We’re all anonymous somewhere

Dear Bee,

This past weekend, my boyfriend needed to attend a variety of Twelve Steps meeting for an assignment, so naturally, I went with him. We went to AA and NA. We tried to go to an OA meeting, but when we arrived at the location, nobody was there.

I forget how wonderful it can be to sit in those rooms, to hear the stories, the pain, the struggle of people all experiencing the same highs and lows. Drug of choice doesn’t matter. Crack, tequila, sugar…they’re all potent and they can easily spiral any of us out of control. The strength and love in those rooms is incredible. Now, I remember why I liked Twelve Steps. The camaraderie and fellowship saved me in many ways. Your voice lives in every addict. Your voice lives in every single person who knows what it is like to be compulsive and addictive and secretive and ashamed. 

I’ve contemplated going back. Contemplated. Just to see. It’s been almost a year. How has the time flown so quickly? Recovery is back in full force, at the forefront of my work again. It needs to be that way for awhile. No more half-assing it. No more finding the loopholes and thinking I can somehow outsmart the disorder. I can’t. I’ve tried. Thousands of times. It’s failed. Just as many times. 

Day in and day out. That’s the process. Tedious, but worth it. Painstaking at times, but still worth it. Always, always worth it. I wouldn’t trade the experiences I have had in recovery for the “control” I felt in sickness, for the “escape” I found in sickness. I wouldn’t be able to love deeply and experience the riches of the world. The Twelve Steps reminded me that this weekend.

I was reminded how much SWEETER life is without you. 

Nothing tastes better than my recovery. 

It’s so easy to lose sight of that, especially when I’m in the thick of it, especially when your voice becomes so strong that it drowns out all the logic and reason. It’s easy for me to feel powerless next to you. And because maybe, in some ways, I am powerless to the throes of mental illness. But, I am not powerless to the fight of recovery.

Your voice is different from my own. It’s more shrill, more desperate, more deceptive. Your voice is not mine. You follow me, whisper in my ear, scream in my face…you always know just where to find me, just when to coax and comfort me into listening to you.

But your voice is not my voice. And my recovery will never be yours. 

“coming out” with your eating disorder

This post is in response to a question one of my lovely readers had regarding “how to come out” about your eating disorder, specifically with terms of seeking help.

I’m sure most of you already know this:

A. Most people do not view an eating disorder as a complex and serious mental illness

B. Many people who do perceive it that way may not realize how complicated “recovery” looks like.

C. Many people still cling onto the ideas that, in order to have an eating disorder, one must emaciated and skeletal.

D. Many people are misinformed about addictions and mental illness in general.

So, you’ve decided it’s time to seek some help. You’re going to bite the bullet and start therapy, attend support groups, or work some kind of recovery program. That’s already insanely risky and terrifying at the same time. Good for you for being brave! Magic happens at the end of your comfort zone! You’ve admitted to having some kind of problem, and what’s better is that you are contemplating ways towards healing. What an incredible first step you are taking.

Here’s how it went for me: Nobody knew I had an eating disorder, except the people I chose to tell. Nobody knew I was in “recovery,” except the people I chose to tell. I remained relatively secretive. It was easier that way. After all, I knew the eating disorder stereotypes, myths, and ignorance. Besides, my own shame prevented me from wanting to talk about it AT ALL. The reader who asked me this question is considering attending OA meetings for her first time. I started going a year ago and went rather diligently for six months before deciding the program was not suitable for me. At first, I didn’t tell a soul other than my therapist. I was ashamed to be there and humiliated that I needed support from an organization as horribly-named as Overeaters Anonymous. I hated it, to be honest, but I planted my butt in the seat. Rarely talked or contributed much. Came in on time, left exactly on time. Read some of the literature. Finally found a sponsor after a few months. Did three of the steps. Eventually, I started telling some people that I was going to a “support group for eating disorders.” That was all I disclosed, because it was all I felt comfortable saying. I didn’t beat myself up. For some of us, including myself, it’s not always easy or even accepted to talk about mental health in certain circles of loved ones. I knew some people would judge or ridicule me, so I avoided telling them.

Once you share that you have or had an eating disorder, the dynamic invariably changes. In other words, proceed with caution. The other person may not know how to react. He or she may entirely dismiss your experience or entirely overreact to it. This is normal. However, hard as it may seem right now, THEIR REACTION is ultimately NOT YOUR PROBLEM. Your problem is taking care of yourself, and that’s what you need to focus on. Thus, it’s critical that you choose to tell the people who will AID you in taking care of yourself, rather than telling the people who will HINDER you.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to have a safe space to essentially vent. It’s morphed into a creative outlet chock-full of experience and insight and learned lessons. I didn’t have anyone to “tell” at first. I had a therapist, but I kept her at a distance. I had parents, but they didn’t really understand, and they assumed that by going to therapy, I was getting better…they never brought up recovery or my eating disorder whatsoever. I held it all within. Eventually, through recovery, however, something amazing happened. I started seeing my friends differently: rather than as people I needed to take care of, I realized I could ALSO lean on them. In fact, through recovery, I learned how to be honest about my eating disorder to people I had known for years (people who had NO idea!) I finally felt empowered to do that. My current boyfriend knew from day one, and that’s something I NEVER thought I could share at the beginning of an intimate relationship.

It takes time. That process cannot be rushed.

So, what’s my “advice?”

