the cliche of the rock bottom

Unlike the throes of addiction and many other mental illnesses, we will rarely find a definitive answer for what constitutes rock bottom in eating disorders. There are the extreme cases, of course, with hospitalization and medical emergencies, but these do not account for the millions of sufferers silently mutilating their lives.

I don’t have a definitive rock bottom, but I wish I did. It sure would make for a beautiful, neat little story for my cliched memoir one day, wouldn’t it? I can jut picture it now. Chapter 6: THE MOMENT I REALIZED I NEEDED TO CHANGE. A moment of total clarity, a sudden, black-and-white realization that said, OH I NEED TO CHANGE! It probably has to do with getting some kind of scary news from a doctor or someone telling me that they were worried. I mean, that’s what we read about, right? That’s what we hear from so many people. My story isn’t quite so neat, and there is no definitive beginning, middle, or end. In fact, I don’t even know if I have the “climax” (rock bottom) and a resolution. My story is all over the place. I would bet MOST of yours are, too.

I’ve had lows, yes, but they’ve been scattered, and none of them have felt particularly worse than the others. The lying and deceitful ones stand out. Denying that I had stolen food. Lying that I had already eaten. Telling people I felt “great” and had “no triggers” and was “coping well” when it was entirely untrue. The physical pain ones stand out, too. A two-day, free-for-all binge spree which led to severe food poisoning, and (in hindsight) probably dangerous levels of dehydration due to such bad diarrhea and vomiting. The sugar-induced headaches. Pain in the back of my throat. Terrible stomach cramps. Feelings of heaviness. Feeling like I was going to pass out.

But my rock bottoms weren’t illegal nor were they necessarily destructive to society. And nobody really even had to know. Unlike most addictions, I will never be treated as a criminal. Because I don’t have to resort to theft, violence, or prostitution to get my drug of choice. Food is fucking everywhere. Simple as that. And it’s pretty fucking cheap, accessible, and rampant. And best of all: it’s perfectly legal and absolutely essential to live. Talk about a fun thing to abuse, right?

I didn’t have to be scared of jail or hitting someone with my car. I didn’t have to be scared to be stamped with fines or a criminal record. I didn’t have to worry about my physical safety. I just had to worry about my goddamn body and the nonstop chatter in my head.

The cold truth is that if we keep waiting for rock bottom, we keep flirting with death. We can always go deeper. We can always surprise ourselves. As humans, we are incredibly adaptive creatures, sometimes to a fault. Eventually, the “bad feeling,” no matter how terrible it was, wears off…and we will try again. We test boundaries. We push. We think nah, it won’t be so bad this time…I got this…I know my limits. We feed ourselves line after line of bullshit because our diseases will say and do anything to keep us committed to their school of thought.

There is a reason eating disorders are progressive. There is a reason you can’t stop no matter how thin you get, you can’t stop eating no matter how full you feel, you can’t stop obsessing no matter how many times you convince yourself you have control. The science of the disorder may have been built on logic, but the mechanisms of its wiring is entirely irrational and entirely destructive.

I have suffered with an eating disorder on-and-off for about ten years. I have flirted with recovery about half that time. Sometimes, I doubt I ever had a problem. Other times, it feels like nobody has ever had it worse than me. This is not unusual thinking: this is the etiology of any mental illness. It’s conniving and tricky. It’s entirely crazy and entirely reasonable at the very same time.

And yet, there may not be some milestone rock bottom. There may not be a lightbulb moment for change. God may not smite you, in the middle of the road, telling you that you have to pick recovery. In fact, forget God. Nobody may ever tell you to pick recovery. You may never feel like it’s reached that point of life-or-death. You may never be homeless or abandoned by everyone who loved you…you may not even reach that state of pure emaciation you so desperately hoped. You will never be as skinny as you want to be, and your life will never be as perfect as it should. And yet, the disorder will keep promising you the easy ticket to avoiding feelings, shortcutting pain, and mimicking control. You will keep going, numbly and bluntly, because it may never reach that point where you realize that you are choosing the chase of losing weight at the expense of losing everything else.

Emotionally, you are dying. You are avoiding life. You are numbing yourself, self-sabatgoing, self-medicating, doing whatever it takes to avoid the real feelings around you. You may slip through the cracks for months, years, decades without anyone really knowing. You may fool them all. Good for you! Then WHAT?

