A short while ago I shared the story of my battle with anorexia and substance abuse, which was rife with struggle and pain. But the one thing that prevailed through the hardships was hope. It has been nearly two years since I checked out of inpatient treatment, but the battle did not end there. Instead of focusing on the painful aspects of recovery, now I would like to share how I have managed to not only stay in recovery, but to thrive. It’s easy to tell someone who is struggling to have hope, but in practice, what exactly should they hope for? Having hope has changed my life, but it’s the specific things for which I hope that prevents me from giving up, no matter how hard things become.
When I was in treatment, the one thing I hoped for the most was freedom: freedom from the disease that ruled my life. As time wore on, I largely gained that freedom, and my hope began to focus on more specific things. I have hope for a fulfilling career, a family, joy, and the ability to find beauty in the most desolate places. I fight to be able to love without bounds, instead of letting the remnants of my disease take hold and prevent me from believing that I am worthy of love. Truly believing I deserve love has granted me the ability to give love as I hope to receive it. By holding onto this hope I have built a wonderful life for myself, and each day look forward to the future in anticipation of joyous things to come. On several occasions I have certainly yearned to relapse — to numb the pain with my long-practiced vices. But when this happens I focus my thoughts on the things I would be giving up if I were to give in, and this gives me the strength to weather the storm.
Maintaining hope is easier said than done, so I have found it useful to surround myself with reminders of why I fight — why I stay in recovery when my mind enters the irrational realm of anorexia and substance abuse. I keep pictures on my desk and on my phone of myself with the man who has stood by me through everything, smiling and happy, that I may remember the family I would be giving up if I relapsed. I now have a career as an elementary school teacher, and when I’m tempted to give up I look at the pictures my students have drawn for me, and read the notes they have written for me. I see the joy inside of them, and know that I can only make a difference in my students’ lives if I stay healthy. I wear a family heirloom ring on my finger to remind myself of the people I love, and the pain it would cause them to watch me descend back into my former state. But perhaps the most effective strategy I utilize is writing.
When I feel like the world is falling around me, I channel my anger, sadness, and grief into my pen, and write until the urges have passed. I acknowledge the pain, and through writing I am able to find clarity among the murky waters of my mind. By recognizing my feelings and impulses, I rob them of their potency. Sometimes I make a list of all of the good in my life, and all the good the future holds, to counteract whichever hardship is overwhelming me at the time. Other times I simply rant until all the pent up aggression has left my mind. Writing gives me the ability to locate the hope I hold within me, even in the darkest storms that seem to have consumed it.
After having constantly reminded myself why I must keep hope for two years now, the urges to relapse and give up have significantly weakened. When things get difficult, I look for the good in the situation, or in my life in general, to counteract the bad. I pick up the pen and let the emotion flow out of me. I know why I must keep hope, and for what. I acknowledge the past, but fight to live in the moment, and anticipate the bliss the future holds. I would not change a thing about my past, simply because it has led me to where I am today: living a life filled with joy, love, and above all, hope.