Looking for a Guide: Searching for Mentors In Recovery

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For that reason, I believe documenting my transition can serve as a useful resource for other trans women. When I was first considering whether to start treatment, and then decided I would, I still had very little idea what I was getting into. Yes, there are the broad strokes: you’ll grow breasts, your sex drive will change, you’ll probably feel better…

But that didn’t really answer the question of what it would be like. And now that I’ve been through this myself, I realize that such vague information is like being shown only a single frame of an entire movie. How will my breasts develop? How fast? What will they look like and feel like? How will my sex drive change? How will I adjust to that? Will I like it? How are my moods going to change? Is it really such a big change? Will I be the same person? When it comes to these specific questions, there’s still so little information available. And I believe trans people deserve better. To that end, I’ve tried to explain and describe and capture these things in as much detail and depth as possible, just so the world can have some better sense of what this whole experience is like. Sharing our experiences, and finding points of similarity in our own lives, is incredibly important for trans people. Knowing what to expect, and that someone else out there has been through it, and feels much of the same things you do, is a thing of comfort in what can otherwise be a very uncertain and difficult time.”

I was reading a great post at Zinnia’s blog the other day when I ran across this quote. As I read it, I found myself a little startled at how familiar these questions and this uncertainty felt. I’m not trans and have never had anything comparable to the experiences of something who is trans. I certainly don’t want to co-opt this narrative or this feeling, but I can’t deny that when I read this it was like someone had finally put into words a problem I have been struggling to express for a very long time.

To me, this read like my feelings about recovery from my eating disorder. I mean obviously I’ve heard stories of how recovery is supposed to go: it’s hard and you struggle all the time, but you start gaining weight and you talk about things and you become more open with your family and friends, and eventually you just get better. Things will start to feel better and be easier, and you won’t think about food as much.

But what Zinnia is hitting upon here is that very rarely do we get stories of change and growth that really focus on the day to day experience of your body changing, your mood changing, your mind changing. We don’t have anyone to tell us what it feels like when you’re doing better but things are still confusing, or what it was like that one time you ate pizza for the first time in months, or when you noticed your mind had stopped always assuming the worst. We don’t get to hear about the times people fall down, or about how they notice their bodies changing, or about how sometimes it feels like you’re losing all conception of reality when you’re just trying to decide whether or not to eat a snack. These pieces don’t necessarily fit into the narrative, the movement from bad to good.

In general our stories tend to be either the before or the after: the middle is too muddled and confused to make a good story. But the middle is the part that scares the hell out of me, and the part that I desperately want to hear about. I want to hear about the bits that change and the bits that stay the same and the how and the why of it all. Perhaps there are these kinds of memoirs and accounts and I just haven’t found them, but people seem loathe to talk about what the work of recovery looks like, and what the pay-off means in emotional, internal, experiential terms: not how much you can eat now, or how good your relationships are, but rather how you have found meaning, how your perception of the world and yourself has changed, how you make sense of your disorder now, and how you make sense of the change. It’s not that I don’t want to hear that you’re more open now, I just am more interested in understanding why, what changed, and how you decided to make that change.

It’s hard to articulate why this is so important. Often asking for the stories of others in a deep, intimate, and clear way sounds selfish, whiney, or as if you’re throwing up roadblocks. No one owes me their story or their vulnerability. But wanting someone else to tell you what has happened to them, wanting to not have to find the path entirely on your own, particularly as Zinnia says in an “uncertain and difficult time” is entirely understandable. I want to know more than just that someone before me has gotten better. I want to know more than that they are simply happier now. I want to know more than how they got bad. I want to know what steps they took to get better, how it felt to them, how their bodies changed and how they coped with that change, how their emotions changed, whether they liked those changes, how they formed a new identity, and what that new identity meant to them. These are the questions that I’m wrestling with right now, and I want to know how some other people figured it out so that I don’t feel so entirely alone.

I’m certainly not asking for the roadmap to recovery. I know that whatever I do will be different from what someone else does. But seeing how another person made it through, seeing what worked for them and what didn’t, or just seeing their method of working things out seems like something that could help me understand where my ideas and dilemmas fit, and give me some ideas or thoughts about how to proceed myself.

I’ve been working hard to continually document my own progress and my own thoughts as they change and evolve through this process. For the most part this is selfish: I reflect and decompress through writing. But I do also hope that at some point these writings can be a comfort to someone else who is struggling to understand that they’re not alone and they’re not crazy. I want someone else to be able to see the down and dirty of it, to see the thoughts as they developed and grew and changed through a variety of stages. I hope I can do that for someone else, and I wish I had that for myself.

The featured pic here is me from when I first starting noticing problems. It’s good to document as much as possible.

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