vacations be like…

I was on a brief family cruise the past week. It was nice to just spend quality time with my brother and parents; these days, we rarely have the opportunity to spend time all together. And so…cruising. I’ve mentioned it before, but they can be like the achilles hell of eating disorder recovery. Food everywhere. Buffets and chocolate extravaganzas and fruity drinks and room service and 24 hour pizza.

I just ate. What a miracle, right? But, of course, I dutifully observed and analyzed the contents on my family members’ plates. I watched how they decided which entrees to select; who ordered desserts; how many rolls they selected from the bread basket. I made judgment. I can’t help it. My mom is on an eternal health kick who is now on the “lower” side of weight after battling with dieting swings for years; my brother is (annoyingly) the most intuitive eater I’ve ever met and has an awesome metabolism to boot; my dad is a grazer and junk-food lover who has a slight stomach and seemingly bottomless pit of an appetite. So, mom ate a bunch of salads and fruits. Dad ate a bunch of pizza and bread and chocolate desserts. Brother ate a bunch of whatever seemed appealing to him. I tried to embody my brother; I tried to practice moderation.

It went well. I beat myself up too much. But overall, I think I did well. The voice in my head, Bee, she’s telling me that I could have done better. She’s calling me a gluttonous pig, but then again, she likes to shame me. She thinks it will somehow motivate me to “cure myself,” as if the answer to any healing was through shame and hatred.

Whenever I come back from a vacation, I have the desire to restrict, to “cleanse,” to magically “detox” myself from all the supposed poison in my system. It’s hard, you know, living in a thin-obsessed, obesity-epidemic society, and struggling to find a balance between wanting to be healthy and wanting to feed into a mental illness.

If it wasn’t an eating disorder, though, it’d be something else. We humans have the tendency to make chaos out of life–calmness bores us; calmness makes us think terror is just around the corner.

It’s a messy life, the one I live. But I wouldn’t call it flawed, and I wouldn’t call it imperfect. Because it’s the way it damn well needs to be. And I’m doing what I damn well need to do.

I feel good right now. I’m lucky to be alive.

Father’s Day.

Dad, you taught me how to play. 

You taught me how to explore. We had chemistry sets and binoculars and art farms. I wanted to be a scientist, and you encouraged me to become an astronaut.

You taught me how to ask questions. How to challenge, critically think, fight against the norm, complain when being mistreated. You taught me how to raise an issue if one needs be raised.

You taught me creativity. For months, I drew a daily portrait of you. And you sat still with a half-smile on your face watching as I intently outlined your face. You let me paint your toenails and brush your hair and shampoo it over and over again with little bottles of water.

You taught me how to learn. We read books and studied multiplication facts. You gave me history lessons and helped me with long division. You knew more than all my teachers- you were the smartest person in the world.

You taught me what it means to be a child, an adult, a female, an employee, and a friend. You taught me the virtues of working hard in order to travel and love hard. You made sure I knew my manners, but you never told me to be ladylike. In your eyes, there was nothing I could not do. The world was limitless; I could be whoever I wanted to be. Even if I was the smallest, scrappiest kid out there, you were always cheering me on.

Through soccer, through girl scouts, through the drama classes that you disliked but tolerated, through martial arts, through the weird friendships and the failed boyfriends, through the stormy adolescent years, through the time I thought I almost lost you.

You were there. You are always there.

We argue. You’re stubborn; I’m stubborn. But I love you to the moon and back.

You were my hero then. You are my hero now.

Link

The day my alcoholic best friend sobered up.

This post

Has consistently ranked as one of my top-read posts in my entire blog history. The day I broke up with my alcoholic best friend. 

She hit bottom recently. Real bottom. The reasons why don’t matter and I will avoid specifics to protect anonymity.

The miracle happened.

We hadn’t spoken in almost a year. Last November, we had a brief dinner and caught up on our lives. It was civil, but strained. A few months ago, we saw each other again. Even more strained. She was deep in her addiction.

Last week, she reached out. I received lengthy, lengthy apologies for her behavior, for her addiction, for how she treated me, for how she treated herself, for how grateful she was for our friendship, for how grateful she was that I was willing to call her out on her bullshit and willing to put our relationship aside for her well-being.  

