angeles and take a weekend unplugged, I wasn't feeling it. I left therapy on Thursday and my therapist told me simply, "I hope this weekend shifts something for you."
It wasn't what she said, or the way she said it, but something about the weight of her words reflected back to me the indifference and the struggle I had been experiencing this whole time. And so I got myself to camp.
Even though I grew up in Colorado, I wouldn't necessarily say that I'm an outdoorsy person (probably why I live in NYC...), but I automatically felt like I was home when I stepped off the bus. The cool air hit my face and the smell of the woods--that indescribable smell of crisp air and pine trees filled my lungs. I was brought back to the summers I spent at sleep-away camps in Santa Fe and the requisite outdoors expeditions I've been on while living in Colorado. The first time I walked outside completely alone, I was hit with such an intense wave of emotion that I scrambled back inside to surround myself with others.
I wasn't ready for those feelings. Not yet.
I won't lie: there were portions of camp that I went through the motions, hoping to feel something, anything, to prove to myself that there was still a part of me that could still feel some semblance of normal. I found it in the unexpected moments--like when I discovered what a badass I am at archery, or in running around camp for a ridiculous scavenger hunt. Things started to click in the in-between moments, the powerful conversations with a community that had all had something in common: a battle with an eating disorder, and recovery, no matter what stage they were in. It was the first time I had felt as understood and supported by a community since I discharged from treatment in February, and I began to realize just how important community is to me, especially in my recovery. You can't fight this beast alone.
I finally had that "aha!" moment when Carolyn Costin, who is arguably one of the most influential figures in the eating disorder community, spoke to the group. I sat there on the dusty floor of the dining hall, cycling through nodding, tearing up, and frantically scribbling down parts of what she was saying, knowing well that I would want to come back to it. And I am. I will never be able to describe the power of her words in that moment, but I know that it had an impact on me that I wasn't expecting. She had each one of us take an index card and on one side we wrote down something that we wanted to take away from the weekend. On the other side we wrote what we needed to let go of in order for this to happen.
The takeaway I was desperate to feel: "My experiences are valid and I am believed."
To make that happen, "I need to get rid of self-invalidation."
I figured that this would be like any other exercise I've done in therapy or treatment--you throw it away or something and voila! It's done. When she announced that we'd be throwing our cards into the fire, it wasn't some big surprise, nothing particularly revolutionary about it.
What took my breath away was what we'd do afterwards: we'd all receive a small vial of the ashes that contained all of the things that we wanted to take away from this magical retreat, and have a little piece of the community that came from this trip. I have goosebumps remembering the shift that came with this announcement--the way that tears filled not only my eyes but those around me. It was something I so badly needed, in order to feel connected to something larger than just my own recovery. And that's what prompted me to scribble down, "Dig back into ED recovery" and to pull my tried and true copy of "The 8 Keys to Recovery from An Eating Disorder". And so that's what I'm doing.
I am thankful for this weekend in so many ways--for connecting me back to my people, my community of fellow warriors and fighters. To be so fully accepted for who I am and where I am in my recovery, and to feel inspired by so many people who reminded me once again that full recovery is possible, and it won't always be this hard.
The final thing I jotted down was something Carolyn said:
"I feel stronger in all those broken parts."
While I'm not quite to the point that I feel strengthened my the parts of me that I think are "broken", I know there will be a time where I feel that way. I am certainly strengthened by my recovery from my eating disorder, which I never thought possible. And so here I am. Digging back into my recovery, even though all I want to do is hide. Being vulnerable, because it doesn't push people further away, but it actually brings them closer. Admitting that things are hard as fuck, because I want to be as authentic as possible, but fighting as much as I can.
I am so grateful for the community I met this weekend, and the community that I have continued to grow since I began writing and opening up about my journey and my struggles. The support helps me hold onto the hope that I sometimes fail to have for myself, and for that, I am so thankful. This is only the beginning of my return to this blog, and to writing, because I know how healing it is, even when I don't want to write. You've not seen the last of Living Free C, that's for sure.
Hi, I'm Charlotte! I'm a 24 year old navigating life in NYC and mental health recovery. I am passionate about public health and eliminating stigma.