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.

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End of Therapy Journey

Dear Bee,

Well, I had my last therapy session.

It was emotional, and by the end of the hour, we were both tearing up. This whole weekend has been insanely life-changing, but that’s for a different post. The five-day psychotherapy conference completely inspired me in every way, shape, and form, and I’m grateful for the experience to be in the same room with some of the most influential people in my field. 

Anyway, back to therapy. I ended up terminating. We had a closure session today. I had prepped her with a text. Reflecting on the past fifty-one sessions, I started treatment a completely different person than I am today. I wanted to work on my eating disorder. That was it. Little did I know that I needed to work on boundaries, end a few toxic relationships, including the one with my ex-boyfriend, quit my jobs, and learn how to take care of myself. Little did I know how much ALL this mattered before, during, and after the eating disorder work. Today, I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life. I cannot emphasize this enough. I am head-over-heels in love with my boyfriend and feel incredible fulfillment in what I do on a daily basis. 

Grieving the end of therapy is like grieving the loss of any other relationship. She helped me, and at the end of the session, after we hugged, I told her, Thank you for believing me. She responded, That was the easy part. 

But when you barely believe in yourself, hearing that validation and concern from someone else means the world. And, for so long, I did NOT believe in myself. It hurt more than anything.

My needs stopped being met. Therapy stopped feeling so magical. I started feeling more annoyed, more bored, more as if I was wasting my time in session. 

But God. I loved my therapist. Ethics and dependency aside, she was THERE, and I mean, UNCONDITIONALLY there for me. It was unlike any support I had ever received (prior to my boyfriend), and that was exactly what I needed at the time. That’s what most of us need, but never receive. And so, in fifty sessions, over the course of about fifteen months, I was able to end a volatile relationship, repair issues with my family, attend eating disorder support groups for a few months, quit two jobs, attain an incredible internship, trek around Europe, and, of course, fall in love. I was able to learn the value of self-care. 

I can always return, but I doubt I will. It’s time to move on. I’m sure I’ll go to therapy in the future, because I think ALL therapists can benefit, but for right now, I’m going to see what it’s like to work on my own self-regulation, emotions, and self-care. I have the tools. Now, I just need to use them!

I am no longer tormented by the vicious throes of daily eating disorder battles. And that doesn’t mean I’m recovered. It just means I know how to handle and manage the ebb and flow. I can live a life free of the absolute obsession and bondage that came with the compulsive nature of such a complex disease. I have worked my ass off in the name of recovery, but it’s been worth it. 

I hope therapy helps my clients as much as it helps me 🙂 

Embrace Change.

Dear Bee,

I felt much calmer yesterday and now today. My therapist texted me yesterday asking how I was doing, and I told her that things were going well and that I think I overreacted. This whole recovery thing and leaning on support becomes a tricky balance. The “sick” part of me wants to keep all the feelings and behaviors internalized, but the “healthy” part of me wants to expose the sick part to diminish its power. I have to find a happy medium, I suppose.

Anyway, I have been treating myself with kindness over the past few days. I have not weighed myself, nor have I restricted or binged. I’ve maybe been depending a little too much on caffeine to get me through the long days, but I’ll take a slight dependence on coffee versus a volatile relationship with an eating disorder right now.

Clients are doing well. This week, I rounded up my fifth session with some of them, and I’m working on highly complex, diverse issues. I have noticed, as a whole, my style is very eclectic. I extract interventions from multiple theories, which surprises me, as I thought I would be strictly favoring CBT.  I just dig it all around. Being a client is so hard. In fact, having been a client much longer than I’ve been a therapist, I believe it is harder to be the vulnerable one rather than the supposed expert. The therapist has the sense of control, calmness, and perceived neutrality in the room. The client is the one who is exposed, emotional, and transparent. Those feelings are far less safe and comfortable, if you ask me.

The weather is getting cooler in sunny Southern California. We had our first rainfall yesterday, which translates really long lines at Starbucks, a plethora of colorful scarves, and impeccably worse freeway traffic. I am a summer kind of chick and get cold at any temperature below about 70 degrees Fahrenheit, but I welcome the whimsical romance that comes with cuddle weather, darkened skies, and the smell of fresh spices and vanilla. Halloween is just a couple weeks away. It astounds me how fast 2013 has flown by, and again, even though I talk about it often, it amazes me how much I keep changing. 

Change is hard, but it is inevitable. Just as we cannot resist the ebbs and flows of seasons, we cannot resist the ebbs and flows of our growing and evolving selves. We are a species that has thrived on change, that has survived through thousands and millions of progressions over  the course of human lifespan. Change keeps us alive; change keeps us thriving. 

But, I digress. Change is still difficult. But if we could learn how to embrace what we do not know, rather than fear it, imagine how liberating that would feel? Imagine where change could be celebrated, where change could be seen as a constant work-in-progress, where any positive change, no matter how slow or slight, could signify a victory? If we can achieve this, we can be free of our own inner turmoil. 

Believing that I am worthy

Dear Bee,

I am struggling to believe that I am worthy.

That’s not an eating disordered thought. That’s a life thought. That’s a core belief. That’s something that has existed in me long before I started controlling what I did or did not eat. 

This guy is triggering those thoughts, and it’s nothing he’s saying or doing. When I’m with him, I feel happy and excited. I feel appreciated and valued. It’s when I’m not with him that I start feeling doubtful and insecure. Worried and afraid. It’s pushing through the unknown and the fear that the unknown embodies that is giving me a hard time right now. 

