October 13th Brings 13 (Lucky, Hardworking) Years

October is a hard month.

Each year it brings me more perspective and October is always one of the more reflective times of the year for me, but it doesn’t make it less hard. I’ve always loved October, the beginning of fall, and Halloween… but it took on a different meaning 13 years ago. Hard things come up unscheduled, on top of each other, and when we least expect it… and life keeps moving, ready or not. As I continue to grow on my journey, I think that’s the lesson. We have to do hard things sometimes when we don’t want to, but there are lessons behind them that we cannot even dream of knowing today – we just have to keep working through them.

I woke up today on October 13th, 2019 alone. I’m alone in my house, but at the same time, not at all lonely. I’m grateful for the fullness of my life. I thought about the day 13 years ago that changed my life and I cried for that scared young girl who thought she could do it on her own. I cried for the woman today waking up in her bed who thinks she needs to do it on her own. And, I cried for the future woman, my future self, who can’t imagine doing it on her own.

October 10th was Mental Health Awareness Day and it is a day, sandwiched between October 4th and October 13th, 2006, that I blocked out. In 2006, I was forced into treatment – October 4th was the day I packed up and headed home. Embarrassed, tired, apathetic, unknowing, I was home from college and preparing for another thing I “had” to do. October 13th is when I did it. It’s when I was checked in to the inpatient eating disorder treatment center. It was much longer after that – November, December… – that the real work of recovery began but each year, my memory of when I actually did good work toward recovery changes and I realize that my path was a rollercoaster for a long time.

It’s been 13 years now – lucky number 13, perhaps. It’s a little bit of luck paired with a whole lot of work. This is the post I wrote a year ago, on this day in 2018.

I recall that first day so well, but I remember bits and pieces of the days and years prior. Is that something we try to protect ourselves from – the way we hurt others and feel pain ourselves? Because each day was a mess, I should remember it all.

I do remember how I felt and how others felt about me, in general around 2006. The way I interpreted their reactions and feelings toward me influenced the way I felt about myself, too. The anxiety and worry they felt spilled out onto me and I worried not that I would die or stay unwell forever; I only worried I would let them down, whatever that meant… My worth was tied into how others worried about me – or not.

I’m deeply sorry and intend on learning from my past, forever, but I’m no longer ashamed of my actions and who I was. Man, that is hard to admit because that girl 13 years ago was selfish, terrible to a lot of people, and unpleasant to be around.

Thirteen years ago today, I rode in my parents’ Ford Explorer down to South Florida. We were supposed to be there in the afternoon and what would usually be a fun road trip filled with conversations and snacks along the way ended up being me, asleep in the back seat, sort of, and my parents speaking in hushed tones about me, their sick little girl. Sleeping was my way of avoiding the snacks and stops to get a bite to eat. If I was going to get treatment, my intention was to be in the worst shape of my life. Even at less than 100 pounds, I still feared that they would say I wasn’t sick enough to earn treatment. Still competitive, I suppose.

The work was fake at first – gain weight and it would all be over. Do what I had to do to please everyone. Cure the superficial. Get back to my normal life so people would like me again – so would like me again. When I realized that I had to face some actual crap in my life in order to get anywhere, I wanted out! It’s not the surface that needs cleaning up, it’s deep inside. It’s the behaviors and beliefs behind the scenes, day after day, that lead to the words and actions that you no longer have to hide… because that’s you now.

Recovery is having dark thoughts and desires but choosing something else, if only for the reason that you know your right mind isn’t well at the moment. And then seeing how that goes. And then trying again.

In my current job, I get to be the one asking the questions – What happened? How did it go? How is she doing? What’s next? Tell me your story… But no one asks me questions and I am very aware of it. I kind of like it that way and I know this is a part of me I need to work on. I still have this slight feeling that I don’t want to feel exposed. Or judged. Or worried about. When I ask the questions, I get to be a little more in control of how others interact with me.

“So did you play volleyball? When did you graduate college?” Well, it’s hard to explain… I graduated from high school in 2006. But I played college volleyball in 2006, then 2011-12. And I graduated in 2014. “So… yeah. It was round-about. I don’t recommend taking five years off of volleyball.” They usually reply, “Oh,” and we move on.

I know I am on a different path than anyone else and that started in October of 2006. From that day, I knew I would always have this blip in my timeline that I didn’t want to explain to every single person, but to know about it would explain a lot. When people do ask about me, and particularly my past, I struggle for a minute thinking that I’m “less-than.” I think that if they knew, their perception and expectations of me will probably change.

But what I’ve realized is, first, it’s not up to them to decide how I feel about myself. And second, that experience of learning how to save myself from my own self-destruction is something a lot of people might benefit from… or at least think is kind of interesting, don’t you think? I don’t have to keep hiding and downplaying my own life that I’ve worked so hard to get a grasp on! (Not control my life, because that’s not what I’m trying to do here…)

October is hard for a different reason this year. I’m pregnant and my due date wouldn’t be in any other month than October. It’s the one I’ll give birth to a baby girl.

It’s a time when I’m reflecting on what my life was like 13 years ago and hopeful my girl won’t go through it 13 years from now (or ever!). That’s so hard and terrifying. It’s promising myself I’ll teach her the things I know now, regardless of how uneasy I feel having those conversations. It’s preparing to go through something really tough – becoming a mom (plus that whole labor and delivery thing…) – but knowing the lessons I’ve learned have equipped me with taking on this opportunity of raising a girl. I get to do it. And, though it will be hard, and every October will be hard, I won’t take the responsibility lightly.

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Sloane Green is a former volleyball player, current writer, and eating disorder survivor.

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