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.

 

 

Advertisements

Heal the soul to heal the body

When you have an eating disorder, you have an identity. A purpose, a set of rules and expectations, a dogma. It’s a lovely diagnosis, a self-fulfilling prophecy, a mother fucking nightmare.

I’ve written about this. Endless times.

Recovery has been shaky. But, ironically, my life is better than it’s ever been. And yet, it’s not a priority. It needs to be. The binges are becoming habitual now. More difficult to stop. Easier to rationalize. I’m not working for recovery the way I used to. I’m bring cocky and proud. I’m also being idiotic. This shit is serious. This shit is deadly.

Today, I was sitting in my car in the gym parking lot. I had four hours before class. The thought of bingeing manifested, and I acted instantly on it. I drove to my parents’ home. I finished a half-eaten bag of circus animal cookies. 2 pop-tarts. Took a bowl of tortilla chips to bed. Briefly stopped eating for about 2 hours. Anxiously ate a bowl of ice cream. Drove to class. Got a sugary smoothie during break. Devoured a bag of chocolate-covered pretzels on my second break.

If there is a void, food seeks to fill it. If there is an uncomfortable feeling, food numbs it. Temporarily. Food digests much faster than emotional wounds and voids do. But I rely on my shortcut, my predictable chaos.

I want to get better. Truly, I do. I know the stakes are high if I relapse. I know the joys and miracles that recovery offers. We all have our baggage and issues- but I don’t want this to be my defining feature. I’ve said that before, but it’s true.

My body is not my authentic identity.
It’s a decorated vessel, a unique masterpiece, an exterior surface. So much more lies inside. I need to focus on that. On healing the core, the center spirit, the deep-ass soul shining inside me. That’s what counts. Not how many cookies I inhale. Not the .2 lbs I gained or lost. Not the size of my jeans. Not the eating disorder. That may have been the hand I was dealt, but that doesn’t mean I can’t change the cards.

Aside

I hate this part right here.

Dear Bee,

This is the part I hate. The owning-up-to-the-fucking-up. Even though I have some sense of anonymity on this blog, I still want to be that shining star who succeeds in recovery, who doesn’t mess up, who can be a source of inspiration for everyone. Yes, I’m still perfectionistic, and yes, I still have a need to impress. It’s a long, dirty habit I’m really trying to break. 

Anyway.

I feel hypocritical because I’m not practicing the self-care and self-love I encourage my clients to embody. I’m not taking good care of myself in the way I’m taking care of them. It’s so amazing how nonjudgmental I can be towards any of their self-perceived baggage, but when I slip in recovery, it’s a complete all-or-nothing failure.

I know I’m stressed. School is going to be overwhelming. I had five clients before my three-hour class. I am lost with two of my clients. One has Borderline Personality Disorder and the other I suspect has Borderline traits. Both are elderly, and neither are willing to change or grow much. It’s hard to be in the room with them. I like my teenage clients best, and I saw them all today. I don’t miss high school, that’s for damn sure. 

My eating is alternating; my exercise is alternating. Some days, I know I’m overdoing it, and others I’m not doing enough. Moderation, it seems, bores me. The erratic is more glamorous. The chaos keeps it exciting. I guess. I’m used to being anxious, used to being frustrated and insecure and unsure and essentially frightened.

My body isn’t a fucking trash can. It’s a temple. I need to take care of it, love it, honor it as i would for any holy place. I wouldn’t treat an enemy the way I sometimes treat my own body. That’s the cold truth, and it’s a tough one to swallow.

Going to bed.

The struggle is real, but tomorrow will be better. 

 

old friendships, rebellion, caffeine, bulimia, & positive affirmations.

Dear Bee,

It’s strange. For the first time in about a year, I’m struggling to actually sit down and write these posts out. This was such a natural catharsis for me, a creative high of sorts, but now, it just feels dull. I’m just going to keep writing and see what happens. Spin gold out of a chaotic mess of the clouds in my mind. Or something artsy like that. I don’t want to edit this either. In fact, once I feel like I’ve said what I wanted to say, I will click Publish Post and be done with it. I just want to ramble. I’m not going to go back and read anything I wrote. So, here goes. 