I went to therapy today and discussed these uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. This is a time to be unbelievably joyous, right? One would think. But, I don’t want to invalidate the fears I feel. I’ll challenge the irrational thoughts and distortions, sure, but I know ignoring only makes them come back with a vengeance.

So, here’s the deal: This is someone who is at my level. Intellectually, emotionally, financially, mentally, and physically. In my past, I’ve dated down. Ego boost. Whatever you want to call it. I had the upper hand. It wasn’t ideal, but it allowed me to feel good about myself. I chose weaker men because then I could feel worshipped. I also knew they wouldn’t leave or abandon me for someone better, because hello, I was the best they were gonna get .

Is this sick or what?

So, we talked about this new guy. He’s into me. He accepts me for who I am. He’s amazing, and I wonder why he isn’t snatched up already. Funny. He wondered the same thing about me. I’ve never been in a healthy, egalitarian relationship. I’ve been with my eating disorder since I started dating, and it’s tainted and distorted my self-esteem, intimacy, and perception of love. This, like so many things over the past year, is just another change. Another potential new way of living. Another opportunity. 

Then, I have you. My eating disorder voice. The ever-knowing voice of irrational and illogical reason. Bee. Listen, I hear you. You want this guy away from me. Because he’s good. Great, even. Because he’s going to threaten your existence. Because he already has. You don’t want me with someone, but if I insist on it, you want him to be beneath my standards. So you can stay in my life. So you can make me as skinny as you want. As fat as you want. As whatever as you want. So long as you have the control, you are content. And how do you obtain this control? By making me sabotage myself. By focusing on my appearance, weight, and food. By stuffing or starving or working out feelings rather than coping with them constructively. By perpetuating the self-fulfilling prophecy that I am not worthy. 

There’s YOU and then there’s the reality. And the reality is: I am worthy. I am deserving. I don’t have to do anything to earn those rights. I just have to be me. And this guy wouldn’t be talking to me if he wasn’t interested. If he thought he could do better. If he was planning on finding someone else. He wouldn’t be taking me out to breakfast tomorrow morning because he still wants to see me, even though I have to work early in the afternoon. He wouldn’t be texting me throughout the day, asking what I’m up to, telling me what he’s doing, etc. He wouldn’t be complimenting me and telling me that I’m what he’s looking for.

Whatever this is, I want to ride in it fully. You can hang out, Bee, or not. You can try and make me feel inferior or less-than in some way, but I’m smart and strong enough to know your words simply are not true.

Certainty of Misery vs. Misery of Uncertainty

Dear Bee,

Image

Today, my professor actually used that quote in talking about her own experiences in working with individuals processing trauma. It resonated with my entire class. The doubt and skepticism to change is universal. But without change, we often remain stuck.

And feeling “stuck” is toxic to our confidence and faith. Feeling “stuck” is lethal. It makes us feel inadequate, ineffective, and inferior. 

Virginia Satir, who remains my absolute favorite family therapist for her impeccable insight and unbelievable nurture, said, Most people prefer the certainty of misery over the misery of uncertainty. 

I agree. What better explains the pervasiveness of people who remain in abusive relationships, employees who stay in jobs they loathe, or individuals who continuously complain how their lives are going nowhere? 

Even if we complain, we feel safer in our predictable worlds.

By nature and force of learned behavior and modeling, we humans are primitive and habitual creatures. Much of our actions are subconscious; an overwhelming majority of our language and understanding of one another remains nonverbal. Change is hard because, most of the time, we do not realize that our routines, rules, and perceptions remain so deeply-rooted.  

Misery of the uncertainty?

This explains why change terrifies most of us. This makes recovery so challenging. The strive for balance and freedom feels unknown. With an eating disorder, the misery is absolutely certain. It is reasonable to compromise the negative emotions, because at least, we know they are coming. With this, we can create our own self-fulfilling prophecies. Eating disorders do not entirely numb emotions; rather, they centralize the emotions stemming from other stressors and stimuli directly onto the food and the body. What may be anger concerning an interpersonal relationship becomes projected into anger over feeling “out of control” with food. What may start as anxiety over a new job spills into feeling too “fat” and hating our bodies. We label these moments as “triggers,” and rather than focus on the problem at hand, we instantly feel drawn into our inappropriate coping mechanisms, negative self-talk, or destructive thoughts. 

As we engage deeper into the pathology, our inner worlds become centered on the eating disorder. Again, misery in certainty. If we cannot absolutely stop emotions,we at least want to control what stimuli we do have emotions over. 

I do not believe eating disorders are a choice, but I do believe change and recovery is. We are not limited to this diagnosis. Change is possible. Recovery is possible. Transformation from the victim to the warrior mindset is difficult, but I believe it is imperative. At one point, we realize we are holding onto pain and agony that no longer serves us. The decision to change is a powerful one, for we must find the willingness to transition from accepting certainty with misery to accepting misery with uncertainty. 

And as much as I love Satir, I am going to tweak her powerful, thought-provoking statement to a more simplistic one: To heal, we must be willing to accept uncertainty over certainty. 

Eating disorders keep our worlds certain. They keep them predictable, boxed, and “safe.” We are sheltered by a haven built on fear, mistrust, and compulsion. Recovery from such imprisonment might compromise some of this illusion of certainty, but once we can truly experience the joys of nourishing our souls and living in the present moment, having certainty over anything simply won’t matter as much.