I didn’t expect these apologies for years…if ever. This is a stubborn girl, defiant to all modes of conventional treatment.

And now…she’s sobering up. Attending therapy. Taking medication for depression. Ended a stagnant romantic relationship. Revamping her lifestyle.

My alcoholic best friend, my alcoholic best friend who has been drinking since she was 12, who fell in love with drugs and sex and rock and roll, to escape the pain that was her childhood trauma, ill-equipped parents, and near-poverty adolescence. My alcoholic best friend, who, from high school, has been on her own financially and mentally. My alcoholic best friend who literally has the IQ of a genius (she’s had the test). My alcoholic best friend can be my best friend again.

What a blessing. 

Miracles happen. 

when you aren’t allowed to have problems

Dear Bee, 

It sucks when people don’t validate feelings. Right? That’s probably the MAIN reason I’m in this field. I learned how to validate everyone else because I wasn’t getting any of it myself. I have great parents, awesome parents, who I love very much, and they supported whatever I did with unconditional regard. But when I had to cry? No, toughen up, don’t cry. When I was angry? Calm down! When I was hyper? Stop bouncing off the tables. When I was scared? There’s nothing to be afraid of. No wonder it’s hard for me to express emotion nowadays. I’ve never been allowed to do so.

In a sense, by internalizing this message, I wasn’t allowed to have problems. Because why should i? Problems meant that they were doing something wrong. And I quickly learned that if I complained, I was acting entitled. Problems meant they had somehow failed as parents. Problems meant I wasn’t appreciative of what they did. This isn’t a post to bash my family. I love them. There isn’t a perfect person in the world, and I am on the very lucky end of the spectrum as far as family-of-orginis are concerned. 

But yes. I had problems. I still have problems. 

But, here’s the thing. I was a complicated kid. Over-anxious, paranoid, overly-shy, and perfectionistic. I distinctly remember feeling like an outsider in the world; as if I was always at a slight distance from everyone else. And I was intense. Wise for my age. Hyper-smart. That’s what people used to say. I’ve since grown into myself. My anxiety mainstreamed into an eating disorder, which I am working through, my paranoia is nonexistent, my shyness has mostly disappeared lest for the occasional social anxieties, and my perfectionism has seriously diminished. I like who I am. Even better, I embrace it.

My dad doesn’t really believe in therapy or mental illness. That’s just how he is. He sees the world in black-and-white and believes any problem has a solution and can be fixed. Alcoholics should just stop drinking, depression can be cured by doing things that feel good, and, if you have an eating disorder, just eat. It’s highly simplistic and, in my opinion, ignorant. We argue about it constantly, and it’s hard for me to accept that he thinks so differently from me on this aspect. If mental illness could be explained in such primary terms, why would people be suffering? Why would these diseases be so chronic and complex? It makes me feel invalidated, as if my own experiences with therapy and mental illness were just about me complaining and being unable to fend for myself. As if I had much of a choice.

He thinks my going to therapy is a waste of time and money. He was pissed when he found out I was on Prozac. I can’t really talk to him about my eating disorder without feeling insecure. I think his anger stems from fear and a place of perceived helplessness, as if he feels guilty he could not “save me” from this distress. I don’t know. Maybe it’s a conversation we will someday have. 

I was talking about this with the boyfriend today, because he may start therapy too. He’s also a training therapist and thinks it could benefit his insight and self-awareness. His parents are all for it. They think it’s a great idea! MIne are like, how much are you paying? When are you going to stop? Do you even need it? I wish they understood how much it helps me to just have a safe place to express. I love my child/adolescent clients’ parents when they are supportive of treatment, and i instantly feel protective over my clients when they have parents who do not think therapy is necessary. 

Anyway, if anyone saw a teary-eyed girl talking to herself to vent out her anger on a Southern California freeway today, that was me.

I would like to say that I know I have everything to be grateful for, because I do, but right now, I’m going to really try and honor my feelings and just experience my sadness fully. Because it’s there for a reason, and it’s okay to have it there. 

telling secrets & setting boundaries

Dear Bee,

Last night, I dreamt that my dad stumbled upon this blog and then texted me to say he had read every single entry from beginning to end.

