Turning off the GPS

I spent the last few days visiting my relatives in a different state. Aside from the fact that they're generally completely barmy, I survived the visit.  As my parents and I were driving home this morning, my dad was programming the GPS to bring us back home. It should have been relatively straightforward--after all, we knew where home was, and all we needed to do was actually get there.

The problems started when all three of the route options sent us straight through Washington DC at rush hour.  If you've never had to navigate DC traffic during rush hour, let me summarize the basic idea: avoid it at all costs.  So how to get around DC?  We knew there was a way around, but what exactly was that route and how did we get there?

In the end, my dad and I figured out a compromise: we'd follow the GPS for a bit and then pull over and try and figure out an alternate way around DC.  Which worked--kind of.  Until we lost the road that we were supposed to be following and we start driving through the backroads of Maryland and Virginia.  Okay, not so much.  From passing the freeway exit countless times, I knew of a road that was larger (and less nausea-inducing) than the one we were on, and one of the towns where it passed through.  So we plugged the town in, and ultimately found our road.

Except that this post isn't about how to use GPS in all sorts of strange ways the directions really didn't tell you about.  It's sort of about recovery.  As we were figuring out our directions, I was thinking that many times in recovery, I had therapists and guidebooks telling me where I needed to go.  Most of the time, they pointed me in the right directions.  But it's easy to find roads on maps; it's another when you know about traffic patterns, possible construction, and other conditions.

There will probably be a time in your recovery (there was in mine) when the conventional wisdom doesn't quite seem to fit your circumstances.  When life throws you a detour and there's not a damn thing you can do about it.  For me, the biggest disruption was recovery itself.  I had to step off the career path I had mapped out from when I was in middle school because the ED was getting in the way, and I was no longer sure that I wanted what I thought I wanted.  Most GPS systems can handle minor detours and help you get back on track. But it's less helpful with major detours, when all of the directions you had are temporarily less than useful. 

This is when you flip off the GPS and its directions for "home" several hundred miles away.  You're still headed home, of course, towards recovery and life and happiness, but by a different route.  Instead of tackling that entire route, you just take the next fifty or so miles.  Get me to a place that's marginally closer to where I want to be so I can re-evaluate the best route.  Then you keep doing this, over and over and over.

I didn't just wake up and "decide" I wanted to be a writer.  It was a slow series of decision, each of which led me closer and closer to the career I wanted.  With recovery, I intended to bull on through, except that I kept running into detours and roadblocks.  I had to get used to that quasi-human voice saying, so maddeningly patiently, "Recalculating..."

I'm not saying to buck your therapist's advice because it's inconvenient.  It's not about finding ineffective (but less painful) ways of getting to where you want to go.  It's about taking life one turn, one road, one decision at a time.  I always thought that doing this would mean I would forget where I was headed.  Not all decisions would bring me closer to my career goals, which might mean that I find myself the opposite of where I wanted to be.  But it's not an either/or thing.

I never really thought about this until I literally had to switch off the GPS and focus on getting to where I needed to be by the best way I knew.  It meant some detours and a lot of motion sickness, but we also avoided the nasty traffic and arrived home at a decent time.

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SS said...

I can relate to this post. Life sometimes takes you places you don't expect.
Pause for time to heal, recuperate and 'recalculate' as you put it.

I would like to ask for prayers. For all of you who read this blog, I'm sure you understand the roadblocks and bumps in the road to recovery. I have experienced this in a large way. I was doing very well, not in treatment, and enjoying the onset of my summer until I got sexually assaulted. Hit number one. Today I went in for a bone scan and found a mass in my spine about the size of a golf ball. Hit number two.

I feel I'm back at square one. I know this is not MY blog but I would like to ask for your prayers right now. I feel as if the proverbial GPS has crashed, I don't know where to go or where home is. I'm lost.

lisa said...

This is an excellent analogy, Carrie. One of the obstacles my daughter seemed to encounter was being able to let go of future and long term worries which often left her feeling overwhelmed and and extremely anxious. Learning how to stay in the moment, focusing on the more immediate needs and goals are some of the most effective ways to she is learning to move forward and discover what she needs and wants.

hm said...

SS- Sending out prayers and healing energy to you.

As to the GPS analogy- boy, do I get that. I spent months trying to force a working whole route from beginning to end in spite of my therapist saying, "Just take one day at a time." And I kept running into "traffic" in my head and just crashing. Losing tons of time, relapsing, falling apart over and over. Finally I'm taking the one day at a time approach- I don't need to see an entire route, I just need to look at the road for today. Just this little piece. I've been holding steady and staying the course now for 5 weeks- longest time I've ever gone without crashing. Here's to hoping I can keep it up!

HikerRD said...

Love the analogy, Carrie! I find with the GPS (btw I love my Tom Tom xxl with traffic updates that prevents placing me in precarious situations!) I'm going along for the ride, just putting one foot in front of the other, so to speak. But I am not very aware. I pay little attention. I think this analogy still holds with the GPS. Sometimes we need to tune into ourselves and observe the situation. Sometimes, like with following a meal plan or a GPS, it's about just going from point A to point B. And that may be just what we need at that time!

Carrie Arnold said...


I'm so sorry to hear of your situation, and I'm sending hugs your way. I'm available by email if you want to talk ever: carrie@edbites.com


I call my GPS on my Black Berry Hermione because it's so damn smart!

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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