Vanity over Sanity

I’m realizing now just how long I’ve been battling with these inner demons, with this nagging eating disorder creeping into my thoughts and mentality, with this constant up-and-down, twisted labyrinth of “half-recovery” and “full recovery” and “no recovery.” I give labels to everything, I realize, and that makes it so much easier to be harder on myself.

I don’t feel like I’m doing the best job in recovery. I feel like a facade most of the time. I’m still really afraid of gaining weight. I still have designated safe foods. I still alternate between bingeing and restriction on occasion. 

I haven’t chosen sanity over vanity. Looking and seeming better is more appealing than “feeling” better, and that scares me. Because that’s such unhealthy thinking.

An eating disorder snapshot looks likes this: waking up at a time that “feels” too late and instantly feeling guilty and unproductive; trying to delay breakfast as late as possible, making it into a quasi- breakfast/lunch type of meal, working out for the dutiful fifty-five minutes, comparing every other glistening body in the gym, eating a safe Greek yogurt and apple as a quasi lunch/midday snack, feeling like the day is still being wasted, overeating on ice cream as comfort, as familiarity, as a way to punish for being so useless. These are the thoughts and actions filtering into an ordinary Tuesday.

What if it continues to stay half-assed like this? What if I continue beating on myself? What if it’s another five years of obsessing over food and exercise and weight? Sometimes, I feel like it’s an eating disorder, and other times, I rationalize, telling myself that every fucking person I know seems to be on some kind of food/workout craze.

Is my eating disorder my individual, mental instability? Or is it a cultural phenomenon? I’m starting to feel like it’s more of the latter, like I’m almost part of the norm, like it’s strange and uncanny for people to be normal and neutral about their diets and weights. 

I continue to sabotage myself, though, and that’s the important part. Nobody can do this recovery for me, and these problems don’t just go away at the stroke of midnight or when a new day starts. How many “new days” have there been? Infinite, it seems. So many broken promises to myself; so many overarching goals about what I will eat, what I will weigh, what I will do for exercise; all these just lead to disappointment. I make goals unrealistic simply because if I succeed them, they were “too easy” to begin with.

I’m young. It is very likely that my body is the best it can and will ever be. I need to preserve it, love it, take care of it like I would take care of a young child. With patience, unconditional love, and acceptance…I need to do more of that. 

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poor body image days

Dear Bee,

I don’t like the way my body looks today.
In fact, I’m having one of the worst body images I’ve had in awhile.

I just think I look enormous. And, yes, okay, that’s distorted, and yes, okay, that’s not necessarily the objective truth. But my feelings are real. So even though fat isn’t a feeling, insecurity and shame both are. I feel uncomfortable in my skin.

All day, I’ve been comparing to everyone. In my class this morning, at the gym, at my work training…especially legs and arms. I feel like mine look too muscular now. In this moment, my “strength” disgusts me. It makes me feel unattractive. My legs- are they too toned? My arms- are they too bulky? I want the tinier, fragile body. I want lightness and weightlessness. I want to be airy ad free.

This is so annoying. This is so distorted. 

Let me tell a little story:
Professor (who was away for a few months) commenting to a colleague I cannot stand: “Wow, X, you look like you’ve lost a ton of weight since I last saw you.
Colleague: Shrugs. Says nothing. 
Professor: Was that intentional?
Colleague: No.

This whole exchange stunned me. For one, this was a clinical psychologist, a respectable professor and pioneer in her field. How ignorant! To ask a student if she’s lost weight? To even make a comment about someone’s body? She’s one of the main professors who TRAINED us on addiction and eating disorders. God. This disgusts me. The ignorance pertaining to eating disorders, even among our supposed experts, terrifies me.

And, for the record, NO, this colleague hadn’t lost weight. She’s always had THAT perfect body. She’s always been thin…but curvy in the right places. She hasn’t lost weight…she’s just ALWAYS looked gorgeous (probably one of the reasons I can’t stand her, but that’s my own issue). 

I guess I was jealous. I want more people to say that to me. And they do. Sometimes. I get a lot of compliments on my body. But it’s a lose-lose, really, because I can manipulate supposed praise into skepticism, into the, do they really think that about me? train of thinking. 

I need to accept my body. Because if I don’t, I will never love it, no matter how it changes. Most days, I love it. Most days, I feel good. 