Be organic. Tell the people who need to know, if anyone does need to know. Rather than forcing yourself to disclose about one of your deepest struggles, look at it as a discussion these people must EARN. Look at it as if anyone would be HONORED to hear your story. And, if you are in a support group or therapy, I urge you to TALK ABOUT IT in that safe space. Express how difficult it is for you tell people. Express the fears, concerns, ignorance you may face. You will find that you are not alone, and you will also learn what has worked for others in similar situations. You don’t owe your recovery to anyone but yourself. You’re doing this for YOU. If people ask where you are going, you can be as vague or as specific as you feel comfortable. Like I said, for a long time, I didn’t tell anyone I was going to meetings. I did tell people I was going to therapy (only because everyone knew I was training to be a therapist, so it was acceptable), but I absolutely understand that stigmatization exists. With time, I started growing more comfortable. Once I felt I had more recovery under my belt, I felt more inspired and even WANTED to talk about my eating disorder. In fact, last year, I even posted a Facebook status in honor of NEDA week for the world to see, something I never would have done in the past.

Today, essentially all the important people in my life know.

You don’t have to go into extensive detail if you do not feel ready. You can tell people you’re doing this because you struggle from time to time, because you’re seeking support, because you just need a place to talk…because, ultimately, each and every one us needs that. Please remember that your recovery is on your terms.

Ask yourself: What can I do now to strengthen my recovery today?

If the answer is to tell someone you may have been “hiding” it from, then you know what to do.

Be patient with yourself. Trust the process. And, as the Big Book would say, it’s CRITICAL to just live life on life’s terms.

Overeaters Anonymous Drop-Out

Dear Bee, 

I walked into my first OA meeting in late November. It was cold. Dark. All women. At my therapist’s (routine) suggestion, I went. And I stayed. Because that’s what everyone kept telling me to do. Keep coming back. I planted my booty in several rooms several times a week for the next six months. I spoke. I wrote. I read. I found a sponsor. I worked Step 1, 2, and 3. I found relief. I found answers. I woke up early. I stayed up late. I put recovery first. Undoubtedly, OA helped me during a very excruciating and painful time in my life. 

I no longer attend meetings and have not for the past seven or so weeks. My recovery is stronger than it has ever been. I am in a healthier state of mind than I was before my eating disorder even began. OA taught me great tools, and I gained some wonderful insight and friendships along the way.

I love the philosophy of the Twelve Steps for addiction models, but the structure of OA became too rigid for me. I have a disorder, and I am aware of how it affects me, but I do not have a biological nor psychological addiction to food. I never have. I used food and exercise as a crutch and coping mechanism; in recovery, I have learned how to identify feelings and appropriately manage them. I have learned how to like myself. CBT has done wonders for me in that sense.

I maintained my eating disorder by denying my feelings, settling for people and things that negatively affected my happiness, and fighting for unrelenting control over everything in life. Part of my recovery meant dismantling the rigidity. Only in learning how to equalize all foods and exercise and practicing the method of moderation and intuitive living have I been truly able to make remarkable progress. I stopped the program at Step Four, meaning I did not complete the searching and fearless moral inventory. Why? Because, I realized I needed to stop focusing on my flaws, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities. I needed to LET THEM GO.

Recovery has made me insurmountably proud of my past. Every single choice, good or bad, led me to where I am today. And where am I now? Exactly where I want to be. In a state of mind that I never knew I could have. I am not “passively” existing. I am active and excited. I am okay with being busy and okay with relaxing. I love myself and I can give love freely and happily to others. I am Europe-bound, halfway through my graduate program, one month away from working with clients, in love with the most amazing man I’ve ever met, content with family, happy with my body, gratefully employed, and OPTIMISTIC and EXCITED for life. 

I am not in denial of my imperfections; I never have been. In fact, I had the opposite problem. I was acutely aware of my vulnerabilities and fears, but I was unwilling and unable to let go of them. I let my mistakes define me. I did not do Step Four because doing so would have just sunk me deeper into my own pity party, and I spent many years celebrating my shame. It is time to move on. 

I am a firm believer in the power of group therapy, but this is not the intent of OA. At times, the program made me feel broken; I was a “compulsive overeater,” and it was literally a chronic disease that can only be managed and not beaten. I was never comfortable identifying myself as a disorder. In school, we are literally forbidden from calling people by their diagnoses. I would never say he’s schizophrenic or she’s bipolar…this pigeonholes individuals into a cluster of symptoms. I am Me. I am not ____, compulsive overeater or bulimic or anorexic…whatever. I am ME.

I do believe I can beat my eating disorder; I have always believed that. From day one. Even during my lowest of lows, I always knew I was going to get better. That faith and optimism in myself has kept me going day in and day out. You can all see my progress and struggles outlined here. I am not just rainbows and sunshine. But I am positive about my life. 

I gained a sense of spirituality from OA, and for that, I am grateful. I absolutely believe in the good karma of the universe, and I adopted that as a sense of Higher Power. However, I do not believe in turning my eating disorder over to the universe. Moreover, I never felt comfortable praying to a force greater than myself. The universe has taken great care of me, and I realize that I can let go and release the stress and preoccupation, but I do have the power to control, stop, and CHOOSE my actions. The serenity prayer is beautiful; I may not be in control of much in this world, but I am in control my eating disorder behaviors. I used to think I was helpless and “out-of-control.” I couldn’t stop a binge to save my life. I couldn’t eat a fear food without freaking out. I couldn’t gain an ounce of weight without hating myself.

