When I was 17, I decided to ‘find myself’. Growing up in Australia the OE or ‘overseas experience’ was the trademark of transitioning from adolescence into adulthood. I still have memories of cousins, family friends and strangers talking about their OE being ‘the best experience of my life’.
Seeing as I had a raging eating disorder and life was definitely not at its peak experience, I decided to go on my big OE and ‘find myself’. That I figured, would mean I would recover, be happy and come back a ‘new person’.
I was an athlete at the time, and already in the Czech Republic for the world junior weightlifting championships so I battled my eating disorder through ten days of hell then set off on the biggest mission of my life.
I restricted my way around Italy, binged my way through Switzerland and indulged in exercise behaviours in France. With financial anorexia hot on my heels, my eating disorder was having a field day with restriction and exercise until biology eventually took over and I repeated the cycle.
“Wherever you go, there you are” was the phrase that danced through my head repeatedly. I hated who I was, and that I couldn’t get away from myself. I hated that my big OE was nothing like the tales I had been enchanted by as a child. I felt like a failure and plagued by a depression I couldn’t shake, had no desire to return to the mess of a life I had back home.
Eventually I had to return to Australia. I was still at high school and couldn’t take more than six weeks off from training. Flying into the Brisbane international airport, the heavy cloud I had been carrying with me intensified. My plan to ‘find myself’ had catastrophically failed, resulting in me feeling worse than ever. My eating disordered, depressed life stretched before my eyes like an eternal black hole.
Taking any opportunity I could to delay facing reality, I hung out in the duty free area mindlessly browsing through cheap postcards with tacky quotes attached. There it was. In black and white printed card, at eye level. It couldn’t have been any more of a sign than if it had fallen off the shelf and hit me between the eyes.
“Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
I did a double take. Financial anorexia reared its head and hissed at me, ‘you mean to say you spent ALL that money trying to find yourself when there wasn’t anything to find?’ Depression howled ‘Why did you put me through that hell for six weeks unnecessarily?’. The desperate exercise piece whined, ‘Look at all the conditioning you have lost for weightlifting.’
The soul part of me however smiled a tiny smile. I took the card off the shelf and bought it with my loose change (financial anorexia didn’t like that either). It sat bluetacked to my wall for the next ten years while I wrestled with the idea of creating, surrendering to the unknown, letting go of things that didn’t serve me, and making room for the next version of myself.
Almost twenty years later I remember the day I fondly looked at that tatty postcard and put it in the recycling bin with the rest of my recovery quotes. I made that decision when I realized I didn’t need to be reminded anymore that I could create a different life. I scooped up my ‘inspiration wall’ that had held me accountable to being the very best version of myself and realized that for the first time I was actually in love with the version of myself I had created. I liked this version. If this version of myself were another human...I would be friends with this version.
I’m not saying to throw away your recovery quotes or motivational pictures. Keep them while you need them to help stoke your internal fire. And, there will come a day where you can smile and know that the internal fire is self-sufficient and the quotes have a new meaning – reminding you of how far you have come.
In recovery, you don’t need to ‘find’ anything. You are not lacking any tool or essential quality you need in order to recover. Every thought, every action, is taking you one step closer to your eating disorder or one step closer to recovery. Every thought and every action is a creation of the next moment in your life.
So create today. Paint with all of the colours and remember that you and your life are creations that continually unfold.