This week has been a coming-home of sorts, in ways both literal and figurative.
As I write this, I am at my laptop in my parents' home in suburban Minnesota, back visiting for the Thanksgiving week. As always, coming back home (is this my home still? or in my home in New York, with my husband? ah such questions) is a strange combination of familiar and foreign. My bedroom, while not quite a shrine to my adolescence, is filled with shelves upon shelves of the books that I read in college: Borges, Neruda, Fuentes, Mistral, Arenas -- books that I read when I thought that I would become a professor of Latin American literature, and planned my career accordingly. What got in the way was an eating disorder that made me reflect on what I really wanted out of life. Would I live my life surrounded by books that no one else had ever read, attending literary conferences to debate over obscure topics, and spend my weekends memorizing poetry? Or would I -- as I considered later -- dedicate my life to understanding, to the best of my abilities, the origins of distress, of disease?
I know that I am not alone in saying that my eating disorder changed my life. The obvious ways: I chose psychology instead of literature, empirical study instead of postmodern critical theory. My Ph.D. is a means to an end: I want to do research that matters. I want to bring all that I have witnessed and experienced to bear on my work as a therapist. I want to have an impact that goes beyond my tiny circle. These are the goals that changed after having an eating disorder. And I know that I am not alone in rearranging my priorities, because on Friday night I met up with three other women who have struggled with eating disorders, and all of us are caught up in larger plans that have to do with healing. Twisted Barbie is studying to be a social worker; Stephanie produces films and plays about eating disorders; and the third woman in our group is studying to be a physician's assistant. Wounded healers, all of us.
That encounter was another sort of home-coming, because I haven't spent so much time, in person, with ED folks since leaving college. My ED changed my life, and even though I am not ashamed of it, there are few new people in my life with whom I would feel comfortable talking about what I went through. There are always "easier" explanations to give for why I study clinical psychology, and along the way I certainly have found other reasons to continue in the field. ED was my entry point to so much more, and most of the time I am content to talk about that so much more and take pleasure in the fact that there is so much more to my life right now than the fact that I had an eating disorder. Still, I had it. It marked me. I changed because of it. My eating disorder set off a transformation in me, or metamorphosis if you will, that has yet to end. There is no end to healing and learning from this thing, no limits to what we can do with our experiences. And this week I am coming back to that, reminding myself of where I have been and where I am going.