I gained some responsibility over myself. I learned just how much my eating disorder was influencing my self-esteem, decision-making abilities, and quality of life. I have choices, and to believe that I am powerless makes me feel helpless and scared. 

Moreover, I struggled with defining abstinence from the first day. What am I supposed to be abstaining from? Compulsive overeating. Well, yes. But that sounds rather black-and-white, which opposes the picture of recovery I tried to color. Abstain from trigger foods? When I did this, I underwent just another extreme diet, because suddenly I couldn’t handle anything that I didn’t deem as safe. Once again, I found myself putting certain foods on a pedestal. I kept labeling “good” and “bad” foods, and, in doing so, I developed even more of an anxiety and fear hierarchy. I was told that I needed to avoid the fears rather than face them. In other words, this was maintaining a self-defeating cycle, one in which I believed my body could not handle certain foods due to their alleged toxicity. 

Engaging in an eating disordered behavior is not a failure and perfect recovery is impossible. Slips are inevitable, and I wish OA would take those setbacks more into consideration. I was made to believe that any alteration to my “plan” sent me right back to square one. Indeed, I became caught up in the perfectionistic cycle of counting days and numbers…if I had to be the “best” at an eating disorder, I sure had to be the “best” at recovery as well, right? 

I needed to dismantle perfectionism, and, unfortunately, OA made that difficult. The structure felt so black-and-white. Don’t binge. Only eat at these times. Only eat these kinds of foods. No ifs and or buts. I realize OA does not actually endorse such limitations, but most of the fellowship followed relatively strict rules concerning their food intake. My recovery meant breaking the rules instead of making more of them. I was already living with countless rules that I had created for myself. I needed to learn how to listen to my body and intuition, rather than follow another plan. I needed to learn how to ultimately trust myself, which was one of the scariest, but most worthwhile, decisions I ever made. 

I am not for or against OA, and I have seen it create miracles for some. I met some wonderful people. I love my sponsor and her advice continues to be invaluable.

At this phase in my recovery, I am in no position to say whether or not I will go back to meetings. For now, however, I like the fluidity of my recovery. I like being able to eat what I want, when I want, and how much I want. I am at a healthy weight with a relatively positive body image. My disorder no longer defines or controls me.

I am not “recovered.” I am not cocky nor ignorant about my recovery process. There is an ebb and flow to this journey, and I have hit many rough patches and dark spots along the way. Food may always be my achilles heel…I know how likely relapse can is! However, I have learned an abundance of healthy coping strategies and I will continue with what works: therapy, writing in this blog, reading, seeking support, and continuously making myself feel good.

The best thing I learned from OA was the message of living life on life’s terms, and that’s exactly what I’m doing: riding this delicious energy called life.

Is food a problem for you? Isn’t it a problem for everyone?

Dear Bee,

My appetite is still basically nonexistent. I’m still eating, but it’s not much. I know this is a normal side effect of the medication, and I am hoping that my body adjusts. Well, the rational part of me is hoping that. The eating disordered part of me, of course, is loving the suppressed appetite, weight loss (even if it’s just water weight), and eating 1-2 meals a day. I honestly don’t know why psychiatrists would prescribe anything with a side effect of appetite suppression to someone with an eating disorder or disordered tendencies.

I’ve never experienced suppressed appetite, though, and I have to say, it is strange. I’ve never taken diet pills or any of that. The only time I remember feeling this way was when I had food poisoning for a few days and the sight or smell of any solid food made my stomach church. So, this is strange. I just don’t physically feel hungry, which sure, isn’t the only reason I ate, but the medication has also removed a lot of the edge to want to eat. I can go almost the entire day without feeling my stomach growl. That’s different from active restriction, where I would try and avoid eating, whether or not my body was telling me it needed food. This doesn’t feel like restriction because I just don’t feel hungry.

Anyways, I was at the fair with my family today, and I saw a booth for Overeaters Anonymous. I just found it really ironic, since the fair is a place that advertises selling deep-fried chocolate-covered bacon and sloppy joe sandwiches wedged between Krispy Kreme donuts. They practically endorse overeating. It’s really one of the only places where people aren’t judged for eating ten times during the day.

Obviously, I recognize the difference between an act of overeating and a habitual and progressive problem, but their bright sign posted, Is food a problem for you? Um. Whether we want to admit it or not, food is a problem for most people. Especially in America. That is evident on our citizen’s waistbands, climbing rates of diabetes, and overabundance of fast food. Eating disorders are staggering in terms of low recovery rates and high mortality numbers, but obesity is a ridiculously killing epidemic. How many times have I heard someone say they just need to go on a diet or work off this cheeseburger or lose ten pounds or I totally blew my diet today or I was going to be “good,” but then I had this cookie. How many times have people eaten something they didn’t want to eat or didn’t make it to the gym and feel like a failure because of it?

So long as we tie emotions to an act that is inherently neutral, do we have some kind of problem?

Food is a trouble area for nearly everyone I know, and obviously the effect of this problem lies on a spectrum, but the point is: most of us have used food as a crutch or coping mechanism at some point in our lives. It’s when it affects our daily functioning that it becomes a problem. Is obesity a problem, then, if the person is seemingly unaffected? Is poor health a problem if the person does not care about their diet? I’ve never been obese, but I know few obese people who are truly at peace and okay with their sizes. Most of them are affected at some point, be it from feeling discriminated, being unable to engage in activities they might want to try, or experiencing health complications. Is food a problem for these people? Is overeating on any level a sign of a problem? Normal people overeat, but not all of them gain weight.

