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Recovery blog

Umbrellas

By: Shay Melia, Renfrew Alumna

Posted on May 11, 2020


This year marks twelve years since I was admitted to The Renfrew Center of Philadelphia. At the time, I was fairly hopeless and thought I would have to accept suffering with symptoms of an eating disorder for the rest of my life. Before treatment, I thought if only I could be perfect… then, and ONLY then, everything would fall into place, and I would be happy, my family would be loving, my world would be sunny and bright.

My home life was chaotic, and at times, traumatic. At worst, it felt like a tornado, and at best, like a dreary, cloudy day with the threat of rain on the horizon. That "perfect" world and self I envisaged was always out of reach.

At nine years old, I had found a way to control my world. I got the idea that I could be the perfection I needed so badly. My eating disorder became my shield, my umbrella. It kept me safe and dry. I didn't have to concentrate on anything but my obsession with self and food.

Three years later, I had crossed the line into bulimia. With that, I picked up another umbrella, a new protective tool. I had a way I could physically release all of that anxiety, shame, guilt, fear, pain, and sadness.

Fast forward to 21 and I had endured years of suffering. By this time, I had been to many therapy sessions, intensive outpatient programs, doctors' offices, dietitians, etc. I clung to the safety of my eating disorder so tightly that these therapies only served to make my disease more cunning. I was scared and couldn't let go of the only thing that had seemingly been my protection for all these years. I had learned how to recover just enough that people left me alone.

At this point on the outside everything seemed great. I had a nice boyfriend, competed athletically, I was in a great college, and had a lot to be grateful for…so why did I feel so awful? Why wasn't I feeling as sunny as things looked on the outside? Why couldn't I just get better??!! I knew something was wrong. My umbrellas weren't shielding me the way they once had. My eating disorder wasn't working anymore!! I knew something had to change. I went to my first impatient treatment, with five more to follow. Renfrew was my last stop.

Through my stays in treatment, the clouds of my inner storm started to part. All of the dark things became illuminated and exposed…the sun came out. It took a team of professionals to help me realize my circumstances had gotten better and the "storms" the eating disorder had protected me from had passed. I was now holding these umbrellas up fearfully in the sunshine…. I had to let them go.

I was able to concede to "maybe" giving a new way of life a try. There was so much to be joyful about, and so many things to live for. I knew if I could just stay in the sunshine I COULD RECOVER. I was safe, free, and could finally stop fighting.

Although the sunshine is BEAUTIFUL, life is not always sunny. Storms come and go. Life is full of seasons. In the twelve years since Renfrew, I have had a few storms, seasons, and lots of sunny days too! In those moments that don't feel so good, it would be easy to pick up those umbrellas, but at this point they are old, and tattered; they have holes, and don't fold up the way they used to. They cannot possibly do what they once did.

Through recovery, I learned how to take shelter in a new way. I learned I am a perfect shelter all on my own. We are all perfect shelters. I don't need any umbrellas to protect me. If I were to pick them up, they would only block me from my experience of living life fully. I found out there is a use for rain and storms as well. The uncomfortable feelings and challenging circumstances now serve as lessons, instead of something to hide from. Being able to stand fully present in them allows me to learn and grow. I am delightfully watered and weathered by the elements called life. I now run joyfully to meet them, and every time I do..it affirms that I AM ENOUGH.
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