“We’re all just walking each other home.” ― Ram Dass
We went around the room, one by one answering the question proposed by our graduate school professor in the counseling psychology program I’d recently been accepted into: “Once you complete your master’s and doctoral degrees, what do you intend to do?”
Perpetually anxious, I hyperventilated as each member of my cohort detailed their future research plans, careers in academia, and other equally intimidating (and boring, in my opinion) pursuits.
“Angie, what about you?” Dr. Wesley asked sincerely, his head slightly tilted while he awaited the response of yet another ambitious scholar.
“Um, the truth is this is my backup plan.” Oh, God! Holy shit. Did I really just say that? “I mean, I’d like to become a therapist one day, but my real calling is to be a mother.”
Two seconds and twelve hundred heart palpitations later, he moved on awkwardly to the more sophisticated classmate to the right of me who whispered in my ear, “That was awesome!”
Graduate school was a series of humiliating moments, much like this one. Thankfully, despite my profound lack of interest in things like multivariate statistics, research methods, and cognitive neuroscience, I fell in love with courses like approaches to psychotherapy and psychopathology, group dynamics, and how we develop and form attachments. In the midst of classes, papers, and presentations, I also made deeply personal and meaningful relationships with my peers, which come to find out is an essential component for healing others.
During graduate school, I got engaged, married, and had my first baby, in quick succession. While my peers wrote their dissertations, I wrote thank-you cards for wedding and baby showers. As they accepted internships, I accepted—for the first time since childhood—my body and its majestic ability to heal itself and expand to meet the needs of a growing baby. I rooted myself in therapeutic techniques and theories, yet more importantly, I found I was most grounded by my inherent gift to nurture and nourish my baby.
I skipped graduation to attend a trip for my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary. Knowing I accomplished the goal meant more than celebrating it publicly, for this accomplishment was much bigger than most people realized. Applying and getting accepted into graduate school was my first giant leap toward recovery.
Despite my insecurity about not being smart enough to get into graduate school, my fear of starting something new and then quitting it when it got overwhelming, all the while hiding out in my illness feeling like a complete fraud as I once had, proved to be an outdated narrative. I flipped the script. I rewrote the story. I discovered I was far more capable than I ever gave myself credit for.
I recovered myself in graduate school. I recovered from an eating disorder, and I recovered to my future passion for helping others heal. There was no hospital or outpatient treatment team (although that would have been ideal). There was the enormity, and often illusory outline, of a dream of living a life beyond the fragmented abyss of an eating disorder. Even when I felt unworthy, I walked towards it. Even when I felt discouraged and defeated, I took another step. I showed up, over and over, for myself. But let me be the first to say, I was a hot mess. I was all over the place and nowhere. I was oozing out and hollow. Uncomfortable and convinced I had to keep going. It wasn’t graceful or glamorous, it was mostly gut-wrenching until it wasn’t anymore. It certainly was not perfect, but somewhere inside I knew I was reclaiming my one true self.
Something shifted later that year, however. The wedding gifts and the framed degree went unnoticed as the incessant demands of mothering ensued. My gratitude for my body’s ability to heal from an eating disorder, to grow a precious little soul, and capacity to deliver that soul into the world became overshadowed with loneliness.
Day after day my husband would leave and go out into the world where there were people, actual people that he talked to, and much to my irritation, would sometimes even have the audacity to go out to eat with them. What?
I was increasingly aware, as I meandered through Target, that this whole motherhood thing was terribly misleading. As I sat in circles with other mom’s during “Books and Babies” at the library, I heard a voice, a loud, demanding voice that said, “Get the hell out of here!” But where would I go? “Books and Babies” felt like my one shot at connecting with other moms. Other women that maybe, just like me, were feeling like something critical was missing.
I couldn’t figure out why my whole life I had prepared for this thing that I knew without question I was called to do was equal parts misery and magical. My deepest felt sense at the time was that something was wrong with me. Why can’t I just be content with staying at home with my baby? I felt guilty, like some invisible force field of mother’s were frowning down on me, looking at each other with disgust, “Of course, it’s still not enough for her.”
As my son, Beckett, approached eighteen months I sought out and accepted my first position as a therapist at the local mental health center. I shopped daycares like my life depended on it, and in some ways it did. I needed the comfort of knowing my sweet baby would be well cared for while I went to work.
The first several weeks of dropping him off were horrific. His little body clung to me like a rabid animal desperate and afraid. I walked out into the parking lot sobbing, as other mothers hoisted themselves into their SUV’s and reapplied lipstick. I had morbid images of extracting this agony (wherever it lived in my body) and tucking it under their back tires to end the suffering.
When I was at work, I longed to be with Beckett, but when I was at home I couldn’t wait to go back to work where I could put my clinical skills to use. But no matter if I was at work or home, I believed I was failing somehow. I needed help.
My sturdy, reliable eating disorder, my method for managing such complicated feelings, was well into remission. As though handcuffed to the steering wheel I was committed not to turn back to the now rusty behaviors, eager and anxious for me to employ them. I just couldn’t. I knew in my heart, finally, that I simply was unwilling to return to a life dictated and tethered to an eating disorder. There’s got to be another way out.
Pregnancy was the ultimate invitation to heal my body. Motherhood, however, unfolded a rich tapestry woven with opportunities to heal my past and reconnect with my soul.
Fourteen years recovered, three children in my nest, and a million hours clocked in as a therapist later, I’ve reconsidered and reshaped my beliefs about what it means to be called to a profession or a role. Each whisper from our soul is beckoning us to expand, to doubt and underestimate ourselves mercilessly so that we can then more fiercely stand by our own side empowered and emboldened with the knowing that we once again exceeded our limiting beliefs and stepped into the fullest version of ourselves.
So with graduation and Mother’s Day upon us, I’m giving you one hell of an oversimplified recipe for recovery:
- Walk daily towards one of your soul’s callings.
- Watch as each step you take towards your passion you shed another thin layer of your old unhealthy ways.
- Marvel at how messy and majestic you are as you make your way.
- Lovingly acknowledge each detour and setback as the next lesson to remind you of how strong and steadfast you are despite the distractions and discouragement.
- Advocate for yourself like you would for a child.
- Allow your symptoms to guide you home.
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