Do people who suffer from weight-related issues have an actual mental problem? The AMA just declared obesity as a disease, meaning it no longer represents a figure muddled by an individual’s lack of sheer willpower or laziness. With approximately 95% of people failing on diets, obesity does seem to be a chronic issue, and I don’t think willpower is to blame. It’s not in my jurisdiction to say who has a problem and who does not, but I really think the phrase Is food a problem for you? can be universally applied to almost anyone. 

My first OA speak!!

Dear Bee,

Allowing myself to immerse myself in gratitude is arguably the greatest feeling in the world. 

I spoke for twenty minutes at a meeting today. Twenty, solid minutes. Without any preparation. Disclaimer: I’m not a natural public speaker whatsoever. I don’t mind doing presentations or talking out loud, but an impromptu share about the deepest, most shameful struggle I’ve ever faced? In front of a room full of strangers (I only knew four people; it was a meeting I had not been to before).

I never would have imagined

 I brought my notebook with the intent to read my writings, including some memorable snippets captured in these letters, but I only spent just a few minutes at the end actually looking at the notes. The rest was just candid expression of my story; a collection of my authentic emotions and collective experiences. I still can’t believe I was able to speak that long. Sometimes, when I share at meetings, the three-minute mark feels like a lifetime. Half the time, I never feel like my words even make sense. Tonight, time just flew. Thank you universe for taking of me and putting those words right in my mouth 🙂

The love and warmth I felt tonight felt so intoxicating. That’s the best word, I suppose, to describe how good it felt. 

While I don’t remember the specific contents of my share, I know I was smiling for much of the time. I am so grateful for the experiences I have had and the breakthroughs I have achieved. I attribute so much of my growth to the Twelve Steps and the Fellowship. OA isn’t for everyone, and I do not know whether it is my true “home,” and I certainly do not follow all the principles, but there is something so powerful about sitting among likeminded individuals. It makes my Bee feel so much smaller. Less unique. Less abnormal. In those rooms, I never feel alone. They know me, and I know them…even if we don’t know each other’s last names.

My recovery is a beautiful journey, and the deeper I immerse myself in it, the more blessings I receive and the more richly I enjoy my life. Where I once lived in a dark fog, in a hopeless tunnel of sorts, I now shine. No, I fucking sparkle. 

And is it perfect? No way. Screw perfection.

Is it easy? Nope. Hardest thing I’ve ever done.

But worth it? Yes. Yes. Yes. I could write down a thousand more reasons right now why it’s worth it, but these letters are FULL of them.

Today, it’s worth it, because I still have the goofiest grin on my face as I write this down right now. Today, recovery is worth it because feeling good is worth it. 

I am a beautiful child of the universe, and recovery enables me to be childlike again. Simplistic, carefree, intuitive, and happy. I am relearning my likes and dislikes, my goals and passions, my thoughts and feelings. I am listening to my body and honoring it. 

I’m living “as if” now, and the fear of succeeding and breaking through the clutches of this disease no longer terrifies me. Why? Because the other side is that much better. Because the freedom and liberation I am experiencing right now, in this very moment, is better than any food or body size. I don’t want to binge. Or restrict. Or overexercise. Or gain or lose weight. None of the feelings that stem from any of those behaviors come remotely close to the positive feelings I am experiencing right now.

I know eating disorders fluctuate. I know feelings change and pass. I know that my recovery will face transitions and obstacles and an endless array of tests. I am neither ignorant or conceited. I do not believe that I am immune to slipping, mistakes, or even relapse. I do not think I have all the answers nor do I believe that every moment will feel like right now. 

But right now, the fear of any of that happening has left me. If this confidence passes, it passes. If I feel sad tomorrow, I feel sad tomorrow. If I have a relapse in five years, I will handle it then. I don’t have any control over my future in this present moment. So, for this moment, I think I’ll just be 🙂

What a beautiful miracle. 

Eating disorders aren’t boring and how this blog is changing my life

Dear Bee,

Eating disorders aren’t boring illnesses. Instead of an abusive relationship with someone else, you’re just in one with yourself.  And abusive relationships may be turbulent, volatile, toxic, emotional, and intense, but boring? No. How can you be bored when you are constantly on edge, walking on eggshells, stumbling in fear, insecure, and obsessive?

In my highly-unscientific opinion, I believe humans are the only creatures who actually have the cognitive capacity to experience boredom. And yet, we fear it like the plague. We assume a life beyond frenzied chaos and corruption will be lackluster. For some, including myself, the words contentment and even peace bring a sense of…blah!

Addicts who are sick in their diseases worry sobriety may drive their glamorous lives to this screeching halt. Where the substance once brought spontaneity, abstinence from it brings predictability. Where the altered consciousness created allure and amazement, the sober state, therefore, must induce…boredom.

I relate to all these fears, because they absolutely come true. For many people. 

Being a dry drunk is boring. Stopping eating disordered behaviors without changing anything else is also boring. It is also incredibly painful. Dry recovery makes sickness look enticing and irresistible. Dry recovery also makes us feel like we are constantly hanging on this thin thread. Without the willingness to truly and deeply examine the emotional malady driving our sicknesses, we may always feel one compulsive mistake away from spiraling down the dark rabbit-hole known as relapse. 

In other words, recovery has to be more appealing than sickness in order for it to be effective. But achieving such clarity is no easy feat, especially when we only want to examine what lies on the surface.

