Choosing Recovery

Since my discharge from inpatient treatment at the end of May, I have heard countless times “I’m so proud of you, you’re such an inspiration, you are so strong” and other similar phrases. As much as I love hearing these compliments, I hate the pressure that comes with it. Admittedly, I put this pressure on myself, but it is there nonetheless and it can be overwhelming at times.

Recovery is not easy, and from my experience, the hardest part comes when you step out of those treatment doors and back into the real world again. It’s just you, by yourself, navigating your way down the never-ending bumpy road of recovery. Of course, most of us have an out-patient team we are able to work with upon discharge, and I’m grateful for mine. However at the end of the day when it all comes down to it, it’s still just me. I have to choose recovery. Every damn day. I never really grasped that concept in the past. I believed that after treatment I could soon be normal, and do what those around me and the rest of society does. Now however, I’m aware that I’m not like the vast majority of society. I have a mental illness that I did not choose to live with, but I can choose to live in recovery.

When people ask me how I do it, how did I recover, how did I get to where I am now, I cant help but laugh. One, because I’m not recovered – and I never will be. I will always have an eating disorder, but I can be living symptom free and always working towards a stronger recovery; a day when the thoughts and urges wont be as strong. Two, because when it all comes down to it, I just do it. It’s that simple, and at the same time that challenging. I learned and practiced all the skills I needed to while in treatment, and now I simply put them to use.

I’ve found that there is always a honeymoon phase in recovery. When you feel invincible, and the confidence in your ability to recover is unparalleled, no food can scare you and the urges are essentially non-existent. In the past, once that phase has come and gone, I find myself quickly slipping back into old patterns and behaviours. This time around it’s different. I continue to use those skills and choose recovery.

Do I want to skip a snack or meal out of convenience, bad body image or high emotion? ALL THE TIME. Do I want to purge a meal that has me riddled with guilt over the calories or being so full I feel like my skin is going to burst open? ALL THE TIME. Do I want to self-harm when I cant handle the thoughts that race through my head or when I’d rather feel physical pain than emotional pain? ALL THE TIME. Do I want the comfort of a drink or drug knowing that soon after it enters my body a sense of relief will overcome me? ALL THE TIME. But instead, you know what I do? The next right thing for my recovery – that’s it. By no means am I saying its easy to simply just eat, not purge, self-harm or intoxicate myself, but it is possible.

I mentioned earlier about the pressure I’ve put on myself as admiration of my recovery journey from others grows. I’m currently at a point I’ve never reached in my previous attempts to recover, where I have managed to remain symptom free beyond the first two months after discharge. This is such an unchartered territory for me, and to explore it is both terrifying and exciting. Terrifying because now there is a standard to uphold that I’ve set for myself. I’m afraid of falling again, of letting those around me down, more importantly letting myself down. Sometimes I question my worthiness of recovery and a happy life – can I sustain this? Then I remember that I didn’t come this far to only come this far, and that’s exciting. I have a chance at life again. I can do whatever I want without letting my eating disorder or addiction hold me back. I can be whoever I want to be, and who I’m meant to be, for the rest of my life as long as I continue to choose recovery every day.

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Baby J

I hadn’t known I was pregnant for long and I wasn’t sure what pregnancy brought with it. All I knew was that I was in pain. Sharp, stabbing pain. It got worse with every breath I took. I couldn’t laugh, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t sit up straight without a searing pain pulsating through my abdomen. Ironically, only the fetal position could comfort me. I knew something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t figure out what it was.

I’d been bleeding abnormally for a few days, and to me bleeding of any sorts was abnormal. I hadn’t menstruated in over a year, and knowing I was pregnant I chalked it up to implantation bleeding, or so the internet told me. It also told me it could be an ectopic pregnancy, but something like that would never happen to me. Every time I went to the bathroom I was petrified yet intrigued at what I was seeing. Jelly like clumps of blood. I was embarrassed I found this interesting and carried on without much thought, thinking it would go away on its own. Within three days the pain started. Maybe it is an ectopic pregnancy I would think to myself. Ashamed to admit it could be the best case scenario. I didn’t want the guilt of an abortion that I knew would destroy me and I wasn’t ready to be a mom. My eating disorder had a tight grip on me and no baby could come between us. I didn’t want my body to get bigger, I didn’t want to nourish or take care of myself, let alone a tiny human. I was beyond selfish in this thinking. However then my rational thoughts emerged. “Sarah, before this you were told you would never be able to get pregnant without help from doctors and procedures. Maybe this is the only chance you will have to be a mom. Maybe this is meant to change your life. AJ was told his chances to impregnate a woman were less than 50% of the average male. With our statistics alone, this is a miracle pregnancy – it’s now or never.”

