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.

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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.

There is no perfect body.

I can pick a subjective flaw in every human body, and yet, I carry this distorted ideal that it is possible to achieve physical perfection.

There is no perfect body.

And even if I did achieve perfection- like in some metaphysical sense, in some kind of alternative universe where we could agree upon a universal definition of perfection, I WOULD STILL WANT TO CHANGE/IMPROVE/FIX SOMETHING. Because that’s how we are hardwired. Acceptance is twelve times harder than changing (statistic I just made up). And contentment is twenty times harder than fighting.

If I had a perfect body, I’d find a reason to make it more perfect. We can’t sit at the top for very long without getting bored, angry, or depressed. We can’t sit with success for very long without itching for more.

Everyone knows we live in a society that basically blasts us with mixed messages. On one hand, the message that thinner is better has been drilled into my head almost with the same permanence and absolution as 2 x 2 = 4. On the other hand, we’re living in this new-age, high-peak fitness era, where women are also supposed to be sculpted, toned, and muscled into sleek goddesses. Somehow, we are supposed to be able to do it all.

But there still needs to be an ass (WHY ARE THERE SO MANY FUCKING SONGS ABOUT BUTTS THESE DAYS), and there still needs to be boobs.

And no matter what, there’s gonna be some fat. Or some cellulite or stretch marks or imperfections or anything. Because that’s HUMANITY.

Do I think I’m somehow immune to this? Do I think that my body will somehow look entirely different if it weighted 5, 10, 15 pounds less? Would everything be beautiful and rainbows and sunshine and shitting unicorns?

Um no. That’s called a delusion.

A body is a body is a body. I never saw more beauty in bodies at a nude beach over the summer. Easily the youngest person there (by maybe 40 years?), there was everything hanging out for all the world to see. And nobody gave two fucks. They flaunted, they lived, they were comfortable with themselves.

I was too. I’m comfortable with my naked body. I always have been. Which is sometimes why the eating disorder thing is confusing to me…shouldn’t I hate to be naked around others? Shouldn’t I want to hide and shield my body in layers? Neither have ever applied to me.

Maybe it’s because I’ve always known that my body was beautiful…that deep down, even those days when I thought I was too fat or too this or too (insert derogatory adjective here), it was all just the inner reel spinning inside my head.

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.

it didn’t have to be an eating disorder

Dear Bee,

In all honesty, you could have been anything. And you would have been. I was primed for mental illness, in some way. I had all the traits: the perfectionism, the low self-esteem, the excessive anxiety, the inability to stay present. You could have manifested into an alcohol or drug addiction, but I was afraid of those and stayed far away. You could have warped into some kind of promiscuous, man-hunting fetish, but I was relatively terrified of dating, and for a long time, didn’t have much of a sexual bone in me. You could have been any mental disorder, really. It just happened to be an eating disorder. Food was easy, and it was everywhere, and it wasn’t something that made me too different or too deviant from the norm.

Oftentimes, I hear that eating disorders symbolize a stubborn protest to grow up, a refusal to accept a changing and maturing body, and thus, a changing and maturing mindset. I don’t see it that way. For a long time, I remember wanting to be an adult. Many times, I felt like an adult trapped into a child’s body. I had complex ideas. In fifth grade, I wrote poetry about heartbreak and loss. In sixth grade, I was reading high school novels. In seventh grade, I was figuring out what college I wanted to attend. I was always ten years ahead. That’s not to say my childhood wasn’t fulfilling. It absolutely was. But I was jut wise beyond my years, and in some ways, that was both a blessing and a curse. 

