Failure and Identity

I found out yesterday that I failed one of the two exams I took for a post-graduate qualification back in December.  This was a huge shock, as it was completely unexpected.  I had felt good about the exams and fully expected to pass.  I’m not used to failing academically, so this was also a big blow to my sense of identity.

After opening the envelope and seeing the result, I went through a lot of emotions very quickly… first, disbelief; then, an incredible sense of hopelessness and fear, feeling completely overwhelmed.  Then, a flight reaction – wanting to get out of the situation, my mind went into plotting mode: what now?  Move away (my never-fail solution); quit the course; quit my job and get a temp job locally; and other various assorted nonsense.  It occurred to me that as my work had paid for half of this course, quitting wasn’t an option open to me (not that I would really have done it, anyway), and I felt trapped.

The whole sense of being overwhelmed, that I actually put work into this and failed, adds up to a big blow to my sense of who I am.  I see myself as a capable, intelligent person and especially in this particular field I feel that I know what I’m talking about.  It doesn’t help that there is no feedback, nor any possibility of getting feedback, as to why I failed, so I don’t know what the problem was.

Anyway, I am just not used to failing professionally.  Whenver I would get close to failure, I would quit before getting sacked and go away. Get out of the situation.  I have never before really sat it through when things get though.  This time, I saw the options before me very clearly – flee into some kind of mindless activity (TV, playing computer games) until the first shock wore away and I could rationally look at the situation after burying my feelings, or I could work this through.  And I chose the latter.  I called my most trusted friend, had coffee with her, talked about it (and cried, for goodness sake – about an exam!), and left feeling like a victory has been won inside me.  I am not what I do.  This exam has nothing to say about who I am.

Why I am sharing this is because I find myself now at a point of my recovery where I can make such conscious choices.  I never used to have such choice.  Before getting abstinent, I would be in the food without even realising what was going on beneath; yesterday, food never even came up as a way out.  In my early recovery, I would have sought solace in an abstinent crutch: TV, mindless activity, anything to escape.  I am so grateful for this program that has allowed me to grow to a point where I can recognise, address, and deal with things without running away.

Does it hurt?  Oh yes.  But it’s good when the pain lets up.

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