AJ was working Friday night and would be done around 2am. We had previously discussed making another trip to the hospital when he was finished as a precautionary measure as neither of us knew what else to do or what could be wrong. I showed up at 1am on April 23rd in hopes he may be done a bit early. He wasn’t. I remember sitting with Lauren and Ian while he worked, everyone else is a blur. I tried to not let my pain show on my face as much as I could. Neither of us had really told anyone that I was pregnant, it was too soon. I sat there in agony, curling into the table awkwardly time and time again. Minutes felt like hours.

When we pulled into the hospitals emergency parking lot we sat for a moment. I remember thinking that this was silly and the doctor will tell me all is normal, send me on my way and I’d have made a big deal out of nothing. Yet in the back of my mind I had a weird feeling that maybe after years of diagnosing myself on WebMD, this time I would be right.

The waiting room wasn’t too full, yet both of us knew this could still take a while. After all, it was now almost 3am and unless its a life or death situation nothing moves too fast at that hour. I was triaged quickly, blood pressure was a bit low but that’s normal for me. The nurse asked me what brought me here and I simply replied “I found out a week ago I was pregnant and I’ve been having abnormal bleeding and (which was now even more) intense pain.” Her facial expressions didn’t change, no sense of concern and sent me on to the next nurse who confirmed all my health information and slapped a hospital band around my wrist.

 

AJ and I took a seat in the back corner of the waiting room expecting to make ourselves comfortable. Joke was on us. Within five minutes my name was being called and we were following a different nurse to what would be my room for the next 10 hours. We passed one branch of the ER where I had waited for the doctor the previous week while getting blood work to confirm the pregnancy when the bleeding first began. I thought it was strange I wasn’t placed in that area again, and my heart sped up a little bit. Then we passed ambulatory care and kept walking – my heart speeding up more. I looked at AJ with a “WTF is going on, where are we going” look on my face. Then we entered acute care, my room was the last one on the left. What did acute care mean? Small issue? Something with a quick fix? Thats what I first thought. I then googled the term, and chuckled a bit in disbelief. There’s no way this is “life-threatening” condition I thought.

Despite being rushed in, the wait in the room was long. There were no windows so sense of time escaped us. The on-call doctor told me that specialists weren’t in until 8am and I’d likely need a vaginal and abdominal ultrasound and exam. AJ and I passed the time playing hangman and making jokes. I don’t remember the other parts of that wait, but I feel as though both him and I did our best to avoid facing reality. When exhaustion hit, he crawled into my hospital bed and we closed our eyes trying to rest as each of us had to work the next day. I’d never felt more connected to him than I did in that moment. I felt safe and I felt loved.

When the doctor finally came back I was told I’d be going for an ultrasound shortly and to not make any plans for the rest of the day. At this point AJ reached out to our employers in order to get my shift covered, and luckily they offered to cover his as well so he could be with me. I was wheeled through the emergency department into the main hospital where I laid on the hard bed as a cold jelly was rolled around my belly for the ultrasounds. The technicians face was indecipherable, I had no hint to what was going on and that irked me. I got back to my room where AJ was waiting patiently with a worried look on his face, and I made a snide and sassy comment to lighten the mood. The on-call doctor came in with an update about the results of the ultrasound and blood work I previously had upon admission. My HCG levels had risen over the past week indicating I was indeed pregnant however the ultrasound showed no implantation in the uterus or anywhere else they could see. I wasn’t really sure what this meant or how that could be possible. I was told they’d have to wait to get the specialists opinion before moving forward. This implied another wait was in store because the gynacologist I was to meet with wasn’t at the hospital yet. I asked AJ to let Shaun know what was going on and where I was. He and I had planned to meet for coffee that day and clearly I was not able to. I also asked AJ to go to my house to pick up the essentials, toothbrush, deodorant, headband and what not.