Several months ago, I wrote this: http://loveletterstobee.com/2013/03/21/the-day-i-broke-up-with-my-alcoholic-best-friend/ in regards to my painstaking decision to end a friendship with one of my closest friends. Last night, we met up for dinner. I initiated the contact. I missed her. I wanted to see how she had been. This girl had been by my side through multiple heartbreaks, graduations, vacations, and spontaneous adventures. A few years ago, we had a threesome with my ex-boyfriend, but that’s an entirely different story. We’ve been close. Closer than close. “Breaking up” with her was harder than breaking up with anyone else. So, we were at dinner, and it was emotional. Tears, hugs, laughs. Flowing conversation for five hours without a hint of awkwardness. We both said our pieces. She still drinks. To what extent, I do not know. I struggle to believe that alcoholics can drink in moderation once they’ve reached the threshold of substance dependence. I’ve heard that some percentage (like five percent) can do harm reduction, but the rest must commit to sobriety in order to kick their addiction. Again, she still drinks. I don’t know what boundaries to set up with her just yet. I don’t know if I want to be friends. It just felt good seeing her last night. Telling her about what I’ve been up to. She’s missed so much of me: my new boyfriend, my new internship, Europe, things with my family. At this point, I just wish I could avoid the alcohol problem, but I know if I choose to do that, it will just become the white elephant in the room. And I don’t want that either.

Anyway, enough about that.

I’ve binged once this week. Last night. Any coincidence that this was right after meeting with my friend? I think not. My eating disorder is boring me. Bingeing once used to be exciting, seductive, and glamorous. I actually felt like such a rebel in the middle of the act, like look at me, I’m breaking ALL THE RULES. Now, it’s just a step-by-step process with predictable emotions, inevitable self-loathing, and a total sense of, I don’t give a fuck. I guess in a sense it’s still a form of rebellion. Except, instead of rebelling against whatever so-called diet I was on, I’m rebelling against recovery. Sometimes, to be honest, recovery just feels like another euphemism for diet, but I know it’s not. 

I’ve also been drinking copious amounts of coffee over the past few weeks. This is 1/3 due to the taste, 1/3 due to the jolt of energy, and 1/3 due to the low caloric content. I keep hearing all these positive studies about the effects of caffeine, so that rationalizes my consistent brew. Still, I know it’s not good to suppress my appetite with a cup of java. I know it’s not good to use it as a natural diuretic, and yet, I can’t lie and say I don’t enjoy those benefits. Whatever. One vice at a time. Nobody would look at a serious drug addict and condemn him or her for chain-smoking cigarettes. The same could apply to eating disorder recovery. The importance thing is awareness. Awareness that I am still using/abusing certain substances to mask the remnants of my disease (I write this as I chew a piece of gum. I chewed at least 4 pieces in a row yetjerday, something I haven’t done in a long while. Five second pause. Just spat the gum out). 

Talked about eating disorders in supervision yesterday, because one of my colleagues is working with an individual struggling with bulimic symptoms. It’s so interesting how easy these cases can sound when presented. Just, you know, teach her some coping skills, show her to value her body, pinpoint how there will never, ever be a good enough body when living with an eating disorder, no matter what number, size, or look she is trying to achieve. Obviously, I know nothing about an eating disorder is simple. But then again, nothing about any mental illness is simple. If it was, I would be out of a job. Plain and simple. Surprisingly, I don’t have any clients who have presented eating disorder pathologies just yet (about the only disorder I haven’t seen), but I often wonder how I will be in the room with them. Will I self-disclose the same way my own therapist did? Or will I remain professional, safe in my powerful chair, and keep distance between us? What if someone who reads this blog was one of my clients? They would never know it was me, I can guarantee that. I present myself so much differently in the world than I do on here. It’s subconscious. Part of it is my ability to deceive as a means of survival. I know what it takes to be successful in this world, and, unfortunately, vulnerability isn’t the road to it. It’s an interesting thought to think that a reader could be a client, since many of them must be struggling/have struggled with an eating disorder or relative mental illness. 