I know my eating disordered voice, and five months ago, I named it Bee, because I wanted to personify the intrapsychic conflict occurring within me. By writing to my eating disorder, almost as if it were a completely different person, I figured I could unravel the underlying, subconscious layers about my sickness, and subsequently notice patterns, triggers, behaviors, attitudes, and reasoning. I struggled to openly talk about my issues in therapy and OA, but I knew that I loved to journal. It was on those scraps of paper that I could best  describe my weaknesses, fears, and worries. 

I decided to make a public blog because I noticed the evident lack of documented “authentic” pro-recovery, in-progress journeys. Most stories I read comprised of either bubbly, happy-go-lucky, I’m completely recovered and this is how I did it sagas, depressing accounts with the nonstop it’s never getting better, and I’m a failure at life reel or pro-anorexic or bulimic, omg, I just ate dinner. Please tell me I’m a fat cow and that I need to go throw it all up accounts.

 I cannot pinpoint the specific date when I decided to “recover,” because I never wanted my eating disorder in the first place. I always resented my weirdness around food. I always wanted to stop feeling “abnormal.” The only time I felt a sense of pride about my attitude towards food and eating was when I tried starving myself for six months my senior of high school and dropped significant weight. I considered my tendencies to restrict and compulsively overexercise as “good” techniques to offset my “bad vice” of bingeing. 

I did not understand what recovery entailed. I thought I just needed to tighten my control and willpower, find a diet worth committing to, lose another five pounds, stop bingeing (tomorrow), and exercise my way into the perfect body.

For years, I didn’t even know I had a diagnosable eating disorder. I just thought I had a problem around food, specifically with the bingeing, and that as long as I could just “stop that,” everything else in life would fall into place. If I reached that magical number on the scale, all would be well in the world. 

 Maybe I could have stopped bingeing forever overnight. Maybe one of those times that I promised myself, this is the last time, it really would have been. As, I reflect on the timeline of my disorder, I finally realize that wouldn’t have been enough. Because any eating disordered behavior is merely the tip of the iceberg. All that lies underneath the water consist of the real issues at stake. And had I failed to address all that existed underwater, even if I stopped bingeing or compulsive exercising or whatever overnight, I would have likely found some other compulsory action, be it sex, drugs, gambling, alcohol, etc.

In a way, my entire life was driven by compulsion. I just called it “being Type-A.” And undoing years of these deeply-engrained habits is rough, but I cannot emphasize my gratitude for being able to do it. For even having the chance to experience the trial-and-error process of recovery. For having support. For knowing that every step, even the ones that are backwards, are still STEPS leading to me the place I need to be. 

Tomorrow night, I will be the speaker at an OA meeting. For twenty minutes, I have the opportunity to share my story and express the experience, strength, and hope I received in my program. OA or not, knowing that I can share just a glimmer of my recovery process and insight to others makes me feel so humbled. That’s why I keep this blog. These letters are tangible markers that are literally changing my life, rewriting my identity, documenting my strength, weakness, concerns, and ambivalence day in and day out. Being able to openly share that journey with others? What a blessing. 

 These letters are part of me, Bee is part of me, and everyone reading this right now is a part of me. Recovery, however, is not part of me anymore. Recovery IS me. 

May I Cherish and Live in the Present Moment

Dear Bee,

Yesterday, in one of my classes, we went around the room and expressed one wish we had for ourselves. May I cherish and live in the present moment. That was mine. This has always been a struggle for me, long before I developed an eating disorder. I grew up believing that we were always working towards something greater and that delayed gratification generated better future results. People who lived in the moment were impulsive and poor planners. They clearly didn’t know how to think in advance. 

Now, I know that my thinking was absolutely narrow-minded and somewhat detrimental. There is nothing inherently wrong with planning ahead, but when you are so occupied with the gifts of tomorrow, you never actually enjoy the life you have today. And so, that’s a goal I am going to work on. And because abstract goals rarely get achieved, here are a few ways I intend to work on it: Stimulate more mindfulness throughout the day, especially during those “mundane” activities, such as walking, getting ready, cleaning. Practice eating without distractions. Spend as much time as I can outside, as this naturally boosts my soul. Leave bigger gaps in my schedule to fill up with whatever I like, rather than micromanage every moment of my time. Oh, and use less technology of all sorts. 

So, we’ll see how it goes this summer in experimenting with this. 

Last night, a woman from an OA called me while I was wrapping up classes. Except for my sponsor and a few supportive texts from others, nobody has ever actually called me. When my class was over, I called her back. For those in the dark, OA thrives on its fellowship, in that members reach out to one another via phone, email, etc. during times of need. You are encouraged to contact people “before you take that first compulsive bite.” I’ve obviously lagged in this department, as I never call anyone on those phone lists!

This woman was in somewhat of a crisis-mode, and she just needed to talk. And I talked to her. For about twenty minutes. To protect her anonymity, I won’t go into the specifics, but by the time we got off the phone, she was settled down and emotionally stable. And I was listening to my own words, my own sound advice and genuine empathy, and wondering why I could not apply the same kindness and gentleness to myself. Such hypocrites we often are. We are so willing to forgive others for their mistakes and overlook their flaws, and yet, we allow our mistakes and flaws essentially to define us! 

While I was on the phone with her, I saw a shooting star. A shooting star in California?! I’ve only seen about three or four in my life. Thank you for that sign. 

I’m going to a meeting in about an hour. And since it’s sunny, I’ll be spending the bulk of my day outdoors. I’ll also be shopping and having lunch with one of my best friends. I’ll try to make a yoga or pilates class later. And I’ll also be studying for my last final of the year.