I was alone for maybe twenty minutes after that. It’s as though as soon as Shaun got AJs message and heard I was in hospital, he dropped everything and came. I remember thinking how shocked I was he had shown up. We hadn’t talked or been very close lately. I thought he had given up on me because of my eating disorder, I thought he didn’t want to be my friend anymore, I thought he didn’t love or care about me. He had no idea what was going on, or why I was there but his face said it all – he was very worried. “Whats up? What the fuck is going on Braun?” he asked me in his big brother tone of voice. I didn’t know what to say, this wasn’t how I was going to tell him. I didn’t want to disappoint him anymore than I had. Despite the distance between us, the coffee I asked him to meet me for that day was when I was going to tell him about the baby, not lying in a hospital bed due to undetermined complications.

I told him everything in the nonchalantly way that I do to avoid emotions leading up to where I found myself now. There was no judgement like I had expected, just a calm, simple “Okay, so whats the plan now, what do we need to do?” He kept me company and waited with me until the specialist arrived. I don’t recall the conversation, I was just happy he was there. I remember thinking that when it really comes down to it, despite the tension or distance between us, he truly does give a shit and maybe he will always be there for me like he has always said.

The door burst open and thats when I met the gynaecologist I’d be waiting on, Dr. Pressey, for the first time. White doctors coat on, stethoscope around his neck, balding a little on the top and a few wrinkles around his eyes, probably from his friendly smile. He introduced himself to me and reiterated what I already knew as he read my chart. As I laid on the bed he quickly lifted my gown and explained he just needed to feel around a bit for any abnormalities. Shaun quickly looked it away, it was a bit awkward for both us. When he was finished he looked at me and professionally told me I had a few options. Number one; if there is in fact a baby implanted somewhere other than my uterus I could be given a methotrexate injection (a type of chemotherapy drug) which over the next 7-10 days would dissolve and the terminate the pregnancy as it was unable to come to term due to its whereabouts – which was still unknown. Number 2; it could be something other than pregnancy causing my symptoms and high HCG levels and they could go in and do an exploratory surgery to examine further, putting me out of work for a few days. Number 3; if it is in fact an ectopic pregnancy once they got a better look doing an exploratory surgery they would terminate the pregnancy during the procedure. This would put me out of work for 4-6 weeks he said, and due to finances that was not going to be an option in my mind. He then back tracked and said if the chemotherapy drug didn’t work to terminate the pregnancy or if its already to late to inject it due to a rupture that my life could be in jeopardy. I don’t know if that didn’t matter to me or it just didn’t register as a real possibility at the time. Dr. Pressey told me to think about it for 20 minutes and he’d be back to hear my decision.

I looked at Shaun and he simply said “You’re doing the surgery.” I laughed in his face, my mind was made up. I was not going to be put out of work for a few days let alone a possible month. Inside I was still a bit undecided, but I had to keep my guard up – I’m fine, everything’s fine. Shaun went about his day and said he would be back later on. I asked the nurses if I could go outside for a smoke while I thought about my choices. It was a windy morning, but the sun was out and I liked the combination of the cool breeze and sun on my face. I called AJ over and over again wondering why it was taking him so long to return – no answer. Finally he arrived back at my room, I already had to stall Dr. Pressey once. The OR was only available at 1pm that day and if I chose the surgery I’d have to get prepped right away. I told AJ all my options and he looked at me with a dumbfounded look on his face, “Well clearly you’re doing the surgery” he told me. It was two against one now. The two people I’m closest with both want the same for me, so I decided to trust them. I told Dr. Pressey I had agreed to the exploratory surgery and double checked that if they didn’t find anything or have to remove anything I could be back to work in a of couple days. He nodded and called the nurse in to prep me for surgery.

It was such a quick transition once the OR was booked, that the half hour before surgery is mostly a blur. “Do you have any metal on you?” the nurse asked me. I did. My whole head was covered in black metal beads from my semi-permanent extensions, and there was no way I was shaving my head for this. She sighed with a frustrated look on her face and moved on. An IV was then placed into my right arm and she locked the vitals cart in to move with the bed. I lifted my hand to let the nurse put the pulse ox on my index finger and she simply looked at me and said in a flat tone that I needed to remove the nail polish I had on. It was shellac, so that was not going to be an easy task. I sat there briefly chipping away at it until she sharply said “That’ll do, we will make it work.” I felt like such an inconvenience to her and world at this point. My employers were probably angry both AJ and I couldn’t make it in that night. AJ was likely bored out of his mind at this point. Shaun dropped everything and came by. And now the nurse is annoyed with me.