I was fooling everyone, EVERYONE, but what did that lead me with? A destroyed self-esteem, relationships full of toxicity, insurmountable shame, utter anxiety and depression, and a race on the never-ending hamster wheel towards perfectionism. I may have been fooling the world with my academic success and circle of friends and planted smile, but the more important question remains: why was I taking care of THE FUCKING WORLD instead of myself? 

The WORLD won’t be there when you are driving from restaurant to restaurant at night HOPING that none of the employees will recognize you from a few nights before. The WORLD won’t be there when you don’t get the perfect job, boyfriend, or happiness even if the supposedly perfect body arrives. The WORLD won’t be there when you’re crouched over your toilet seat, finger in your throat, tears stinging your eyes, in that fog of fear, guilt, and total humiliation. The WORLD won’t be there because you’ve probably done such a damn good job at shutting the world out.

You are screaming for help and you are pushing help away.

You are dying because you think it will give you a greater chance at living.

You are sure you have reached your limit, that this is your last time, that you will never do this again because it will never be worse than it feels right now, and then you will fucking turn around and do it again…three times worse.

You’re already on the tightrope. You’re already standing on the quicksand. There will always be more opportunities to fall. Stop glamorizing the rock bottom…because if and when you finally achieve it, the WORLD will finally know thanks to the tombstone with your name.

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the days are passing.

It’s been awhile since I’ve written. About three weeks. Crazy that it used to be everyday. I haven’t thought about this blog much. But it always feels good to start writing.

I’m living with my boyfriend now. I’m still quasi-unpacking and moving and getting rid of a lifetime of stuff. I’m working a lot. It’s a weird adjustment- not being at home, and I miss my parents, even though they’re only about twenty minutes away. But I also love falling asleep and waking up to my favorite person everyday. It’s been fun- making a budget, figuring out what goes where, calling each other to see who is picking up groceries, etc. It’s the grown-up world, and it’s a world I belong in. I can’t believe after being in school since kindergarten, I’m now completely graduated. I’m completely done with academia unless I decide to continue pursuing even higher education…which I don’t have a current desire to do.

Now that I am working with a school-based agency, my clients are all children and adolescents. It’s a lot of play and art therapy, and I’m constantly reminded how blissful my own childhood was in comparison to the horrors I hear everyday. Adolescents are still my favorite. Especially my girls. I think I’m talented at working with kids. I can relate to them on a very fundamental, humanistic level. I also love the notion of childhood and what it embodies.

I haven’t been bingeing or restricting, but I’ve definitely experienced some struggles. I suppose I thought I wouldn’t be triggered whatsoever once I left home. That, of course, is a myth. Sure, there isn’t all that tempting food around, because we just don’t buy it, but that’s not to say I don’t have the urge to eat an entire package of store-bought cookies in the middle of the night. And that’s not to say I haven’t felt fat or ugly or out-of-control. I’ve felt all of those, and I’ve felt them often. But I’ve also felt the other range of raw emotions: I’ve felt sadness and happiness and fear and guilt and curiosity and embarrassment and excitement.

Day-to-day recovery is so hard, and sometimes it feels like it will always be this nagging weakness of mine, this tantalizing dance on the borderline of health and sickness. It’s not that black-and-white, of course, but in the throes of triggers, it certainly feels that way. Throwing in the towel is so easy, and I can’t lose sight of how easy it is to quit. Recovery will never be the easier choice, but it will always be the better choice. As most things in life are.

I just have to remind myself to breathe when it gets difficult. To forgive. To be patient. To talk about it to people who care. I’m not crazy and I’m not weird and I’m certainly not a monster, despite the negative messages pounding inside my head.

We all suffer with the distortions and the lies and the underlying fears that we aren’t good enough. It manifests in different ways, and for me, it was an eating disorder, but that doesn’t mean I’m not good enough. I absolutely am. The irrationality inside my head does not embody the truth. There is no truth. I am a human, and I am in this universe, and so I just am perfect. It’s kind of a radical acceptance. It’s the philosophy I really believe in.

Life is moving, as it does, and more changes are coming ahead this week. Big job interview lined up for my boyfriend this week and a potential move could happen. And I’m in the process of applying for more full-time work myself. I have no idea what to expect. But the excitement of the unknown propels me.

There is no perfect body.

I can pick a subjective flaw in every human body, and yet, I carry this distorted ideal that it is possible to achieve physical perfection.

There is no perfect body.

