Let’s stop sugarcoating how to deal with holidays

Ah, Thanksgiving Eve.

There are always a million of pro-recovery, pro-love, pro-gratitude posts swarming around this time of year. These tend to include steadfast tips for enjoying the holidays, as if a 10-itemed list can accurately identify and provide you with all the answers to keep your eating disorder at bay at a time where your biggest vice- food- is what the entire day is all about.

I’m not knocking those lists. I’m not even knocking that advice. I dole it out to my clients on the regular. But here’s what we’re missing.

Yes, there’s family, and family is so important. Yes, there’s gratitude, and that’s even more important. We know this. I don’t have to tell you it.

While I appreciate the efforts to focus on what the holidays are really about, I find it dangerous and concerning to push down the reality of the food component, as if gratitude and connection with our loved ones will alleviate us from the stressors that come with our eating disorders.

Here’s the thing. Food is always going to be here to stay. Food is social glue. Food is there multiple times a day, in every setting, and is necessary for, you know, living. And I can rattle on and on about how we can’t change situations, how we just need to accept that fact, how we can’t let it defeat us. And while all that is true, we also cannot deny that Thanksgiving and the holidays alike can be kryptonite.

My piece.

I love my family. I fucking love gratitude. And for about ten years, I hated holidays surrounding food. I still struggle with them.  My point is, they are not mutually exclusive. Any holiday around food, no matter how actively I practice recovery, brings up some anxieties, desires to engage in old behaviors whether it be overeating or undereating, and general discomfort. I spent many dinners judging the plates of others, keeping score of how “good” I was doing until I inevitably “fucked up” and swore myself I’d start over again tomorrow. I can remember my weight on most Thanksgiving mornings, and most of the Fridays after. I can remember which Thanksgivings became full-pie, midnight binges and which ones entailed daylong fasts until I “allowed” myself a few bites.

This year, I’m doing two Thanksgivings. This year, like every year, there will be a lot of food. Food that “feels” scary and unsafe. Food that I don’t eat everyday. Food that has the capacity to create anxieties and stressors that, even when I know are irrational, suck to have.

I consider myself in a high phase of recovery. I am relatively happy with my body, the way I eat, and how I take care of myself. It’s not perfect. Far from it, but part of the recovery is also accepting the imperfections. With that said, the fall-winter season is still difficult.

I’m not here to write lengthy advice today. You’ve probably seen all the cliched suggestions, anyway. There is no right advice for navigating tomorrow, except for the notion that it’s one day, and one day never has and never will define us and our recoveries.

My only advice for you all tomorrrow? Don’t guilt yourself if you can’t fully stay present with your friends, family, and gratitude. It’s not always that easy, and I’m applying that same forgiveness to myself. Just do your best, reflect afterwards, and know that you’re chugging along, doing what needs to be done. There are no real mistakes, only lessons along the way.

 

 

writing to write

Dear Bee,

Writing because I made a commitment, and just like working out, I always feel better after I just do it.

Days after rough days are harder than the actual rough days. I’ve said that before. It’s like the body has to recover, but even more, the screaming dialogue and running commentary in my mind also has to recover. During the “rough day,” I’m numb to the world, just totally in the disorder, knowing that I need to “enjoy it” because tomorrow, it’s “back to business.” This is terrible logic, but it is logic that everyone with an eating disorder probably understands. The binges, the restrictions, the behaviors, those aren’t the worst part. Not even close. Those are the highs.

It’s the coming down that hurts.

Today wasn’t that bad though. Yoga always helps. So does good music and love and afternoon naps and coffee. Life is getting busy again. I’m probably moving into my boyfriend’s apartment within the next few weeks (although I basically live there now). So many changes and emotions. I’m doing the best I can.

Kindness to myself is key.

That’s all for today.

A little accountability system.

Dear Bee,

A week has passed and there hasn’t been any engagement in eating disorder behavior. I hesitate when I write this, because I get scared that maybe, maybe, that means I’m somehow jinxing myself. As if I don’t have control over what I do and do not do to my body.

