Myth (noun): a commonly belief but false idea
Everyone struggles with something. Most of us wish to get better, be healthier, be stronger…we try to change and grow but we all have our own battles and weights to carry. Some are small, some are big, but at the end we are all vulnerable to our own set of destructive choices, bad habits, and negative thoughts.
At a young age, my battles with addictions started. I was stuck in a deep and narrow hole of bulimia and hooked on uppers. As much as I longed for recovery, my thoughts, fears and false beliefs kept me from seeking help and actually putting time and effort to get better.
I’ve never met anyone who loves being stuck in an addiction. People assume that it’s a simple choice to let go and change, but sadly it becomes a comfort zone. It was stuck in a love-hate relationship. I lived in constant fear of letting go what I was comfortable with, yet I hated being a prisoner to every urge. I stood on a limb unable to see or admit the danger and the damage being done.
And then I found out I was pregnant. I was 18 years old, just finishing high school, and my world was completely shifted. I was now responsible for someone else and I needed to drastically change my life. It was my opportunity to transform; yet it was one of the scariest and hardest moments in my life.
Through my journey of recovery these are 5 myths I battled with:
Myth 1: “Recovery means 100% no relapse, no mishaps, no stumbles.”
I believed and would constantly say to myself that I would ALWAYS struggle with food and never overcome my eating disorder. I had this false belief that my recovery had to be flawless and perfect. If I couldn’t resist the urge to binge and purge at least for a few hours then what was the point of trying? I set myself the impossible goal of getting better overnight and if I failed it meant that I wasn’t strong or deserving enough to get healthy.
I had forgotten that I was just a human being. And that means that failures, mistakes and stumbles are inevitable. The struggle with perfectionism was my biggest enemy. It took away so much good in my life and forced me to focus solely on the bad. Feelings of “not good enough” suffocated me. Anger and sadness flooded my heart and mind and I felt worse as my battle continued. I’d beat myself up every time I failed. I was unforgiving. I was giving up on myself and would get furious for failing, dragging me deeper into my bad habits and behaviors. This continuous cycle was getting me nowhere.
What I needed the most was one of the hardest things I had to learn and practice. I needed to be compassionate and loving to myself. I had to learn to be a friend and speak kindly to myself, in order to truly get better. A lot of times we become our own worst critics saying the nastiest things to ourselves.
Have you ever had a friend who was going through a hard time? What would you say to them? Would you be as mean to them as you are to yourself?
I had to pay more attention to what I was feeding my mind. How does negative self talk help anyone? I had to question myself on a daily basis… Would you say that to someone you care for? I also had to accept that perfection was impossible to achieve and let go of the control it had over me. I had to give myself permission to fail, but no permission to sulk in my failures. I motivated myself to always try again, over and over no matter how many times. It was always about getting back up.
Myth 2: “Recovery is something you have to do alone”
This is where shame played a huge role. What limited my recovery the most was the belief that I had to get better on my own. That meant hiding my struggles, depending only on myself and putting on a mask in front of the world. If I had a friend who was struggling to get better, I would proudly be there for him or her and help any way I could. But my cloud of shame prevented me from opening to others. Even with professional help, I was not always honest to my therapists and counselors. I wanted people to think I could do it on my own and didn’t need help.
I didn’t realize how much this affected my progress. Not only did I have the weight of the world trying to get healthy but also the weight of faking it to the world that I had it together.
The moment I took the chance to open up with people deserving to hear my story and share details about my life, I realized how silly my beliefs were to think that people would be so judgmental and reject me. These moments of vulnerability allowed me to build friendships, rely on others and realize that I wasn’t alone. I ended up receiving what I needed most: Accountability. I had people pushing me and rooting for me.
I learned that trying to get better alone was hurting me rather than helping me. In the moments when I failed, no one would know. I didn’t feel the need to commit to the process. But once I had accountability, I could grow and continue on my journey. It is amazing what the power of vulnerability, talking and sharing about our struggles with others, does for the soul. It facilitates the healing process and helps build genuine connections.
Myth 3: “You are a mother, you shouldn’t be dealing with these problems, and you should have it together. You should focus only on your daughter.”
The power of shoulds, comparing and feeling unworthy
This topic is delicate because there are so many standards as to what makes you a good enough mother. I became a mother without knowing how to be one and it was just time taught me and is still learning. I had to allow myself to not know it all, to ask for help, to accept that a perfect mother doesn’t exist and admit that I might be struggling with heavy loads, but it doesn’t make me undeserving or less of a mother.