Next thing I knew I was told it was time to go. I always thought going into surgery is a cute scene in the movies, but real life was kind of anti-climatic. Or maybe thats just because my mind was racing with so many thoughts that the outside world was a blur. “What if I died on the table? No Sarah, thats not going to happen. This is an easy surgery, its not like they are operating on your head or heart. You’ll be fine. Yeah, but what if my heart cant handle the anesthesia because it’s to weak from my eating disorder? Still, you wouldn’t be that lucky. I guess it’d be a better way to say you died during surgery rather than your eating disorder killing you or committing suicide. Oh well, whatever happens will happen – I don’t care.” All these possibilities danced through my mind as I was wheeled through the back halls of the hospital and up to the surgical floor, with AJ by my side. When we got to the doors separating the waiting and recovery rooms from the operating rooms, AJ asked if I was scared, I said no. I truly wasn’t. One, because I didn’t think this whole scenario was real, and maybe I was oblivious to how critical the situation was based on the phrase “exploratory surgery.” To me that indicated nothing was wrong, and it was just a quick in and out surgery. They gave me an estimated time frame of 30 – 40 minutes until I’d be seeing AJ again. Or two, because I honestly didn’t care if I lived or died. AJ wished me luck and told me he loved me when he kissed me on the forehead before I was brought through the big white doors.

I was left in the hall after that for what felt like an eternity until I was eventually taken into the OR. I remember thinking it wasn’t nearly as fancy as the ones I’d seen in Greys Anatomy, but then again, its Sarnia. The room was unappealingly white with a hint of faded beige. The OR nurses were nice, 2 females, 1 male and a student. I thought that was a lot for a simple surgery. Dr. Pressey arrived and made a corny joke while scrubbing in, as I’d later learn being cheesy was quite normal for him. The lights above the table came on. They were bright. I don’t know if it was the pain meds but now I felt like I was on an episode of Greys Anatomy and a rush of adrenaline flowed through my body. An arm appeared over me from the right side with the anesthetic mask. I expected to be told to count down from 10 like on TV, but the nurse casually talked to me until next thing I knew I was waking up in a different room, completely disoriented from time and space.

I must have instinctually known something was wrong. I kept asking “When can I see AJ” as I went in and out of consciousness while the anesthesia wore off. I can’t remember coming to, or much time spent in the recovery room other than a intense desire to be with him. Once I was at my new room on the medical floor, AJ pulled back the curtain and entered carrying my excessive amount of belongings with a concerned smile on his face. “How are you” he asked. I felt great, the meds were incredible – as if I hadn’t even had surgery. Thats when he told me I was in surgery for nearly three hours, opposed to the estimated thirty minutes. I didn’t think much of it, or maybe it didn’t register to me at that time because of the pain meds. Nobody came in to check on me for a while after that, and when they did, I asked if I could speak to the doctor about going home. It was a firm no and I was told Dr. Pressey had left for the night and I’d need to wait to speak with him in the morning for more information about how the surgery went.

I was visibly frustrated and quickly moved on. I attempted to get out of bed and lean over to grab my cosmetic bag in order to freshen up and re-do my hair. After all, I had visitors coming. AJ asked what in the world I was doing and reminded me I had just had a serious surgery and my appearance is the last thing I should be focusing on right now. I ignored him and carried on. AJ had been in touch with Shaun during surgery and he, Markus and Cian would be heading up shortly to visit. All I really remember from my time with them was how thirsty I was. I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink until the next morning (which I then negotiated to midnight). A nurse on the floor, Nick had been good friends with AJ in high school and also knew Shaun, he came in to say hi and brought everyone but me ice cream from the cafeteria. I thought it was a cruel joke to not let the anorexic eat. Each of them did sport a look of concern as they looked at me, and it was nice to feel loved in that way I suppose. They left, and another two friends from work came to visit as well. By this time I was desperately craving cigarettes and wanted nothing more than a slurpee. I convinced the nurse to let me go outside in a wheelchair with my friends for a smoke. If it wasn’t obvious I was on pain meds before, it was now. Everything seemed as though it was in slow motion and I kept asking AJ to push me faster and faster throughout the hospital. He didn’t, but it felt like he was going so fast at the same time.

