EDCare Recovery Advocate Guest Blog | Colleen S.
When I was growing up, if this specific adjective was being used in conjunction with my name, it typically meant the following: buckle up. Everyone was about to be in for an extremely bumpy ride. Courtesy of yours truly.
This word used with my name meant a situation was on the fast track to gridlock. Horns would lock. Heads would butt. The gloves were on and I was not going to go down without a fight.
If I was triggered and the stubborn switch inside me was flipped, watch out world. Move over Jeff Probst – this girl would outwit, outplay and outlast whatever set me off until my world felt “right” again.
As an almost four-year-old, I had an outburst turned temper tantrum to end all temper tantrums.
What was the catalyst for this infamous incident, you ask? A ratty, old t-shirt. A shirt my parents had purchased for cents on a dollar at a garage sale. I LOVED this shirt. It had the soft feel only a handful of clothes ever have the privilege of reaching because they have been washed and worn so much. It was faded with holes and stains, making the lovable cartoon character on it almost unrecognizable. No matter. It was my shirt and I loved it. Why would I ever want to change it? It was comfortable. It was consistent. It was predictable. It was going to be something I wore forever.
The tantrum to end all tantrums started off innocently enough. I wanted to wear this shirt to an event. My parents gave me a firm “no” and explained I would need to change. Que stubborn switch flip inside of me. I morphed into an inflexible and uncompromising force to be reckoned with and the powers at be in this situation would have to deal with my wrath and iron-willed stance on this issue and resistance to change! Despite my efforts and extremely vocal display that afternoon, I did not get to wear the shirt to the event.
As the rest of the story goes, I became so upset my parents thought I was going to somehow unhinge my bedroom door and tear off the doorknob simultaneously. When it was all said and done, exhaustion was the lone victor and it claimed all parties involved. My parents were left dumbstruck, while I was left feeling even more infuriated than before. The solution seemed simple enough, I would just have to dig my heels in even farther the next time my world was threatened with change of any kind.
As I entered elementary school and continued on in life, these outward displays of stubbornness lessened while my ability to dig my heels into the ground to resist change only grew.
It was also during this time I began hearing new adjectives attached to my name: determined and persistent. My developing brain quickly came to understand there was a fine line between these new adjectives and the “s” adjective (stubborn) and what they meant when said with my name and how society viewed them.
At the drop of a hat, my determined nature could turn on me and the stubborn switch would flip and all bets were off. This strange internal phenomenon and delicate balance between these adjectives in my life were so puzzling to me, especially as I continued through school and into early adulthood.
Why were there instances in my life where I had a willingness and ability to overcome obstacles in order to get to an end result and could do so in a flexible manner? While there seemed to be just as many instances when I would get sucked into a state of tunnel vision and inflexibility on how to accomplish something.
The more this happened, the more irritated I became. I could not identify, let alone attempt to put words to what triggered this seemingly instantaneous shift between states of being that would leave me feeling blindsided and betrayed by my own brain all at the same time. Ironically, the more determined I became in an attempt to overcome this perceived obstacle of frustration, the more single track minded and stubborn I became about the perceived problem.
Years later, during my time as a patient at EDCare, I had the opportunity to learn about temperament. Every human is born with a unique temperament and this is an inherent and inseparable quality of who they are as individuals.
Staff at EDCare helped me start to understand what my temperament as an individual is and how it impacts how I navigate the world around me. To a certain extent, I can shape and adapt my temperament for varying situations, but I can’t change it or deny it all together because it is a part of who I am and what makes me, me.
When my primary therapist at EDCare first explained my scores on the Temperament Character Inventory (TCI) to me, I naively thought this new found information was the “answer” I needed to get me on the fast track out of treatment and back to my job. I knew about my temperament now, what more was there to learn? How much longer could this whole treatment thing possibly take? Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months and soon my high harm avoidance and low novelty seeking tendencies were beyond done!
Que stubborn switch flip inside of me. As it would turn out, being stubborn and inflexible made overcoming my eating disorder more difficult during those first several months than I could have ever imagined. Thankfully, my primary therapist and treatment team continued to be beyond patient with me and did not miss a beat. They buckled up and rode out the extremely bumpy ride as small changes slowly started to take place in my life. Despite my iron-willed stance and resistance to change, they kept meeting me where I was time and time again. Together, we started to untangle aspects of my temperament from ED behaviors and helped me start to have a totally different perspective on what it meant to be me.
As I continue to learn and grow, I am coming to view my temperament like a gatekeeper that sits at the fine line where determined and stubborn meet in my day to day life. At its core, this gatekeeper really does have my best interest in mind. It is focused on making sure I avoid harmful situations and wants to make sure things remain predictable and steady. If the gatekeeper deems a situation harmful or unpredictable, the gate swings wide open to the stubborn side of the fine line as it simultaneously slams shut on the determined side.
It is easier to slam the gate and shut one side off completely. Leaves less to chance that way. Leaving only the stubborn side accessible feels safer and more familiar in the moment. But stubbornness is resistant to change of any kind and takes a stance of non-negotiation. Leaving me feeling stuck in a place where things easily become stagnant and toxic. I get tricked into waiting to move until the world feels “right” again. This ultimately leads to isolation which is actually more harmful than if the gatekeeper had just left the gate open between determined and stubborn to begin with.
I am coming to find the more I practice pausing and stepping back in the day to day events of life, the more I am actually able to understand what causes the gatekeeper deep inside my brain to swing the gate shut in the first place. It is actually in the best interest of my authentic self to remain mindful of which direction the gate is swinging, so I don’t get stuck on the stubborn side of the fence after it has slammed shut.
With patience and continued persistence, I am getting better at catching the swinging gate in moments when it would have previously slammed shut. I am not at a point where I can catch the gate every time. Trust me, I have had a lot of misses and slammed fingers along the way and will no doubt continue to but the real me knows it won’t be like this forever. More importantly, I am actually thankful for the slammed fingers and misses because it is evidence I am learning and changing and ultimately preparing me for the next swing of the gate – making me wiser and more reflective as I allow the process to change me.