Everyone needs a safe haven. A house that is a home, someone close to you that you can always rely on, or some hobby or activity that makes you forget all your worries for a moment. It makes you feel comfortable and, of course, safe. Then there is the mental safe haven, where you just feel comfortable with everything in your life. But this is actually the most dangerous place for me to be.
The girl in the documentary
Just two weeks ago I was watching a Dutch documentary about girls with eating disorders, in which they follow a different girl every week. I could identify with this particular girl quite a lot. I didn’t expect that — after all, she was so much thinner than I think I have ever been and she was so pale that it appeared as if all life and joy had been drained from her. I had never been that pale. That’s what I believed until I saw that she was basically the same height and weight as I was when I was at my worst.
Slowly, she started to gain some weight. Her cheeks got a healthy blush again and she became more energetic, more lively, more cheerful, which is similar to my own experiences with recovery. And then she said it: she felt good. She felt safe.
My Safe Haven
It’s not like I’ve never thought about it, but it struck a chord with me. I feel safe, too, and in so many respects: when it comes to my studies, my home, my relationship, and scarily so, with recovery. I eat three meals a day, I even have dessert every single day and I occasionally eat fries. I take dance classes every weekend and exercise for thirty minutes two or three times a week. I know what numbers to expect. This is my Safe Haven. This is why I am so much like her — not because we weighed approximately the same.
When people ask me how I’m doing, I tell them that I’m doing fine. Which is true, no doubt about that, but deep down I know that the best answer would be that I’m doing well. There is so much more in life than doing fine. I emphasise that people needn’t worry about me, and they really shouldn’t; I am healthier and happier than I have been in years.
But I’m in that Safe Haven, which means that I am comfortable — too comfortable — with what I eat and how much I eat. At the same time, not being able to exercise as much as I had planned to, encountering situations with ‘scary’ food or noticing that I’m actually hungry so that I need to have a little snack unsettles me far more than it should. This Safe Haven also means that I’m not disappointed enough when I notice that the numbers are still the same, just because they feel so safe. These are still big challenges for me, challenges that I avoid more often than I should.
While it may not seem like a bad thing because I have been stable for about two years, and while I’m enjoying my life, I know that I can get so much more out of it if I start challenging myself again. Eating more so I have more energy to do things and so my immune system gets even stronger. Eating things that I think are scary, because accepting them will make life so much easier, and will make meals less worrisome. But most of all, challenging myself would mean that I overcome my fears — fears that are mostly manifested in my mind. It would calm me down and give me more time and space to focus on other things. Things I love, things that make me truly happy. Because really, worrying about the essential thing that makes you live is the last thing in life that makes you happy.
We all need a home, people we love and that we can rely on, and things that make us happy — but a safe haven is not always safe. It may be so safe that you stop challenging yourself. In the end though, the challenges in life are what leads to progress and what makes you grow as a person.