How writing helped me to find my home within
By June Alexander
For many years, however, feeling “settled” was just a dream. I moved house more than 20 times. Many years passed before discovering that the home that really matters is the one I carry “within.” All that was needed to feel safe, secure and at peace, was within me. I just had to find it and connect with it.
The bricks and mortar home, the one that meets physical needs, is special too. I have recently moved to live by the sea and my new house already feels like home, but it is the home within, not the environment with its sparkling possibilities, that really counts.
Knowing this means a lot because feeling “at home with self” was impossible for most of my life. An eating disorder, from age 11 to 55, caused disintegration within my mind and body and would not allow me to settle.
Not understanding the problem, I tried to help myself. I tried multiple new starts, documenting each in good faith in my journal. With each new start, I ventured forth with great determination that “this time” inner peace would be achieved and sustained. By adhering to the latest foolproof diet, and using my diary as a record-keeper, every daily challenge, no matter how difficult, would be manageable. I was unaware that this was an eating disorder strategy, the only one my eating-disorder-ravaged brain knew and was doomed to fail.
Best efforts were never enough. I could not settle. I could not sit still. My diaries recorded my deepening descent into the eating disorder’s deadly clutches.
My diary-writing reveals that moving house, sometimes twice in one year, clearly was not the answer to escaping the hell within.
Building a new house was not the answer either. Building a house while living in it with four children under seven and working two jobs, was indeed a hard slog but was easy, compared with the struggle raging within me. Building a house was finite; it had a start and a finish; my tormentor – a combination of eating disorder, depression, and anxiety – was grey and black, an untouchable voracious mass in my mind. I fought it but did not have the understanding or skills to beat it. From my diary:
I will get hold of myself one day. I hope I can do it without requiring special help. I figure it’s probably me and my instability, insecurity, that’s caused us to have so many shifts and probably my unhealthy, erratic, gluttonous diet that causes most of our arguments.
When I think of all the troubles in the world, mine are very small and I must overcome them before they destroy my life.
The answer to feeling at peace would not be found in a diet; it was not “out there.”
Increasingly I feared I was going around the bend and thought I’d do our family and me a favor by seeing a psychologist. By evening most days, my head felt as delicate as a fragile eggshell. Without any buffer, I screamed at the slightest provocation or noise. The sound of a child tapping a teaspoon on the table, while waiting for dinner to be served, resounded loudly in my brain and sent me running, holding my head, to the other end of the house. My tormentor thrived on such chaos. I called it a “tormentor” now because at times I felt I could almost put my hand into my head and pull this dark, horrible mass out. My monster was becoming almost real, almost tangible.
This tormentor wanted to destroy my marriage and my life.
From my diary:
I do not think I am going to succeed in my quest for “normality” on my own.
I’m going to need some help. This afternoon, while out hoeing weeds in the gherkin patch, I decided I should/will go talk to a Dr, and seek his advice on whether my problems are just silly make-believe fantasies which can be brought under control by myself, by using some professional help to get my self under control. I feel I haven’t been “normal” since I was 11 years old, and worry I will spend the rest of my life riding waves of depression, at the expense of happiness to myself and our family. I’ve got to the stage where I don’t know what the answer is, except I do know George and the children are important to me. Do I need a good long holiday with George, should we be working together, should I be working at all, should I be near my parents? I don’t know. I do know I am mentally in a mess.
I didn’t know the answers and feared that if I revealed my inner battle a doctor would say: “You are unfit to be a mother.”This fear, coupled with the shame of failure and obvious personal weakness, compelled me to try alone again, and again, my diary my sole confidant.
But the tormentor progressively took over my mind. One night I hit rock bottom. The fearful expressions on my children’s faces and on that of their father struck at my heart. I had to seek help. I wanted to see my children grow up. For their sake, I wanted to recover. I had to get this monster out of my head. Next morning, I called the local medical center and asked to see a doctor urgently.
That moment occurred 40 years ago. The healing path to inner peace and freedom was long and winding. Sadly my diary records that I lost my marriage but I got there. I stopped running. I asked for professional help. I did the hard work, restoring and reintegrating myself from within. My diary moved from being a survival and coping tool to a recovery and re-connection tool.
My latest house move has been for personal enrichment. For me. I love living by the sea, I love nature, I love having a house big enough for grandchildren, children and friends to visit and stay over, I love living in a small community, I love having a backyard big enough for a small dog as well as a cat, I love my independence and I love and treasure my wellbeing. I
If you are not feeling at home with your inner self, if you feel you are in a dark place, write and reach out for help today. You deserve a full life.
Using Writing as a Therapy for Eating Disorders—The Diary Healer by June Alexander
Alexander, J. (2016). Using writing as a resource to treat eating disorders: The diary healer. Hove: Routledge.