We had no information throughout the night until the next morning. AJ refused to leave my side and I wanted to be as close to him as I could at this time. Like I said, maybe it was instinct but I believe I subconsciously knew things weren’t right. Nick set us up in the lounge with a recliner, blankets and pillow for AJ and I had a pretty comfy set up as well for the night. Neither of us were really able to sleep, and at midnight AJ ran out to get me the slurpee I so desperately wanted.

Around 7am we were brought back to my room and tried to get some rest as we both squeezed onto the hospital bed. What felt like shortly after shutting our eyes, Dr. Pressey barged in and jokingly stated “Sleeping in the same bed is how you two ended up in this situation in the first place!” AJ shot out of bed and skirted around to the chair on the other side as I laughed. Dr Pressey asked how I was feeling as he stared at my chart. I told him I was in pain, he looked up over his glasses and said  “Well I’d imagine you are. Anyone who had their fallopian tube removed would be in pain.” I wasn’t one hundred percent sure what this meant exactly. He then went on to explain that it was a good thing I chose the surgery when I did or I’d have gone home and died within twelve hours. Turns out when they got in there, my tube had already burst and my abdomen was filling up with blood, fast. They tried to save my fallopian tube, but he said it was too shredded by the time they got to it. I knew why, but I wanted to hear the reason it burst, so I asked him. He told me that when the egg was fertilized it did not implant in the uterus. Instead the it implanted in my fallopian tube. Thats when he said it – the baby was growing too big for the environment and caused the rupture. The pregnancy was never viable. There was no way to save my growing baby.

I was 7 weeks along. I will never get to meet them. I will never know what he or she would have looked like. I will never get to hear their laugh or wipe their tears. I will never get to hold them in my arms or watch them grow up. I will never get to say their name to him or her. But I am, and always will be be a mother to my angel baby.

Goodbye ED

Assignment; write a goodbye letter to your eating disorder

 This is the third goodbye letter I have written over the years, one during each stay at residential treatment. The first one I was never given an opportunity to burn, the second one I chose not to burn when I had the chance and this one I watched burn brightly and crumble to ash.

Well ED, here we are again. It feels like not to long ago I was saying goodbye and sending you on your way. You must be pretty proud that you were able to sneak back into my life eh? I don’t have much to say to you at this point, and could not be bothered to spend any more of my time thinking about you. You have taken up way to much of my energy and I don’t want to give you the satisfaction of acknowledging how you destroyed my life.

That being said, I want you to know who you have helped me become. Through the struggle of letting you go, the little girl inside of me is jumping up and down clapping her hands watching me grow into the Sarah I was meant to be. I needed you, in order to become who Sarah is supposed to be.

Since you are one loud son of bitch, I am learning to be louder. I am finding my voice and you no longer have the power to silence me. I will not let you. I will stand up for myself, I will say what I need to say and do what I need to do. I will become who I want to be, rather than who you say I should.

I am grateful for the life I lived in your prison and am happy to finally be breaking free. In doing so, I am no longer dependent on you for survival. I am learning that I am capable of successful independence without you. I am venturing beyond my comfort zone that you locked me in and opening a new world of possibilities. Ones that I could have never imagined existed while living my life in your grasp.

You taught me humour. In the darkest of days there was always a light within my soul and without you, each day it is becoming brighter. I am learning to laugh. I am able to find and share my wit with others. Had you not dulled my sparkle I’d never have been able to shine. You have highlighted my creative side when I had no other way to communicate. You allowed me to explore outlets I would have never considered an option to express myself. I found art, I found writing and I found music all in the dance of letting you go.

From you I have learned loyalty. Your dedicated and controlling ways over me may have been a burden in the eyes of others, however it has become a great part of who I am. Loyalty to my loved ones has always been a priority for me, and throughout my days with you it remained strong only to grow even more, as I continue on without you. Had I not had to battle my way out from under your influence I’d never have seen my own dedication to myself, my life and those around me.

Each time I fell under your spell you assumed I was only getting smaller and weaker. Little did you know that when you pushed me further into the dirt I was only being planted to root deeper and grow stronger then you’ll ever be. Because of you I have found my strength, my courage and my sensitivity. 

If I did not choose to let you go, I would often find myself wondering how compassionate I’d be towards others and how kind I’d be learning to be towards myself. However, in order to let you go, I must first have you. So thank you for being part of my life and a part of me; I have no regrets. Even though I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – you are no longer welcome to be an active part of my life. All you ever wanted was to knock me down, tear me apart and end my life. But like a Phoenix, here I am, rising from the ashes and I’m finally ready to fly.

