Breaking Free From Bad Associations
Last Saturday, pre-Super Bowl madness, I was having a conversation with a friend about weekend plans. When I asked her which football team she was rooting for, she looked at me with a combination of anxiety, sadness, and anger.
Her ex-boyfriend had been a huge football fan. Her ex-boyfriend had also been abusive. On what some would call the biggest annual sports day in North America, my friend was flooded with intense emotion. For her, it wasn't about the chilli or chicken wings, or the beer and mixed drinks. It wasn't about gathering at a friend or family member's house to watch for monumental plays or gawk at Justin Timberlake during the halftime show. Instead, she had to deal with the memories of being in such an unhealthy relationship.
All of this talk reminded me of how I felt when I first returned home from treatment in New York. Let me explain.
I remember the night so clearly. It was, in fact, nighttime, because my dad and I only left New York around noon on the day of my discharge. We drove all afternoon, and it was such a peaceful drive. We had rented this huge car, made a grocery stop at Trader Joe's, and consumed insane amounts of coffee. It was September, so the weather was mild. The sun shone brightly and set early, as Fall was approaching. I was sad to leave my friends and treatment team in New York, and cried a little in the car. But I was also so excited to get back to my "regular" life.
Although some of my treatment team had recommended that I not stay alone at home for the first night, I really wanted to sleep in my own bed. I turned down offers from my parents and sister to crash at their places, as I longed for nothing more than my sheets, pillows, and comforter. I couldn't wait to wake up in my apartment, make myself a cup of coffee, and enjoy it with breakfast. Maybe even while watching tv at the same time - something I couldn't do in treatment.
My dad helped me carry my suitcase and bags up the stairs, hugged me goodbye, and we parted ways. I took one look around my home, and started crying. Sobbing.
The tears were a combination of many factors. I was clearly overtired - it had been a long nine hour drive, and I had to experience many emotional goodbyes that day. I was sad to not be in the company of some of the amazing girls I had met during that treatment stay. We had spent every night together for the last three months, and now I was... well, alone.
But what made me the most upset was how strongly the eating disorder "memories" came charging back. I saw my yoga mat, and was reminded of how I used to use it during exercise. I saw my bed, and was reminded that I had had a scale under there - a scale that drove me mad on a daily basis. I saw my cupboards that used to be kept almost empty as a way to ensure I wouldn't "overeat". I saw my apartment as a place where my eating disorder was kept alive and thriving - not as a place of comfort and independence. And that scared me.
I suggested to my friend that she make "new associations" for Super Bowl 2018. If she was feeling nervous, she could make herself a warm cup of tea and enjoy it while watching the game. She should be sure to surround herself with friends and family. I advised that she make snacks that were tasty yet comforting. In essence, I was encouraging her to make new memories. New associations. This year, the Super Bowl had no right to bring her any kind of distress. She would be proactive as a way to create new "football memories" so that she could actually enjoy game day.
I did the same thing when I came home from New York.
I went to IKEA to purchase new accessories for my kitchen. I had never really spent time in my kitchen before treatment, because I essentially wanted to avoid food and cooking altogether. So, armed with my new decorations, I was attempting to create a more welcoming and inviting place that would be conducive to recovery. I put up new prints on my walls, and set my living space up in a way that would allow me to feel comfortable and at ease. I bought some new things for my bathroom, and organized my bookshelves and closets.
My ultimate goal in this redecorating spree was to break free from bad associations and create new associations. A new way to feel when I walked through the door to my home. As humans, we naturally associate certain holidays, events, spaces, sights and/or smells to memories - memories that can be both positive and negative. When trying to "undo" these associations, we need to replace the distress and sadness with more uplifting feelings - but we must be active in doing so. Don't wait for the bad associations to fade away... work towards creating new ones that will hopefully bring you the joy you deserve.
Does this idea of "bad associations" sound familiar to you?
What have you done to break free?