Bittersweet Anniversaries

Connie died a year ago today.

Healing was difficult before, even though I was able to rely on her for support and guidance, and in her absence I’ve felt a unique sense of hollowness. I’m used to feeling empty. Overcoming the emptiness, the hopelessness, was something that Connie and I struggled with for years. The vacancy I’ve felt after her passing has been something different than what I’ve ever felt, though. Instead of feeling like I’m crumbling, it just aches, and deeply.

She was the rock of my adolescence. She gave me the tools, supplies, and blueprints from which to build a stable, competent adulthood. Without her, I would be like the house built upon the sand: rickety, foundationless, prone to being washed away.

Connie saw the parts of my life that I wish I hadn’t lived in all of its unfiltered, tumultuous glory.

She saw me the morning after an overdose after spending the night in the ER, she saw me struggle to gain weight, she saw me struggle to maintain a healthy weight once I got back to one, she knew the (disgusting) details of my bulimia and exercise addiction, she saw me drop out of high school, she saw me lose and gain the will to live over and over again, she saw me try very hard to get my shit together and graduate with an online diploma, she saw me start community college and flounder in it for nearly a year, she saw the ends and beginnings of relationships and friendships. The list goes on and on.

Despite everything, she never lost faith in me. There were entire years where she had more faith in me and cared more about my future than I did. Without Connie, I may not have lived to see adulthood, let alone be the “better” I am today.

The past year without her involved a whole lot of crying and sleepless nights, several fervent wishes to just disappear already, and a daily ritual of forcing myself to put on my Customer Service Face™, even when I wanted to succumb to apathy and wave the white flag. I fell off of the recovery wagon more than a couple of a times, and sometimes it took too long to hop back on it. The anxiety and stressors feel unrelenting, the number of ongoing major and minor life changes seems to escalate with every passing day, and my newly-minted “recovered” status is starting to rust.

Even with all of the downs, though, the difference between the person I was six years ago, when I started treatment with Connie, and the person I am today is tremendous.

I’m now able to get up off of my ass and climb back on the wagon, however unceremoniously, on my own, regardless of circumstances.

Living a year without her forced a lot of growing that I didn’t feel ready to do, but, god damnit, I did it anyway. Not having Connie as a constant confidant and North Star mandated self-advocacy, self-reflection, vulnerability, and brutal honesty to a degree that I didn’t think would ever be possible for me.

For all of the horrible, painful things that she was here to witness, Connie deserved to see her work pay off. With my whole heart, I wish she could have seen this past year, because, in all of the life I’ve lived (that I remember), this was the year in which I felt the least just-hit-by-a-bus.

Every success, every down that I got back up from and every up I stood on top of, is because she kept pushing me to be better. I didn’t have to be perfect. I didn’t even have to be good, well, or fine. I just had to be better.

And I am.

I don’t often take the time to stop and remember how far I’ve come and how much I’ve accomplished. I’m usually too wrapped up in doing things, too anxious about what’s to come, and too worried about the looming uncertainty of things out of my control.

But the past 365 days have brought me entire days that are genuinely good, something I never thought I’d have. I have the ability to eat almost intuitively most of the time, and I’ve maintained a healthy weight for an entire year for the first time since I was thirteen. I’m a state champion, an honors student, and I’m going to be continuing my education post-Associate’s at a Big Ten school. I’m happy and healthy and doing okay; those are three things I’m shocked to say about myself, and I wouldn’t be able to if it weren’t for her.

Everything I’ve accomplished this past year is because Connie never quit on me. I will never be able to return the favor or repay that debt. All I can hope is that someday I’ll be able to pay it forward.

 

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