A Dose of Self Compassion

Assignment; write a letter to yourself as though you are compassionately talking to your best friend

Dearest Sarah,

Where do I begin? I have watched you struggle. I have watched you hurt and be hurt. I have watched you experience pain and inflict pain upon yourself. I have watched you in your lowest of lows and your highest of highs. I have watched you get knocked down, and sweet girl, I have always watched you get back up.

Sarah, I know how trapped and alone you’ve felt in your 27 years. How scared you are now to truly connect with others in fear of being abandoned by those closest to you. I can see it in your eyes, the longing for connection you so deeply want in your life. You have always wanted a sense of belonging; a sibling to always have by your side, a friend that would be there regardless of time, distance or circumstance. However, you seem to have lost yourself in searching for a place to belong in this world. I witnessed you destroy yourself to please others. Torturing yourself day in and day out wondering what you could do to feel loved and accepted. Wondering what you had done wrong and why you were never good enough. Thinking you were too much for some and not enough for others. Your life was a balancing act of secrecy and deception, ultimately from yourself. That is no life. But love, you are good enough, you always have been.

I need you to know that your illnesses are not your fault. And they certainly do not define you. You never asked for a life burdened with such obstacles. You never asked to live a life repulsed by your reflection. You never asked for such a wounded mind and aching heart. Through everything, your resiliency astounds me. Who you continue to become is overwhelmingly inspiring. Your past has shaped you into a woman to be proud of today. It is time to recognize everything that makes you who you are, because darling, you can’t find the answer to that on a scale.

Who you are today and continue to become is defined by all your experiences, quirks, interests and ideas throughout your life. You are daddy’s sidekick in the workshop and mommy’s helper in the kitchen. You are the little entrepreneur organizing street carnivals and planning campground parades. You are the talented soccer player who the team relied on to win each game. You are the performer who grew up in the theatre and adored being on stage. You are the practical joker with a sense of humour that makes everyone laugh. You are a lover of animals and a competitive sports fan. You are the picture taker and music maker. You are the early morning daydreamer and late night stargazer. You are the whimsical soul travelling though the world in a beautiful vessel.

Sarah you are composed of much more than the roles you’ve played. You are thoughtful and selfless, giving an abundance of love away to those in your life and dear, you need to hold on to some of that kindness for yourself. You have an ability to see beyond the surface of others and offer a considerable amount of compassion, leaving an indelible mark capable of changing lives. The perfectionist in you shines through in your countless creative outlets. Whether you are working on an arts and crafts project, writing a piece of work or simply photographing the little moments in life, everything you do is learned quickly and completed with passion. This is a sure strength of yours as well. When you love and care about someone or something, your passion is clear, always offering one hundred percent of your time and energy. Your loyalty is admirable. You are a dedicated woman, and a fearless leader. The determination within you has and will continue to provide you with success far into the future. You are stubborn and sensitive, qualities that can be daunting yet also provide you with vast amounts of opportunities throughout your life.

Sweetheart, I need you to remember how strong and brave you are and always have been in your journey. I need you to know without exception that the courage you need to survive has been within you all along, as long as your overwhelming power to believe never fades. Your story is nowhere near over my love, this is just the beginning.

A Day in the Life of Recovery

Assignment; write as though you wake up one morning and your eating disorder and addictions are miraculously cured. What would you notice about yourself? What would others notice?

The warm sun shines through the curtains of my cozy downtown apartment as I awake to the comforting memories of my alarm tone. As I roll over to press snooze I come to realize there is no need, nor do I want to – today I am excited. I take a moment to listen to the sounds of the morning outside my window as the fresh air flows through my window. Chirping birds do not irritate or aggravate the pounding headache I’m so accustomed to brought on from the night before. All in effort to drown out and numb my destructive thoughts and self hatred in my substance of choice. The breeze serves as a gentle reminder that I am sensitive; although crisp, I feel no rush to huddle under the blankets to keep myself warm, my body is able to do that for me. There is no more pain to hide from before rising and I am grateful. Upon standing, my heart is calm and breath even, I can feel my strong legs below me allowing my body to stand proud and approach today with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind. Today, I am alive.