Good vibes. 🙂 

Changes in Attitude: A Then-Now Analysis

To explore the progression of my attitude towards recovery and mental stability, as opposed to just my food or behaviors, over the past few months, I composed a then-now comparison of the characteristics (honesty, hope, faith, courage, integrity, willingness, humility, self-discipline, love, perseverance, spiritual awareness, service, unity, trust, open-mindedness, responsibility, acceptance, equality, and fellowship) talked about in Tradition Five of Overeaters Anonymous. We read this tradition aloud in my meeting this morning, and in light of my recent slips, I felt inspired to compare how my definitions of these core principles have changed since starting recovery.

This is lengthy, and I did not  intend to publicly post it, but in doing so, I am hoping it will inspire, help, or possibly enlighten one of my amazing readers who may feel ambivalent, resistant, or afraid of the joy and freedom the journey recovery offers. 

Honesty

Then: I had no real concept of honesty. Rather than assert my feelings or needs, I used passive-aggression or non-assertiveness. I was absolutely out-of-touch with my feelings. I kept secrets; I used deceit; I became the person people wanted me to be, meaning I was essentially a different person depending on the context. 

Now: I have realized just how much my eating disorder made me a liar, and not just with the food. I have learned how to be assertive with my needs and I try my best to express my genuine emotions. I try to stay accountable by regularly engaging in my support system, be it through my treatment team, friends and family, or anonymous blog community. I realize that omitting information is just as detrimental as distorting it. I am not always honest, but I am better than I once was. 

Hope

Then: I felt my situation was hopeless. I thought I was the “special snowflake” who could never get better. I just “hoped” I could wish away this problem. 

Now: I have underlying hope everyday in my recovery journey, even through the slips. I may be a special snowflake, but that’s because nobody else is the same as me. My disorder, on the other hand, is not special or different, and I can get help the same way others can. However, I cannot recover by “wishing” alone.

Faith

Then: I thought faith meant exclusively having faith in yourself, and because I didn’t have much of that, I had no real concept of what this meant.

Now: Faith, to me, represents simply letting go and trusting that the universe and all of its glory will fall into place. That everything will be okay. Faith means knowing that my life can be a happy existence and that my world can be a serene place. 

Courage

Then: I had little courage concerning my eating disorder. I was afraid of telling people; I was afraid of people “finding out”; I feared judgment, ridicule, disbelief, and criticism. I wanted to be strong for myself and for everyone else.

Now: I feel so brave, because I have been able to disclose and talk about my eating disorder to so many people. I am no longer so afraid of their reactions. Finally, I know that courage means being able to identify and work through weakness, rather than just focusing and honing in on strength. 

Integrity

Then: I just thought I was a good person with good intentions and a good personality. I didn’t think I had to change anything about myself. 

Now: I know I am a good person with good intentions and a good personality. I now realize I don’t HAVE to change things about myself, because I am worthy just as I am…however, I can CHOOSE to change things about myself in order to heighten my own happiness, sanity, and meaning in life. 

Willingness

Then: I was willing to try any new diet, exercise regime, self-help book, or quick fix to heal myself and recover from my eating disorder. I was willing to lose weight. I was willing to absolutely fix myself on my own!

Now: I am willing to work recovery every single day. I am willing to own up to my mistakes and continuously accept that where I am is the right place to be. I don’t care if I lose weight. I know willingness is more than just the desire to eat (or not eat) this food. I am willing to fix myself through the means of the support and faith I now have in my life. 

Humility 

Then: Humility scared me. I didn’t like being vulnerable. I didn’t think it was okay. I thought mistakes made me a bad or unworthy person.

Now: Humility still scares me, and I still don’t like being vulnerable, but I do know it’s okay, and I do know mistakes don’t make me a bad or unworthy person.

Self-discipline

Then: Self-discipline referred to “willpower,” in that I just had to control myself and get my act together. Self-discipline meant pushing myself, meant over-achieving, meant striving to be the very best I could be. It meant hard work, perseverance, and often overextending myself.

Now: Self-discipline is so much less than just willpower. Self-discipline means learning how to prioritize what matters and focusing my attention on those things. It means learning how to work to the best of my ability, but also, to know how and when to give myself a break. Self-discipline still means hard work, perseverance, but NOT overextending myself.

Love

Then: Love meant sacrifice and a willingness to work hard at it everyday. It meant great compromise. It meant learning how to trust another individual; it meant deepening a strong friendship; it meant unadulterated happiness and security. True love meant complexity, passion, and absolute acceptance of each other.

Now: Love means sacrifice and a willingness to work at it everyday, but it shouldn’t feel like hard work. It means compromise, to an extent. It does mean trust; it does mean deepening a strong friendship; it provides security and happiness, but one must first feel safe and happy on his or her own terms. Love does not have to be a complex mystery, although it does involve passion. Acceptance of another does not mean you have to feel guilty for not liking one feature or characteristic of another; rather, it means you can accept your feelings for what they are and remember that you can only control your own life. 

Perseverance

Then: Perseverance meant “never giving up.” It meant never quitting and never surrendering. It meant having a goal and doing everything in one’s nature to achieve it.

Now: Perseverance means “never giving up,” but in doing that, we may have to quit the people, places, or things that no longer serve us. Perseverance is about surrender; surrender to do what we can, try our best, and continue chipping at it without judgment. 

