Heroes and Roller Coasters

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April 22, 2017 by From the Alli Files

I’ve been contemplating for months how to craft this blog post. As I loosely trained for a 5k scheduled for, well, today, I kept having spurts of wisdom come to me during those beautiful few moments of clarity and exhaustion that some runners call a “high.” You see, there’s a park near my house that kind of dips into a bowl-like paradise of trails and wildflowers and trees, a hidden oasis from all the neighborhood houses that are smushed together. Every time I come out of the trails at the end of my run, back up the hill into suburbia, I have a birds-eye view of the landscape I just ran through. It’s that moment when all the good thinking happens. But, true to my cognitive habits, I’ve had a hard time piecing together in words what I want to say about these spurts of wisdom.

As my classmates and I trekked through our Trauma/ Crisis class this semester, we learned different ways to explore personal growth with trauma and crisis clients, including how to relate someone’s journey to that of a literary “hero” archetype.  Well, that parallel is just right up my alley.  The “Hero’s Journey” was once one of my favorite things to teach. (It also involved the most embarrassing teaching moment of my life, but that story is for another day.)

Have you ever had that moment when something you love meets something else you love and the explosion goes off in your brain that you were made for this specific collision of nerdiness? Yeah, that happened to me during the professor’s connection of counseling techniques and literature archetypes.  I had to contain myself so not to fist-pump the air during class.  This stuff is golden, I thought. My end of semester project will be so easy and fun.  Wrong again, Allicat. Wrong again.

So anyway, I’ve been thinking how to incorporate the Hero’s Journey into my personal growth project at the end of the semester, and these wisdom-runs keep nudging me towards the realization that I already know what I need to talk about. But how? I kept wondering. How in the world do I share the past ten years in a nutshell? It’s so complicated. It isn’t linear. It’s a rollercoaster that sometimes I just jumped off of, and sometimes I got stuck on it upside-down. Most times I didn’t feel like a hero. In fact, on 4/27/13, I wrote,

I am a broken girl, and a pretender.  I’m no hero, and my failures are extensive.”

In 2013 when I wrote that, I was about 5 years into my ongoing struggles with eating disorders. In a month I’d be leaving for residential treatment for the first time.  I was also in my first semester of teaching, and, bottom line, I couldn’t do it all anymore. It had been 5 years of inner torture. If I could, I would attempt to include a blurb right here of exactly what that feeling was like, but….well, my friend, there is no blurb under thirty pages that could encapsulate these years of feelings. They included constant self-abasement, secrets, overeating, under-eating, extreme body distortions, bouts of anger, highs, lows, and sometimes complete *poop-storms of emotions. (*We can’t let my mom see me cuss, y’all.  Bear with me.) 

So, during these runs, I came to know I needed to talk about it for my project. But I didn’t (and still don’t) really know where to start.  I guess that’s how this blog originated to begin with; I use my old journals as a springboard for random discussions of growth and healing, because a full understanding of my entire Hero Journey is extensive, intensive, and not for the faint of heart.   It includes some examples of unhealthy self-disclosure, and emotional imbalance, and a series of really bad dates that I went on just to make myself feel adequate.  It’s ugly, and dirty, and really, really sad. It even involves a sudden suicide in 2011 of the dear friend who first encouraged me to seek help back in 2008.

But also, it includes the best years of my life.  It’s got tales of wise sages who walked with me at times I needed it most.  It’s chock full of spiritual awakenings and realizations and prayers of pleading and begging that brought me nearer to my God than ever before.  It’s a ten year story that doesn’t really have a clear beginning, middle, and end.  It’s got some comedy, good friends, walks with God, and a lot of terrible points where you’d probably want to jump into the story and shake me silly until I realized what I was doing to myself. (There are also stories of friends who actually, physically, did that, too.) Those people in these stories are my heros. And me? I’m a girl who has spent 10 years at war with her body and her mind.  Seeing myself as a hero has always been a stretch.  However, one of my wisdom-runs reminded me that my clients will probably think the same thing about themselves, too. Heros? They’re everywhere, yall.  I’m one of them.  And I don’t think I’d be able to help my clients see their heroism without acknowledging my own.

Now, in recovery that is mostly stable, I’m learning all the regular things about young adulthood that I never realized were so hard.  My eating disorder was so big for so long that I felt it was the source of all my problems.  Now I’m learning how to deal with rejection and hurt and disappointment without the excuse of “it’s my eating disorder.”  I’m learning how to balance graduate school, work, exercise, relationships, and being laughably broke without coping using eating disorder behaviors or thoughts. Most of all, I’m learning how to self-disclose my story in little bitty bits that are chewable for people who may not completely understand.

I’d love to tell you all about my roller coaster sometime. In fact, I know plenty cute little coffee places where I can fill you up with caffeine and talk to you using my hands and ridiculous facial expressions way too much. In fact, I want to know your stories, too. Over hot drinks I find it’s so much easier for the harder words to pour out; maybe together, we can find that our roller coasters really are stories of heroic proportions.

And with that being said, the story of this semester came to a close today as I ran the slowest 5k I’ve ever attempted. And yet, it was the best run of my life so far.  Stick around for a minute, pour some tea, and I’ll tell you all about it.

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