It feels bizarre sitting on an airplane after five and a half months of living in Colorado. When I left in April, I figured that eight weeks would be the extent of my treatment stint. But my spring fling became summer camp became fall fest. My husband and I put much of our lives on hold for this. And now, I’ve “graduated.”

We Often Have to Step Forward Before We’re “Ready”

Next month, next week, tomorrow. Today.

So goes that countdown that has been mounted on the walls of my brain since early August. All along, discharging from treatment was a huge fear. For the first time in my life, I’d let walls come down and authentic connections form. I had gone “all in,” so to speak. As soon as the treatment step-down process was discussed, I panicked. “I’m not ready,” I said, “I don’t want to leave.”

Conversation after conversation ended with encouragement toward a necessary evil: Stay in the present moment.

The problem was that I didn’t want to stay in the moment; I was adamant that fretting about the future would somehow fortify me against pain. When pressed by my treatment team though, I realized how that pattern of thinking has limited my relationships and my life in the past. I needed to really try. 

So I did. I slowly but surely trusted–first my team, then my peers. Lastly, I began learning to trust myself. And though learning to trust is a lifelong journey, I now see the beauty of it. I experienced incredible growth during these past five months. As I unfurled from my box-of-a-world, for the first time in over a decade, I felt safe and known; I felt like it was okay to completely fall apart. So I did.

I often say that breakdowns occur before breakthroughs, and I’ve seen that play out time and time again during the last few months. Lots of breakdowns later, I can truly say I am equipped for and walking on the road of eating disorder recovery. And now, it’s time to leave the treatment bubble.

I’ve been leaning heavily on this song the past few months.

It Hurts to Care

I sat begrudgingly on a grey chair and slumped toward the wall. It was a conversation, and an emotional state, I didn’t want to be in. And certainly not in front of others in therapy.

I don’t care,” I declared, my voice like steel.

Then, a month later, I was whimpering on a couch, whispering with shame: “It’s embarrassing to care.”  

But embarrassment gave way to fear as the mental countdown to discharge began to dwindle. It was too many goodbyes and I suddenly found myself sobbing on (yet another) couch. Tears rolled thickly down my cheeks. “It hurts to care.”

Choosing to Not be Ashamed of Grief

Needless to say, I feel emotions deeply (combine mountains, babies, and puppies to see the trifecta of glorious joy spring to my face). Between last week’s pre-departure Cry Fests, I found myself journaling and wailing in solace. I hated that I cared so much… about the people I’d met, the mountains I’d embraced, and the freedom I’d found in such an incredible program.

I wanted to just be able to celebrate my “graduation” and seamlessly transition to a life I’d supposedly had but had never actually lived. “Hannah? Who is she? Does she like the color orange? How would she act in a crowd of people?” It was like playing twenty questions to figure out myself, and in many ways, I’m still playing.

I felt like my heart was manhandled and thrust into the public eye–full of fleshy fear and soft vulnerability.

When it came to leaving treatment and reintegrating into the world, I wanted to be fine; to be able to stop crying and just say goodbye. “Like a normal person,” I explained.

I couldn’t.

I couldn’t stop the waves of grief and the stinging in my eyes that only comes after a plethora of tears. I just couldn’t. And for nearly a week, I told myself I wouldn’t be able to survive leaving. “I can’t do it,” I told myself. 

Maybe I just wanted reassurance from someone else; encouragement that I could and would be okay. Deep down, I think I knew that I could, by God’s grace, get on an airplane to travel back to Indiana. At my core, then, I was more so adamant that I wouldn’t. I didn’t want to. Why? Because caring about people hurts, and as I said thank you after thank you, I felt like my heart was manhandled and thrust into the public eye–full of fleshy fear and soft vulnerability

I hated it.

I know that I’m not the only one who has spent years trying to just feel safe. I’ve been chasing after safety for much of my life–drowning in a toxic lake labeled “self-discipline.” Experience taught me that I had to be “on” in every arena of my existence. I did my very best. And, turns out, I hated that too. A life without vulnerability is less of a life and more of an existence. And we were created for so much more than that.

So, here’s what I’ve decided: I don’t want a mere existence. I want to live in such a way that I change the world for the better and radiate hope in every moment.

That, my friends, requires caring. Deeply.

So I’ve cried a lot this week. I’ve mourned all my “lasts” at program. I’ve sobbed in gratitude for the way these five months have changed my life. I’ve bit my lip and stared at the floor as my eyes continued to produce an insanely-impressive amount of tears for days on end. 

And, I also rejoiced. I laughed about unforgettable memories, ate lunch with a therapist and dietitian who mean the world to me, played a bunch of Bananagrams, and hugged everyone I could with every fiber of my being.

While I’m glad I will get to see some of those people again in the near future, I am also wildly sad–trying to wipe my eyes with a dinky airline napkin as I type these words.

“Strength grows through soft vulnerability and a heart that refuses to close itself off to the world.” 

Without a doubt, the connections I have formed–within myself and with others–have been worth the discomfort… an undeniable birthmark of humanity. And it’s quite beautiful. 

Next month, next week, or the next day. They are blurry yet bright–for all of us. And I want to run full speed into each of them because I’ve realized that strength is not a result of isolation and fear. Rather, it grows through soft vulnerability and a heart that refuses to close itself off to the world.

What’s brittle will break, but what’s brave will bruise and blossom. I’m aiming to be the latter.




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