The reason why I developed my eating disorder initially didn’t matter to me. Who cared why I had one? I had a problem, and I needed to figure out how to get rid of it. In working recovery, I have begun to understood that the why means something. The why tells me what went haywire, what became too difficult to manage, what drove me to want to cope in a way that harmed myself. Resolving the why is the answer to successful recovery. Eating disorders are not random. It’s important to look into the past and realize where things may have gone somewhat amiss. For me, I just remember feeling painfully insecure. I remember feeling like an outsider, even though nobody bullied me or actually said so. I remember feeling intense, as if my mind was always reeling and spinning. I remember feeling anxious and paranoid and worried about things much beyond my control. I remember wanting to be perfect, especially with school, and I beat myself up if I didn’t meet my expectations. Oh, and I remember feeling ugly. No matter what. My hair was weird, my clothes weren’t cool enough, my makeup never looked good…I don’t remember honing in on my body much, as I was a relatively short and scrawny thing, but I remember thinking everything about me needed to be improved.

Food was easy to target. Food was something that was part of my everyday routine. Food was also a big deal in my house. We used food to celebrate. Mom was always on some kind of diet. Dad was a snacking grazer. Brother was picky and ate about five foods. Nobody really cooked. I remember making my own meals by junior high. Oh, and junk food was a big deal, because it was a rare delicacy, so I put it on a pedestal. And then from seventh to eighth grade, my entire body changed. Overnight, it seemed, I grew two inches, three cup sizes, hips, and an ass. I was becoming, as they say, a woman. 

And that was when the behaviors began. Slowly, of course. A simple diet, of course. Just watching what I ate. Convincing myself I would look better if I lost about five pounds. Starting to believe that I was fat, that I needed to “control.” 

But, like I said, it could have been anything. Had I picked up weed in junior high, I could have just as easily turned into a stoner. Had I picked up the bottle, I could have become an alcoholic. I don’t know if I believe in the addictive mindset, but I do believe those who need to escape the pain of their own existence will use whatever they can to make that happen. Food just happened to be around.

tiny little thing

Dear Bee,

It’s much too cold. Yes, it’s only in the low 60’s, but I live in California, and anything below 65 degrees Fahrenheit makes me whiny.

I wonder how distorted my body image is. I think I see myself as much larger than other people perceive me. Yesterday, one of my colleagues was talking about someone and stated, “She’s short and tiny like you.” Today, I was at the dentist; she was commenting how cute and petite I am. My boyfriend likes to tell me that I’m small and teeny. See, I’m short, so I know that plays a role. I don’t think I look fat by any means, but I don’t think I look super teeny-tiny either. Curves- yes, I have those. Boobs and ass. Check and check. I don’t look delicate. But people will buy me clothes that are XS or S and I’m like…?! How does the world see me? I know I’m definitely not the skinniest girl in the room. I know I’m not underweight. And yet, people think of me as this tiny little thing.

I recognize that eating disorders tend to skew our perceptions. I mean, you are constantly telling me that my thighs are humongous and my stomach is disgusting and my skin is way too flabby and so on and so forth…it doesn’t matter how much I exercise or what I eat. In your eyes, I will never be “pretty enough.” Not in your eyes. You are cruel. The worse I feel about myself, the better you feel. That’s just how our relationship works. It’s how you thrive.

The thing is, ten pounds lighter won’t make me pretty enough either. Eating disorders don’t work that way. I’ll just want to go another ten pounds lighter. It’s a never-ending cycle until you realize IT’S JUST NOT WORTH IT. Which is where I’m at. I love the body I’m in. I love seeing all my strong muscles when I work out. I love watching my naked body moving in the mirror when I’m having sex. I love being a woman, and I love knowing that I take care of myself. I love to look good…but who doesn’t? 

You’ve done a really good job at making me believe that my life and, subsequently, my happiness has to be put on hold until I have a perfect body. That’s not true. I’m getting older every single second, and I’ll never be younger than I am this moment. I just don’t envision myself being on my deathbed, stating, Wow, I wish I could have just lost those ten pounds. Nope. I don’t think anyone does. Because that’s not what life is about. And certainly, that’s not what kind of life I want to have for myself.

