I’ve considered myself mentally recovered for awhile now.
I don’t believe recovery means never having disordered thoughts, or never having bad days. I don’t believe it means never looking in the mirror and zeroing in on the tiniest imperfections on your surface. I don’t even believe it means always making the right decisions.
I believe recovery is finding the strength to break your way out of vicious cycles and habits. It’s noticing when things are slipping out of your control and the decisions you’re making are not your own. It’s acknowledging that as a human on this planet you are inevitably flawed, and finding a certain peace in that fact instead of a suffocating anxiety.
Over the past few years, I’ve watched the slow softening of my being- like watching ice melt away from my being and slowly revealing the possibilities underneath. Like spring, so much tenderness exists beneath the frosty rigidity that seems to sweep in from time to time, that it’s easy to forget just how beautifully it can bloom in the midst of winter. I watched obsessions lose their power, and vicious thoughts lose their bite. I watched who I really am emerge once again, someone so new and so foreign it felt like meeting her for the first time. Had I ever felt truly confident? Had I ever felt secure? I couldn’t remember. It was all new, like pushing a fragile flower up through the ground and throwing her face into the still-crisp air.
I’d say that for the past year or so, I’ve only just begun to feel comfortable in my new way of being. While I wouldn’t say I had an eating disorder my junior year of high school, I would say that it still had a hold over me, like a firm hand on my shoulder holding me back from relinquishing myself into the new unknown. I’d gotten tastes of what it’s like to live without a disorder- and the sense of freedom, while liberating in the moment, still knocked the wind out of me in a way that was terrifying to someone who had only known rigidity their whole life. I still quietly clung to habits and patterns that made me feel secure in a world that was constantly shifting and changing around me, still moved too fast too feel and too often to set down roots.
Winters have always been hard for me. I don’t know why. The short days, the long nights, the cold that settles in your bones- I’ve always felt too fragile for it. Every year I feel a literal fear when the first winds of winter start to sweep in, as though once I get cold it will never go away again. And in years past, it’s felt that way, as though I wouldn’t thaw from November until the spring came to melt me down again in March. The winter is always when stress seems to culminate in my life, when the air feels too cold to be conducive with the growth of the flowers or the growth of my being.
Slowly, so slowly that I don’t notice it, the winter brings with it a deep freeze of old habits. One day I feel secure in my recovery, the next, things begin to slip. I’ll begin to pace, to lose sleep in the night. I’ll start to feel rigid in my routines, and get more intense in their execution. I’ll start to get weaker, start to see things through a magnifying glass that shows me only the impurities. I lose weight. I don’t notice. I get brittle. I don’t notice. I start to crack, minute fractures on my surface that breed with startling expansion. Still, I do not notice.
Until the sun peeks from beneath the clouds again, and the silvery light breathes life into the flowers and into my recovery.
But this year, this year things were different.
When winter began to bear its face again, I felt the fear settle back in my chest. I started to prepare myself for the worse, for the slow depression that would creep its way into my veins as the temperature dropped. I waited for the stress of finals and tests and work and family to culminate once again, to weigh me back down into the abyss I crawled myself out of again and again every spring. I waited to shiver, to feel myself shaken to the core, to feel goosebumps on my flesh. I waited for the inevitable- the point that came every year where I felt the cold so deep in my bones I stopped feeling anything else.
And it never came.
The rain came, then the frost. I saw my breath suspended in the air, crystalline and foreboding. But the time never came where the chill hit my center, where it began to weigh me down with the heaviness of the ice. When I normally felt contraction inwards, back into the habits that folded me up until I was so tiny I couldn’t be seen, I felt an expansion. I felt a heat inside of me, something driving me forwards, keeping me from taking two steps back this year.
I had taken my own sun into the winter.
When you begin recovery, you want nothing more than to make it to the other side. For a long time, you are suspended in mid-air, hanging in a terrifying middle ground where nothing is certain and everything is unsettlingly impermanent. I think back on the summer after my hospital stay, how bizarre everything was as the world changed around me. New foods that hadn’t touched my lips in years. New folds and curves in my shape. New sensations that overwhelmed my senses. I hardly had time to breathe as I shifted from one form to the next, over and over, repairing the damage that had taken years to settle in my being.
It’s only now that I begin to feel that I’ve made it over the wall, that I’ve begun to see what life is like without fearing the cold, without fearing the night that will come with every sunrise. I’ve reached a point where I am in constant awe of how easy some things have become, things that used to be paralyzingly unimaginable. Accepting impurities. Accessing emotions and memories long stifled. Approaching others with an openness not only to who they are, but to who I am.
I’m traveling by myself, getting in my car and driving for hundreds of miles when leaving my bed used to feel impossible. I’m climbing mountains and trees and rocks with such ease it’s as though my body has forgotten what it was like to be fatigued by walking across the street. I’m reaching out to hold someone’s hand, I’m going in for a hug, I’m laughing because it feels good and crying at a sunrise because it means I’ve made it to another day and feeling overwhelmed with passion when I look around the room and see my students on their mats.
I had forgotten what this was like, over the long winters before. Perhaps I’ve never experienced this, perhaps this is my first taste at living. I’ve never felt so peeled open, never felt like the cracks in my surface were letting things in instead of letting things seep out. There is a sun within me that never sees a sunset, because it glows with the warmth of my newly kindled joy. I’m no longer waiting for the frost in months to come, I’m waiting for the next breath, waiting to see the next beautiful complexity that this earth holds.
No longer do I see myself as the fragile bud, pressing its way into spring, begging for its mercy. I see my roots, thick and heavy, pulling me down into the earth with certainty. I see the mossy bark of my trunk, spiraling up to dare the sun to bear witness to it. I see my branches, spreading far and wide, desperately grasping for its next sensation, ready to feel the world. I see my strength, I see my ability, I see my security. I am living, I am breathing. Finally, it feels like I am arriving.