The last tastes of summer have been sweet and very warm, just as I like. Visits with family, plenty of beach time, work trainings, clients, the occasional yoga class, bike rides with boyfriend…it’s been an adventure. Summer is my favorite season.

I’m really trying to practice more of the self-care everyday. I know what makes me feel good; I know what makes me feel crappy. Some would call them coping strategies, and I used to call them that, too. But, I see them more now as “daily medicine,” something that keeps me at optimal health everyday. To hold myself semi-accountable and to keep myself in the habit of practicing good habits and avoiding ones that hurt me, I’ve allotted a mini point system to each one. For example, writing in this blog gives me 10 points. Yoga class gives me 8 points. Drinking enough water each day gives me 3 points. And so on. There are about 10 positive items, including writing my daily gratitude, writing a certain word limit on the novel I’m working on, meditation, reading for 30 minutes a day…It makes it a game, and I love competing with myself. I made just a few deduction points (For example, sleeping less than 6 hours a night is -3 points), but not too many, because I don’t want to be that hard on myself, and mistakes happen. Very little of it has to actually do with food, except bingeing, because going one week without a binge equals 25 points and bingeing is a deduction of 10 points. Nothing too harmful, but something to strive for. Something that keeps me amused and entertained.

I even created a little reward system to give myself “self-care” treats for meeting certain goals. These are small and cheap, like buying a $5-10 Groupon or getting a pedicure, but they are designed to make me feel good, and I’ve always struggled to reward myself.

At least with things other than exercise and food.

So taking it back to elementary school– taking it back to point systems and competition– I like winning. I like creating goals and watching myself overcome them. I like being better today than I was yesterday. 

Onto a loving recovery and a loving life. 

Happy fall.

Recovery is not mystical rainbows and dancing unicorns

Dear Bee,

I don’t actually think of you as the “voice inside my head” anymore. I guess I’ve evolved in the sense that I just inherently know what’s “eating disordered” vs “non-eating disordered” thinking. To externalize you, to make you this quasi-tangible force that could overcome my voice and reason, helped me undoubtedly. Finding you and knowing you and taming you- really, that has been the most profound part of my journey. You were just the little girl inside me. Who needed to be nourished. Who wanted to be loved. Who wanted permission to feel. 

I’m not recovered, and that’s okay. I’m in a really strong recovery, and to be honest, I like that better. It keeps me blessed but also humble. I know my achilles heel and I know that a stressful day and a turn of events can easily take me to that dark pit of despair. Instantly. I’m cautious, but I’m also living. To wait in fear for those dark days to come is a waste of my time. I can prepare. But I’m not going to stop living. I’m not going to stop moving. 

It’s arbitrary now to start every letter with the Dear Bee, but the truth is, I no longer feel like it is as genuine. I don’t feel like I need to get those words out in such a harried and frantic manner the way I once did. Bee is in me, but Bee is just a part. And that voice doesn’t dominate my every choice. 

It doesn’t feel genuine to write to a “voice” anymore. Because that voice is just a faint echo. So much quieter than the recovery one. 

I’m not as scared anymore. Fear is pervasive in eating disorders. Fear of losing control, fear of the world, fear of self. Imagine that. Fear of self. When we are frightened by ourselves, how can we feel safe with anyone else? It’s a curious paradox. In sickness, I did not feel safe with myself. I couldn’t trust myself. Couldn’t like myself. Not enough willpower, not enough self-love, not enough this or that…it was never good enough. The fear was so pervasive I didn’t even recognize that it was fear until I began climbing out of it. To me, it just felt like my ordinary state. 

Recovery isn’t a mystical rainbow of dancing unicorns and butterflies. Anyone who makes promises of that is lying or delusional. Recovery is work. Recovery really should be a verb, in the sense that it is a constant action, movement, and journey rather than a stagnant noun. There isn’t a pot of gold at the end. 

But there’s a chance at life. And I mean, LIFE. Not just existence. Not just the day-in-and-day-out mundane routine consisting of a cluster of days, weeks, months of miserable dread. 