Spiritual awareness

Then: I had no concept of spirituality, and I looked down on people when they started with their religious babble, as I considered most of them narrow-minded or ignorant.

Now: I am learning what spirituality means, and I absolutely embrace those with deep religious convictions. Spiritual awareness means learning how to find faith in something greater than myself and channeling that faith into freedom and happiness.

Service

Then: I had no concept of what this meant.

Now: Service means giving back what I have received, be it through reaching out to another individual who may be suffering, using this blog to openly talk about my struggles, sharing and volunteering at meetings, and raising eating disorder awareness. Service simply means willing to help someone else.

Unity

Then: I understood unity with regards to feeling a sense of belongingness in a greater group setting. Unity meant feeling safe, reassured, understood, and accepted. I had experienced this with many friends and groups of people. However, I had never associated with other people recovering or in recovery from eating disorders, so I felt alone in my suffering.

Now: Unity means all those feelings: safety, reassurance, understanding, and acceptance. Now having associated with others recovering or in recovery from eating disorders, I no longer feel alone in my struggles. I have experienced an overwhelming sense of unity with people similar to me, and I know now that I do not have to feel strange, abnormal, or inferior for having what I have or doing what I do. 

Trust

Then: I thought I trusted people too easily, and that is why I often got hurt or disappointed. I figured trust could be broken, but I assumed forgiveness was the automatic, “right” response   when this happened.

Now: I realize that I don’t easily trust people. I have had many one-sided friendships and relationships, in which people have expressed their deepest fears, exposed their greatest vulnerabilities, and shared their darkest secrets with me, but that has not always been mutual. I now understand trust is a two-way street, and that it takes time to develop and evolve. Trust does not have to be freely handed out. It is sacred and delicate; breaking it can be detrimental. 

Open-mindedness

Then: Open-mindedness was an abstract term for me, in the sense that I have a tolerant understanding and willingness to learn and absorb new information and ideas. I considered myself a brave risk-taker and warrior who loved and thrived on constant change.

Now: I still have a tolerant understanding and willingness to learn, absorb, and grow. I realize now that I wanted to consider myself a brave risk-taker, when really, I have struggled with deep apprehension and fear when actually taking risks. Likewise, I wanted to believe I thrived in changing environments, but in actuality, it has been hard for me to embrace the unknown and accept each moment for what it is, without worrying about the potential outcomes.

Responsibility

Then: Responsibility meant being a good girl, following directions, making the right choices, and avoiding disappointing or hurting others. Responsibility meant taking care of others in the best way I knew how.

Now: Responsibility means doing what is good for me, following directions in the best way suitable, making the right choices for me, and avoid disappointing or hurting myself. Responsibility means taking care of my own needs before others. 

Acceptance

Then: Foreign to me. I couldn’t accept anything in my life. I equated acceptance with laziness, with a Type-B personality, with a general lack of effort to make your life better. People who were content with “just being” confused me, as I was constantly seeking how to enhance, heighten, change, or challenge myself, others, or the world. I lived in a chronic and chaotic state of anxiety and fear. 

Now: Acceptance means the serenity prayer: accepting the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Acceptance means knowing that when I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation-some fact of my life-unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, or thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Acceptance means knowing my life is how it needs to be for right now. Acceptance means knowing that for right now is all I truly need to concern myself with.

Equality

Then: Equality meant we were all the same; we were all on an equal playing field, and thus, we needed to embrace each other wholeheartedly.

Now: Equality means we are not the same, and we are not an equal playing field, but in spite of those differences, we still need to embrace each other wholeheartedly. We are equal in the sense that we are all one universal race: human beings. Anything less is ignorance.

Fellowship

Then: I had no concept of this term.

Now: Fellowship means the unity, likemindedness, and stability seen within a group of people. Fellowship, in it of itself, can be a saving grace, as it provides a safe haven for exploration, disclosure, honesty, and a genuine exchange of love and acceptance. 

the dreaded fearless and searching moral inventory

Dear Bee,

Step Four in any Twelve Steps program asks us to make the infamous fearless and searching moral inventory of ourselves. I haven’t gotten this far in my work yet, but I will be reaching it soon. I actually think this is a good exercise for anyone (not just people in these programs) who wants to reexamine their past, own up to any mistakes, and release any of the anxiety they may have about their secrets. We owe it to ourselves to stop holding onto all these grudges and regrets, right?

In my meeting this morning, we did a 15-minute free-write response on the question: Do I really seeing the importance of doing the inventory?

My response (unedited)

 To me, Step Four embodies strength, in that it exclusively focuses on exposing weakness-on unleashing vulnerability. Step Four requires us to break through the shame of our illnesses. It expects us to choose ruthless honesty, and for many of us, this may be the first time we really learn how to tell the truth.

An inventory shows us how the events and decisions made in our past have shaped us into who we are in the present, into the people we are today.

In the very first session I had with my therapist, I told her that nobody really knew about my eating disorder, about my longstanding secret from the world, to which she responded, “secrets keep you sick”, a phrase I have heard many times in these rooms. My secrets are what keep me caught in the preoccupation and insanity. Honesty, on the other hand, allows me to release and let go, to learn and contemplate, to explore potential outcomes for the next time, to discover new solutions. For this reason, an inventory is a tool–a timetable of who we are and what we’ve done, and with that tool, we can work towards becoming who we want to be and what we want to do.

Inventories acknowledge the whole picture- we find new patterns, new ideas ,new framework to embark and continue our recoveries.