And even if I did achieve perfection- like in some metaphysical sense, in some kind of alternative universe where we could agree upon a universal definition of perfection, I WOULD STILL WANT TO CHANGE/IMPROVE/FIX SOMETHING. Because that’s how we are hardwired. Acceptance is twelve times harder than changing (statistic I just made up). And contentment is twenty times harder than fighting.

If I had a perfect body, I’d find a reason to make it more perfect. We can’t sit at the top for very long without getting bored, angry, or depressed. We can’t sit with success for very long without itching for more.

Everyone knows we live in a society that basically blasts us with mixed messages. On one hand, the message that thinner is better has been drilled into my head almost with the same permanence and absolution as 2 x 2 = 4. On the other hand, we’re living in this new-age, high-peak fitness era, where women are also supposed to be sculpted, toned, and muscled into sleek goddesses. Somehow, we are supposed to be able to do it all.

But there still needs to be an ass (WHY ARE THERE SO MANY FUCKING SONGS ABOUT BUTTS THESE DAYS), and there still needs to be boobs.

And no matter what, there’s gonna be some fat. Or some cellulite or stretch marks or imperfections or anything. Because that’s HUMANITY.

Do I think I’m somehow immune to this? Do I think that my body will somehow look entirely different if it weighted 5, 10, 15 pounds less? Would everything be beautiful and rainbows and sunshine and shitting unicorns?

Um no. That’s called a delusion.

A body is a body is a body. I never saw more beauty in bodies at a nude beach over the summer. Easily the youngest person there (by maybe 40 years?), there was everything hanging out for all the world to see. And nobody gave two fucks. They flaunted, they lived, they were comfortable with themselves.

I was too. I’m comfortable with my naked body. I always have been. Which is sometimes why the eating disorder thing is confusing to me…shouldn’t I hate to be naked around others? Shouldn’t I want to hide and shield my body in layers? Neither have ever applied to me.

Maybe it’s because I’ve always known that my body was beautiful…that deep down, even those days when I thought I was too fat or too this or too (insert derogatory adjective here), it was all just the inner reel spinning inside my head.

the days after the hard days

Dear Bee,

You are one of my oldest friends. You have outlived every job, every romantic relationship, every school. You and I go way back, all the way to around age 11 or 12 or maybe it was 13–the line between “dieting” and “disorder” becomes blurry–but we have quite an evolution together.

So many times, I have tried to let you go. I have spent so much money and time giving into your pleas, and I have spent so much money and time trying to avoid those same pleas. I am lucky in the sense that I do not believe I have lost life; in many ways, I am absolutely in a mental and physical place that is better than I ever could have anticipated. But, I have compromised much of myself and sacrificed much of myself in order to maintain your existence.

My sanity. My flexibility. My intuition. My sense of self. And, most importantly, my self-love.

When I am with you, I lose these.

It’s not abut you versus me. It’s not even about recovery versus disorder. It’s about keeping my priorities in check; it’s about understanding the costs and risks of engaging with you; it’s about making the best decisions I can when I can. It certainly isn’t about perfection. If it was, I would have been out of the running long ago. 

If you weren’t my weakness, something else would be. That is how humanity works. We all have something. We all falter and fall down sometimes. We all feel lost and hopeless. Emotions are a universal flavor. Pain is a jacket everybody has worn. 

That is the price of this invaluable gift called life. You take some pain and suffering and reap some tremendous rewards and benefits. That is the take and give. And it may not be fair and it may not feel good, but there’s not a whole lot I can do about it. I could complain and bitch and moan everyday and never move.

Perpetual “stuckness” was the phrase I used with a client today. What’s that stuckness serving you? Because you wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t helping you somehow? 

Being “stuck” in quasi-recovery? Being “stuck” on the teeter-totter between wellness and sickness? It serves me comfort, familiarity, predictable pain, a cheap and guaranteed outlet for stress, anger, and any other emotion that feels too “overbearing.” But what does it cost?

My sanity. My flexibility. My intuition. My sense of self. And, most importantly, my self-love.

And sometimes, I’m going to choose old behaviors. Because I’m not perfect. Because recovery is fucking hard. Because this eating disorder is cunning, powerful, and baffling, and no matter how hard I try to work at it, there will be days that are harder than others. Because LIFE can be hard.

But being stuck is never random nor useless. Being stuck has a purpose. Being stuck tells you something. 

Find out what that is. 

When the only way out is by escaping.

