Knowing you are truly not alone on this journey will be worth every penny, every minute, and every emotion you invest...Emily
Before IOP I was missing a big piece of the puzzle in my recovery. I knew where I had been, and I knew where I wanted to be, but I had no idea how to get there. I felt like I was doing everything right. I saw my therapist, dietitian, psychiatrist, and physician on a weekly basis trying to manage the many ways anxiety consumed me. Every day was either good or bad, and I often lost the good days to the anticipatory anxiety of bad ones that hadn’t even happened yet. I spent all of my free time worrying about the next time I would have to leave the house. Whether I was going to the grocery store, therapy, class, or to see friends, I felt suffocated by the shame of simply existing. The weight all of this was my normal, but I was sick of carrying it. When I wasn’t isolating myself, I was playing wac-a-mole with my eating disorder, engaging with my OCD, and obsessively trying to be the glue that filled the cracks in all of my relationships. I felt like I was always trying to hold someone else above water when I couldn’t even swim. There was always a part of me that believed growing up so completely unwanted by my parents was the source of what made me good. I was kinder, more empathetic, and learned to see and understand people in a way that felt supernatural at times. Unfortunately, I believed this to be the only thing that made me good. I saw this as evidence that there was no room for me in the world. I was desperate to find the magic wand that would make me “normal.” I hoped that if I could just make myself small enough, physically or emotionally, that I would somehow fit a mold that doesn’t even exist.
What my life is like now that I have completed the Anxiety Program at Renew:
I still haven’t found the magic wand, but for the first time ever, I am okay with that. I am both back to working and attending my classes, which was my primary goal in treatment here. While it’s relieving to have found a sense of normalcy, it’s still incredibly draining and difficult in ways I forgot it would be. However, this last Sunday, after working a few days in a row, I found myself getting out of bed, making breakfast, lighting some candles, and listening to an audio book without pausing to check the time. I wasn’t thinking about the fact that I had to work 6 hours later. I wasn’t worried about vacuuming or showering or any of my normal compulsions. I wasn’t wondering how late my wife would sleep in if I didn’t try to wake her up. I just was. Normally when my shifts were scheduled back-to-back, I allowed them to close in on me, sucking the air out of my free time like a vacuum. I constantly thought about something I did wrong yesterday or something I would certainly do wrong tomorrow. I would get so caught up in mentally and emotionally preparing myself for the next time I had to click “clock in” that I self-sabotaged and stopped functioning all together. Don’t get me wrong, not every morning is all candles and freshly baked muffins, but that’s not the point. The point is that I was completely and totally living in the present and enjoying it for what it was. I wasn’t worrying about the inevitable moment my peaceful morning would come to an end and I wasn’t wondering if my meds had finally done their job, making me perfectly happy forever. Over the last six weeks, these moments of true mindfulness and flexible self-care have come closer and closer together, which met my second goal in treatment. I could go on for quite a while about all of the ways regularly practicing acceptance, defusion, commitment, gratitude, and mindfulness has shown up for me at work, in school, and in my relationships. There have been many moments, like the one I had Sunday, that I want to share with you guys because I’m just so proud of myself and feel excited for the ways I anticipate these skills to help in the future. Instead, I trust and hope that all of you will find your own moments, no matter how different they look, as you experience this program yourself. Meanwhile, I will continue pushing myself by acting on my values and practicing exposures with my outpatient therapy and the after care program.
What I would say to someone who is thinking about starting the program:
I would tell someone considering this program that several months ago, when my therapist first brought group support to my attention, I said I could not imagine doing any more therapy. How could I invest another hour, much less nine a week, into my treatment? I felt isolated by the work I was already doing to manage and prioritize my mental health. I struggled with the fact that my family, friends, and peers never seemed to understand what I was going through, why I was trying so hard, or why I had to try at all. I had no idea that this was exactly why I needed this program. Even though most of them can be found online, in a book, or in your therapist’s office, the activities, skills, and tools you will pocket over the next six weeks will be invaluable to you. What cannot be replicated, however, is the power of the group. The power of this group. These twelve or thirteen individuals in the room right now. My advice to you is to not take this for granted. Show up, be present, and engage with your group mates. See and be seen. Hear and be heard. It may not feel like it right away, when you sit down in this room, surrounded by a dozen anxious strangers, but the weight we carry makes us so much more alike than different. Knowing you are truly not alone on this journey will be worth every penny, every minute, and every emotion you invest. I encourage you to give it at least two weeks and to give it what you can, because I believe you will get everything you give, and then some, back in the end.
-Emily B. 10/24/2019