What Recovery Means to Me by Rachel Benson Monroe

To me, recovery means showing up for yourself. It means being willing to really get to know yourself, and open up to the belief that you can actually love who you are, all of you, even the parts that confuse you or frighten you, or that you don’t like so much. It means the ability to let go of the person you thought you would be, or think you should be, and allow yourself to unfold into the person you are. It means saying to yourself, “I’m here for you. I’m going to show up for you. I’m not sure what I’ll find, or that I’ll like it, but I’m showing up.”

Recovery means connection. Connection to self, connection to others, connection to the pulsing mysterious energy that runs through our whole universe. Connecting to whatever it is that makes you feel alive. It means taking a risk, reaching out, and trusting that there’s something else out there you can connect to. It means slowing down enough to let connections happen, maybe even in places you never thought possible.

Recovery means letting go. Letting go of the body you think you should have, the personality you should have, the weight you should be. Letting go of the ego, the trappings of “being a person” and instead making way for being a human. Letting go of the notion that we can control everything, and instead have enough trust that we can flow, we can adapt, we can change. Life is a river that never stops flowing. Suffering is holding on to the side for dear life, grasping. It’s exhausting. Recovery is letting go and letting the river hold you as you float on. And seeing who else might be floating along with you!

Recovery means widening the lens, zooming out, and getting perspective. No matter what the feeling or thought that you have, no matter how scary or overwhelming, that feeling or thought can be manageable, live-with-able, or even acceptable. Life in recovery is not made up of perfect moments- but for me it’s a life made up of moments that I greet with friendliness, with curiosity, with gratitude. Yes, even the crappy moments. Because even crappy moments may not end up being so crappy, in the end, in the grand scheme of things. Or maybe they are. And that’s okay. We feel like our lives are big, and they are. But if we zoom out, we see that we are also a tiny speck of sparkling dust in a galaxy brimming with stars that die and are reborn every moment. See what I mean?

Recovery means freedom. My life with an eating disorder was like a cage. My life in recovery is liberation. Like the mindfulness guru John Kabat Zinn says, “For we are locked up in the automaticity of our reaction and caught in its downstream consequences only by our blindness in that moment. Dispel the blindness, and we see that the cage we thought we were caught in is already open.”  In recovery, we learn that WE are the key to freedom. We learn that the cage was open all along, and in fact, we question, was there ever a cage at all?

Recovery means nourishment. Nourishing mind, body and soul. For me, recovery is the belief that no matter what I eat, or what form my body takes, or what it can and cannot do, I am good.  I have always been good. And I will always be good, no matter what happens. My body is simply the space my soul rents here on Earth. It may falter, it may get old, it may not always be the way I wish it was. But it’s holding something miraculous, special, and beautiful, and for that I have to offer it nourishment in return. It also means giving myself gifts, for no other reason than I deserve it. It means offering my senses a chance to experience love and beauty in all it’s forms.

Recovery means vulnerability. Not letting yourself harden when you are faced with all the suffering around you, or within you, but becoming soft, becoming real, like the Velveteen Rabbit. Vulnerability in recovery means accepting love, accepting compassion, accepting help. Allowing yourself to be imperfect, to not know the answers. The great Buddhist nun Pema Chodron says, “We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us. We always have this choice.”

Recovery means compassion. Compassion for yourself, for others, for all living beings. Compassion for the younger you, the smaller you, the child you, and all the things that small person experienced. And compassion for the future you and all the things that life will offer. Recovery teaches you unfailing kindness for yourself and for others. You learn to speak gently to yourself, and you learn to speak gently to those around you.

Recovery means boundaries. Not the walls we put up to isolate, to keep others at bay, to punish ourselves for perceived sins or shortcomings- but  flexible, bendable branches we extend into our lives that say “That is far enough” or sometimes “Maybe I can reach a little farther.” When we love something, we protect it and keep it safe. Boundaries teach us strength and self-worth. In order to bend and flow with the wind, trees must have branches that can sway, but they also need strong roots. Trees aren’t afraid to take up space. They proudly spread their roots and branches as far as they can go.

Recovery is an evolution, an unfolding. No matter who you are, what you’ve been through, recovery is there for you, waiting, hoping that you grasp it. Recovery is a friend who really, really wants to hang out with you. All you have to do is open your eyes, step out of the cage, reach out a hand, take a risk, and let go. Recovery will reach back. Recovery will hold you. It’s within you. It’s been there all along.

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