A reflection on the journey of choosing to believe in hope

As a teenager, Alyssa encouraged a friend to seek help for her eating disorder. Today, as a young woman, she has entered a career to help others experiencing this illness.

by Alyssa Sterry

Well I made it. I have achieved a goal, a job I had dreamed of for about eight years. I started this new job the day after completing my studies. Sometimes I feel like I just stepped into the role. But I’m reminded, often by family, that I didn’t get here by sheer luck or fate. This job has involved from a journey of many steps, leaps, failures and triumphs, and a lot of hard work. My journey has been personal as well as academic. So while I’m pretty okay and yes, sometimes a little excited with where I am now, I am mindful of the heartbreak and the fear that had to be overcome to get me here.

 Helping a friend

Let me set the scene…

In 2010 I was in my final year of high school. I don’t think I ever really found my place in high school. I was a cheerleader, a flute player and a drama queen. I had friends, I felt like I belonged in some places and I was confident I would be able to finish my studies. But over the years, I got to know a girl who became my best friend for a long time. I became the person that she was the most honest with and the person for whom she occasionally let down her walls.

I became the one who really saw her and who tried to convince her that her struggles and her experiences were valid. I was the one who encouraged her to eat something when she hadn’t eaten in days. I was the one who dragged her to counselling appointments and argued with her about whether or not she should go to the doctor. I was the one who made contracts with her to eat a certain amount or to keep herself safe. I was the one who defended her to our peers and teachers. I was the one who tried again and again to convince the people around us that something wasn’t right and that she needed help. And I was the one who cried with her when the people around us failed to help her, failed to keep her safe from a raging eating disorder that refused to be silenced.

 We don’t know how things will turn out – and that’s life

That’s where it started. A traumatic few years of my friend being misunderstood and disconnected from the support that she desperately needed. I don’t know how everything turned out for her. I have every hope that she found what she needed to heal and that she is living the healthy and happy life that she so deserves. I suppose that’s kind of how eating disorders are, maybe even how life is. We don’t always get to know how it all turns out and if it’s us who is experiencing it, we don’t know when it’s going to end. Most of the time we can believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but we rarely get a map or a torch.

During my time as a counselor, a client has described the journey of therapy as not knowing where it is going to lead and only being able to see a few steps in front of her at a time. This experience makes recovery work frustrating, scary, exhilarating and strange all at once. However, this client said the hard work in recovery was preferable to just wandering around in a desert-like place that had been her life for the past few years.

Making a conscious choice to be hopeful, one day at a time

My life and my journey has been like that. I cry out every time for a clear plan, a clear way for me to get to the next place I am meant to go. But I rarely if ever get that. But that’s what makes the willingness to be vulnerable such a brave and difficult thing to do. It requires us to lay everything on the line, recognize the pain and the trauma from our past, and choose to believe that there is hope for the future. I consciously choose to believe that my life will get better and that what I’ve been through will make a difference. I choose to be joyful in the present especially when I have no idea what tomorrow will hold. Personally, this is the hardest thing for me to do.

I also choose to believe that there are people out there who can understand me and really see me. I choose to believe that there are professionals out there who are willing to be patient with anyone suffering from mental health struggles, especially eating disorders. I choose to believe that every person I support will be able to access the support they absolutely deserve.

Making knowledge and personal experience count

So while we might not be there yet, I choose to believe that every time someone speaks out about the desperate need for understanding and support, that it makes a difference. Every day, I choose to believe our words have power, especially our most vulnerable ones. My favorite part of my new job is being able to use my knowledge and my personal experience to connect with people who are in some dark places. I have appreciated being deeply understood in the past few years by some special people and when I get to pass a little bit of that on, I feel very honored.

When June invited me to write this, she suggested answering the questions What, When, Where, Why and How. Well, here are my answers…

What: A journey that allowed me to reach a place I never thought I would, personally and professionally.

When: Now.

Where: The Butterfly Foundation which has given me that dream job of being able to support everyday Australians who are struggling and fighting back against eating disorders.

Why: Because I believe every single person deserves a place to be heard, understood, validated and seen.

How: By choosing to believe that life can get better and refusing to listen to the people who told me I can’t.

I want to thank June for asking me to contribute to her blog again. I sometimes forget the power of writing and of processing my thoughts. The first time June asked me to write was when I contributed to her research project, ‘The Diary Healer’ and it was really painful to face what I had been through. Thankfully the more I write, the emotional pain gets a little less every time and I’m grateful for this.

About Alyssa

Alyssa lives in Sydney and has recently started her new job at The Butterfly Foundation. She has a passion for working with people who are hurting and in need of empathy and care. Her desire is to be someone to walk alongside these people so they can live the full life they deserve. She wants to do this in the same way others have done for her when she had to learn how to process and heal from her own life’s tragedies. She plays the flute, reads and is still working on her first novel. If you’d like to contact her, please send an email to alyssasterry@outlook.com. You can also check out her blog at: https://alyssasterry.wixsite.com/turningonthelight