This rambling feels amazing. The morning is turning out well. I randomly picked a positive affirmation out of my “recipes for my soul” love box that I made as a demonstration for a group therapy class I lead, and today’s read, I am exactly who and where I need I am supposed to be in this exact moment. Damn straight. Who am I? A young, talented, creative, loving individual with an unquenchable thirst for life and hunger for adventure. Where am I? In my bed, laptop perched on my stomach, listening to music, ceiling fan blowing over me. I don’t have the answers. I am still exhibiting disordered behavior. I STRUGGLE. I fight. I complain. I question whether it’s worth it. But choices, people, and experiences have brought me to this point, and, when I really think about it, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. 

I am so grateful for this life, for recovery, for all of you lovely readers (I read every single one of your emails and do my best to respond to all of you), for the cloudless blue sky, for the warmth of my bed, for the breakfast I am about to eat (I no longer have to suffer and “starve” today to make up for yesterday), for the clients I’m going to see later, and for the boyfriend I’m going to fall asleep with tonight.

Sucks.

3 steps forward. 1 step back.

This. gets. fucking. exhaustive.

I know I’m writing this at an emotionally-intense time, in a heightened state of anxiety and regret, BUT

WHAT VOID DO I KEEP TRYING TO FILL WITH FOOD?

I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life…what else do I need to do?

SIGH.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Deep. Breaths. 

I just want to numb myself out.

And avoid feeling.

Am I ever going to get better or am I just kidding myself?

I know I’m being hard on myself, but I’m frustrated.

Food and Mortality

Dear Bee,

I want to sit here and complain how much yesterday sucked food-wise. How in my head I felt. How I just wanted to eat all the foods and how annoyed I felt that I didn’t have that opportunity. How I ate candy by the handful, joked about my persistent sweet tooth to cover up my urges, and centered my entire afternoon by the prospective food I could eat. How I went to the grocery store with my boyfriend and imagined all the foods I could binge on. Not just eat, but complete. I fantasized about desserts the way a lover fantasizes about a rendezvous. I could complain that I weighed myself multiple times yesterday and this morning and never felt satisfied with the number I saw. I could complain that I looked in the mirror and only saw a fat, lazy mess reflecting back at me. I could complain how yesterday, food meant more to me than love and spending quality time with the person who means the world to me. I hate to admit that to the world, but it’s the truth. Rather than stay the night at his place, I almost went home. Just because I felt so triggered. Just because I wanted to keep eating. Be alone. Be isolated. If I already fucked up, I wanted to keep fucking up. 

This is a beautiful Geneen Roth quote that I read the other day: Compulsive eating is a way we distance ourselves from the way things are when they are not how we want them to be. I tell them that ending the obsession with food is all about the capacity to stay in the present moment. TO not leave themselves  I tell them that they don’t have to make a choice between losing weight and doing this. Weight loss is the easy part; anytime you truly listen to your hunger and fullness, you lose weight. But I also tell them compulsive eating is basically a refusal to be fully alive. No matter what we weigh, those of us who are compulsive eaters have anorexia of the soul. We refuse to take in what sustains us. We live lives of deprivation. And when we can’t stand it any longer, we binge. The way we are able to accomplish of of this is by the simple act of bolting, of leaving ourselves hundreds of times a day.

I always recommend her books. She is a truly inspirational writer and public speaker on eating disorders. 

I guess the idea of being fully alive is a scary one. My boyfriend and I were talking about this yesterday. There is just so much pressure to carpe diem, to seize the day, to YOLO, that we become caught in this vicious cycle of comparing ourselves to others and feeling like we can never stack up. We face such a need to LIVE, and I mean FULLY, TRULY RELISH IN LIFE, but at the same time, we exist in a society that is constantly reminding us to consider our future while reflect on our past. This is a tricky dance. 

We took a long walk yesterday evening and talked about our childhoods. I noted that maybe we struggle so much in adolescence not because we struggle to enter adulthood, but because we have to grieve exiting childhood. Our whole lives shape us, in a sense, to become adults and have responsibility, but we are never taught how to prepare leaving our youths. Is it any wonder that many mental illnesses stem during puberty, during adolescence, in that awkward transition time between not having any autonomy to suddenly being forced to make an identity? 