What a gift, then, this must be for us- what an inspiring way to heal ourselves- to release the weight off our shoulders, to let go of what we’ve been clutching onto, to find the silver linings in the choices that once haunted us. What a way to reinforce that we are worth the happiness we want, the freedom we seek, and the recovery we need. 

I get cocky when I read my writing aloud because I know it moves people. In fact, a guy today told me that I should be publishing this. I just laughed…brushed it off.

I’ve been praised for this skill my entire life, and I don’t discredit my talent. Sometimes, however, I do wonder if this is just another way I desire external validation? I love helping others, sure, but I also like feeling good about myself. And praise feels good!

I mean, I know this blog moves people because I have received extraordinary feedback and the kindest of compliments from my readers. I would be lying if I said I didn’t care about the attention. Do I write for the sheer pleasure and joy of it? Absolutely. But, do I also write because I know I’m good at it and people enjoy reading what I have to say? Absolutely.

As my sponsor likes to tell me, every time you speak or write, something is getting through to someone. So knowing that somewhere out there, I”m helping someone else while also satisfying my own selfish need for attention and approval…well I can accept that.

And who knows? Maybe one day I can turn all these letters into some kind of a memoir to show the world what the real up-and-down journey we call recovery looks like. To show that it’s messy, unpredictable, but always, always perfectly imperfect. 

Pantless Yoga

Dear Bee,

I never really thought I could ever wrap my head around that crazy, cultish-sounding Anonymous jargon known as Higher Power. But, after a few months of attending these OA meetings, I have.

Sell-out? Maybe. Do I care? Nope.

For me, the definition is simple: The universe will take care of me. And whatever problems I have, they will work themselves out by the natural laws and energies of this universe. I never had much control to begin with and by letting go of that desperate need, I can mature from a life once riddled with fear, anxiety, and preoccupation. 

Even when I’ve lost hope in myself, I’ve never lost hope that somehow everything will work out in the end. John Lennon said it best when he said, Everything will work out in the end. And if it’s doesn’t, it’s not the end.

 And WHO wants to mess around with the Lennon?

So, I understand the whole Higher Power thing now. I really do. It’s just believing that everything will be okay. That I’m being taken care of. That I don’t have to do everything on my own and that I’m not a “failure” for leaning and depending on other people or things.

And for a staunch skeptic, non-religious individual like myself, that must be some kind of miracle. I can just replace God with The Universe. Because, I’ve always believed in the good energy of our world. I’ve always believed in the general karma of spirituality.

Today, I was going to do my Bikram yoga class, but I wasn’t feeling it. I had work in the morning and was just kind of dreading going. I had done yoga yesterday and had an amazing class, but felt I needed to do it today. The reasons are distorted: “I need to exercise.” “I’m wasting money if I don’t use all my classes.” “I’m in the area anyway, so I need to go.”

AKA #compulsiveexerciseprobs (#didireallyjusthashtaginthisblog?). 

I was sitting in my car because I had arrived fairly early. And it was really hot. And I needed to do some homework, but I didn’t have the right textbook with me. So, I was just messing around on my phone (isn’t this a riveting story?). Then, as the start time approached, I pulled out my yoga clothes to get ready. And it was then I noticed that I had packed a black SCARF instead of my my black YOGA PANTS.

Yep. No yoga for me.

I personally have no qualms about doing pantless (or thong-underwear) yoga in 110 degree heat, but I’m not sure if my fellow yogis would be okay with that. 

Where this would have IRRITATED the hell out of me before starting recovery and provoked a plethora (honestly, isn’t plethora the coolest word, ever) of negative self-talk (I can’t believe I drove this far; I can’t believe I waited an hour; I can’t believe I’m so stupid to have made this kind of error), this time, I just laughed. 

As I was driving home, sure, you told me that I had been somewhat lax on my working out lately. You warned me of the repercussions this missed opportunity would have on my weight. You reminded me that I had barely moved my body at all today.

And how did I react? i just reminded you that working my recovery meant that I’d have to sit with some discomfort (and that includes getting over my anxiety of no longer compulsively exercising). Just like one workout cannot sculpt a body, one missed workout cannot destroy a body. That’s recovery logic. That’s common sense. And yet, I could not understand and accept this reasoning until lately

I had to text my sponsor to tell her this interesting phenomenon. Was this some kind of paranormal sign that I was overdoing my exercise this week? A message that my body was sore and needed rest? A gentle reminder to take it easy?

Or did I just make a ridiculous and very common mistake?

Who knows? At this point, who cares? The point is: I didn’t do yoga. I didn’t freak out. In fact, I was relieved. Relieved because I didn’t feel like doing it anyway. And that’s how I know I’m making strides in my recovery. That’s how I know I’m easing away from my compulsive identity and slowly adopting the living life on life’s terms philosophy everyone raves about. 

Yesterday, I spent three hours in an OA meeting. If someone had willingly told me I would spend a Saturday morning surrounded by a bunch of people talking about their food compulsions, pathways to spiritual restoration, and deepest wounds, I would have asked, are these people my clients? Or is this a school assignment? I finished Step Two yesterday and will be sharing it with my sponsor this week. I have been attending meetings daily, sharing, writing, and reading literature. Most importantly, I have not been bingeing. 

Last night, I booked flight tickets for Europe this August. I’ve been dreaming of this forever. One of my best friends and I are going to spend about three weeks bumming around, backpacking, living the young, free spirited life. We fly into Berlin. That’s the only plan we have, and for the first time in my life, I don’t want to plan out anything else.