I am free from the fear of vulnerability.
I don’t remember a time in school when I wasn’t bullied. The severity of it varied over the years, but it continued until I graduated high school. Going to an environment every day for the majority of the year where I was taunted verbally, and sometimes physically hurt, did quite a bit to cause me to develop very little self-esteem. It also taught me keeping walls around me at all times was best. No one should get in. No friends. No family. No teachers. No one. I was alone.
This was, of course, a recipe for disaster.
As a young child, I developed Generalized Anxiety Disorder, although we did not know it at the time. I was obsessed with ways in which I could die and convinced they were going to happen. Nothing made me feel safe. I also had quite a bit of social anxiety (again, later diagnosed) that prevented me from doing anything socially. Talking to people at school caused me to analyze my every move and word I spoke. And then to finish the whole thing off in 7th grade, an eating disorder began to control a large part of my life.
I suffered through those years of school alone. And I was ecstatic to graduate and move onto college. However, college was a disaster, as my eating disorder became more severe, I developed severe depression, and I was in an abusive relationship. At the beginning of my junior year, I was sent to inpatient/residential eating disorder treatment.
Treatment was the beginning of allowing myself to be vulnerable and tear down the walls that kept people out.
But I had to learn how to do this. I was lucky I had a wonderful therapist who realized I needed to learn to trust people, and she was patient with me. A lot of my therapy involved interacting with the people on my unit, and later, telling the technicians my trauma history. I left treatment with the best friends I ever had. People say that a lot because treatment is so intense and you learn so much about each other, but for me, it was more than that. I never had deep friendships where I was truly vulnerable and let someone know me. I didn’t know how to do that, and I was terrified to try. Treatment gave me that. What a beautiful gift it was. I cherish it as much as my restored health and the other skills I learned.
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Of course, once I left treatment and returned to the real world, my friends were scattered across the United States. I developed very good phone skills and five and six years later, I still talk to those women I met in treatment. But I needed relationships around me. And the most important ones of all were with my family.
I struggled to build up these relationships. Frankly, it scared me to be open and vulnerable to my parents and brother. But with a lot of practice and a whole bunch of help from my outpatient therapist, I can now talk to my family when I am struggling. I never thought I would be able to do that. I try and make them my first line of support.
And where I’m at now is perhaps the most exciting place I’ve been yet.
I am planted firmly in recovery from my eating disorder and my anxiety is mostly controlled, as is my co-morbid depression. Now is the time I have begun making friends in my town. Real life friends who I go out and do things with. These new friendships require me to strictly monitor myself. Am I building too thick of walls? Am I letting this person be my friend or am I pushing them out? Am I being vulnerable enough?
Recovery or improvement in any area is hard work, and for me, letting people inside to see my vulnerable side, to let them in past those high, thick walls I began developing over twenty years ago, is scary. I would say it has also been the most rewarding part of my recovery so far. I’m so glad I’ve had therapists push me past where I was comfortable to help me break down barriers and let people in. Support from others is crucial in recovery. But besides that, having friends and family who love me is a really nice feeling.
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