Today isn’t one of those days. They happen. What to do with it? Ride it out. And that’s hard. Because I want to eat my feelings away…or starve them and punish myself. 

But I’m not going to. Because recovery is more important. Because a recovered mind is more important than any body shape.

the day got harder.

Dude. 

Semi-massive binge just now. I’ll rate it a 7. I’m not pleased.

All the typical trigger foods were present.

It came over me. With force. Of course, it started slowly enough to believe I had control, and then, I got the case of what my boyfriend likes to call, the fuck-its (he works with substance abuse populations, and this is a common slang for slips), where i just didn’t give a fuck anymore. I just wanted the food. Don’t-bother-me-just-let-me-eat-as-much-as-I-damn-well-want. 

The damage is done. There was a scoop of peanut butter, two scoops of Nutella, one granola bar, four frozen waffles with butter, four and a half pop tarts, and some chocolate. It’s almost laughable. Almost. My stomach is going to be screaming tomorrow. I want to question, why do I do this to myself, but obviously I know.

 Blah. Blah. Part of the process. It’s getting better, but shit. This takes a toll. Being home and surrounded by all this tempting food has been hard. 

So much for a “perfect” 2014. But perfect doesn’t exist, and by putting that pressure on myself, I was essentially setting up for failure. I’m doing a good job, and one slip doesn’t define me. 

Today, three different people happened to comment how pretty I looked. And yesterday my friend–a very old friend whom I used to envy for her absolute stunning appearance–lamented, you’re so tiny! I have the same impulses to destroy my body, it seems, as I do to uphold its so-called beauty. This is the beauty in dialectics. I want to be skinny, and yet, true skinniness would probably bore me. Because then I would have nothing to “fix” or “improve.” I would have no project to be continuously working on. For so long, I had dieting and exercise. I could just focus on that above anything else. I need to continue focusing my energy elsewhere: on my relationships and my work. That’s what matters now. Those are my passions. Those have been my sources of healing: this eating disorder stunts me from being who I want to be and doing what I want to do. My appearance will never carry me that far. I need to let go of this idea that beauty is the remedy for the pain and negativity in life. I need to let of this idea that my eating disorder is a quick fix to a long and complex journey. 

 

PS: Been getting a lot of notifications regarding new followers and readers! Thank you so much for all the support. I appreciate all of your love and feedback. It’s so amazing to watch this blog expand and grow. XO! 

 

Big Lunches.

Dear Bee,

One of my clients is hinting emotional eating tendencies. She’s also an alcoholic. She struggles with compulsion and often finds herself compensating “one vice for another.”

This is hard. I relate all too well.

My lunch was unplanned, because I ate out with some friends at my agency, and it was too big for my liking. I feel too full. It was too greasy, too carb-y. On a “restrictive” day, I would feel tempted to skip eating for the rest of the day. On a “binge” day, I feel tempted to keep going…because, hello, I’ve already fucked it up.

^^^^^^

I wrote that last paragraph an hour and a half ago to see if my black-and-white thinking would change at all. It has. It’s now been almost two hours since eating. I’m not going to restrict. I’m not going to binge. One meal doesn’t mean I’ve fucked up. One meal doesn’t mean much in the scheme of life. One meal means I enjoyed what I ate, even if it was a little too much, and that, just like everything else, it will digest and eventually metabolize in my body. One meal is nothing.

Changing thinking is so much harder than changing behavior. Changing behavior only skims the dirty surface; it ignores the residue and layers underneath. Thoughts are much harder to tackle. For instance, it’s not necessarily hard to PREVENT a binge, but I once found it nearly impossible to STOP a binge if it already started. All-or-nothing; that was my way of thinking. My friend is the same with alcohol. She can’t be satisfied with one drink. She doesn’t stop until she passes out. That’s the addict mindset. The other night, for instance, I got a little snack-y and indulged just a bit to realize I was treading that dangerous “yellow zone” in between feeling calm and feeling triggered. Typically, it goes yellow to red. I find it much harder to go from yellow to green, but the other night, that’s exactly what I did. I just sat with the discomfort and waited for it to pass. It took the whole damn night, but it passed.