Whatever I thought I was living then? It was like driving with a dusty windshield. Some clarity, can sorta see where you’re going, able to move and have direction. But how I am living now? It’s like driving with a clean windshield. I didn’t even realize how much BETTER it is to see the world in these lenses until I removed that dust.  

little snippets everywhere

There is so much to write. A whirlwind of a week. A whirlwind of a life.

I celebrated my birthday a few days ago. I had a combined graduation and birthday party. Surrounded by love. I think only now have I truly realized how LUCKY I am to have such unwavering support. Seriously. I remember being a prepubescent child, desperately praying for popularity, for status and acceptance among my peers, for “perfect” circles of friendships. 

I’m in my twenties. And now I have that. Friends who love me. Friends who are proud of me. Love all around. I am never alone. I haven’t appreciated it nearly as much as I would like to. 

My ex-boyfriend texted me out of the blue. “I’m sorry.” Those were his initial words. We conversed for awhile. I received a long, gushing apology. Gratitude and recognition. A spiritual revelation, apparently. He’s getting married in November. It’s weird. It’s really fucking weird. He says he’s happy for me. Well, I’m happy for myself. And, in a weirdly mature way, I’m happy that he’s happy. As dysfunctional as we were together, I forgive him. And he deserves joy. 

I’m walking across the stage tomorrow. Shaking the dean’s hand. Taking my makeshift diploma (I still have one fieldwork class this summer). Cap is decorated. Didn’t I just graduate high school? Middle school? Time, what an abyss. 

The current love of my love and I are going on vacation next week. The Caribbean. Courtesy of his parents. One of those insane cruises. I’m really excited. We both are. I just love him to pieces; we’re going to have an amazing time. It’s almost been a year now. Tomorrow marks 11 months since our first date. What a thrilling ride it has been. What a beautiful journey we have taken. We are very madly in love with one another; the love just keeps transcending deeper and deeper. It is beyond anything I ever imagined I could experience. 

There’s so many more details- so much more minutia that consists of my day-to-day existence. There was the intense Southern California heat wave last week that resulted in lots of beach time, swimming, and cold beers. There have been clients- so many clients. A couple new ones. Mostly little kids. Play therapy is fun. 

I love the adolescents. I think 12-17 is my favorite population. I think I want to specialize in teenagers. I say this now; it’ll probable change by next week. 

There’s been balanced eating. There’s been less exercise than usual, as I was swamped with end-of-the-year papers, celebrations, etc. There was birthday cake yesterday and there was kale today. There has been coffee and wine and several pancake breakfasts. There was shopping for a new bathing suit yesterday..and it was one of the first times I ever put on a bikini in the dressing room, and thought to myself, DAMMMMMN girl. If anyone says that, it’s certainly someone else. My body has never been good enough by my standards. It’s getting there. 

I’m growing into myself. It’s a good feeling. It’s a good life. 

back at it!

Dear Bee,

There’s so much to write and nothing to write. 

It’s been raining here in sunny Southern California, which, for me, means 2 inches of water, AKA, completely intolerable weather conditions. I’m spoiled living here. I’m aware. 

It was a relaxing weekend. Spent all of it with the boyfriend: watching movies, doing homework, sleeping and sexing, and loving and laughing. It’s so simple with him. It’s so amazing. 

I’m tired of quasi-recovery. Sick and tired of being sick and tired. Sick of the black-and-white dichotomy of having “good days” and “bad days.” Sick of eating “healthy” only to eat “shit.” No. What happened to balance? I was doing so well! I was revitalized! 

I’m being a hypocrite. I’m avoiding self-care, even though that’s what I preach on a daily basis. I’m avoiding being kind to be myself, even though that’s ALSO what I preach on a daily basis. I am resisting. I am fighting. I need to let go. I need to remember why I chose recovery in the first place. Back to the basics. There is no magic cure or formula- it’s a day in, day out process. It’s being conscious. It’s about persevering when the going gets tough. It’s about dealing with the everyday ups and downs of life WITHOUT touching recovery. I need to leave recovery alone. 