While making breakfast I am content, simply because it is just that, breakfast. I sit down to enjoy a homemade muffin smeared with peanut butter. I am not consumed with counting calories and I notice a sense of inner freedom. My mind is no longer plagued with the idea of how to avoid or turn every meal into a binge/purge session; it is allowed to explore different avenues of thought. Today I have time to believe in and imagine infinite possibilities.

As I head into the shower I look down and see a beautifully hand-painted pottery piece where the scale used to torment me. I do not need to know my weight, because I already know my worth. There is no sense of shame or anxiety when I feel the beads of water gently glide down my body; gracing my soft shoulders, down my chest and as my fingertips graze across my stomach I think to myself, “You never deserved the hell I put you through, and thank you for surviving despite it all.” Today I am healthy.

Choosing an outfit today comes with ease. A pair of jean shorts that fit in all the right places and a nice tank top. I briefly glance in the mirror for a moment and while looking at my reflection I realize that not only do I accept what I see, I like what I’m looking at also. There is no need to endlessly change my outfit before finding the perfect one. No twisting and turning to inspect from all angles, no time-consuming pinching and pulling every inch of my body that needs improving upon. Today, I feel comfortable and confident in my body.

I grab my overnight bag and head to my car feeling excited. Merging onto the highway with the windows down and volume up I have a good feeling about today. Soon enough I see the Sarnia exit and my heart fills with joy. I haven’t been home for a while. When I arrive at my parents house they are anxiously waiting on the porch for my arrival. It’s so nice to see them again, in a way it feels like its been sixteen years. As I get out of the car, I notice the look on their faces, it’s as though they are seeing me for the woman I am for the very first time. They are relaxed and happy. My dads cheek glistens in the sun as a tear streams down his face; the little girl he lost so long ago is finally home. My mom squints her eyes to see over her cheeks from the tremendous smile on her face fuelled by pride. They no longer have reason to be concerned over their only daughters fragile and failing body. They are not worried whether I will wake up in the morning, nor concerned about receiving that dreaded phone call in the middle of the night.

We head to the famous Dockside restaurant to enjoy lunch on the patio over the water. I can feel the breeze in my long hair as I take off my jacket; I’m not ashamed to expose my arms, for they keep me balanced in this world. As usual dad takes a while to make up his mind on what he’ll be having, however it doesn’t bother me because I also haven’t decided. I felt no need to prepare for lunch by researching the menu or calorie count beforehand; I’m in no rush, and the numbers no longer matter. Our meals come, and I am able to savour every bite of my shrimp tacos. Being around my parents has now become a choice, rather than a chore. We are able to laugh, smile and enjoy one another’s company. The conversation is easy and enjoyable today with no tension, conflict or irritability like there once was. There is sense of flow to it rather than a business meeting feel. Upon paying the bill my dad walks towards me with his arms wide open. Instead of quickly pulling away, I let him fully embrace me as he’s wanted to for so long but I have never allowed him to, constantly afraid he may feel my sharp edges. It feels nice to be present in his arms again. His heart is so full of happiness he can barely speak but before he lets go he whispers, “No matter how old you get, you’ll always be my little girl.” – “Thanks for lunch Daddy, I love you.” I reply. He gives me a kiss on the cheek and I know thats his way of saying thank-you for spending time with him. We make our way over to meet my mom waiting by the car. When I approach her to say goodbye she places both her hands softy on my shoulders, looks down and slowly back up into my eyes speaking the words she’s been waiting so long to say “It’s so nice to have our Sarah back.” I waved goodbye as my parents drive off, and smile knowing I’ll be seeing them again soon. Today, I am worthy.

I make my way over to Markus’. It’s Sunday, so I know he’ll be relaxing by the pool and I can’t wait to join. I’ve missed those summer days on the deck, my body may have been there in the past, but I never was. Slowly making my way up the driveway, I pause and listen to the laughter coming from around the corner and I know Marika, Jane and Shaun are there as well. Jane is ecstatic to see me, just as she always has been, however now that worried look in her eyes has transformed into pure joy; she comments on how good I look and I thank her. I’m not irritated by this comment because now I feel good and I know it comes from a place of love and care. As Markus sees me he initially turns around, which means he is trying to keep it together. He’s so happy to see me. When he turns back around, he is beaming and comes over to give me the hug that has never faltered, filled with unconditional love and safety. I look over and Shaun remains sitting at the end of the table playing on his phone. I’m not disappointed or hurt though. Life, people and circumstances change and I no longer resent him for how everything turned out between us. I have accepted what it is, what we are and have moved on. Once the initial excitement subsides, I walk into the kitchen and help myself to a lemonade. I feel no urge to drink in a setting filled with memories dominated by alcohol anymore. I hear the door open and Shaun says to me “It’s nice to see you again Braunyy, you look good. I hope things are going well for you.” Before he heads back outside, he hugs me. But it’s different now, its real and as though he’s no longer afraid of breaking me.