How many “shoulds” do you have? I remember one of my therapists told me on our first session: “You need to leave the word should out of your vocabulary. You are not allowed to say it in therapy.” I realized how much that word had power over me.
You should be skinny
You should be a better mom
You should focus only on your daughter
You should do this, you should do that
The shoulds were endless.
I was so ashamed that I was a struggling mother. I was ashamed to be responsible for a little human, to raise her and help her grow, and had my own life all bent out of sorts. I would constantly compare myself to other parents and hide deeper inside my cloud of guilt and embarrassment. And there I would go again, talking badly to myself, spitting out how undeserving a mother I was and punishing myself for not being like other “better” moms.
I was so blinded by my assumptions of other parents that I didn’t see how much they struggled too. It didn’t need to separate us; on the contrary, it connected us.
I believe part of recovery entails being what may seem selfish in the eyes of others…doing what YOU need the most. That for me was saying goodbye to people, places, activities and things that triggered me and were not a positive influence in my life. I strongly believe that in order to be the best mother for my daughter, I need to focus on myself first.
In the Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown quotes Justin Valentine about how many mothers love their children more than they love themselves; they feel unlovable and unworthy and that’s why drug addicted mothers struggle so much with recovery. Sometimes as parents we put ourselves last on the “to do” list and forget that we are more than just parents.
Reminder: Do what you need to do for YOU and stop comparing!
Myth 4: “Once I recover, everything will be fixed, I won’t struggle anymore, and my battles will be over”
The feeling of overcoming an addiction is amazing… but the reality is problems don’t go away, but you can get better at facing them!!!
When I would feel anxiety, stress, anger, sadness, I would resort to binging and purging. It became something so automatic that eventually I was in this cycle without even thinking or knowing what was going on or checking in regarding how I was feeling.
Getting better meant actually having to step back and ask myself …What is going on? Why am I feeling this way? I had to search different ways to deal with difficult moments and feelings. Whether it was calling a friend and venting, distracting myself with a hobby, exercising or praying, I had to put the time and effort to let go of the negative ways to deal with issues and replace it with something good.
There are still days when I really struggle, I may be recovered but I am not immune. Some days when I stand in front of the mirror my heart sinks thinking I don’t have the perfect body, or that I don’t have this or have that, comparing myself to others and my urge to hide grows and grows. However, I recognize now the beginning of this negative cycle and replace it with compassionate and loving words. It isn’t simple to train your mind to resort to the good, but it becomes easier as you practice on a daily basis. Soon enough you will begin to see things with a grateful heart and mind.
For those who doubt that recovery from an addiction is ever possible, let me tell you that IT IS! It is possible to enjoy life, to enjoy your body, to enjoy food. It is possible to refocus your mind. But it takes time and lots of hard work. You don’t have to live tormented by negative thoughts. You can feel good and be good to yourself. There are times when I just have to step back and tell myself: “You are being ridiculous!” and move on with the day.
Myth 5: “There is only one way to recover
and time matters”
I’ve been to therapy, I’ve gone to psychiatrists, I’ve been medicated, I’ve been to rehab, I’ve stayed in retreats, I’ve moved to a different country. I have done many things in order to recover and through trial and error I have found my way. My recovery was centered on strengthening my spiritual relationship with God. I took the time to really open my heart to God and in the process I was transformed and received hope and purpose for my life and my struggles. Having a child really gave me a chance to regain control of my life; it was my way, my opportunity to change. It took time, hard work, and lots of trust. Trust in the process, trust in myself and, above all, trust in God.
People would tell me “if you do this, then you will get better”, “if only you forgive, you will be healed”, “if you go here, everything will be fixed”, “if you don’t get better soon, you will be stuck forever”.
Whatever is dragging you down, whatever you are stuck in, it’s a matter of trying, pushing forward and allowing people to help and love you. Once you allow yourself to get better and be helped, you discover what’s good for you, and what helps you stay focused. And there is no such thing as a time limit.It’s your own journey. Don’t let anyone define it for you.
Everyday is a new day to start over. Everyday is a chance to be better. And it’s about the journey, not the destination or finish line, because everyday we are growing and evolving. We need to gather encouragement daily and be kind and compassionate to ourselves. You will learn so much about yourself: strengths and weaknesses, and endurance, perseverance, resilience. And you will learn to thrive and not just survive.
With love and courage,