The Rising by Emily
Some time when we are very small, we learn to fear pain. Even though our parents promise us lollipops after the doctor, or a trip to the toy store after the dentist, we would rather miss out on the reward if it means skipping the discomfort.
Then we get a little older, and we come to understand the power of preventative medicine, so we suck it up. More importantly, by this point we’ve probably experienced a broken bone or a few stitches or, at the very least, strep throat and the chicken pox.
When you experience, you learn you can survive.
The first time I got drunk was welcome weekend of college. I drank to become courageous and beautiful and fun, and then I drank to forget who I was becoming. I was drunk when I kissed my best friend’s boyfriend; I was drunk when I cheated on my own boyfriend; I was drunk when I hurt someone I cared about beyond reparation. I drank before I went into work and I drank when I got home. At the time, this did not feel like alcoholism. My mom constantly warned me against addiction. My father, who did not often offer his feelings up to us, lovingly encouraged me to be careful.
I drank before I made myself throw up food I just ate. I drank enough to feel calm and then I drank more until I felt more anxious than before I started. I felt normal drinking at bars with my friends but felt sick drinking at home by myself.
When I was a senior in college, I laid in bed at night and counted my ribs to help me fall asleep. During the day, whenever I felt anxious, I would wrap my hand around my wrist and make sure my thumb and middle finger could easily touch. I tried to see how far up my forearm I could go before my fingers couldn’t reach each other anymore. That moment always felt like failure. I went to the gym six, sometimes seven days a week, but no amount of exercise could compete with the war my mind was waging on my body over food.
I have been addicted to so many things—love, lust, exercise, alcohol—but the one constant through those things is my addiction to self-loathing. I used to weigh 112 pounds at age 20 height 5’4”. I was muscular, fit, healthy, and wore a size 0 jean. I was miserable.
Mental illness receives much more attention today than it has in the past, and that is a very good thing. But for me, it felt like I was hopping on the anxiety bandwagon, and I hated it. Everyone I knew was sharing memes on Facebook about dealing with anxiety and hundreds of articles, the authors of which always seemed to think they were the only ones who knew what anxiety or depression was really like. Most of what I read did not resonate with me. I had a career, a good amount of friends, and did all my housework and paid my bills and did not hate to make phone calls. I did not have insomnia and I definitely didn’t prefer cats to humans.
Please do not mistake my intentions—I am not making fun of the above symptoms. All of those things can be difficult for people struggling with mental illness, something I knew all too well from watching my sister battle her own fight against depression and social anxiety.
The fact that I resisted my therapist’s diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder had everything to do with my own limited understanding of a multi-faceted illness that manifests differently in each and every person. Even a year after beginning therapy, I still hesitate to name my own symptoms as anxiety-related behaviors, mostly because they are what I have always done. They are as much a part of my personality as my sarcastic humor and as much a part of my genetics as my hazel eyes. I didn’t want to face my diagnosis because I wasn’t ready to acknowledge my pain.
Self-doubt is painful. Anxiety is painful. Eating disorders are painful. Loneliness is painful. Alcoholism is painful. Shame is painful. Naming your demons out loud is painful.
Glennon Doyle Melton said, “First the pain, then the rising.”
Sweet sisters, we need to feel our pain. We need to say: “Here we are. We are ready to feel crappy. We are ready to embrace our past in order to become our most beautiful selves.” Because that’s what life is. It’s crappy sometimes. And then it’s beautiful. In order to become who we were created to be, we need to experience all that was meant for us. We cannot avoid the lesson, we cannot abandon the calling because it looks messy or uncomfortable or just plain hard. We need to feel the pain so that we can rise.
I hope, I truly, truly hope, you choose to rise.