To be honest, this would be terrible. I love my dad. I love him so much. But, I also don’t want to disappoint him. Is this distorted? Probably. But, in his eyes, I’m this wonderful, high-achieving daughter. He knows the surface of my mental illness; he knows that I’ve battled with an eating disorder, but that’s about it. He knows that I go to therapy, but he doesn’t know what we talk about. He knows more about my career path as a therapist than anything I’ve personally gone through. When he found out I was taking Prozac, he took it personally, as if he had somehow failed as a parent, as if taking antidepressant medication somehow made me weaker as a person. He didn’t understand why I would possibly need to be taking it. 

I don’t blame my dad for his reaction. I’ve never been a parent, but I can only imagine how difficult it must be to see your child struggle with something beyond your control. I am assuming my dad somehow feels guilty, as if he has somehow contributed to the problem. And, maybe he has. But, there is no perfect parent, just as there is no perfect person. I love my dad, and he has gone above and beyond to embody a strong person and wonderful role model. 

But I never want him to read this blog. It’s dark. It’s private. It’s anonymous, after all, for a reason. Unless they are at serious risk for harm, I don’t think parents need to know every detail in their child’s life. It depletes autonomy. I would lose my creative outlet if I told everyone about this blog. I’ve handpicked just a few trusted people with access to these entries. My sponsor, for example, had the link. So does my boyfriend. So does one of my best friends. I have no idea if any of these people actually check it, but I have nothing to hide from them.  The rest of my readers, as far as I’m concerned, have no idea who I am. And, if they do, they only know me by my online presence, like Facebook or Instagram or whatever. Which, as we know, is limited and up to my personal choosing. 

It’s difficult for me to talk about my eating disorder even with the people who love me the most. I don’t like to admit when I’m struggling nor do I like the idea of “needing” support. I’ve been over this countless times, but it’s still the sticky layer of shame that often keeps me reluctant and hesitant to talk about my innermost thoughts and feelings. Half the time, it is challenging for me to identify them myself! Writing helps. The idea of getting it down on paper and letting it all out is both relieving and healing. I have accepted I am not the person who just spills every insecurity and flaw about myself to everyone I meet. Some people identify themselves as an “open book.” I like to say I don’t have any secrets, but that would be a flat-out lie. I have things about myself very few people know about. And I protect them with a lock-and-key, because it makes me feel safe. 

My therapist told me that I am sick as my secrets in our first session together. Part of me, I suppose, still clings onto some sickness, because it is hard for me to be openly transparent and vulnerable. But, I also recognize now when I am lying or minimizing or suppressing or avoiding. And rather than beat myself up for that, I try to figure out what or why is keeping me from exposing the truth. It’s not that secrets are unhealthy. However, the motives for KEEPING things a secret very well may be. 

Just as I wouldn’t want to open my diary to the rest of the world, I would never want to open up this blog to everyone I know. It’s not that I’m ashamed of my past, present, or future; it’s simply that I have accepted that I can choose secrets like I choose my boundaries. I decide when and how I want to expose them and who I choose to share them with. 

What more could I want?

Dear Bee,

The end of a long, much overdue weekend has arrived. It has been a jam-packed past four days, full of the people I love and the things I love doing. Friday consisted of lounging around with the boyfriend…and I can’t really remember exactly what we did. Oh, wake up sex. And errands. And a long nap. And there were pancakes. And a really long walk. Saturday were the two birthday parties! On Thursday, I had written that I felt somewhat apprehensive about the food situation (one party can be triggering enough, but having two of them back to back seemed overwhelming). Needless to say, it went exceptionally well, meaning I didn’t just sit around and focus on what I was or wasn’t eating. Yesterday, I went hiking with one of my best friends for a few hours, had lunch with her, and then went over to the boyfriend’s, where we lounged for a bit, walked around an outdoor mall, and then hung out some with my family. Today, I went hiking with my dad, coffee and dinner with my mom, and watched a movie with my brother. 

