A couple of weeks ago, I had a spot of writers block.
In one of the few weeks that I had lots of time to write, nothing was coming out.
This was incredibly frustrating. Every evening after work, I’d turn on the computer; lock my front door; give my head permission to run wild – and come up with nothing. And, the longer I came up with nothing, the harder it became to access what I was thinking and to imagine ever having anything to write.
It took me a week of staring at a blank screen to realise why I kept coming up with nothing. In the pursuit of thinking about something to write, I had pressed pause on the thing that normally gets me going –
In this instance, removing the context definitely didn’t help.
I approached recovery in a similar way; and, unfortunately, it took a bit longer for the penny to drop.
For years, I was adamant that creating a space to “work it all out for myself” in was the key to success. That it was better to barricade myself away from the world and grapple with what recovery looked like behind closed doors, because making the change came first – and life was second on the list.
I’m beginning to think they’re better together.
Recovery in the context of life has been a really interesting concept for me; not least because I didn’t think it would work. Attempting to divorce one – from the other – throughout most of the past ten years was a fundamental flaw in my approach, and something that I’m only beginning to grasp the importance of –
Because the things that didn’t help when I was recovering “first”, were hugely helpful when I added in the life dimension; and, the reasons to recover – as well as the snags that I tried to anticipate – only really emerged when I started to engage with life. Plus, the changes that you make in isolation don’t always transpose into the real world quite so seamlessly.
This does, of course, present a few logistical problems.
For a start, you’ve got to have a certain level of energy in order to make the first tentative steps into life, so the first stage requires a bit of a leap of faith (I will eat so that I can see what’s out there). Then, you have to temporarily suspend the notion of a “perfect” recovery, followed by a “perfect” life because you’re probably waiting on a double illusion. And, finally, you have to be a little bit brave and appreciate that the actions might come first, before you really buy into the experience or are able to write the story –
Because the process of creation is often a series of stops – and starts – and reflections – and flashes of insight; and, the stuff that’s going on around you provides the inspiration – and the learning – and the all important context, whether you’re sitting in front of a computer screen or trying to re-build a life.
So, I didn’t produce any great writing that week, because the blank screen didn’t really push any of my buttons. And, I didn’t make much progress, over all those years, because the four walls blocked me from the things that might have provided a bit of motivation –
But both experiences have taught me that we don’t exist in isolation; and, that the best learning comes from life.
A few examples:
The following passage is taken from a presentation that I gave earlier this year on moving maintaining factors. This came before the writers block week, but obviously the message hadn’t quite hit home.
Sometimes we need to hear things a few times before they start to make sense.
You can seen the slides and notes here; but this section was on the importance of the life context -
In 2005, I left inpatient rehab and, for the first time in about 5 years, I moved from the context of treatment to that of life. Whilst I remained at a very low BMI and bingeing daily, I also started living in my own flat and working. This was the first time in many years that I had been part of ‘normal society’ and, in order to make this work, it was harder to maintain my illness and my behaviours had to start changing.
This adjusted the context within which my eating disorder existed and impacted on the maintaining factors. I had to eat enough to get me to and from work safely in order to keep my job and pay my bills, for example; and, later, I had to stop bingeing if I wanted to have the operation to help my teeth.
Whilst I had often spoken about recovery in the past, this was the first time that I actually started making changes and this experience gave me an awareness that I might be able to challenge my illness.
The difference between these goals and those that I had strived for earlier was that they weren’t focussed on weight or food – weight and food were, instead, a means of achieving life related goals that I wanted.
Eating therefore stopped being about gaining weight which was always a negative to me, and started to be about doing more things and being healthy. Similarly, stopping bingeing was no longer about taking away something I enjoyed and found relief from, it was about challenging a behaviour that was affecting other areas of my health and was blocking me from engaging with the wider world.
…and this part shows that what you learn in treatment can be really helpful when you go back into the ‘real world’:
…as part of the rehab treatment, I was supported on a one to one basis for three months. Unlike supervision, this experience was about showing me how other people lived, for example, by participating in non food related activities, and had also included me exposing – and then cutting back – on my bingeing, as well as agreeing to surrender control of my meal plan.
At the time, I undermined this, again ending up in hospital; however, 3 years later, I modelled my recovery on a similar approach. When I realised that I had to stop bingeing, I started planning my evenings and meal plans as I had been shown during this intervention; and, integrating similar activities and distractions into my routine.
Similarly, the CBT techniques and self affirmations that I had learnt through hypnotherapy and therapy helped me to overcome the fear of change and keep myself on track; and, the self awareness that I had gained meant that I could recognise – and understand – the times when my head wanted to revert back to my previous behaviour.
In other words, recovery didn’t always “work” in isolation – but it made sense when I started putting it into the context of a life.