In the last recent weeks I have been thinking about what it means to live more presently in the discomfort of the setback, or rather the very illusionary state of what it means to “regress” in progress-making; basically, the unlearning of the entrenched perceptions of my own infallibility and the [re]learning of my inherent humanness (the trusting that the wilt will deliver me ever so graciously to the honouring of the bloom). The gentle remembering that life in and of itself is a meta-framework of constantly understanding that setbacks are just an inevitable part of the [healing] process, and that they are ubiquitous happenings in the human experience as a whole. It took me a long time to recognise that success is not defined by the absence of mistakes or setbacks, but rather those experiences are continuous metrics of our abilities to grow from them in ways that bring us closer to internal alignment and who we aim to become. How we deal with the aftermath of a setback is more important than what the landscape of the setback itself is.
Truthfully, I used to be a much sadder person. I used to origami myself into the smallest, quietest and most invisible version of myself – folding the corners of my mouth into landing strips ready for the arrival of all the pain. Never departures it seemed. I used to carry a lot of pain because that is the only thing I had convinced myself that I knew how to do well. I have spent the last three years healing in myriads of ways: unearthing, cultivating, redefining and refining the tools that have helped me keep moving forward, one step at a time. For over 10 years I did not see the horizon, neither did I believe that there was one waiting up ahead for me. In many ways I have come a long way from extremely sick person I was, and one that I heavily identified with for far too long. In between that I have also taken what feels like a thousand steps backwards in my journey of recovering from my eating disorder. I have since learned that beating yourself up into a pulp helps absolutely no one and as one of my favourite poets Andrea Gibson says, “beating yourself up is never a fair fight, only knocks the wind out of our chances to come clean thought that canyon.”
So now instead I have started asking myself the following reflective question: “in the event that I did not show up as my best self today, how can I take active steps to make sure that I do so tomorrow?”. Not only do I find that it helps me stay accountable to my heart, it also helps to re-route my anxious brain away from the immediate internalisation of feelings such as shame, guilt and self-demonisation. Additionally, it also presents tomorrow as an ever- revolving invitation full of ample opportunities to try again. It reminds me that in the very least there is room to always try (big or small), mostly in the realm of being much more patient with and kind to myself…because I, too, am so deeply deserving of that softness and tenderness. I, too, am deserving of that allowance to try and to fail upwards and forwards with the understanding that healing is a cumulative process that inherently entails taking steps both forwards and backwards. Ultimately, (and perhaps even paradoxically) serving to propel us towards the next stage of the soul nourishing bloom. Sometimes the steps back are necessary because it gives you a birds eye view into your own life in ways that can help to gauge what is working and what is not. It helps to illuminate the various different directions that have still yet to be discovered. Setback in the recovery journey is far from failure, it is fertiliser for the garden that is waiting patiently to bloom still in the rebound. Guy Gavriel Kay once said, “There are no wrong turnings. Only paths we had not known we were meant to walk.”
Progress and healing are rarely linear phenomena but that is a detrimental neoliberal myth we’ve been sold under the false guise of fast-paced capitalist productive living. Of course there are benefits to consistent progress but there can also be power in the moments of being sent back to prior finish lines we had crossed. The only way to have a positive mind transformation, and having that transformation become a permanent exhibition of your life, is through the holistic understanding that progress towards transformation starts with learning how to better navigate the discomfort of taking a few steps back and building better habits that help to buffer the fall. It starts with slowing down and re-centering your breath.
For me deep breath looks like meditation, practicing mindfulness, writing, running, being nature, connecting with friends and showing up honest in ways that allow me to be seen in all the ways. Showing up in vulnerable ways that give room for me to say more earnestly to the tribe* I am building, “hey, maybe I am not okay” when the wound starts to ache more than usual and the food related thoughts begin to ring louder than normal. Friends, no one has it together all the time, it’s just that some people are better at bullshitting than others. Perfection is a terrible thing to strive for. I should know because I am a recovering perfectionist. The aim is not to be perfect in this life, the aim is to show up more honest in our mess and to strive for continual improvement within the confines of our shear humanness. Aim for good enough. Aim for complete. Aim for whole. Do this work all for you. More than anything, keep honouring your heart.
When I was knee-deep in my eating disorder I did not think there would ever be ‘an other side’…but y’all, here I am writing from the finish line I had convinced myself did not and could not ever exist. It took many steps backwards to be able to lunge forward far enough to finally see the horizon. And it is breathtakingly beautiful to witness it first-hand. My body is a museum of history; on the walls of my chest cavity hangs a showcase of the ill-fitting skins of the many women I have shed. It houses all the warrior women in me I have still yet to become. It is a space of radical self-loving and political revolution.
Wherever on the recovery map you are, you are body brave nonetheless.
Me? Well, I was born a child of the trees. Out in the sunlight with small clumsy hands full of wet earth and endlessly wild imagination, I learned that when you hold on to faith nothing is completely impossible. I don’t know if my beautiful sandcastles truly ever turned out to be beautiful sandcastles (and perhaps that is not the point), but what I do know is that childhood me never stopped believing or persevering. Even though what I was erecting made little sense to anyone else, it was absolutely magnificent in my doe eyes still. How breathtakingly magical it was to little six-year- old me that what once was vast empty hard dirt was now a soft breathing mud fortress with a welcome mat for all the wandering woodland creatures. Sometimes your journey won’t make sense to others in the moment but you just keep trusting and building anyways, in the ways that feel most authentic to you, because your castle, however it turns out, is yours nonetheless. A luminous work-in-progress masterpiece. So build it in whatever way you want—with sticks and stones and old shoelaces and and and…these bare hands; our wanderlust hearts; your continued resilience, these multifaceted work tools are the makers of a destiny that is patiently awaiting your arrival.
– Lulwama (she/her)
*The author is from Botswana (Africa) where the use of the word tribe in a collective society is used to signify both feelings of home and belongingness; to oneself and to others. There are more tribes in Africa than on any other continent in the world. In this space we not only celebrate diversity, but we welcome it in recognition of its inherent value in building better, more inclusive societies. Welcome.