Jan 8, 2014

The Selfishness of Recovery

I worked for a while at a residential treatment facility that housed women with serious eating disorders. A lot of those experiences really impacted my life, and I find myself thinking about those women, the things I saw, the things I heard, often. I think one of the most ironic things about that (working there) was, I was watching (hundreds, by the end) of women go through recovery. And yet I hadn't even touched on my own. I was a good employee, and for some a great tech, but I didn't reach probably 70 percent of those women emotionally. And I know it's because I was struggling myself. I wasn't even to "stage one," (awareness) myself. I couldn't be vulnerable and be sensitive sometimes because some of what I saw & heard overloaded my emotions and threatened me to the point where I couldn't handle it. I sat behind the desk and volunteered to chart rather than go out and talk to the girls/women about what they might be struggling with. At the time I thought it was my introvert-nature & fear of rejection that held me back, but now I know it's not that. Honestly, I'm not sure if I really am an introvert by nature. I've just been unable to face my own feelings and feel good about them, and let others see them.

I remember one case in particular. This woman, newly married. She was really put-together. Like, General-Young-Women president-like. She was strong, intelligent, gracious, driven, mature. All the time. She reached out to others and was so great with the other patients, though she didn't talk much at all about her own struggles. I remember kind of looking at her and wondering what the heck she was doing on this inpatient unit.

And then I remember when she started to come apart. She turned into someone clingy, demanding, self-destructive, weak, childish. (See how judgmental I was, thinking these words.) Watching her I felt like, this isn't good. This is wrong. We've broken her. This treatment is bad--it's making her into something bad. It's undermining her testimony and strength. I wondered at the time if it was selfishness--her selfishness, breeded by a system that makes recovery into something self-obsessed and self-focused. I felt very, very conflicted feelings about the treatment program, watching her.

I remember feeling some outrage at how she was hurting her husband. He'd married this kind, strong, others-centered person and now she was cutting, and threatening suicide, and rejecting him, and just, petulant almost.

Now that I'm looking at things from the other side, though, I understand a lot that I didn't back then. She was already hurting inside. Why else would someone come to an inpatient facility and spend thousands of dollars to be locked up in a small set of rooms and eat cafeteria food? She had been hurting from the very beginning. That petulant, selfish, emotional, childish person--that was always inside her. She just hadn't ever allowed herself to take off the mask she wore. And it was killing her. It was distancing her from those who she should be able to trust. She was trapped--not feeling, except when she was feeling too much and harming herself in feeling.

This child inside her? That was her hurt self that needed healing. And you can't heal something you and others cannot see.

This last year has been a hard one for my spouse. I think often of this other patient and feel so bad for judging her. I also think often (in my petulant moments) of those things that have hurt me, and I feel angry that I even have this hurt being inside of me that needs healing.

This last year has been the most difficult of my marriage. For Jeff, it has been really worrying, and at times hearbreaking, I think. We still haven't had many conflicts, but he's seen me be completely dysfunctional, and unpredictable emotionally. He's had to pick up a lot of slack with the kids. He's had to put up with some reactions that are not his fault, where he suddenly turns into something in my head that he is not. I think that's the most painful for him.

And yet, Jeff has said that this last year has also been the most wonderful of our marriage. These last few months, especially, we have been far closer--kind of comfortable and gleeful and best-friend-y and just real, and appreciative of each other. I have felt so much more capable of being his best friend, as well as his wife, because I've been able to actually reach out. If you've got a mask on, people are at arm's length. You've got to peel that sucker off if you really want to be close to someone.

I think back on my very weakest moments of this last year with a lot of sadness. And yet, I wouldn't change it, because it has ended in much deeper, "real-er" happiness.

It's hard to think about it that way, because we've been taught in the gospel that faith can heal everything. Sometimes people draw from that the conclusion that it will be a painless, struggle-less, graceful healing. But the thing is, healing never is. Wounds are ugly. They aren't pretty to look at even when they're half-healed. They hurt.

