By : Sarah B
When I first got out of residential treatment a year ago, I used to write - a lot. I wanted to scream recovery at the top of my lungs. I was so proud of all the hard work I had been doing and how much joy recovery brought me that I wanted everyone, suffering or not, to know that recovery was possible. My instagram stories were chalked full of recovery rants, realizations, motivation and opinions. I flooded my facebook page with inspiring quotes, educational articles, statistics and anything mental health related. I had (and still do have) so much I wanted to share with the world about recovery, but lately the shame of stumbling my way through this journey has kept me silent.
Why is shame so powerful? Why once you give it an inch does it take a mile? Why does shame follow imperfection? Why do we let shame silence our voice?
I’ve been told recovery is not linear, and that phrase has been drilled into my brain for years now, yet somehow I thought I would be the exception; that I would be the first one to do recovery perfectly. In previous efforts towards recovery I would start off incredibly strong once leaving treatment without faltering - cue the black and white thinking. As soon as a slip occurred I would be upset, and ultimately ashamed of myself. In that moment I would instantly decide to throw in the towel and let myself relapse. If I couldn’t do it right, I wasn’t doing it at all.
This time around is very different. So here I am admitting struggle, and of being imperfect in my recovery. Acknowledging this is hard for me. I pride myself as being the strong one, in control (as many of us with eating disorders try to be), and as someone who is always okay. In the name of keeping up appearances, my social media presence declined to hide my imperfect recovery, conversations with friends and family were limited and surface level, and the shame of my struggle consequently silenced me. I didn’t want to let anyone in or to know that I wasn’t okay and struggling to hang on to my recovery that I had worked so hard for. I wish so bad that transparency and honesty came easy in recovery, but they don’t. Well, not for me at least.
It takes a great deal of courage to admit you’re not okay, that things are hard again and you’re scared. Perhaps it’s out of fear that others will be disappointed or upset with you, or maybe you’re comfortable in your struggle as you welcome the warm arms of your eating disorder creeping back in to keep you safe. Whatever it is, silence seems to be the answer.
When I first noticed my stories and posts straying away from mental illness and recovery topics I initially told myself it was because I was moving on with my life, getting back into the swing of things without my eating disorder. I had a job, friends, goals, commitments, appointments, clients and the reality of every day life. Of course recovery was still a priority for me, I just no longer felt the need to let the world know about it - for all I knew, I was fine. Little did I know, that in sharing my recovery journey with others I was in turn keeping myself accountable. Therefore, without being vocal I lost the accountability that I had set up for myself. Which sooner than later turned into secrecy fuelled by shame.
According to Brené Brown, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.” The majority of my life I have spent seeking acceptance paired with a burning desire to belong. Therefore it makes sense, that when my recovery is on shaky ground and not going as well as it could be, I consider myself flawed, unworthy and living in fear that those closest to me will abandon me, so I stay silent. Shockingly enough however, I am incredibly worthy, despite my flaws.
At times it is challenging to believe this and counter the thought that if I’m honest with loved ones they will be disappointed and give up on me. Although throughout my recovery I have been doing things differently than before which now needs to include overcoming the shame of struggling. Admitting that what once came easy not too long ago, is now difficult again (I’m still trying to figure out why, how or where I went wrong) is not easy. I learned in treatment that secrets keep us sick. As hard as it is to be vulnerable and honest at times, I have come to realize it is crucial to keep myself from spiralling back down into the grips of hell with my eating disorder. Consequently, I told on myself to my treatment team and with their help I am gradually putting myself back together again. This process of speaking honestly about where I’m at is new territory for me, yet relieving to no longer have to carry around the burden, loneliness and shame that my struggle brought me. Brené Brown also states that “shame cannot survive being spoken” and I feel that on a deep level.
Recovery is messy - it’s hard - it’s painful - it’s exhausting and it’s scary. I’m slowly learning and accepting that bumps in the road are normal, setbacks can lead to comebacks and falling doesn’t make you weak, it’s in the picking yourself back up that makes you strong. If I could give one piece of advice when you find yourself living in silence under the cloud of shame, it is to find your voice and fight for your damn life.