Trauma, Grief, Eating Disorders, and Relief

Tonight, I had the pleasure of having a chat with a teammate from a health challenge I am participating in. A lot of stuff spilled out that I feel like needs to be shared. It fits in that category of things I wish were written when Jessica’s accident happened, so I put it here, in hopes that it will help others. The chat was about our eating disorders and how we are working to move forward from them after being triggered by major trauma. I am five years out (Jessica’s accident), but my teammate’s is fairly recent.

Teammate: I have a weird relationship with food, it’s unhealthy but it’s hard to see around it.

I hear you hummin’. My relationship with food is finally changing, but it’s been a really, really long road. It’s been five years since Jessica’s accident, and nearly a year since I decided to double down on therapy and get serious about taming my demons. It’s taken 9 months for things to start changing. But they are just starting to change, so it’s no where near perfect yet. For example, last night, after I cried for 20 minutes straight, I went and ate hot dogs and cake at one o’clock in the morning. Who does that? But whatevs. Nothing I can do about it now, except keep trying to heal up.

Teammate: I do that. A lot of people do. It’s hard not to just eat everything because it’s there or it tastes good.

I know. I’m trying to become more mindful. It’s hard to do those things without a reason not to. Of course, I have a lot of reasons not to, but still do them mainly because I don’t think about things. I’ve been swimming in grief and sadness and mindlessly indulging in bad habits. Until now. Now I’m thinking about things and the behavior is slowly, slowly changing. But it takes a long time and the Trauma game is no joke. It hasn’t been very long since your trauma. I admire your desire for change and for trying and I will support you however I can, but you also need to be as gentle with yourself as possible. You have to have a way to grieve your experience. You have to have somewhere to put those feelings if you’re not in a place to just allow them to be.

It’s more than five years later and, of course, I wish I had handled my grief in a healthier way. I wish I could have walked every time I felt like eating. If I had done just that, I would have lost all of the weight I gained from being pregnant with Jocelyn, so that would be a suggestion I have. Move instead of eating, when the desire strikes. BUT, I also know how it feels to be immobile. I am in a place of having to count regular activities as exercise because I sweat if I stand up for longer than five minutes. So, I understand the major resistance to a healthier choice.

In fact, I tried to get healthy two years after the accident. I started to see a trainer, but quit because the exercise was helping to move the trauma out of my body and I could not handle processing the emotion. I was not ready.

Teammate: That’s a scarily good point. It’s like if I shut myself down enough, time will stop moving too. I won’t have to be afraid that the other shoe is going to drop at any moment.

And that might not change. I still have that feeling. Jessica was having stomach issues a few weeks ago and I Dr. Googled her symptoms and found all of this stuff on Pancreatitis and Liver cancer, I closed out the browser, but not before I saw prognosis timelines of three to six months. I couldn’t breathe until we got to the doctor who was unfazed and talked us through what it probably was and to follow-up in two weeks if things didn’t start getting better. That showed me that I still live in the extreme where I am still afraid she is going to die from any little thing. Which sounds exhausting, but the good news is, a flip did get switched last year.

At the beginning of the school year, I was feeling pretty good. I don’t remember exactly what was going on, or what significant breakthrough had been made, but we were heading in for a meeting with the IEP team and I was feeling optimistic. We are walking down the hall of Jessica’s school and there were two girls walking down the hall together, chatting, as teen-aged girls do. Nothing big, but in that moment my grief washed over me completely.

As much as I hated the California heat, I would give almost anything if it meant we were still living there, because none of this ever happened, and Jessica and her friend Mallory were able to walk down the halls at school together, conspiring about boyfriends, and who was going to be the more convincing one to the parents about whatever bad teenage choice they were plotting next.

And in that moment? My heart shattered all over again.

She will never get that middle school or high school experience. She never gets to be that kid.

So, I was telling my therapist about this and talking about how frustrating it is that this sort of thing is still happening. I get to a place where I feel like I’m moving on and then BAM! Something innocent like her old dance coach posting an article about what happens when your child dances and I am un-fucking-done. I wondered aloud to my therapist that it would be nice to know when that sort of thing was going to stop happening.

Her response was: “What if it doesn’t?”

And the flip switched and I felt relieved.

What if it doesn’t? What if I no longer have to wait for the other shoe to drop? If I no longer have to wait to get better? If I no longer have to wait to BE better? What if I can be broken and grieving and not have to worry about fixing it all the time?

That is a huge relief.

It sucks that this is my life… broken child, orphaned and displaced, full of sorrow and regret.

But it is so beautiful that this is my life. Beautiful children – lots and lots of children! Loving friends who claim me as family, a beloved community, and so much beauty, magic and light. And you’re a part of that, and I’m grateful for you. Am I helping?

Teammate: It helps. It’s just kinda shitty.

It is. It may never get better and that may be the other shoe dropping.

I hate my life. I adore my life.

And there is a lot of freedom in that.