Embracing the Darkness
by Emma Szczepanek
July first marks the beginning of the second half of the year. For those who are goal oriented, or even for those who are not, this can sometimes spark a new beginnig similar to New Years Day. I always aim for my writing to be uplifting and inspiring, and I wanted to bring you something about fresh starts, but as July carries on, I have realized that a fresh start is not my current experience. I want my writing to be a space of authenticity, and with the veil of social media, it’s easy to make our lives look effortless and perfect, but that’s not real life. We all experience hardship, and to compare our hardships to others “perfect” social media posts makes life a lot more difficult. This space doesn’t need another New Year, New Me post, #MondayMotivation or #lifegoals post. This space we call the internet needs something real.
I have, for a long time, and still do, struggle with my relationship with food and a very distorted body image, and unfortunately, this summer has not been an exception to those emotions. This summer has been hard. I’ve struggled with my body, I’ve struggled with anxiety, and I’ve spent a good majority of my time at the lake or pool worrying more than I have enjoying, but as I explore my emotions, I come to understand that they are exactly what I need to feel.
Five years ago I would have handled these emotions very differently. I would have used self harm and other destructive behaviors to cope. Today, I choose to sit with my feelings, and experience them. I no longer restrict my food intake, I don’t turn to self harm. I pick myself up and try to keep myself in the moment, focus on the facts of the situation, and turn to gratitude, because I know those are the healthiest choices I can make. As I reflect on my 27 years, I understand that my summer experience may not be picture perfect. It may not be Instagramable (is that even a word?), but it is the exact experience I need to continue growing on my journey.
With mental illness and hardships, there are always days where it may feel as though you’re slipping back into old patterns or behaviors. Some days it feels like the mountains you’ve climbed to “recovery” were only small hills, but in those times it’s important to dig deep, and to reflect on those emotions, because in doing so, you’ll realize that you’ve come a lot further than you have given yourself credit for. The simple act of recognizing that old patterns and behaviors are surfacing again, is growth within itself. Recovery is truly a journey and not a destination (sometimes really cheesy sayings are just true, ok?). Five years ago I was lost, ill, and completely unsure of myself. I was willing to follow a well built path to society’s ideas of success, at the expense of my own happiness. Today, I have a clear vision of what I want. Today I have started to build my own path to the success that I’ve imagined for myself, and that is something that I would have never thought I would do. While yesterday’s emotions may have seemed similar to 22 year old me, my reaction to those emotions was completely different. That is where growth lies. That is what recovery is about. Recovery is not about the emotions you feel, recovery is about the way you deal with them.
So, yes. New month, new you. New week, new Monday, new morning, new minute. Make the changes you feel you need to make in order to live up to your highest potential, but when things get dark, when old emotions surface, embrace them. Dive into them head first, sit with them, experience them, and then, let yourself grow.