And yesterday, I spent the day hiking and soaking in the gorgeous California sunshine. I was so proud of my strong body. I was so proud to be me. I am slowly learning how to sit with discomfort. To give into my eating disorder is not an option, no matter how much it tempts me, no matter how much I want to rationalize or justify doing it just once. Even though I did not make a New Year’s Resolution, I am proud that I have made it two weeks into 2014 without engaging in my eating disorder ONCE. That’s something worth celebrating. I may not be perfect, but I’m trying, and that’s all I can ask for myself. The most challenging tests are the ones we take against ourselves, but this is one I know I can win. I have the strength, support, and self-love to fight against my desire to self-harm. Day by day, that’s all this takes. Choice by choice. Meal by meal.

I am doing good enough because I am good enough.

It’s 3:33pm. The day is mine; it’s not my eating disorder’s. That’s a choice I’m making today.

the rainbow of emotions

Dear Bee,

I’m so sick of the holiday food. There. I said it. I’m so tired of junk food being EVERYWHERE. At my work, in my house, at the parties. It’s way too triggering right now. I don’t want to blame neutral ingredients, but it would be much easier to focus on my emotions without continuously feeling overwhelmed by the distractions of tempting chocolates, cookies, brownies, etc. I alternate between wanting to avoid everything altogether and fantasizing about extreme gluttony. 

To recap the past few days,

My loved relative is still dying. I’ve cried many times. I’ve pondered the meaning of life many more times. 

My ex-boyfriend is now engaged. This bothers me for many reasons. One, being that I felt so much emotional agony after I broke up with him, terrified that he would kill himself because he supposedly could not live without me. Two, he had proposed to me. Twice. And said I was the only person he could ever love. Three, I just don’t like to see him happy. Selfish, sure, but it’s the truth. Four, according to my highly judgmental opinion, he is immature and thus way too young/financially insecure/LAZY and ambitious to actually get married. 

My dad had a birthday. Things have been good with the family. The grieving process does that to people. 

My boyfriend has been off-the-charts incredible. SERIOUSLY. What kind of boyfriend is willing to help me process how and why I feel upset that my ex-boyfriend is getting married…while also completely validating my frustration. Love of my life, I swear. He’s my favorite person in the world. 

My clients are going through deep shit. What IS it about the holidays? There’s been self-harm, suicidal ideation, possible eating disorder behaviors, major depressive episodes, binge drinking, family fights… all I can say is that I’m happy I’m here for them. I’m learning so much every session. 

I did my first mandated child abuse & elder abuse report. These are really scary…

I’m going to Florida for a week with boyfriend. We leave Christmas Day. I’m BEYOND excited. 

I’ve been alternating between overeating and restricting. Too. Much. Sugar. Why does it have to taste so damn good?!?!?!

I’ve binged one and a half times. I stopped myself mid-binge this evening. I actually put food back. I know I’m supposed to be proud of myself, but I’m irritated that I was numbing my feelings in the first place. The first binge was atrocious. Really. It was just disgusting. I feel like such a savage animal attacking food like that.

Oh, and I’ve felt fat. And yes, I know fat isn’t a feeling. 

And most of all, I feel guilty because someone I love, someone who is close to me, is literally on her last final days…and I’m obsessing about the amount of candy bars I can cram into my mouth without anybody noticing that they are gone. I’m worried about someone getting married, someone who I can’t stand. 

I’m just grateful I can cry and express. I’m grateful for my support reaching out to me. I’m grateful that my life is colorful and vibrant. 

You, Bee, are a security blanket. I turn to you when my world becomes cold and frightening. Instead, I need to trust that my own body can handle the changes in temperature. Because no matter how much you may “protect” me, you also shield me. And this little bird wants to fly free. 

 

binge.

Dear Bee, 

Today,

I woke up in my boyfriend’s arms.

I went to a recognition ceremony for a wonderful nonprofit group that I run.

I did yoga.

I studied for my finals.

I laughed with family.

I binged.

Yeah. Sometimes, it just happens like that. Seems like it comes out of nowhere, right? Those triggers suck.

 

It wasn’t even good binge food, and you know what I mean…leftover chocolate, cereal, some rice cakes. At least it could have been something I really like.

I’m not very happy about it. In fact, I’m trying not to hate myself. But it’s hard. I just told my boyfriend, too. Yeah, talk about shameful. Right? But secrets keep us sick. And I promised I’d be honest with him as hard as it is, so at least that’s a step in the right direction.

I want to throw up. I can’t. I want to starve for the next three days. I can’t do that either. I want to stop fighting my body. I can do that right now. I want to be done with the eating disorder. I can do my best.