The curious paradox about abusing vices to escape is that you don’t actually go anywhere. In fact, you stay stuck. You remain stagnant. I tried emphasizing that to one of my clients earlier today, a lovely girl, not much older than myself, struggling with the progressive throes of alcoholism. I know why she wants to escape. Her life hurts. She has had a traumatic upbringing. I cannot blame her for wanting to numb herself- hell, we all want to numb ourselves.

The other day I wrote that I recently came to revelation that happiness and meaning came from embracing life rather than escaping it. Escaping is done through the bottle, through the food, the sex, the drugs, the intoxication, the altered state of consciousness. Escape is the shortcut, the predictable, foolproof method of avoiding pain. Nobody is a bad person for wanting to escape. It has been said that humans have four basic drives: eating, sleeping, mating, and the desire to alter consciousness.

The fourth one is not essential for the survival of humanity. But many of us have made it essential to make the journey of humanity bearable. Anyone with an eating disorder or mental illness or addictive issue will probably resonate with this. We all alter consciousness. The degree to which we do it, however, lies on a spectrum. Some are satisfied with receiving a boost of energy from their daily cup of coffee. Others need a pack of cigarettes. Even on a healthier end of things, we use meditation to alter consciousness, to increase clarity, to feel more level. 

We may live to eat and sleep and mate, but we also live to chase happiness. We maximize pleasure and minimize pain. These are the common denominators behind every single basic drive. And when this becomes distorted in some way, we continue spiraling down the negative pathways of escape. We turn to our vices, we turn to the very substances that can harm and kill us, we turn our backs on ourselves. Because the pain of “sobriety” in whatever way, shape, or form that looks like hurts more than the pain of “sickness.”

Imagine. The sickness of being oneself is so potent that the individual MUST escape his or her own being to bear existence. That is the essence of addiction. That is why it is so hard to quit. That is why these battles are so complex. It is not about giving up the vice. It is about healing the sickness, the deep wounds inside of us, the ones that make life so unbearable and miserable. 

The school of thought in comparing eating disorders to addictions is controversial, but I do believe they share many degrees. Obviously, one cannot quit the substance he or she may be abusing (food), but behavioral compulsions (food, sex, gambling, shopping) can be just as detrimental and devastating as substance compulsions (drugs, alcohol). They may not kill you right away, but what’s worse? A slow suicide, such as an eating disorder, that is often laden with denial and minimization? Or a fast-acting one, like hard drugs, with the risk of overdose looming above everyday? 

Neither is better and neither is worse. All compulsions and addictions carry their own badges of terrible honor, of petrifying shame. All of them share the common denominator: An inability to be oneself. An inability to manage life. An inability to tolerate the weather of emotions, the ups-and-downs of life, the stressors of existence.

Addictions are not the problem; they are the pathological cries indicating a much deeper, scarier problem beneath. 

When the only way out of life is by means of escaping, you aren’t reaching hell. You’re already probably there. 

making rules & breaking rules

Dear Bee,

As much living and wholeness as there is in my revitalized state of being, there are those times when I do feel like I’m just existing meal to meal. As if food is still the central force driving my thoughts and behaviors. It’s frustrating, right? Because surely, other people don’t live to eat. That whole motto, eat to live vs. live to eat runs through my mind.

One of my boyfriend’s colleagues, another young therapist in eating disorder recovery, has these grandiose plans to build a treatment center. She is interested in possibly teaming up with me. I don’t know the first thing about running a business nor do I even know if I want to specialize in eating disorders anymore. But I do know this. Inpatient and residential treatment out there is spotty. At best. Eating disorder therapy is also spotty. Recovery is so complex, relapse is so common, and most of the well-being gains consist of being able to really drill in the message, that yes, life can be lived in the gray, and, in fact, IT HAS TO BE LIVED IN THE GRAY.

Anyway, this won’t be for years. I don’t have to think about it much now. Something interesting to possibly look forward to though. While I don’t believe a professional needs first-hand knowledge to understand the complexity of a mental illness, eating disorders are slightly different. As in…they tend to be progressive, and rather than a marathon-style recovery, they represent more of a convoluted labyrinth-style maze. Also, people with eating disorders tend to have other co-morbid issues and character qualities including terrible self-esteem, lying and deceit, minimizing, and a total devoid or absence of feelings. 

