When we recover, we feel compelled to seek forgiveness.
We ask our loved ones to help us for many reasons – a ride home from the eye doctor, a home-cooked meal after we’ve had the flu, an extra $20 until our next paycheck.
Those are debts we can repay easily, the kinds of favors that leave us with a warm, fuzzy feeling.
What about when you can’t ask for help? When you don’t want help? When the help you need is long term?
People with mental illnesses or addictions often feel this way. I did during my recovery from anorexia nervosa.
My family intervened to help save my life, but the illness lashed out in defiance and anger because it felt threatened. The disorder never missed an opportunity to show its strength.
Mealtimes irritated my eating disorder the most.
Every morning throughout my recovery, my mom would patiently help me make my breakfast.
My eating disorder, however, mandated rules and mom followed them all:
No utensil could be used more than once without being washed. Each ingredient must be weighed exactly. The oatmeal had to be cooked in one specific pot, served in one specific bowl, eaten with one specific spoon.
If a rule was broken, we had to start over. If we didn’t, I could not eat.
My mom sat beside me as I ate, always reciting:
“You need this. You are not fat. I am not just saying this. I would not lie to you.”
Sometimes I failed.
I would throw the meticulously made bowl of oats at the wall.
My dad would stand by feeling helpless because I wouldn’t let him help.
My mom needed to go to work, but she would make the oats again and sit with me until every bite was gone.
I would finish, realize what I’d done and apologize frantically, disgusted with myself.
I felt I had disappointed them, that I had hurt them.
This happened at every meal, every day, for almost a year. I can’t count the number of times I said “sorry” as I recovered.
I didn’t know then that I didn’t need to.
The best part of recovery leads to the most difficult. Recovery sets the person who has been trapped by the illness free and allows them to be themselves.
With that health, though, the recovered individual, like me, is awakened to how sick they were and the pain they inflicted on others.
We feel compelled to seek forgiveness.
The memories I have of the things I did while I was sick keep me awake at night.
I needed constant care and attention, but my illness would not allow me to ask for it from those who were willing to give it.
I turned my home upside down. I cut off family members. I stopped returning my friends’ messages.
I now wake up in my own home, make my own breakfast, go to school, go to work. I enjoy family events and spend time with my friends.
I am not angry and hateful. I am more myself than I could have ever hoped to be.
Still, that guilt lingers.
I’ve realized, though, in the two years following my illness, that “I’m sorry” does not contribute to healing.
To apologize for being sick is to say that you have done something wrong, and you haven’t.
The people who helped you did so out of love.
The past actions are not excused. The pain should not be forgotten. The healing of yourself and others should not take less time.
But persistently offering the gift of yourself, which your loved ones have helped you create, is your repayment.
The recognition of that person is what will heal you and those around you.
Michael Nelson, a survivor of anorexia nervosa, is a journalism student at St. Bonaventure University. She writes at Your Mind Comes Too.