I wish it were black-and-white. I wish it were like giving up smoking or a relationship or something tangible. I wish I could count the days of “sobriety,” but an eating disorder is seventy-five thousand shades of gray. One day, I decided to stop eating meat. I’ve never gone back. Another day, I decided to end a three-year relationship. I never spoke to him again. Why can’t choosing recovery be THAT finite, that easy? 

I’m asking questions already knowing the answers. Recovery can’t be that easy, because eating disorders are smart mental illnesses that essentially change the way you conceptualize yourself and the world you live in. Eating disorders are like a cultish religion: no matter how brainwashed people tell you are, and no matter how much you may believe it yourself, you can’t just casually walk away when you feel like it. 

I’m good at recovery. I can do it. I will do it. I have done it. 

The summary of this post: I’m back. The warrior is back. 

I may have lost sight of the journey…but I never left the race. 🙂

Cheers to Monday. 

floating, swimming, drowning.

Dear Bee,

I guess I haven’t made writing to you much of a priority lately. That’s not to say you haven’t been around, because you certainly have, but I suppose I not felt the itch to just write out all my worrisome thoughts and feelings.

I spend a lot of time talking philosophy and existential concerns with my boyfriend. That used to be the purpose of this blog. But, to be honest, I prefer talking to a live human that I love over a computer screen. Even if the computer screen is safer. My eating disorder ties into philosophy, existentialism, and every other facet of life. Because my eating disorder is a part of my life- and it represents something symbolic. A mental illness always signifies something. 

I remember bingeing last Wednesday with fierce vigor. A lot of food. There’s never enough food in an all-day binge fest. That night, I tried to induce vomiting multiple times in the shower. I couldn’t do it. Part of me felt blessed (I’m aware of that slippery slope), and part of me felt resentful that I couldn’t empty out my insides. Needless to say, I woke up on Thursday with a pounding headache and that full-body-hangover we all know quite well. My eating has been “normal” since.

Food-wise, this year has been more of a struggle than last, but only because I haven’t made RECOVERY the utmost priority. I would be lying if I said differently. A new job and a new relationship have somewhat shifted my scope of thinking and being. Do I still practice recovery on a daily basis? Yes. But I just use different tools now. I’m not going to therapy, support group meetings, or writing daily on this blog anymore. Instead, I’m trying to be honest with myself and my boyfriend, use meditation and deep breathing, and practice moderation and living life on life’s terms rather than controlling every morsel of food. Is it an ideal change? Well, probably not. This change heightens the risk of relapse and keeps me in that weird “gray” area between choosing recovery and choosing disordered behaviors.

But, I’m MUCH happier than I’ve been in…well, years. I give love, I receive love, I grow, I learn, I help others. Those who have followed my blog since the beginning have seen so many changes unfold, so many insights discovered. This is just another stepping stone in my journey of life.

Turn every opportunity into an experience. When I do that, there is no such thing as “wasted time.” Only time well spent. Only lessons well learned.

Freedom tastes sweet. I understand WHY I engage in every single behavior. The awareness, I have found, is more important than the actual engagement. It teaches me so much about myself: When I feel the need to binge, I want to escape, avoid feeling, procrastinate, center my good feelings into the “bad” ones that I think I deserve. When I feel the need to restrict, I want to feel pure and light; I want to punish myself, I want to feel “in control.” When I feel the need to compulsively exercise, I want to feel strong and competent; I want to “burn off” pain and worry and fear. 

The choice to sit with feelings is hard for me. That’s an understatement. It’s been the single greatest challenge of recovery. But, feelings are like waves. They pass. They crash over us, they knock us down, maybe…but they pass. They always pass. We can choose to sink or swim. Or we can choose to lie on our backs and float. Today, I’m choosing to float.

 

When I gave the Eating Disorder a VOICE

Dear Bee,

About one year ago, I externalized the eating disordered voice into a name. Bee. I had heard girls refer to their eating disordered voices into Ana and Mia, and I decided to go with Bee to embody my ongoing issue with binge eating. Maybe writing letters to you could give me some clarity, or so I assumed. In all honesty, I was desperate for something to work.

