Saturday Morning Writing

I spent a long time talking about my eating disorder with my fiancé last night. It was real and raw and scary, but I felt so much better afterwards. I always do.

I admitted things I didn’t even realize I was hiding. Like the fact that I’ve been weighing myself every single day. Like the fact that I’ve been labeling food as “good” or “bad,” and the bad list continues to grow.

I haven’t been hiding these things from him; they have just been so unconscious to me, such embodiments of old behavior that I hadn’t even realized they embodied symptoms of sickness.

I’m committed to working recovery again. It’s been so sloppy over the past two years, and I forgive myself for that. I’ve been cocky and fake- I’ve been preaching recovery like it’s a miracle, and, at the same time, I’m measuring my progress via a number on the scale and the amount of mental calories I’ve consumed that day. My “behaviors” may be less frequent than they ever were, but we know the distorted mind speaks volumes, and, for me, the obsessive thoughts far outweigh the compulsive acts.

With that said, it’s time to go back to the basics. For me, that means writing- really writing about me. Not about my work, not about the external things in my life, but the real stuff. The stuff that scares me, the stuff that keeps me stuck and ashamed. It also means talking- for now, my safe person is my fiancé, and I have vowed to be open with him, as terrifying as it can be. It also means utilizing my actual coping skills: this means self-care in the form of hot showers, yoga, stretching just to feel good, nice walks, doing my nails and makeup, playing with the dog, reading a good book, scrapbooking, being in nature. It means introducing food back into my life- in a way that’s not diet-centered, macro-centered, calculated and rigid.

I’ve never been in a mental place where I can have ice cream in the freezer. Without obsessing, fantasizing, or bingeing on it. I’d like to get to that place.

Yesterday, I ate grilled cheese and left some on the plate and went home and enjoyed my night. Who knows what today will bring? I’m not going to pre-plan it. I’m not going to place expectations and rules on it. This is new terrain, but I’m committed. I believe in myself, I believe in the universe taking care of me, and goddamn, I believe in recovery.

Advertisements

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.

 

 

It feels good to write to you again.

Dear Bee,

It feels good to write to you again, and when I say YOU, I mean Bee. I mean the reason this whole blog started two and a half years ago. It has been awhile- talking to the inner voice inside my head, the Eating Disorder pathology that once had such a hold over me.

You come around on holidays, and you were in full-force this past Fourth of July. Having an action plan is obviously important, but that doesn’t make it foolproof. I did the best I could, and I know that is all I can ask of myself. I could sit and complicate every meal I consumed, every pound I may or may not have gained, but it’s not worth the obsession. I did the best I could. 

You’ve been weird lately. I just see you everywhere, more than I’ve had before, in every client I work with. You are addiction. You are compulsion. You are depression and anxiety and paranoia wrapped into one self-destructive voice. YOU may be an eating disorder, but your logic and intensity manifests in infinite souls, like a parasite leeching onto its vulnerable, unsuspecting host. It rarely triggers me in a negative way- instead it fascinates me. How could I have ever thought I was alone with my suffering?

That and I’m working with eating disorders in treatment now. A few of my clients show signs- it’s not their primary diagnoses, but issues with food and body image, as we all know, coincide with issues with any trauma, addiction, or mental health issue.

In other words, you are everywhere.

I feel like I have a better grip on you than I’ve ever had, but that’s not to say you don’t throw me for a loophole. Like the other day, for instance, when I just felt obese. When you kept telling me how hideous and disgusting my legs looked, how round and protruded my stomach was, how ugly I must be. And there was another time where I thought I looked really great and spent a long time getting ready only to see a picture of myself and hone in RIGHT ON my body.

Body dysmorphia in recovery is weird. Sometimes I feel tiny and petite and other times I feel massive. And sometimes I just feel normal. Oh, and that’s my favorite! What the fuck is normal? I’m normal weight, but what does that even mean?  Depending on what you need for me that day, you contort my body.

Recovery isn’t as Eating Disordered focused as it once was. Recovery has become more about total integration of self, about incorporating positive affirmations, self-love, confidence, and self-care. Recovery has become about letting go of perfectionism and control, two your accomplices and my former best friends.

My stress level has gone down. I’m mentally healthy than I’ve been in years.

But you lurk, and maybe that’s okay that you do that. Maybe you keep me on track, keep me vigilant, keep me aware of my surroundings and my powerlessness to the external around me. Maybe you are there simply to remind me just how bad it was and just how bad it can be again.

I don’t believe in Recovered, because Recovered insinuates some kind of tangible destination, some kind of endpoint. I believe in Active Recovery, the conscious journey towards wellness. There is no end to this, Bee. We keep trudging along, you and me, and I simply need you far less than I ever did.

