Six years ago, I was at a low point. I was stuck in an eating disorder that, both actively and passively, had plagued me for nearly ten years. Six years ago, I entered treatment for the first time. I wasn't sure who I wanted to be or what I wanted to be at first, but I started a pattern, lasting for several years, of encountering these young, beautiful, successful women who I "wanted to be." It wasn't an obsession, or jealousy, or even actually wishing that I could be them, but rather, they became my role models. I wasn't sure how to verbalize my goals, but I wanted to be like Lauren. I wanted to be like Alyssa. I wanted to be like Andrea. They were all in their 20s when I met them. I was in my 20s too. They were all successful in the mental health field - which I wanted to be. They all gave off an air of confidence, intelligence, and compassion, that I wanted to give off as well. How could I become them? I googled them - or I tried. Mental health professionals are quite good at keeping their lives secret! I talked to them. I listened to their music, shopped at their stores, whatever I could, to be "like" them, short of straightening my hair and dyeing it blonde (it couldn't have just been a coincidence that they were all blonde, could it?!).
I knew I wanted to be a therapist before I met Lauren, Alyssa, and Andrea. I had only ever met therapists who were awkward old women, though. Lauren, Alyssa, and Andrea were far from that. They were therapists, counselors, students of mental health professions. They were intuitive - they knew what to say, how to relate. They knew when to share information about themselves and when to hold back. They seemed perfect - though I knew, intellectually, that they couldn't be, that they were human.
I wanted them to like me, I wanted them to believe in me. Because, they, of all people, knew what it would take to get there.
And, they would all tell me, it would take TIME.
And time it took. Cycling through treatment centers and hospitals, taking medical leaves, having legitimate panic attacks over writing final papers, babysitting more than one would expect a woman with an advanced degree, and spending more time and money on therapy than I had ever imagined. And, to be honest, lots of time inbetween where I'm not sure what I was doing. Running marathons. Making friends. Dating. Shopping. Cooking. Traveling. Crying. Laughing. Whispering. Yelling. Living.
Then one day, I came upon a section of the CEDC website that said that those alumna with 1+ years behavior free were invited to contact the program directors about being a recovery speaker. I thought it would be cool. I thought I had a pretty good story to tell. I thought I'd overcome a lot and could inspire others.
I never thought I would inspire myself.
I had forgotten about Alyssa entirely, to be honest, but when I saw her, I remembered how she was one of the three major role models throughout the past several years.
I spoke to her for a couple of minutes and I had a realization.
She's still a great person, a great clinician, a successful person worth looking up to. And I no longer NEED to look up to her. To my knowledge, we are ON THE SAME PLANE (and Alyssa, if you are reading this, I hope this doesn't make you think of that as demeaning). We are both young professionals working in the mental health field, both treating people with eating disorders and other issues, both really quite successful for people our age, and both talented and passionate about what we do. I certainly look OVER to her and think, wow, what a great contemporary, but I no longer think that I have to climb this mountain to get to where she is.
Because I already climbed it.
And, I realized that I didn't need the blonde, straight hair, thankfully, because I do not think I would have been able to successfully pull that one off.
(I'm not done growing - I'm just beginning)