Today, I helped a client do this with his ongoing depression and sexual disorder. We externalized his symptoms, gave them a name, and I showed him how to distinguish his “depressed” voice from his identity. He is not his disorders. He is not a sum of his symptoms. He is a whole person suffering from a mental illness- he did not choose to have this. He deserves healing. 

You have been by my side for several years. You were my crutch, my confidante, and we have absolutely had our fair share of ups and downs. For years, I felt controlled by your powerful dictation. I could not separate your voice from my own. I just thought you were me.  It was something i couldn’t fix. I was broken. I expected you to just “go away” on your own.

In a sense, I WAS my eating disorder. I was nothing without it. Today, I can distinguish your voice from mine. I can recognize the distorted thoughts a mile away. Whether I choose to listen to your voice is a different matter. I used to think recovery meant that somehow your voice would just disappear. Recovery meant that you would completely leave me. I now understand that is not rational. At least not yet. You were my closest, most intimate friend for so long. It is entirely unrealistic to never hear from you again. You knock on the door many times. Usually, I don’t answer. Sometimes, I say hello. Other times, I let you inside. My choices are never random. There is a reason for each action I make. Recovery means listening to you knock and feeling empowered enough to know that I don’t need to let you in. Recovery also means understanding that even if I let you in, you do not have to STAY in.  I can kick you out at any given time. This is my house. This is my body. It is me, not YOU, taking care of myself. 

 Overcoming you has been the absolute hardest struggle of my life. Imagine how sick a person has to be to be convinced that he or she must induce self-harm in order to feel relief. Imagine how terrifying it is to believe there is no choice over my behaviors, compulsions, or routine. Imagine how encompassing it is to be a slave to numbers, calculations, and sizes. It is excruciating. It is consuming. The eating disorder absolutely becomes YOU until you decide it is only a PART of you. That has to be the individual’s choice. You will do everything you can to convince me that I need you in order to survive and flourish in this chaotic world.

Sometimes, I have to remind myself that I CHOOSE. Occasionally, I lose sight of that. We all do. You know exactly how to convince me that I am powerless or out of control. You know exactly how to make me not only “need” you, but also, how to “want” you. But, in all honesty, what kind of person WANTS to hate him or herself? What kind of person wants to add suffering on top of the mountain of pain that already exists in this journey of life? What kind of person wants to be a slave to compulsion?

I sure know I never wanted it.

That was all you, girlfriend. 

Keep on knocking. Eventually, your hand will get tired. 

Binge Aftermath

Dear Bee,

The days proceeding a binge tend to the hardest days in recovery. For one, I have to deal with the physical reminder that I ate too much and that manifests as a cramped stomach, belatedness and gas, and a general feeling of fatigue. For two, I have to handle the emotional residue that emerges from the guilt, agony, and internal criticism for messing up.

I planned to eat three meals today, and that’s exactly what I did. No more, no less. Even though my binge wasn’t massive (just a bunch of random chocolate, rice cakes, and some cereal), I didn’t have any appetite today…didn’t feel my stomach growl once. But I knew, I knew I couldn’t restrict today. I had to be kind to my body. Otherwise, I’d end up doing exactly what I did last night.

I did talk to the boyfriend last night. We conversed over text. I didn’t feel ready over the phone. I can easily talk to him in person, because I can gauge our conversation by the nonverbal communication… but over the phone, it seems strange. And I told him what happened. He was there. He listened. He validated. He was supportive. He didn’t try and fix a thing. Instead, he told me he was proud of me, he loved me, and he would do anything for me. God, he’s an amazing therapist. His clients are so fortunate. And I’m fortunate. Because I know he’s never going to judge me or think I’m crazy, despite what my eating disorder tells me. He understands mental illness, obviously, and he understands the ebbs and flows of recovery. And if he doesn’t understand, he asks questions and actually listens to my answers. I’m very blessed. And I don’t want to ever sabotage it. 

It takes so much courage to heal. It take so much strength to admit weakness. It takes so much endurance to recover. 

I know it’s worth it. I’ve experienced enough freedom to know that I’ll never stop fighting the good fight.

