In 1990, I was an art student living in Boston.
At night I was anxious, depressed, lonely, and unsure of myself. I listened to Peter Gabriel’s music while the sounds of traffic lulled me further into a sense of isolation and being overwhelmed. As he sang “Don’t give up…” the people outside my apartment had somewhere to go; they had purpose and direction. I did not. I was going down a spiral of despair and confusion.
During the day, this angst was readily put aside by a sense of purpose I derived from completing art school assignments…
…and monitoring my food intake.
Often I failed at the latter—although I excelled at the former. I relished getting lost in art. Every aspect of my senses felt engaged, and I suspected that art was a medium through which I might be able to save myself.
Until nightfall, when I felt despairing again.
At the time I did not have the language to describe what was happening to me.
I felt certain that what was happening to me was only happening to me. I felt broken. I also felt incredibly alone, bleak and distressed. Usually, I felt these things most acutely at night.
I was desperate.
On A Mountaintop in New Hampshire…
A significant turning point for me in my recovery occurred neither in school nor in any one of the dozens of books I was compulsively reading, trying to understand the out of control monster inside me. This turning point occurred in the wilds of New Hampshire’s mountains.
Desperate to do something other than downwardly spiral, I borrowed a backpack from my roommate, rented a car, and drove to a trailhead hours from Boston. I got out, put on my pack and nearly fell over from the weight. I had badly over-packed with all the “things” I was going to “do” on my journey (watercolor paper, school books), and the few “safe” foods I felt I could manage to eat (raw carrots, cucumbers, apples – which weigh more than one thinks; and rice cakes – which take up more space than one realizes in a backpack).
The weight of the pack required me to lean into the mountain while hiking up. I felt the burden of what I was carrying. It was more than physical.
Tired and depleted, I reached the summit. The light was coming up over a distant ridge. I ambled awkwardly over to a large rock, large enough to lean back against, in order to lift the pack off of my shoulders. I leaned back, set it down, loosened the shoulder harnesses, leaned forward and, upon standing, looked around me for what felt like the first time in years.
What I saw and what I felt changed my life. It was tranquil. Expansive. Open. And not separate from me.
I saw awe. In every possible direction. It was a palpable sense of awe.
A mental silence came over me. And I quivered as I had a sudden, completely new, and yet deeply familiar feeling of belonging.
Belonging to this beauty and majesty and calm.
I began to move my body in ways that would later be called yoga. I did not know what yoga was at the time, and what I was experiencing didn’t need a name.
I did this moving, stretching, wonderment thing for the next 5-days, out above tree line on my wilderness adventure. I was transformed by this.
Our Hunger for Belonging…
Something in me had been satiated. Literally. I did not feel the aching emptiness that I’d been feeding with food or trying to numb with starvation and compulsive exercise.
My sense of brokenness started to fade. Not all at once. And not completely. But enough to let the light in. The possibility of not being constantly in pain, or constantly trying to recover from self-hatred, or constantly being berated by my inner critic… this possibility of this all fading began to emerge.
I kept stretching and breathing each morning, in my tiny apartment with the bustle still surrounding me. I realized I didn’t feel so lost. When walking to school, I felt my footsteps on the ground and recognized the air against my skin. I was less anxious about how other people saw me or what they were thinking.
I began to taste a small sense of belonging… the kind that comes not from having done something or being someone of prestige… but a sense of belonging that seemed, well, dare I have thought it – innate.
Soon thereafter, nighttime became less terrifying. I did not feel so alone.
Love Usurped Shame…
Little did I know or even remotely understand the nuances of shame as I do today. Yet, something in me was changing.
Not only did I feel less alien from the world around me, my inner voice was becoming kinder. I berated myself less often, less harshly, less convincingly. I felt like I was in my body more. And – it wasn’t so hateful.
My inner ability to see the pain I was in – and to respond to it with tenderness – was growing daily.
Shame had less power over me. Love was beginning shine through.
This was the start of my journey along the path of recovery.