Late Bloomer? / by Michelle Cowan

I heard stories yesterday about people’s pasts. Every now and again, curiosity crops up in me about what life would have been like had I not been so distracted by my eating disorder during high school and college. In many ways, I feel like I fell behind, and these recovery years somewhat reflect a struggle to catch up with my peers.

Many people my age won promising internships during college that have enabled them to step directly into the field of their choice, receiving healthy paychecks for work they are trained for and talented at. Others were able to get into fabulous schools out of high school and college, and such schools often provide stepping stones and assistance in job placement. I feel like others spent time figuring out what they wanted to do, while I was busy flailing about, knowing only that I didn’t want to be doing the things I was doing then.

I see people who are successful in graduate school, well on their way to professorships. I see people working as assistants or even editors in the publishing field thanks to prestigious internship programs. I see others acting or singing, recording songs and even selling them because they spent time honing their craft and meeting significant people.

And I feel left behind. I still don’t feel secure enough in recovery to devote myself to more graduate study. I missed the publishing internships, which is definitely a strike against me; no two ways about it. But I cannot change that past. I never joined a band, never made music contacts, but I can’t change my previous disinterest and fear. I can only live now. I can take this life for what it is. However, that doesn’t make me feel like less of a failure when the thoughts come.

But last night shifted my perspective a bit. I sat in a room with other women of different ages, all with eating disorders. None of them are bums, nor would I consider any of them unsuccessful. But many started late. And here’s the kicker, they’re stronger for it.

I began to see my life as a flower that did not bloom late, but in perfect time. I have been given things I’m ready for as life has prepared me for them. And now, I am starting to see how recovery has prepared me for things I would not be able to understand or embrace without it. And if I had been given an internship or if I were still in graduate school, I would not be having a pleasant time. My recovery has come at just the right moment. I feel strong. When I am in a recovered state of mind, I love life as it is, without attaining any dreams. Paradoxically, as I let go of endless striving, many of my dreams have been fulfilled.

I strongly believe that I exude a maturity only developed through facing such a difficult personal trial. I am still immature in many ways. I often feel not quite as experienced as most others my age. However, many of those people do not have the same type of hard-fought personal maturity I do. They do not know how to be alone with themselves or what introspection means. They can’t empathize with people who struggle with personal strongholds (though they will surely experience one themselves at some point). They may be more socially astute, more sexually experienced, and at a more prestigious place in their careers, but many lack the depth I saw in the women I spoke with last night. They will get it eventually. Everyone learns the same lessons, just at different times in life.

I saw so clearly last night that my job matters very little in terms of advancement or prestige. What matters is that I truly enjoy doing it or that I can make enjoyable somehow. I am where I need to be. And I honestly believe that.

I have significant space in my life allotted for recovery, significant space for friends, for introspection, for writing, for music, for family. I don’t work sixty hours per week, and I would not want to. I do not enjoy my job nearly enough for that. But I also have no residual stress from my job. I have flexible hours and great friends to talk to throughout the day. My work location is convenient, and I do get projects I get lost in from time to time. When I’m not engrossed in a project, I deal with the boredom by reaching outside my work and living life even while there. I have numerous gifts.

I saw that one’s occupation need not define her. Some people identify closely with their work. Eventually, I hope to, too. To be a “writer” or a “musician” or a “speaker” who makes her living by her craft definitely appeals to me. But for now, I do not identify greatly with my job. People ask what I do, and I tell them. But I also tell them that I am a writer at heart, that I do music, and that right now, I’m concentrating on friends, family, and personal development. Those are my real occupations.

And I can trust that the time will come for me to experience my vocation. One day, I, too, might have a family and get swept away in that. I might do just about anything. But recovery appears to be a precursor to all of it. When I deny that, my need for recovery asserts itself, as I’ll find myself having difficulty with food or anxiety. The world doesn’t value recovery and often doesn’t understand it. But attention must be paid to that area first in order for anything else fulfilling to happen. I gain no prestige for the time I take off to go to therapy, to try new foods, to stretch myself. The world does not mark these on a scale of success. But I do. I am successful. And yes, I may not reach the upper echelons of corporate life or garner an enormous paycheck. I may never have a highly respected profession. But I will have a fulfilling life.

I had graduate school. I lived in another country. I did all of that. And I was miserable because I couldn’t figure out how to stay in recovery there. Daily, I choose to give up the things the world prizes for a deeper peace. And it’s okay. I see how these other women’s lives have taken turns without much manipulation or scheming on their part. They simply recover, follow their dreams, and move with life. So will I. And I will be happy.