I like to play the grey areas in life – that’s the most uncomfortable place to be. Nobody likes to be in that in-between state where they don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s a lot of tension in that, and a lot of stuff to play with – where it’s uncomfortable and awkward and sad and scary.
– Melanie Lynskey
In the past year, I’ve lived a lot of in-betweens. First I was stuck knowing I needed help, but not wanting it. Then all of a sudden I was balancing precariously on the tightrope between life and death. And now, going through the recovery process has caused a huge amount of back-and-forth pulling. Sometimes I feel like I’m skating forward no problem, ready to take on the world, and other times I look at my ugly past with rose-colored glasses and realize how easy it would be to slip back into starvation and isolation.
I’m even physically in between. I’m home now, after spending my summer in classes, and will return to start again very soon. I’m at a point where I’ve been cleared for exercise but don’t have the strength or stamina to actually do much of anything yet. Most of my clothes from last summer and fall are too small, but my clothes from my sophomore year are all too big. And I’m in between the age where it’s okay to have no idea what I want to do with my life and the age where I’m supposed to be sure.
I’m not good at handling grey areas. And that may be the understatement of the century. I’m infamous among the members of my treatment team for my extremely black-and-white thinking – either I’m perfect, or I’ve failed. I truly went about my entire school-age life believing that if I didn’t get 100% on every test I was a stupid, moronic failure. I struggled to place everything into a category. Things were either good or bad. Answers were either right or wrong. People were either best friends or nemeses. I was either sure or I had no idea. There was no “maybe” or “okay” or “sort of” in my book. It was one or the other, end of story.
Naturally, recovery requires you to start thinking of everything on a spectrum. Because there’s not really a box for being “recovered.” There’s just recovery, as a journey, in which things unfold and you accept them the way they are and you make choices that bring you a little bit closer to happiness every day. If I were still thinking in such all-or-nothing terms, every time I skipped a snack or left out an exchange at breakfast would mean I’d relapsed, and I am perfectly able to recognize how silly that would be. The problem comes when I try to apply that same reasoning to the other areas of my life.
I hate the in-betweens. I hate not knowing where I am or what’s going to happen next. It is every bit as uncomfortable and awkward and sad and scary as Lynskey says it is. I never learned how to figure things out as I went, because I always made sure I had an idea of where I was going. And I did that because I absolutely hated feeling uncomfortable and awkward and sad and scared. They’re not pleasant emotions. They drive me crazy and cause me to fall into a near-psychotic pattern of over-analysis. The in-betweens bring out the worst aspects of my anxiety and perfectionism until I can’t stand to be inside my own head anymore.
I think, though, that if you don’t let yourself experience things in shades of gray, you can never be sure of what makes you happy. You can never be happy. Living the in-betweens teaches you more about yourself than you ever thought you could know. It is only in the in-betweens that you can truly figure out who you are and what you want.
They only last so long. The in-betweens. The grey areas. Eventually something will happen, whether you’re expecting it or not. And more often than not, the discomfort and the awkwardness and the terror push you one way or the other. When I was deciding whether to continue on my path to self-destruction or seek help, it took hitting a terrifying rock bottom to finally propel me toward recovery. Today, as we speak, I’m dealing with the maddening semi-relationship area where I don’t have any idea what is possibly going to happen next, but I will say that the more I accept the scariness and the sadness and the uncertainty, the more I am able to realize what I want.
I don’t know whether I’ll ever be able to say that I like the grey areas in life. After all, nobody likes the in-betweens. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. You can’t fit everything nicely into a perfect little box. Sometimes you really do just have to accept every moment without judgment, and decide how you want to go forward. You can’t always make the right choice, but if you’re allowing yourself to let go of control for even a split second and stop trying to change the way things are, you can’t be wrong, either.
There’s something special about not knowing. There’s a realm of infinite possibility. The in-betweens are a blessing.