We spend the afternoon lounging by the pool, visiting and playing games. As I wind up for my turn during our corn-hole tournament Markus puts his arm over my shoulder and says to me “I’m so glad to see you smiling your smile again,” I know he’s really missed it these past few years. The day goes on filled with soulful laughter and genuine conversation. When I see the tan lines on my skin I realize I was able to spend the day in my bathing suit without thinking about, judging or comparing my body. I did not I feel compelled to torture myself with a sweater under the scorching hot sun. I was able to be present and enjoy being with those I consider family and take part in what we were doing rather than watch from the sidelines because my body was too tired and weak to stand. Suddenly I feel a spray of cold water hit my neck and I spin around to see both Marika and Shaun holding water guns in their hands, only this time I know its not for the purpose of extinguishing my cigarette, I quit long ago. A water fight ensues, and Jane joins in as Markus lights up the BBQ for dinner. We gather around the table for some of Markus’ specialty flavoured wings and macaroni salad. I’m not concentrating on how my stomach feels over my shorts or what my legs look like when I sit down on a chair. Instead, I’m listening to Marika tell me about what her new kitten has been up to. After dinner I say my goodbyes, I have one last stop to make before checking in to my hotel for the night. As I hug Markus one last time he softly says “Congratulations game-changer, you’ve won.” Walking to my car I can feel my cheeks twitching slightly. Today, I am smiling

The evening aroma of the lake delicately makes its way to my restored senses while I cruise under the bridge to meet AJ. Seeing him makes visiting home complete. As soon as he is close enough AJ picks me up and spins me around holding on as if he never wants to let me go again. Soon enough he comments on the fact that I’ve never let him hold me up for that long. He’s right, by now I’d have squirmed my way down and out of his arms ashamed that I was too heavy for him to lift or perhaps he may feel an ounce of fat on my body and be repulsed by me. However tonight, I welcome the affection I had denied for so many years.

We stroll along the waterfront with Rogue and she makes sure to stop and smell every patch of grass and flower along the way. Walking feels nice, I am not winded and my lungs feel clear. I can breathe. More than that, we both mention how nice it is to be together and enjoy real conversation with one another again, opposed to staring at our phones, talking about work, and arguing over nothing while having drinks. His eyes light up when I tell him about my passions and goals; I’ve never had those before. He grabs my hand and guides me to a bench where we sit down to enjoy the remainder of the sunset and says “Sarah, I know you can do anything you set your mind to – I have always believed in you.” When the light starts to dim from the sky I notice a baby Finch perched on a branch in the tree behind us. The final rays fade behind the horizon and the small bird takes off. AJ and I simultaneously squeeze our hands a little bit tighter. He moves his hand over his chest while I gently trace the outline of my tattoo above my scar; we both have everlasting imprints of what might have been. I rest my held on his shoulder for a moment, “Goodnight Jesse” I whisper. I take a moment to reflect on the “what ifs” and “could haves” as I know he is likely doing the same. We both let out a sigh as we rise to collect ourselves and walk back to our cars. Before I leave he stops me and reiterates what he has always told me before every goodbye, “You are the best, best friend I could ever have.” He kisses me on the forehead and holds me in his arms one more time before opening my car door.  Driving away I look in the rearview mirror and notice him kneeling down beside Rogue as he is puppeteering her paw up and they both wave goodbye. Today, I am deserving of love.

Arriving at my hotel is bittersweet, for it was such a short visit. Sarnia may not be home for me anymore but it will always be home in my heart, and the people here will always be my family. Yawning, I crawl in to the king-sized bed. I don’t mind being alone, because I am content and proud of who I am. I no longer need anyone or anything to complete me, I am perfectly able to do that on my own. Knowing this, I will fall asleep peacefully tonight, I treated and surrounded my mind and body with the love and respect it deserves. Today I was happy.