It’s amazing how much I can eat without WORRYING incessantly anymore. It’s okay for me to eat out. It’s okay to eat at different times. It’s okay to be a little hungry or a little full…I can handle them both. Things have just gotten easier. For the first time, I don’t feel like I’m swinging between restriction and bingeing. I don’t feel like I’m riding onto the orthorexia train, rejecting every packaged food or ingredient I cannot pronounce. I’m just eating. Pancakes here and guacamole and chips there. Shaved ice and breakfast cereal. Coffee cake and Thai noodles. Sure, sometimes I feel a little stressed, which cues the internal, which is healthier or how much am I supposed to eat or maybe if I eat this, I’ll skip lunch or I’ve already eaten all this, so I may as well keep going, but that soundtrack is more faint as time passes.

This eating disorder will be behind me, and I know that. There’s just more to life. I chose recovery. I choose recovery. I don’t want an identity bound by sickness nor do I want to engage in behaviors bound by compulsion and maladaptive habituation. I did not choose this illness. None of us do. But I’ve moved on from that. I no longer beat myself up for something that I may have been genetically, biologically, or behaviorally predisposed to developing. It wasn’t my fault. I was sick. It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t know how to stop.

I’ve grown. This eating disorder has forced me to live beyond my comfort zone, to challenge the distortions that composed my here-and-now reality, to accept life and all the ups and downs that come with it. It has been a journey, a worthwhile one. I am finally at peace with myself and finally in the mental state I always wanted to be. There is no perfection. LIfe doesn’t change dramatically. But everything feels different. Renewed. Fresh. Beautiful. Life feels exciting. And I am very much enjoying the ride. 

And, really, what more could I ever want? 

Taking care of others

Dear Bee,

I have a lot of friends in pain right now. It breaks my heart. Breakups, death, joblessness. It’s hard to be a stumbling, fearful young twenty-something living in this world. I’m doing what I can to be a good friend. To provide my unwavering support and my listening ear. That’s what people usually need. Nine times out of ten, people don’t want advice, even when that’s what they ask for. They just want to be heard and validated. Pain is universal, but sadly, support is not.

I have a therapist’s intuition, and I’ve had it my whole life. I’ve been a maternal figure for many , a stable force for my chaotic and unpredictable friends. I’ve always been that one that friends reach in times of need, because, for some reason, I naturally know how to listen, reframe, and offer positive encouragement. But this is a tough role that carries pressure and a sense of self-sacrifice. Taking care of others can take a toll on taking care of myself. For a long time, that was my problem. I used to shoulder the world’s pain. I would take their feelings and make them my own. Their sadness would become my sadness, turning misery into even greater misery. Last night, after spending the day with my boyfriend, I found out my friend’s uncle had passed away. Her boyfriend was being completely dismissive and manipulative towards her during this painful time. This is nothing new, as he is emotionally abusive, but I knew she needed love, even though she said she was “fine.” Oh, fine…Aka. Fucked up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional. 

I came over, armed with flowers and candies, just in time to catch her in the middle of a huge crying spell after a catastrophic fight with her boyfriend. My guy and I took her out, sat her down, and let her talk and talk and cry and cry. Not only was she grieving death of someone she deeply cared about, but she was also grieving the demise of her relationship. I hated seeing her in this state, but I also knew we ALL get in that mindset from time to time. We ALL experience grief, sadness, fear, and anger. These are primal emotions; these are the common threads of human existence. 

I am learning how to container other people’s emotions, rather than let them consume me. This is huge for me. For example, I used to feel guilty for taking care of myself after taking care of others. I didn’t think I deserved to feel happy when others were so distraught. Last night, I realized that I could be empathetic with my friend and feel horrible with her, even to the point of crying with her, but I didn’t have to take it all home with me. I didn’t have to take it out on my boyfriend, like I used to do with my ex. I didn’t have to make her sadness mine. 

When I came home, I had some of the most passionate sex of my life and fell asleep tangled in my love’s arms. It’s okay to be grateful and happy for what I have, even if everyone doesn’t have it. I spent enough time angry and disappointed with the world. I’m not doing ANYONE a service by holding on to emotions that are not mine. This kind of thinking requires a level of self-esteem and a standard of self-worth I’ve NEVER had before. This requires knowing how to be there for people without becoming that person. Happiness is my birthright. I have the freedom to enjoy it. I experience enough pain just by living in this world-we all do. I don’t need to inflict more on myself. Nobody does.