You’re not gone. Maybe you will never be. I’m coming to terms with that, and the acceptance is freeing. You can’t dominate my life, but you can have influence. I have to recognize where you start and where I leave off. I have to continue mediating a life in recovery of mental illness. It’s a tough pill to swallow, and part of me wants to forget that I ever really suffered, but when I start thinking down that path, I know that’s simply YOU minimizing and rationalizing the hellacious experiences that you put me through. I know it’s YOU trying to tell me I was never sick. I know it’s YOU trying to feed me back into the vicious lies. I know it’s distortion. I sometimes give into it, but I’m only human.

Thank you for understanding, Bee. We’ve come a damn long way.

the cliche of the rock bottom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

hanging in there?

God, it’s been a rough few weeks.
I don’t know where to begin.
I’m just on the roller coaster of emotions, and I can only blame it on stress.
I’m working so much, too much, I know that, and this overachiever lifestyle is only harming me.
I’m helping way too many other people…and not helping myself.
It’s really ridiculous.

I miss this blog–it was my baby for so long. I don’t know why I am abandoning it.
I have lots of my clients talking back to their illnesses, using the same strategy I used to do, but I’m not doing the work to myself.
I’m telling them to be kind, while I continue to beat myself down.

This is not healthy.

Three weeks ago, my old therapist called me and asked if I wanted a full-time therapist position at a residential facility eating disorder unit.
Not even kidding. This came out of nowhere.
I haven’t really heard from her since- apparently, it is in the developmental stages, and I’m scared to even get my hopes up because it’s really up in the air, but talk about a dream come true. I’ve been scrapping three part-time therapy jobs, barely making livable wages, working 60ish hours a week. A full-time position would be a dream right now. And working with ED clients? That’s why I went into this field in the first place!

But, I’m also struggling in my own eating disorder life, and that’s because I’ve been stressed as fuck. I’ve been bingeing, craving junk food, not exercising as much as I’d like to, and not sleeping as much as I need. I feel fat, and fat isn’t a feeling, but whenever I “feel” that, it means I’m feeling really insecure, incompetent, and unsettled in my own skin.

But, in my own shallow words, I FEEL FAT.
And there is nothing more triggering in recovery or in quasi-recovery than the threat of being fat.

I’m not fat, but I am not taking care of myself. There’s a difference.
I need to start.
Otherwise, I’ll be burnt out before I know it.

Just needed to get this off my chest. Had a horrible binge earlier. Feeling the post-food coma of laziness, guilt, despair, and anger…it’s nothing I haven’t felt before, but it’s painful nonetheless.

Hope all is wel with my lovely readers. Shout and say hi! I miss this community.

tides of December.

It’s been a month since I wrote last, and as usual, much has happened in the past month.

I have another part-time job. This makes three. My boyfriend got the dream full-time job. We have this thing called stability, and that’s weird, because I’m still transitioning from the academic world to the working grind.

I see a lot of clients everyday. It feels like an assembly line of therapy at times, and I’m too new in this field to think that way. But it scares me. Being unable to divvy my full attention to each individual simply because I have so many. Of course, I am still underpaid and overworked. And, of course, mental health is completely underfunded and underrepresented in nearly all sectors of healthcare.

But, I digress.

I know what I do is important, and I know what I do is meaningful. In addition to my children and adolescents, I’m now working with some really difficult clientele right now. The majority of them suffer from chronic pain or traumatic injury. The depression and anxiety is skyrocketed for nearly everyone I see.

I think hopelessness is the hardest symptom of all, and I think that only because I know what it’s like to experience that feeling myself. I know what it’s like to hate hearing anyone else tell you it can be any other way. Because, in your mind, it can only be hopeless. Because, to accept anything other than hopelessness means risking accepting a change you may not like. Hopelessness, in a paradoxical way, feels safer. It is a cushion of certainty, a guarantee that prevents us from the fear of crashing of burning.

The holiday season always arises mixed emotions for me. I am closer to my parents now that I have moved out of their home. Time with them is cherished and appreciated, rather than met with annoyance and angst. Yet, I tend to struggle with body image around this time of year, only because holidays center on food and food and more food.

And, I can use all the positive affirmations and visualizations and deep breathing I want, but there is still the five-hundred pound gorilla in the room that is masquerading as sprinkled cupcakes, and when my attention is on that, it’s hard to focus on anything else.

As I’ve said so many times before, it’s safer to focus on the craziness of the eating disorder rather than the craziness of the unpredictable day-to-day existence we live in. The eating disorder makes sense and it’s in my control. Nothing else is. Nothing else is. Nothing else is.

Nothing is in my control.
Nothing is in your control, either.
And, depending on perspective, that can be petrifying or liberating.

the days are passing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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