I want to measure my life in love and experience, in the richness of people and virtue. My body is just a neutral vessel. Really, that’s all it is. It says nothing about the kind of person I am. It’s just flesh, bone, and muscle. And that can either be the most liberating or deliberating news anyone can hear…it just depends how we want to approach it. 

 

Halloween, therapy, and my body!

Dear Bee,

Halloween weekend was good. Super good. The boyfriend and I did a hilarious couples costume that I have to keep anonymous due to its originality. We went out with a group of friends on Saturday, drank and danced and danced and danced, and took tons of pictures. Yesterday, we recovered, shared headaches, went to a pumpkin-carving party and then fell back asleep. 

Alcohol is a dangerous social lubricant, but I like the feeling of being drunk. It’s fun. I do it very sparingly now after raging hard for a few months last year. My boyfriend doesn’t really drink much at all, and I’m glad, because I’m not the hugest partier myself. Before him, I thought I was supposed to go out every weekend, get my drink and dance on, meet guys who only wanted one thing, and come home feeling empty. That’s what the single life is all about, right? Living young and wild and free? I did it, but it never felt just right. I was always too in my head, too preoccupied with the social setting around me…I thought I needed “escape,” but, in reality, I needed to make a worthwhile life that didn’t require anything to escape from. I’m so relieved I don’t feel any need to to do that anymore. The club scene gets old. The hangovers aren’t worth it. The dancing is always the best part. I love to dance. 

We’ve moved my therapy sessions to every other week due to financial constraints. The truth is, I could probably afford it, but because I’m not working or making any income whatsoever, I had to make some monetary sacrifices. And I don’t need absolute, dire clinical services right now. Thankfully. A year ago, had we moved them to every other week, those thirteen days in between sessions would have become agonizing. I would have been miserable and counting down the hours until I could just explode for sixty minutes and vent all my frustrations and fears. I now feel confident in myself. I can do recovery. I am doing it everyday. 

And today we were talking a lot about triggers, addiction, and self-disclosure as a therapist. This is always a gray area: as a rule of thumb, therapists can self-disclose if they know sharing their personal experiences or input will somehow benefit the client. Doing it for their own purposes is considered unethical and possibly hazardous. I guarantee my therapist self-discloses more than the average therapist. I know about her kids, family, schooling, job, money, etc. I know about her eating disorder history, her experiences with hospitalization and inpatient and therapy and OA and psychiatric wards and the treacherous throes of anorexia and bulimia. Yes, I’ve virtually stalked her online, but the majority of this information comes straight from her mouth. In the midst of her sickness, people had considered her a lost cause. She’s been through hell. She tells me she self-discloses with her eating disordered clients because we are often the most resistant, shameful clients.  

Her self-disclosure has humanized her as an individual. I trust her and know she understands what it’s like to feel obsessed with food, trapped in a mental disorder, and taking on an identity that requires you to feel “sicker” in order to feel better. I still put her on a pedestal out of my own transference issues, but I recognize that she’s been through just as much as anyone else. She can’t possibly be perfect, even though I want her to be.

Food hasn’t been much of an issue lately. I’m proud of my body. I like looking at in the mirror, in pictures, during sex. I’m proud of it. I like my arms and my hips and my boobs and my smile. I like the light in my face, the youthful glow I radiate. I’m at a low weight, one I haven’t been at since high school, and it’s interesting, because the last time I weighed this, I was severely restricting myself to stay at this golden number. As if some arbitrary number will make our lives happy. As if that’s all we ever needed. I haven’t restricted myself to get to this number this time. I haven’t ran a thousand miles or given up white carbs. I’ve just eaten what I feel like. And that includes vegetables and fruit and nuts and seeds, but it also includes real bagels with real butter and real ice cream with real chocolate and real bread with real cheese. Only when I complicate the simplistic process do I begin to spiral back into the disorder. When I just take it meal by meal, I regain my confidence. 

I am so grateful that I continually give myself the invaluable gift that is recovery. There is no greater feeling than the release and liberation of self-induced bondage.