“A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because her trust is not on the branch but on its own wings.” – Unknown
I’ve read this quote numerous times over the past few years, each time hoping to gain more than just comfort; I wanted to find out the bird’s secret. How did the bird know to trust its own wings? Instinct, right? Well, if so, where was my instinct? How come I didn’t know I was going to be okay?
I wondered about this long and hard. I went through a phase where I wanted this tattooed on my wrist in order to remind myself that I had wings I could trust, not unlike the tattoo I have on rib cage that reminds me I always have the key; the way out to life’s struggles.
I love my key tattoo, because I have used my own “key” before to unlock shackles that held me back and made me feel trapped. However, I felt that if I got the tattoo of the bird, I would feel a bit hypocritical. See, I did not trust my wings. In fact, I never moved from my safe little branch – I sat there, hanging on for dear life, not looking down, and praying that the sucker never broke.
In fact, I took such desperate measures to avoid having to leave my safe, warm, little branch. With the weight of the problems and darkness I carried around with me, this was no easy task. That branch wanted to break, tired and ready to buckle from holding up not only me, but my heavy problems as well.
Knowing I could not bear to fly on my own, I devised a plan. I would hide is the shadows of the biggest leaves I could find, hoping they would never fall away and expose me. I depended on them to keep me safe and warm and happy so I did not need to learn how to do it on my own. When the leaves did fall and I was still there, shaking with fear, I blocked out the outside world.
This plan worked well, until sometime in the middle of July, when I sat in my psychologist’s office and sobbed about all the pain and suffering I went through in my poor little life (on my poor little branch). She looked at me sternly and said, “You don’t want to get better, you want to feel better.”
What? Why would I be sitting in this office pouring out my whole heart and soul if I didn’t want to get better? Also, didn’t “getting better” mean feeling better? Wasn’t that the point?
However, almost instantaneously, my branch snapped – faster than I could have ever imagined. She was calling my bluff—pointing out the fact that I stayed on my safe little branch all balled up with self-pity and lack of courage and called it a life. It became all at once transparent that I could no longer stay there, I needed to move forward. If I ever wanted to live a healthy life, it would have to mean leaving that branch.
For those of you that have read my past blogs, you may have picked up on the depression and anxiety that plagued me for the past few years. I’m pretty much an open book and while I’m always terrified to share how I feel, it’s strangely one of the things I know how to do best.
Looking back now, I read those posts and roll my eyes a bit at my whiny-ness, my own self-proclaimed victimization. I was a victim of the world. I was a victim of my past. I was a victim of the uncomfortable feelings that I was sure no one else had ever dealt with.
This is not to say the thoughts and feelings weren’t very, very real—because they were (and some days still are!). At least they seemed that way for me. I was lonely and felt rejected and had very low self-esteem; three factors that lead me down a road of complete self-destruction.
For a while, I thought I could fix the hole within me by latching on to others or latching on to destructive behaviors. In many ways, these fixes were my branch – they kept me safe. For this very reason I stayed in an unhealthy relationship knowing I was not happy until it eventually completely destroyed me. If I had someone by my side, it would mean that I was normal – the emptiness inside of me could be ignored and I would eventually feel whole.
This was not the case—in fact, it was the exact opposite.
So, when my psychologist said this to me it struck a nerve. It seems so simple, but yet, it was hard to grasp. Judging by my unhealthy behaviors, she was right. I didn’t eat because I wanted to feel better about myself. I became obsessed with guys who treated me badly because I wanted to feel loved. I stayed on the branch because I wanted to feel safe.
However, none of these behaviors actually helped me get better and none of them kept me safe. In fact, not eating led me down a path that pointed right to my grave. Being with guys that were not good for me lead me to lower self esteem. My attachment problems lead me to feel emotionally and physically unhealthy.
As with all major changes, getting better felt a whole lot like getting worse. All of these feelings of self-hatred that I tried to cover up with unhealthy behaviors came back in full force. Taking care of myself—eating right, exercising, therapy—were very difficult at first. The food was the hardest part. I abruptly moved back in with my parents and things were ugly for the first month. They were watching me fall, but no one could convince me that all I needed to do was trust my wings and fly.
No one could fly for me, carry me with their wings, or help me seek solace in their safe branches; recovery does not work that way. You have to want to get better and realize that it doesn’t always mean feeling better. I had to personally commit to my own health and self-esteem, which meant breaking the negative habits I’d developed over that past decade. I needed to be vulnerable, to admit there was a problem, to seek treatment. This would mean opening up to a psychologist, psychiatrist, nutritionist and scariest of all, my own family and friends.
In a recent Ted Talk, Glennon Doyle Melton mentions, “It’s braver to be Clark Kent than it is to be Superman.” If that isn’t the truth, I don’t know what is.
To climb down from this mountain of self-pride and stubbornness and admit that I had a real life problem that was neither glamorous nor easily solvable – well, that was scary. For so long I had fists held high and a shield up to ‘protect’ myself from a world that was ‘out to get me;’ never once taking a minute to realize that I was out to get myself. The real problem came from inside of me and nothing – no guy, no substance, and no low and dangerous number on a scale – was going to get me out of this dark place except me.
For the first time in a long time, I took steps forward. At first I felt completely directionless; I felt blindfolded with my hands tied behind my back. Every time I would start to feel good, the sadness would come back and I’d feel discouraged. The phrase “one step forward and two steps back” became more relevant than ever.
With the help of people who cared about me – truly cared – those tiny steps became easier. I wrote down and fought negative thoughts. I worked with my nutritionist and became accountable for my own health by eating like a normal person would. I accepted that the low number on the scale was no true indication of the person inside of me. I challenged all the ‘rules’ I had created about good and bad foods and started to actually enjoy eating again.
The funny thing about disordered eating is that it’s probably the worst solution to any problem in the world. Aside from the obvious fact that your body needs nutrients to survive, sporadic eating habits affect your mood in HUGE ways. This makes perfect sense to me now. However, that is because I am in recovery. I can see clearly; my eyes are no longer broken. I understand now that without food, I will become depressed. When I become depressed, I will stop wanting food. This basic principle was so unbelievable hard to grasp and yet so very enlightening once I did.
I can now proudly say I’m on the road to recovery in so many ways. The pain that I carried on and on about is no longer there. It’s hard to even imagine what that pain is like because I did it; the branch snapped and I trusted myself to fly. I no longer have the urge to engage in destructive behaviors – I know I deserve better than all that. I realize now that no one can save me from myself even if that’s the only thing they want to do.
This is not to say that I’m naïve. I understand my shortcomings and my ability to relapse. However, I now have a better understanding of what triggers can lead me down that dangerous, destructive path and I work hard to avoid them. Life will lead me to many highs and lows but for the first time in a while I feel ready. I feel strong and I feel capable and healthy and blessed, even though not every moment of my life is perfect.