The labor of healing from significant trauma is, I think, a lot like the labor of childbirth. You know it's God's will. He, in fact, rejoices in it. And you know it will end with something precious. But you also know you're going to do silly things. You're going to groan and complain and maybe get a little whiny. You might, in the moment, feel angry and blame people, simply because you're so overwhelmed with pain. If you can focus, you can relax to a certain degree and let it happen, but it will still be and feel messy, and ugly, and overwhelming and in moments you'll think, "how can this be from God?"

My husband gave me a blessing before delivery. He said it'd all be allright. Doesn't than mean I should be able to labor in a cross-legged position, hands outstretched, chanting in soothing tones and looking absolutely serene until it's time to lie down and bring forth a baby?

well, no, that's ludicrous. And yet we know, Labor is a godly thing.

The labor of recovery is also a godly thing. I need to continue to remind myself of this, and not feel guilty for having feelings, having needs, even for having people judge me, or having people I love get worn out at times.

One thing that has been indelibly apparent to me, driving me through this process--I am a better wife. I am a better mother. My husband and my kids are my first priority. Therefore, I *must* continue to recover. It doesn't matter what others think; if they judge me the way I judged that patient, if they feel that my difficulties are born of selfishness or immaturity or not communing with the Spirit. They don't know. They don't know how I've prayed, and the way I feel so very close to my heavenly father even in those moments when I've done things that have been petulant. I feel His love and comfort surround me even in those moments I've had that have been ugly to myself and those around me.

I think if I were truly being selfish, I would have allowed fear of judgment, or self-judgment, overwhelm my desire to heal, and just continued to go through motions--be a mess inside but mostly functional on the outside. I'd do the safe thing and just slap a lot of bandaids on those wounds. But I feel Heavenly Father bending my knees to recovery. I feel Him opening my lips to ask, to express, to allow people to see my weakness and reach out. And as this year has worn on, I have felt some truly happy, truly peaceful times. Perhaps the first in my life.

I find myself wanting to hug my kids, and my husband, all the time. Wanting to be around them. I find joy in being around people, in listening to them and even opening up to them. I think that joy has always been there, just buried under layers of fear and pain.

My heart has clicked into place over the last few months, especially. I'm feeling stuff. Oh, lots of stuff. Not all fun. But I'm also feeling the good stuff-- delight in my kids, happiness with friends, peace instead of fear of rejection when I find an opportunity to help someone else.

So I guess my conclusion is, recovery, while self-focused, is in no way selfish. Because it has made the people I love very most on this planet much, much happier to have a mom whose heart is fully turned on finally. It has made Jeffrey, who is the best friend anyone could have, really and truly my best friend. This last labor, he climbed into the hospital bed with me. He labored with me. That's what a best friend and a spouse does--labor with the other. I can finally allow Jeffrey into that place and it feels so incredibly wonderful.

When you've had bad stuff happen to you--stuff you didn't choose, or stuff you brought on yourself-- and you are trying to heal, it's good to keep in mind that there will be some pain an petulance to get through for a while, and people around you might be sad simply because they love you, and seeing you sad will make them sad. But remember--you're doing it for them. For yourself, so you can be there for them.

Birth is, in the end, a beautiful process in spite of any messes it causes, and in spite of how sore your husband's arms might be from counter-pressing your back and lifting you off the edge of the bed and hugging you tight when nothing else really helps, he wouldn't change anything-- you woudln't change anything. The end result is obviously worth every moment.


merrilykaroly said...

Very nice. I have never had to recover from emotional, etc. trauma to such a degree, but I *have* been in labor before, so the juxtaposition is poignant and enlightening.

Sarah Dunster said...

I'm glad, Adele :)

Emma Tank said...

Your post made me tear-up. I have had some emotional struggles (definitely not to the extent you have), but even more than that, I've had to be on the sidelines on a few occasions while someone I loved struggled and was selfish while they were struggling. I can see exactly what you're talking about. When you're on the outside looking in, I would just say, I know they're trying. I can continue to help them as long as they're still trying. For me, that goes a long ways. I'm so glad you've found some peace this year. You've brought some to me as well. Life only gets better as we fill our hearts with love. Love you Sarah!

Sarah Dunster said...

Love you also :) I like that. As long as they're still trying.

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