In my DBT group, every week we always start with a mindfulness exercise. This week’s mindfulness practice really resonated with me. We were told to think of something that is difficult for us to accept. Whether it’s something small like forgetting your homework on your desk to something big like trauma or the ruminating thoughts of “Why did this happen to me?” Whatever event you decide to focus on, the point is that it’s in the past, there’s currently nothing you can do to change it from having happened. So you have a choice, do you continue to live with the shame, guilt, anger, etc. from what happened to you? Do you let it control your life? Or do you somehow, even maybe in the smallest way, try to accept it and give yourself permission to move forward? To be fair, I’ve never experienced trauma and I can’t imagine trying to come to terms with something like that. That’s just one of the examples that my group leader used to give us an idea of what to think about. Once we thought of our past event that we wanted to try and find acceptance around, we closed our eyes.
I chose to think about something that has been bothering me for years. Back when I started my senior year of high school, I almost instantly decided I couldn’t handle it anymore. By almost instantly I mean I literally went for one week and then made the very difficult decision to drop out and pursue my GED. Altogether, I had missed an entire semester from both my sophomore and junior year due to being in treatment. I had so many credits to makeup, it would’ve been a miracle if I graduated with my class. In order to walk with my class, I would’ve had a full schedule, night school, plus my outpatient treatment. Not to mention all of the social anxiety that came from being in school. It was too much, I couldn’t possibly handle it, I just couldn’t. Trying to push through my sophomore year while I was sick was awful. Trying to push through my junior year even when I was stable and in the beginning stages of recovery was horrible. I had to drop so many classes, miss so much school, it was a mess and it was causing me so much unnecessary stress. I had reached my breaking point, I needed to take my own path and get my GED instead.
It was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make. I did my research on how it would affect my plans of going to college and then most likely grad school. I found out that if I started at community college and then transferred to a university, it wouldn’t make a difference. It wouldn’t impact my future plans. I realized that although it would be a very different path than the one I always pictured, that was okay. I would still eventually be able to achieve my dreams. That’s ultimately all that mattered to me. The part I was now worried about was losing my friends. Losing connections I made in high school and changing the ones I’d had much longer. I was really scared, I didn’t want to lose all ties with my world as a 17-year-old. Some of my friends at the time stayed close to me, things didn’t change drastically. But several people didn’t make the effort, forcing me to learn very quickly that as you grow up, you find out who your real friends are. The ones that stick with you through thick and thin, the ones that don’t let the friendship be a one-way street, the ones that you genuinely want in your life.
Gradually, I accepted that the friends I lost weren’t meant to be and that that was okay. The part I couldn’t accept was how it changed the relationships of the friends who did stick around. They were off at college, living life, while I was at home struggling with my eating disorder as per usual. I was so jealous that they were on the path I always thought I would be on with them. I felt like I couldn’t be farther from where I so badly wanted to be. I didn’t know how to relate to their college experiences, so naturally, our dynamic shifted. It was a very difficult realization that I honestly hadn’t made peace with up until the last couple of months. I hated the way I kept losing friends, or that they weren’t the way they used to be. I thought it was my fault. I was the one always in treatment, dealing with stuff people including myself couldn’t understand. I felt like a loser for not going forward with my life, always being stuck by my own self. I always thought what if I had pushed myself and stayed in school, what if I had pushed myself harder in treatment if I had gone with my friends to college, would I be happy? Would I not think of myself as a stupid loser for getting my GED and not being able to finish high school? The answer I always came to is I don’t know, and I never will know.
Back to my process in this week’s mindfulness exercise – I chose to finally try and accept that getting my GED was the right decision. That I’m more in touch with my emotions and self than some of my friends possibly ever will be. I feel so much stronger and capable of handling challenges that come at me. Not to mention that because I’ve continued to struggle with my eating disorder, graduating high school and going to college right away wouldn’t have changed that. I would’ve eventually gotten to the point of realizing I needed help, I wasn’t ready to be on my own in the world without guidance from treatment or therapists. I would’ve had to take a break anyways, and then try to eventually start back up. I know that for a fact given where I’ve been and that I’ve been in treatment twice since I got my GED. So if I would’ve had to take a break and probably end up losing the amount of time I did anyway, then what’s the difference in just starting later because I was taking care of myself? Not to mention the fact that trying to do well in school when mentally and physically ill, there’s no way I would’ve been able to do well.
During that mindfulness exercise, I made myself think of all the things I’ve gained from taking the path that I chose. How much I’ve grown as a person the last couple of years, how much I’ve genuinely begun finding myself. How calling myself a loser doesn’t change the past, how at the time I made the best possible decision for myself. How looking back, even if I had the chance to do it over again, I would choose the same path. I realized I’ll never be able to move forward and accept who I am if I’m stuck in the past. I realized hating parts of me does nothing positive for myself. It just keeps me in a box of low self-esteem. A box that I’ve been trying for years to break free of. Ruminating in the past can cause so much pain and unhappiness. When logically I know that thinking about it, won’t change what happened.
At the end of the mindfulness exercise, I instantly felt a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. I felt so much freedom from my own negativity. I felt like this part that’s been holding me back from accepting who I am now, was all because I hadn’t accepted who I was in the past. Except that now I do. I accept that this was the right decision for me. I accept that I’m who I am now because of it. I accept that who I am now is nothing to be ashamed of, but something to be proud of.