It is always amusing to me the things I can find when cleaning out my grandmother’s basement. This was reaffirmed recently when I helped her clean her basement; it looked a little like the inside of a house featured on Hoarders: Buried Alive. A few of the things we found were interesting, such as: an atlas from her high school days in the 1950’s, the baby blanket she knit for me in 1987, and antique McCoy pottery. But, I also found some really uninteresting things as well: a 20-year-old copy of Women’s World, an entire dust bunny civilization (and I am fairly certain they are staging a coup), and a can of beans that expired in 1998. I also found some downright scary things: a taxidermied duck, an unintentionally dreadlocked Barbie, and photos of me. A newborn Rhea wrapped like a burrito in a pink hand-knitted blanket with a shock of black curls poking out of the top. A three-year-old Rhea dressed in pink OshKosh B’Gosh overalls gnawing on an ear of corn bigger than her head. A nine-year-old Rhea propped up on the 1970’s-style couch proudly showing off her newborn sister. And then…well…then there were a series of shots of me looking progressively sadder, shameful and embarrassed. So what happened? In a word, ED. As I dug further through my grandmother’s basement, I realized just how similar cleaning is to recovery.
As my grandmother and I carefully moved through her basement one thing became clear, we were not going to be able to keep all of the things she had accumulated over her 72 years. I quickly cleared out a corner and put up three signs: “Crap”, “Keep” and “Donate”. While not thrilled with my use of the word crap, my grandmother acquiesced enough to give my system a try. Each time an item was unearthed from its basement tomb, it was inspected and sorted into its proper area of crap, keep or donate. Some items were easy to sort. Other times took her longer because of sentimental attachment, plans for future use, trying to determine what the object actually was, etc. Upon recovery-oriented examination, many of our eating disordered thoughts and behaviors can also be sorted this way. As we look at each belief or action we have about ourselves, the world and our eating disorder, we need to question whether it is: true, useful, purpose-serving, a defense mechanism, or something else entirely. Essentially, what purpose do each of these thoughts and behaviors have in your life, and are those purposes positive or negative? Is there any logic to why you are holding on to ED’s toxic beliefs? I am not saying the answers to these questions will be easy; my grandmother agonized over that 20-year-old magazine thinking she could make a recipe or craft out of it “some day” (note: that magazine ended up in crap, as living for “some day” only holds us back). I am saying, however, that that introspection into ED’s influence is very important towards working towards and sustaining recovery. Into which category (crap, keep or donate) would each of your thoughts and behaviors be sorted?
As we continued working, I wondered how my grandmother had amassed so much stuff in her basement. Did she throw it down there and shut the door, refusing to acknowledge it existed? Did she squirrel it away for later hoping to put it to use, but forgot about it? Was it a defense mechanism? I did not have the courage to ask her, but I did have the courage to ask myself. I will spare you my sometimes rambling thought process and leave you with this: When thinking of how your eating disorder developed, and the purposed it serves/served in your life, what did you find?
Finally, my grandmother and I had cleaned out one room of her basement. The transformation was almost unbelievable. I learned the carpet was blue, I found an old ring that she let me keep, and I had a lot of time to think about my own recovery. However, the work did not end there; neither for my grandmother or my recovery. Now that my grandmother had these piles in her corner, she needed to figure out what to do with them. Much in the same way, we have these thoughts we have categorized into crap, keep and donate (although, I would not suggest donating any of ED’s belongings). Now what? It is important to put our newfound knowledge to recovery-oriented use; put your newly unearthed wisdom to work for you. One of Thom Rutledge’s nutshells is appropriate here, “Don’t let your insights live with you rent free. Put them to work.” Meaning, now that we have gained all of this insight into dealing with ED, we need to use it to further our recovery in whatever way we can. What is the use of having this insight if we do not use it?
Remember that recovery, like cleaning a basement, takes time. Be kind and gracious with yourself in the process. You are worthy.
“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity”