Saturday, February 2, 2013
Acting on Values...and Becoming a Vet Tech?
The underlying philosophy here at my treatment center is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Essentially, ACT proponents believe that you can live your best life (no, Oprah isn't the ONLY one who can use that term) by identifying your values, taking committed actions towards those values, and accepting thoughts as just that-thoughts. I've never personally found any one type of treatment modality particularly helpful (even as a student of psychology and social work), but my experience with ACT has been different. Accepting thoughts, defusing them (seeing them as taunting messages, threats, or stories to be observed instead of obeyed), and acting on my values has helped me immensely in this stage of my recovery. Even though my behaviors are largely 'under control' (and that's mostly thanks to the nature of a treatment setting), my thoughts run wild. When I feel like I cannot take another bite-or take the first bite-I have to accept the thoughts as JUST threats from my eating disorder, and move forward in a way that reflects the values of recovery.
So my latest struggle: pacing and exercising while in treatment. No one talks much about this, but it happens. Compulsive exercise is a major problem for a lot of people who come in for eating disorders treatment, and while we're here, we are not allowed much activity (it interrupts weight restoration and most patients are not medically stable, nor do they have healthy exercise habits). But any person would feel anxious without exercise. Don't you get antsy when you've been cooped up all day? Try 6 meals a day, minimal activity, and you'll see my point. The thoughts that come through my head are vicious. They are villains, and ACT helps me see them as such. It doesn't always work, but I have my values in mind: Love, education, animals, family, integrity, connectedness...
If I act on the urge to exercise (because my disease tells me I'll balloon up if I don't-which is far from the truth, especially while I'm still restoring health), I'm going against the value of love. I am pushing myself farther from my husband, my family, my dogs, and others that I love by feeding the eating disorder. And I'm keeping myself physically away from them by needing to be in treatment longer. I violate the value of connectedness and integrity by going against what I hold myself accountable for in treatment. I am following my eating disorder, not the best wishes of my healthy self, my family, my team and my partners here in recovery. As to animals: I want to return to activism. If I exercise, I am further from restoration of health. And further from returning to the activities I am most passionate about.
And on that note.. I have major news. I have spent basically every waking hour (those not spent eating, at least) considering what I want out of my future. When I list out what matters most to me, animals fall right in line with family, love, compassion, curiosity, integrity, and education. Social work just doesn't place as highly. That's a major message. I now realize that as much as I love helping people-and I truly, truly do-my dream is to help animals. I want to wake up every day committed to helping animals, healing animals and advocating for those who cannot speak for themselves. With this in mind, I am going to withdraw from school and pursue a career as a Veterinary Technician.
I have always thought I'd become a therapist or clinician or some other figure in the field of mental health, and that was more than fine with me. I love helping people. I genuinely feel empathy for the struggles of others. I want to help, and I'm good at it. I've been told so by many people whose opinions I value and admire. But there's always been a tiny part of me that questioned... "what if?"
What if I could have my dream job? If I could be with animals every single day? Well, becoming a vet tech takes me one step closer to that dream. My dream job is running a sanctuary or working for PETA, so if anyone from Farm Sanctuary, PETA, VegNews, or Mercy for Animals is reading....ahem, cough, ahem...but in the meantime, I am thrilled to embark on a new adventure. I am applying to a Veterinary Technician program, and hope I can pursue this career and learn an entire new field. One that is more in line with my current values.
So thank you, recovery, for making me vulnerable enough to explore my values and change my mind. I'm excited to see what else is in store.