Oh, and in other news, I made a Tumblr in honor of my growing fan base and readership! I’m expanding (I know ZILCH about Tumblr though, so I’m trusting all you lovely readers to add me and help me out??). But here’s the link!! Ask me questions or whatevsssss you kids do on this website! 

http://loveletterstobee.tumblr.com

 

PS: I’m going to be attending a super exciting conference for the rest of the week. Not sure how much I’ll be posting on here, but I appreciate ALL THE LOVE! You all are amazing. <3<3<3. 

 

 

Cliched thanksgiving post!

Dear Bee,

I have spent most of the week reflecting on my gratitude and really soaking in just how fortunate I am to be who and where I am in life. Switching to an “attitude of gratitude,” as cliched and trite as it may sound, has been a profound movement for me. Rather than focusing on what I lack, I have really begun to appreciate the invaluable treasures I have: love, connection, passion, health.

The universe has been kind to me. I spent so long refusing to be appreciative–other than on the obligatory Thanksgiving go-around-the-table-and-say-what-you-are-thankful-for speeches spent pouring out my love and adoration for the family I was often rude and obnoxious to 364 days out of the year. I was a selfish kid, a bratty and entitled girl who thought I deserved whatever I set my pretty little mind on having. I didn’t grow up spoiled, not by any means, but I was always wanting more.

I would think most people with an eating disorder history have a tendency to want more. 

Recovery has meant wanting EXACTLY WHAT I HAVE. 

Now, in the spirit of gratitude and the joys of Thanksgiving, let’s talk about recovery. I could write extensively why I am eternally grateful for the limitless gifts recovery has afforded me. It would be exhaustive and repetitive, saturated with similar notes that are sprinkled among this blog. Everyday, I come up with new reasons, really.

So let me list the few that really come to mind.

1. I am grateful that I no longer perceive my body as this work-in-progress that constantly needs to be refined, improved, or enhanced. Instead, I am learning how to value the assets I have and appreciate my body for the rare and unique vessel that it is.

2. I am grateful that recovery has taught me how to express my emotions and COPE with them in healthy and constructive ways.

3. I am grateful for being able to eat. At home. At restaurants. With friends. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Even snacks and desserts. Even spontaneous coffees. WIthout the stress, chaos, planning, and anxiety that used to come with every single damn morsel that passed my lips.

4. I am grateful for my increase in PASSIONS other than food, working out, and losing weight. Life just feels so much fuller that way.

5. I am grateful that I can talk about my eating disorder and recovery process without nearly as much shame or resentment as I once did. 

6. I am grateful for learning how to live in the gray, live in balance, live in moderation. Doing these allows me to LIVE, and I mean live for the beautiful energy and flow that is our spontaneous life journey. 

7. I am grateful that I no longer wake up at the crack of dawn to push myself through an excruciating workout. Just because it was something I needed to do. I am grateful that I view exercise as more of INDULGENCE to my body than PUNISHMENT to it.

8. I am grateful for freedom. And that tastes better than any binge. And it feels better than any number on the scale. 

9. I am grateful for recovery revitalizing my health, both mentally and physically. Recovery has allowed me to love myself and others in dimensions I never believed to be possible. 

Today was a beautiful day spent with the people I love.

Recovery allows me this. I never forget it. 

Last year, I restricted during the day and sneaked three slices of pie at night, alone and frantically. The year before, I remember weighing myself, disliking the number that flashed back at me, and promising that I would use self-control. As a child, I spent Thanksgiving with my grandparents. My grandma, who passed away nearly nine years ago, was the champion of the feast, a published cookbook author, who I loved with all my heart. I miss her terribly. I live my Thanksgivings in spirit of her gregarious personality and contagious happiness. 

Today, food barely crossed my mind. In fact, it’s 9pm, and I’m already in bed, and my stomach has been angrily growling. So, I ate. Because that’s what people do when they’re hungry and they are fortunate enough to have food available.

I am thankful everyday that I choose recovery and thankful everyday for the beautiful opportunities recovery has given me.

May everyone have a blessed holiday. ❤