National Eating Disorders Association

Looking Back at my Entire Life Bogs me Down (But Recapturing One Period of Your Life can Bring it in to Light)

Carolyn Jennings

It was a time when courage was essential.  It was a time when tears, shock, rage and grief were unleashed as if I'd pried open a Pandora's Box.  It was a time when innumerable doors began to swing open, new connections form and my intimate darkness fade to make room for the light of My Life, a time ending in the sunshine.

Do any of the feelings expressed above sound familiar to you?  I wrote it looking back to the time of my life when I was a patient at an eating disorder clinic.  This was a personal Steppingstone period--a section of my life essential to everything that would follow.

In my last post in the Writing for Recovery Blog Series, “Writing Daily Details Doesn't Shine Light on the Bigger Picture (But a Few Steppingstones Can Illuminate a Lifetime),” I described the experience of listing the Steppingstones of life.  Steppingstones provide a chance to ponder your life's journey, first swirling in your mind's eye and then captured in a list on a page of eight to twelve markers of your life.  The purpose is to clarify who you are becoming and how your life is unfolding.  Now, I invite you into a rich journey of deepening awareness by exploring your Steppingstones further.

Spend Time with the Times of Your Life

Review your list of Steppingstones.  You may be drawn to one or more of them, attracted to explore what that time meant to you then and what it means to you now.  If so, write about one of those Steppingstone periods. 

In Journal to the Self: Twenty-Two Paths to Personal Growth, Kathleen Adams shares her wisdom about Steppingstones:

...each Steppingstone on your list is a microcosm of an entire section of your life.  Contained in the short phrase you have written are memories that may span several years.
    Writing about the entire time frame suggested by the Steppingstone allows you to recapture the events and moments that shaped your destiny.  And as you recall the time, you will often find that lessons left incomplete are offered back up for learning, old wounds that never quite healed are offered back up for healing.

Writing about my Steppingstone period when my recovery was held in the support of an eating disorder clinic, I could clearly see what died during that time and what was born.  Such clarity was impossible when I was living the emotional chaos and pushing through changes.  Surveying my Steppingstone period, I wrote about hope emerging through pools of tears shed and shy connections made.  I saw how all of my relationships were fundamentally and painfully redefined to fit me better.  I saw that consistent self-care and the healing of sexual wounds became possible.  I felt deeply grateful to my former self who did all that work and to those who saw me through.

Recapture and Explore

Adams encourages use of the phrase “It was a time when...” or, “It was a time of…” to enter a Steppingstone period.  Here are some examples from Journal to the Self:

  • It was a time when loving hearts and arms welcomed me to the world.
  • It was a time of fascination.
  • It was a time when crashing thunderbolts of Fate brought me to my knees in pain.
  • It was a time of knowing my connection with the ancient healing wisdom of the desert.
  • It was a time of ripening.

As you take a look at one or more Steppingstones, pace yourself.  Take breaks when you need.  Kindness, self-care and as much objectivity as possible (no judgment, regret or blame) are essential.  Please be sure to check in with yourself after the writing to see how you are doing and what you need.

After I spent time diving back into my early recovery, I drove off to meet friends for lunch.  I was surprised to feel as torn up as an uprooted plant.  I realized that the writing had truly transported me back to that jagged time when my life was turned upside down.  The realization led me to be kind to my tender self, and hours with friends were just what I needed to get fully back to the present.

A couple of unexpected images arose as I contemplated and journaled about the beginning of recovery.  The first was a Raggedy Ann sewn together with black stitches like scars covering her fabric flesh.  Later, as I considered the ending of that turbulent but vital Steppingstone period, Raggedy Ann's image returned to me—this time she sat propped under a tree in the park on a sunny summer day having a tea party with stuffed “friends” like a drawing of the happy ending of a child's picture book.  It led me to remember walking along a trail in Colorado sunshine with friends I'd made through support groups as my recovery took hold.

Along with the rush of memories, emotions and images that may come when examining the Steppingstone periods, opportunities, learning and healing can be gathered.  Read what you've written about your chosen Steppingstone period, noticing what you think, feel and sense as you pore over your words.  Write a few sentences about what you notice—insights, questions, surprises, jolts, ideas or opportunities.

Please take a moment to praise your writing and to admire the milestones of your life.

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