“I am not my shame”

Consider the word rehab – with its short vowels and harsh, simple dyad of syllables. The larger community of America has constructed an image to match the way the word tastes. Before college when I heard the word rehab I thought immediately of violent alcoholics, mysterious drug addicts, and people with disorders so severe that they had no solid connection with reality. But I was to learn this past summer that residential treatment centers give care to every type of person, for it was there that I made a 6-week home for myself.

I have struggled with two competing natures since I was fifteen. I seek out new experiences, outdoor excursions, and people with the emotional half of my nature, and with the other side I on occasion battle the physical manifestation of anxiety and panic. In high school I many times set out from the house happily to go to school or spend time with a friend only to have my throat hammered with overwhelming and inexplicable nausea. But going to college was for a year to be an experience to wipe away almost all of my anxiety struggles! Or… so I thought. Summer after my freshman year, I spent six intense weeks doing research in mathematics as an internship. Even now I can’t say exactly what happened. I never realized the dangerous amount of weight I was losing until I went home and the physical symptoms of undernourishment hit me like a hammer. I suffered an overwhelming relapse of panic attacks that plagued me almost every time I left the house. My doctor urged me to consider taking a semester off of school. Determined though, I coerced my body and brain into stability over a few weeks and went back to school in time for the new semester. I maintained this stability through the year, but still being a little weaker than I was used to and wondering why I was so dang cold all the time. And then there was food. Anything that could “hurt” my body by being unhealthy was not an option to eat. I steered clear of so many things that it was nerve-wracking to eat in front of friends who knew me before. My eating disorder masked itself as my rationality, a quality I hold dear in myself. That’s why it won for so long.

After that year of school, my family and friends urged me to seek a higher level of care. Submitting to their urging was the hardest thing I have ever done. I gave up my summer internship to go into residential treatment. I temporarily gave up my passion to take care of the rest of me. The decision broke my heart. But whether or not it was the best decision, I am better for it. Not only can I live truer to my values now, but I found that this gritty-sounding place called rehab houses every kind of person there is, no matter what they are there for. I met so many beautiful, intelligent, reflective, artistic, quirky, personable, and talented women that were connected only in their addictions. Such a woman cannot be stereotyped. Maybe that’s why we never used the word “rehab” in treatment. And yet I still feel crippling shame when I consider the kind of person I am in connection with society’s illustration of rehab. If rehab is where I started real recovery, then we need to recolor the word rehab.

I am passionate. I am adventurous. I am in love with mathematics. I love food. And I am a recovering anorexic. But I am not my shame for my recovery experience.