Small Steps Forward

I learned a lot during my time at school, both in and out of class. I took a class called Youth Culture and Visual Media, taught by a film studies professor. We analyzed the ways in which society, advertisers, and film interact and how they coexist with youth. Outside of class, I learned that cigarettes are not a food group and illegal drugs don’t mix well with prescriptions. In the span of one month, I went from college to a psychiatric hospital, and soon I will be heading back to residential treatment—for what I hope will be the last time.

In all honesty, I was not ready to go to college. Before I left, I was still struggling to feed myself, self-harming quite frequently, and did not prioritize taking my medication. Still, I went off to school thinking that things would magically be better once I got there. In some ways, they were. I made new friends, and I was given all sorts of opportunities, including doing a show on the campus radio station. But in a lot of ways, things didn’t get better. In fact, they got worse. I found myself calling the suicide hotline at 3:00 AM, being unable to sleep before chain-smoking, and stress-vomiting. My professor became concerned, and I soon had counselling staff checking up on me almost every day.

It only took a few meals in college for my eating disorder to creep back into my life. All the hard work I did during my time in intensive outpatient just months before receded from my mind as anorexia’s lies took hold. I told myself the most dangerous lie: that I’d just lose “a few” pounds. With no definite goal in mind, I set out to lose weight, thinking I’d stop when I was happy, which is impossible for someone with an eating disorder. It is not my body that dissatisfies me. It is the distorted, disordered perceptions of my body that dissatisfy me. I know that losing weight will only heighten poor body image. The real solution is not to shed pounds, but to shed my disordered perceptions.

Meanwhile, most of my friends were doing drugs, and I joined in. Everyone seemed to be doing it, and I didn’t see my friends suffering any negative repercussions. I didn’t think it would do any harm. It probably comes as no surprise to you that I was completely wrong. Not only is it a bad idea to mix depressants with clinical depression, but it is an even worse idea to mix depressants with prescription anti-depressants. Not only did the drugs put me in a very dangerous and traumatic situation, but they made me extremely depressed. Even after they were out of my system, I was suicidal. By the time I moved back home, I was more depressed than I had ever felt in my life and wanted to die. My mom drove me to the emergency room, and I spent the next week in a psychiatric hospital, where it was decided that I needed more specialized residential treatment.

One of the key terms in my class at school was deceptively simple: youth. What does it mean to be youthful? The nuances of our definitions varied based on whatever we were arguing, but essentially, we decided, youth was characterized by inexperience and hedonism. Although I did not realize it at the time, my behavior was quintessentially youthful while I was at school. I blew off homework assignments to get high; I skipped breakfast so I could sleep in; I smoked because I thought it looked cool. I did all these things because I thought they were mature. In high school, I felt childish—youthful—because of my lack of experiences. I had never been to a “typical” house party, like what I saw depicted in the movies. I had never used drugs or alcohol, hardly dated, and never touched a cigarette (that started after high school). Although no one made fun of me and most of my friends met this same criteria, I felt like I must have been a fundamentally boring person.

In college, I thought I was growing up when in actuality, I was self-destructing. I have a knack for “re-writing” my life and my experiences to make them better than they are. For most of high school, I saw myself as a tortured artist. I believed my writing was improved by my suffering, that to truly be creative, I must be melancholic. What I am starting to realize, is that I cannot have both. I cannot be the brooding poet who chain-smokes in the moonlight in addition to being the future cantorial student I want to be. It is hard to let go of my idealized vision of self-destruction. It is hard to stop believing that there is something beautiful about slowly killing myself. One thing that has helped me is thinking of the people I admire. When I think of the traits I want to embody, what I want to stand for, and the people who inspire me to strive for my dreams, they are not “beautiful tragedies.” They are responsible people who overcame their personal struggles and became successful.

I am entering treatment with a focus on recovery and the goal of returning to college. When I go back to school, I want to make recovery as essential in my life as going to class. I will learn to take pride in how well I take care of myself, not how much damage I can inflict on my body and psyche. Instead of congratulating myself for how quickly I can smoke a pack of cigarettes, or how long I can go without eating, I will be proud of myself for eating well, for staying sober, and for becoming an expert in self-care. Not only do I want to make my parents proud, but I want to make God proud as well. While I was in the psychiatric hospital, I wrote the following in my journal, “Maybe [my extremely bad reaction to drugs] is some indirect way that God is watching over me, teaching me a hard lesson, and keeping me on the right track so that I can actually go to cantorial school… and help others… This could be a blessing. A really weird, painful one, but a blessing nonetheless.” I believe that God gave me a second chance to get things right. My behavior at school could have been the start of something even worse than what it was. Not only could I have undone all my progress towards recovery, but I could have been arrested and expelled had I been caught in possession of illegal drugs. I am grateful for the support of my family who is enabling me to get the blessing that is treatment. I am grateful that I have been removed from a dangerous situation and been given the chance to improve myself and learn to make better decisions. I am looking forward to going back to school and making truly mature decisions, decisions that will positively impact myself and those around me in addition to supporting my long-term goals. I am starting to believe what I wrote in my journal during my time in the psychiatric hospital, “[Prayer is] allowing God into my life and letting Him take care of me… not even that, but knowing that He is watching over me and that He’ll help me take care of myself.”

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