“ You were … “
I hate that word, were. Whenever I hear the phrase, 'you were...,' it doesn't matter how nicely it's put out there, it ultimately resounds as 'yes, at one point you had something, but now it's gone.’ You were good enough or you were somebody, but no longer is that the case.
When I look back on my high school senior year, I often think, “That was the best year of my life.” After all, I had a variety of friends, I finally matured physically and excelled in athletics, and college was just around the corner; what more could a guy my age ask for?
Truth is, I had no idea what I wanted, where I was going, or why I still didn't feel like I fit in with any aspect of my life. Sure, it seemed I had the support of my teammates, my coaches and my teachers- but I never really grasped why I always felt I had to worry about what everyone else was thinking about me. Do they think I'm a 'good' person? Do they think I am different from everyone else? Who do they perceive me to be?
The hardest question I asked myself many times over and still ask myself to this day is, Why did it take my senior sports season to finally feel like I had the support that everyone else always had? This had to be my problem, this wasn't the same for everyone else and I need to just 'man up' about it. So, I tried to 'man up' the best way I knew how- ignore it.
Instead of dealing with what was going on around me, I did what I knew best: I tried to fit in and do what everyone else wanted and expected from me. I like to compare my life then and my thought process in recovery now to playing with the sports mentality I had in high school.
Linebacker: I'm called upon to blast through gaps and stop the run. I give a lot of communication to the rest of the defense and help the team adjust to what the enemy is doing.
Forward: My primary responsibilities are rebounding and playing exceptional defense inside. Keep the opponent ball out of the paint at all costs.
Interesting how, even though I am no longer engaged in competitive sports, I still have that same mental strategy when dealing with my illness. Just like with the linebacker and with the forward, the objective shared between the two is blatantly obvious: defense.
I find it both rewarding and dangerous to have that mental thought process when fighting to stay in recovery. On one hand, I am looking to help others around me defend their recovery journey and I'm constantly trying to keep the opponent out of the most important place in battle: the mind (paint.)
On the other hand, it's a slippery slope in terms of how I communicate my ongoing struggles with a tough exterior. I found that stuffing feelings back then allowed an 'outlet' to escape what I was feeling and in the long run it eventually had me a broken man. The mentality of certain sports and/or positions are similar to that of my illness' objective: I have my job, objective and goal. You better believe I can do it all on my own.
Today, I like to think I try to model my thinking after this quote: “It’s way too agonizing to have your self-worth dependent on your results as an athlete or human being.”
In the past month, the blessings in my life are indescribable. I've landed a fantastic job with amazing career potential, opportunities very few ever dream of are flowing my way, and I’m getting to meet extraordinary individuals on a daily basis. But most importantly, I wake up knowing that I have my faith and the support of everyone involved in my life.
Reality check: The illness does it's best to keep me (us) down. Even though I feel this great, I can’t help but feel as though I’ve needed to be jump-started, kicked into gear or wound up more times than I can count. It makes me angry, incredibly angry to still deal with the ongoing battle of recovery.
Why is it that I can feel so incredible and so down at the same time? The surface battles of my illness (food, exercise, body image) are the least of my concerns at this point. It’s the deeper thoughts of not being ‘good enough,’ past hurts and constant battle within the mind that are of highest priority. After all, if I’m not staying ‘out of my head’ and tuning into my senses, my faith and thought processes, everything I’ve worked so incredibly hard for doesn't really matter.
To keep yourself (and your recovery) going despite the 'wind-up' thoughts and 'breakdown' days, we must remember that life is full of imperfect things (events, plans, journeys, etc) and imperfect people (parents, teachers, coaches, mentors, friends.) I'm certainly not the best at hardly anything, and I make mistakes, fall on my face and break down just like everyone else. But what I've learned over the years in this illness is to accept my slips, others' issues and life's challenges - and choosing to celebrate each day that I'm given. Learning to 'accept' and 'let go' are the hardest things to do. However, they are some of the most important keys to creating a healthy, growing, and lasting journey in recovery.