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Not being able to see instant gratification from a newly-incorporated healthier lifestyle can snuff out any enthusiasm for sticking with it. But sometimes we find ourselves in situations where there is no other choice but to stick it out for the long haul, clinging to the promise of an elusive ‘one day.’ Because the alternative is to continue down a path of self destruction, whether it be emotional, physical or oftentimes—both.
A person does not suddenly wake up one morning and find themselves unexpectedly at rock bottom. The trail is paved by past half-hearted attempts to integrate life-enhancing routines and modifications that always seem to be sidelined by discouragement before being forgotten for tried and true habits. The cycle repeats itself indefinitely, until the build up of poor choices leads to a derailment of everyday life, serving as a gut-punching SOS.
Hitting rock bottom is similar to sitting on the bottom of a swimming pool and looking straight up to the surface. At the bottom of the swimming pool, there is an awareness of sound and movement whirling above, but nothing is clear enough to be understood. Although a person may be able to avoid the wave-making commotion and chaos transpiring above, it comes at the price of never being able to experience the direct warmth of the sun.
Two years ago, I had realized that years of unresolved feelings and continuous unhealthy choices had navigated me to an emotional rock bottom, an experience I wrote about at the time it happened. At the age of 24, I was forging a bleak future by ignoring friendships, abandoning my passions, and isolating myself from countless opportunities. The emotional berating I gave myself was equivalent to being continuously being beaten with a cat-o-nine-tails, and the physical impact was also jarring. Lack of energy and depleted motivation coupled with emotional eating led to an unfamiliar bloated appearance that fed into an already heightened self-consciousnesses.
I had already seen the consequences of what was to be if this way of living continued. In a sense, a sort of personal ‘ghost of Christmas future’ can be found on the branches of my family tree. Growing up, I had witnessed first hand the diminished quality of life resulting from unresolved issues that included failing health, struggles with addiction, disintegration of friendships and warped perception of both themselves and their loved ones.
It had been my goal to achieve a polar opposite lifestyle, and the fear of ending up in a similar predicament was the fuel that allowed me to continue forging ahead, even though my nerves were unraveling.
During that point in time, I was so incredibly raw with pain on the inside that any type of interaction felt equally painful on the outside. I was at a crossroads that required me to either follow in the footsteps of dysfunction by continuing the exhausting cycle of being submerged into my own miserableness until it eventually resulted in drowning, or figure out a new, sustainable way of living.
Resurfacing alone was not enough this time. Treading water will only keep a head above the surface for so long, until the body exhausts itself to the point where there is no energy left to save itself. In order to put an end to the cycle, my unsustainable, quick fix doggie-paddle needed to be replaced with proper techniques that would keep me afloat, even if it took longer to feel the sustainable results.
Getting to that point of rock bottom was not something that happened overnight, so it is understandable that detangling myself from years of emotional and physical binding would take time. Initially, I often felt incredibly foolish and agitated. Self-care was a foreign term with actions that felt unnatural. Understanding that setting boundaries, limiting time with negative people despite their kinship and taking time to sit with my feelings rather than dismissing them were all self-care techniques that took time to become acquainted with.
Some days all of my energy was spent on resisting the urge to run back to enablers of my self-depreciation because the craving for any sort reassurance was so strong. Sifting through my feelings in order to gain a better understanding of their root left me more upset than I initially felt.
On a weekly basis, I sat in my therapist’s office working through the ebbs and flows that were associated with changing my coping strategies. There were some appointments where I would leave Dr. R’s office feeling angry that in the weeks of making adjustments the only noticeable change was going to the grocery store without having a panic attack.
Other appointments would be spent sitting in her office releasing unanticipated tears brought on by conversations I had never been able to have before about age-inappropriate situations that transpired when I was kid struggling to cope. As the emotional baggage began to be examined and dealt with, the heaviness that had been weighing me down began to diminish. The ability to move forward towards the surface, away from rock bottom began to be met with less resistance.
Continuously incorporating self-preservation techniques rather than reverting to the auto-pilot mode that I spent so long operating under has been something I work towards every day. Reflection and awareness of self has gradually become an integrated lifestyle habit, rather than automatically repressing feelings that feel overwhelmingly complicated to handle.
I have also maintained distance from people, including family members, who subconsciously bring their own cloud of toxicity to all of their relationships. Despite knowing that creating and maintaining boundaries within these relationships has made the most profound impact on my emotional stability, at many points it has been really, really hard to uphold.
But you know what else is really hard? Being suffocated by the crushing weight of depression, anxiety and low-self esteem when you are barely an adult. And knowing that there are decades of life ahead that are starting to resemble the sights and sounds of an existence you swore would never be replicated.
In the two years since penning the article about the realization of hitting my emotional rock bottom, keeping afloat is no longer a constant battle draining the quality of my life. During this time, I have been able to flourish at a new job that has brought financial and professional advancements. Friendships have been more enjoyable with a new found ability to be present in the moment rather than distracted by depression. Self-soothing after a difficult day at work involves bubble baths, extra snuggle time with my cat and working through solutions of how to make the following day more manageable.
A kinder, internal dialogue filled with self-imposed questions in order to understand my reasoning behind actions and emotions has replaced the previous instinctive mental boxing match where the only results seemed to be nonproductive self-loathing.
Everyday subconscious interactions like entering a room of strangers, genuinely wanting to make plans with friend and even looking at myself in the bathroom mirror while brushing my teeth in the morning are no longer painful. My body has become more comfortable to be in again through my commitment to the nutritional aspect of self-care that focuses on healthier food choices and additional physical activity stemming from increased energy.
Over time, the impact became noticeable to those around me. While looking back at photos from a few years ago, friends were taken aback of the transformation. As Audrey Hepburn once pointed out, happiest girls are the prettiest. There is a genuine smile and a sparkle of life in the eyes of a person who has a strong sense of inner peace that cannot be replicated through cosmetics or weight loss. The warmth and happiness stemming from my healthier sense of self are two of the most appreciated things in my life, and I am respectful of their contributing factors in order to maintain those feelings
Now confident in the ability to keeping my head above the surface, the brokenness of the rock bottom is clearer than ever. If in the future certain circumstances make staying afloat a challenge again, this time I will have the ability to prevent a full-blown downward descent and successfully navigate the waves of change.