I still have some voids left in me. I know this because I still have the eating disorder gnawing with certain meals and foods and clothes and numbers on the scale. I still want to fill it with food or the absence of food or exercise or weight loss. I am still wanting the perfect body, despite my absolute knowledge that a perfect body will not bring me anything. In fact, I can guarantee this so well that I have a feeling even if I got CLOSE to this so-called image of a perfect body that I have in my head, I would self-sabatoge it. Because then, what would I have to work on? I’ve always lived thinking that I’m this never-ending work-in-progress, but to be honest, I’m tired of that faulty logic. I am good enough. Just as I am. Not a work-in-progress, but more of a progressing soul! Work makes it sound tedious and negative. It makes me sound incomplete, which I am not.

The absence of disordered behaviors often just fuels the perfectionist side in me. I want to make bigger goals. Clean eating, X amount of calories, Y days of exercise, absolutely no Z. The rules are endless, and yet, I break them all the time. Absent rules makes for an absent eating disorder. I have learned that. I need to embrace it! Rules made me sick in the first place. Breaking them takes me on the stairway to freedom. 

This may be offensive.

Let’s talk about appearance. It matters. Anyone who alludes otherwise is either living under a rock or blatantly ignorant. To claim that appearance shouldn’t matter is similar to claims that race shouldn’t matter. You’re right. It shouldn’t. But, it does. And to deny that this privilege exists makes you look like a fucking bigoted idiot.

I don’t know what it’s like to be fat. Like fat, fat. I really don’t. I’ve never been obese. At my very heaviest weight, maybe I was considered a few pounds overweight, and even then, it was very temporary. I have my eating-disordered-fueled “fat days,” but as far as I’m concerned, I can eat whatever the hell I please without worrying about being outwardly judged (except myself). I can wear revealing shit and I’m typically met with erections instead of winces. I’ve never been criticized, fat-shamed, or called a terrible name due to the size or shape of my body. It’s a privilege, and I’m fully aware of it. I’ve used my appearance to flirt, to be understood, to receive validation, to feel good about myself. I know my body turns people on. I know my nudity is atheistically pleasing. I work damn hard for this body, not just for someone else’s satisfaction, but for my own as well.

Although I do not have first-hand experience of weight stigmatization, I can only imagine how painful it must be…only because I know I automatically judge myself. As a person who has struggled with an eating disorder, I compare myself to every body I see. This is instinctual, and I am sure most anyone reading this can relate. In some ways, it is a litmus test. How do I rank? Am I bigger? Smaller? Society tells us thinner is superior and fatter is inferior. I wish I didn’t abide to that archaic logic, but I do. I respect thinness because I want it. Fat, in a sense, scares me. Maybe because I know I am just a few more careless episodes of bingeing and overeating and depression to spiraling there myself. And I’d feel like a failure. Harsh, but true. 

I can’t picture myself liking a fat version of myself. 

Writing this post is uncomfortable. I am a training therapist. I am an expert in empathy and an advocate for human equality. I have friends and family of all shapes and sizes. To openly admit that I have my own prejudices makes me feel ashamed, but it is the truth. And I do my best to promote radical transparency, especially on here. It is a result of the society I live in and the eating disorder I struggle with. It is a result of the engrained messages preached from a very young age and the surroundings that reinforce it.

I never want to be fat. And maybe that keeps me in the eating disordered logic. I would rather hang onto my body (and still linger onto some disordered behaviors) than risk the changes that could come from letting them go. This is such faulty logic. I am not going to gain weight, I know this. And even if I do, I won’t pile on a hundred pounds overweight. 

Maybe “fat” terrifies me because I often feel like a “fat” person trapped in a thin body. My binges would definitely indicate that I have an insatiable, gluttonous appetite. However, I also compensate with those binges by frequent exercise and what society considers a “well-balanced, nutritious diet.” As far as food tastes go, nothing excites me more than beautifully-prepared vegetables or a plate of fruit. It’s weird, I know. But, when I’m in binge-mode, anything sugary and carb-y goes. Things I don’t even LIKE are consumed. Things that taste like processed shit are consumed. Punishment on top of punishment. You would think if I want to binge I would at least afford myself in quality treats. So not the case. I eat whatever I can get my hands on.

We have a huge obesity problem. We also have a huge eating disorder problem. To me, it’s ninety percent psychological and ten percent physical. Doesn’t matter which end of the spectrum we are on. We just happen to value the thinness side more. So, that’s the side I want to be on.