I know that there are times when I just can’t tempt myself, and tonight, I let the sick, twisted voice take over. The you can just have one…one won’t hurt you…just have a bite. My recovery knows better; my eating disorder does not.

I hate hurting myself.

I hate being obsessed with my body.

I hate when food dominates my mind. 

My boyfriend wants to talk about it. I don’t want to. I’m too wrapped up in the shame. But I will. Because that’s the part of recovery that matters. The coming clean and the being honest and the letting go. That’s how the disorder loses power. That’s how I win. He’ll be there to catch me, to listen, to love, because that’s how he is…it’s me that just wants to stay isolated right now. Why? Because I feel too unstable, too crazy, too unlovable. I don’t know. There’s still a tiny part of me that thinks, Oh God, I’m broken. And I’m never going to get better. And nobody is going to want to be with that. 

I know this is all distorted.

I recognize that my feelings are valid but my thoughts are irrational. 

But, fuck. Recovery is no joke. 

Between clients

Dear Bee, 

Where are so many people canceling this week? Not cool. On the bright side, I’ll be out of here early. I can’t believe I’ve only been doing this gig for a month and I’ve already seen such a diverse range of people. I don’t define a person by his or her diagnosis (EVER) because a person is a person, but so far, I’ve had sessions with individuals with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Major Depression Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Schizophrenia- Paranoid Type, Alcohol Abuse, Separation Anxiety Disorder, Pedophilia, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Not to mention miscellaneous but equally important issues, such as: domestic violence, career-related stress, emotional abuse, coping with divorce, adolescent concerns, life transitions, family-of-origin problems, identity crises, and financial concerns.

It’s been a hell of a learning opportunity, and I think I’m doing a good job. I mean, this is pretty much my baseline, right? It only gets better from here on out. My clients seem responsive to my interventions and appear to like coming in to talk. Nevertheless, it’s hard to release the perfectionism in this kind of field. It’s hard to NOT take it personally if a client doesn’t do his or her homework or doesn’t seem to have the motivation to change or doesn’t want to speak to you. But that’s on them, not on me.

I love my Thursdays, because after finishing up with clients at my site, I go to my boyfriend’s house and we start our weekend together. Tonight, I’m surprising him with a bottle of wine and those cute, tasty macaroons (I’ve never actually had them, but they are so gorgeous, and I’m excited to try them)and some massage oil or something romantic like that. I’m too poor to buy new lingerie, but he’s getting sparkling pink wine and my vagina. Happy boyfriend, happy girlfriend.

I’ve had an unusual appetite today, as in, I’ve been extremely hungry, despite eating regular meals. I know our bodies sometimes just ask for more food. And thinking back on it, I barely ate much for dinner yesterday.

And my office has all these delicious foods everywhere, but I’m acting weird because they aren’t “safe,” and therefore, I worry how I’ll react around them. Let’s keep it real: I need to just chill out. I had a cookie earlier, and I survived. I love how sometimes we think it is simply just going to be the end of the world.

Yesterday, I had a client complete a thought record for her anxiety, and when she was talking about her activated trigger, she mentioned, I don’t even know if I should write this down because it seems so silly.

That’s the power of triggers. THEY DO SEEM SILLY. In fact, oftentimes, they seem so silly that we actually minimize their effects and deny our thoughts and feelings around them. But their damage can deliberate us. Triggers keep us frightened and afraid. But everyone with any kind of mental illness or disorder has triggers. They are scary, but they are normal. Recognizing them is key. It doesn’t matter how insignificant or trivial they seem. For instance, I get triggered when a stranger compliments my body. I get triggered to binge, as if I need to somehow prove them wrong or as if I deserve to now “treat” myself due to being so rewarded. Other triggers to binge include:, feeling overwhelmed with schoolwork, eating food I consider “unsafe,” exercising compulsively (because I want some kind of reward for punishing myself so hard), wanting to procrastinate, thinking about the unknown, drinking alcohol, and making major decisions.

Irrationality doesn’t negate the trigger. Knowing something is irrational is not necessarily synonymous with feeling instantly better. Everyone is different, so everyone’s triggers will be different. Just because they are not common does not mean they are not okay. For instance, I knew someone with an eating disorder who felt triggered to binge whenever she watched television. They just went hand-in-hand. Numbing out with food in front of the TV as a means to relax. 

Bottom line: your triggers are not stupid. Your triggers are not insignificant or unimportant. Your triggers are real. OWN THEM then WORK THROUGH THEM.