I have never met a child born with a compulsive or addictive mindset. No child is born with an eating disorder. This is learned behavior. Even with a genetic predisposition, a toddler is not simply going to starve him or herself or think to overeat beyond the point of satiation. A young child is not going to suddenly down a bottle of vodka for the sheer pleasure of it. The very thought is unnatural. Why do we suddenly feel this incessant need to escape? Drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, food, work: it’s all the same. Passion is doing something because we want to do it, and compulsion is doing something because we have to do it.

But what are we running from? Ourselves? Reality? Responsibility? The complexities of life? 

The opposite act of escaping must be embracing. Accepting. Just like children do before the world taints them, before their own minds turn against them. Can the compulsive mindset really be erased? Or is it something we must constantly manage and monitor? Is it possible to live a life without wanting to run away from it? It has to be. It absolutely has to be.

 

Life does not ever slow down, and we cannot freeze, alter, or go back in time. The world is constantly fluid, in motion, and evolving. I will never be younger than I am at this very second, and that is a very grounding thought. A terrifying one, too. I visited my grandmother earlier this morning, who has been plagued by her own set of mental illnesses and is currently residing in hospice care, and realized that at one point, she was my age. She was a vital woman with a sharp mind and an active body. Now, she is confined to a hospital bed with decaying health. Again, life does not slow down. We will age; time will always catch up to us; one day, we will turn around and realize our youths and our adulthoods are practically behind us.

The only constant every human shares is birth and death. What lies in between is up to us. 

Yesterday was a rough day, and I didn’t do my best at recovery. But it was in my past, and I have chosen to let it go. I am a human being, and I make mistakes. I punished myself for it already; I can choose to reward myself today. 

Life is a beautiful blessing and no day is inherently ours. Whether we seize it or let it pass on by, the awareness that we are one day closer to our imminent death, does seem to make the ride worthwhile. 

Motivated by love

Ugh.

UGH.

UGGGGGGH.

Why, when everything seems okay and the world is in my hands, it suddenly becomes too much to handle, and I feel the burning need to self-sabatoge? Why do I want to listen to the only voice that makes absolutely ZERO sense? Why do I trust my eating disordered voice, when I know that it is the most toxic sound in the world?

Times like today, I don’t want to work recovery. I don’t want to fight for balance and serenity. I just want to bury myself in numbers and calculations…in things I can control. And then, when that becomes maddening, I want to lose myself into a pit of uncontrollable temptation. I want to eat into oblivion. And then, I want to spend hours and hours working it off…torturing myself and my body. Must stay skinny. Must be beautiful. Must live in chaos.  

I think I’m supposed to suffer. I think I deserve this. I think this is all I’m good for. I think I am unworthy and unlovable and terrible and shameful. 

It is not my reality. It is you telling me that. 

I am not supposed to suffer. I do not deserve this. This is not all I’m good for. I am worthy, lovable, beautiful, and honest.

Right now, I am angry. Angry that you’re still around. Angry that I spend every single day working recovery, angry that I write about you, talk about you, spend so much time and money on you, and yet, YOU still have some control over me. Angry that I believe the answer to solving my emotions lies in your hands. Angry that I downplay your effects on me. Angry that I let your voice come close to me, angry that I let you creep into my mind. Angry that I still find myself longing to engage in your destruction. Angry that I give in to you when I know that NOBODY ELSE IN THIS WORLD would want that for me. 

It’s good to get angry sometimes, right?  I’m usually anxious or upset…but anger? Anger masks pain. Anger is the symptom of deep, underlying hurt. A client told me that he hated that he felt only motivated by anger, that he wanted to be motivated by something else.

I’m going to choose to be motivated by love. It’s the best shot I have in recovery. 

Love motivates me to heal myself. Love motivates me to be the best person I can be. Love motivates me to be excited and passionate for life. I can accept the love from my support, from my amazing family and incredible boyfriend and wonderful friends. Most of all, my inner sense of love is stronger than any quasi-love you offer me. When I truly and fully love myself, I have no desire to hurt myself. It’s when I doubt my competence and begin to distrust that I deserve joy and happiness that I become tempted to slip into my old existence. 

Today is another hard day. But it’s still the morning. And I have the promise of tomorrow ahead of me. I can get through this. I will let myself get through this.