the “sick” role and gratitude for my best friend

Dear Bee,

When I think all of what my life can be without you, I don’t have a tangible image. But I do sense that there will be a lot of pure love and joy. A lot of spontaneity and excitement. A lot of the feelings I once felt as a child.

When I went to therapy today, we didn’t talk about you, because there wasn’t much of a need. We had spent the past two weeks heavily processing my feelings, and the sessions had been extremely tough.

They were also essential. I needed to assume the “sick role.” I needed to really let someone  take care of me and normalize my fears and mistakes, while at the same time, push me to change and better myself.

I’m not usually comfortable taking on this sick role. I’ve always been the healer–I’ve always been the ones for others to lean on, and as a result, I learned from a young age that I needed to be strong to protect myself. It’s easier if you don’t feel. And big girls don’t cry. You get the message. You cemented it into me.

But in therapy, we did talk about you in the sense of my future practicum work. I absolutely need to learn the meaning of self-care. Otherwise, not only will I burnout in my chosen profession, but I also face the risk of falling deeper into my maladaptive coping strategies. I know that if I do not learn how to really and truly grip on how I moderate stress, you will just get stronger.

I was talking about this with one of my best friends this afternoon. I’ve known this girl since I was fifteen, and in some senses, she’s the only friend I’ve ever been to take on this “sick role” with. Since we met, I have felt comfortable being fully honest and vulnerable around her without worrying about being judged or criticized. This is because she understands  the value of unconditional positive regard.

She’s an extraordinary woman.

So, here we are talking about anxiety and managing stress.

Her response: I can tell when I get anxiety. And what that happens, I know I just need to rewind, get in bed, and relax. 

So natural, right? She’s such a healthy and adjusted young woman, someone whom I’ve always admired (and not just because she knows how to manage her anxiety!) She takes care of her needs without relying on anyone else to do so. She does what feels good and avoids what doesn’t. Simple as that. She refuses to settle for less than what she deserves, and frankly, she doesn’t care what anyone else thinks about it. This girl chases her dreams, and once a pursuit no longer serves her, she finds another option.

They say you are the sum of the people you surround yourself with: In this recovery process, I am learning to associate myself with the people who make me feel good, confident, and happy instead of those who make me feel dragged down, guilty, or insecure. I’ve spent so many years clinging onto the wrong friendships.

Today, I told her about this blog and I gave her the link to it. And even though she knows so much about my life, this is such a raw exposure into the private world I hid from most of the people I know. But she loves and accepts me for who I am and wants me to continue healing myself. She holds me in high regard and treasures our friendship as much as I do.

So if you’re reading this, my lovely and beautiful friend, thank you.

I’ve thanked you for MANY different things over the span of our friendship, but I don’t know if I’ve ever truly thanked you for just fully loving me, flaws, perks, and all. You inspire me to treat myself with the same kindness, respect, and love you treat yourself with. Keep shining because you have such an extraordinary soul. I am so grateful for our friendship, right down to the red scribbles.

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Writing as my own spiritual awakening

Dear Bee,

 I was at this incredibly uplifting OA meeting this morning and we started out by reading out of the big book (of Alcoholics Anonymous). I really need to read this literature in its entirety. Personal opinion on the Twelve Steps aside, one cannot deny how effective these programs are. This text, indeed, has saved many lives.

Anyway, we did a ten-minute “read-around-the-room” followed by a five-minute writing session to elaborate on what we had just read/any thoughts.

I picked up this quote: We will see that our new attitude toward liquor has been given us without any thought or effort on our part. It just comes! That is the miracle of it. We are not fighting it, neither are we avoiding temptation. We feel as though we had been placed in a position of neutrality – safe and protected. We have not even sworn off. Instead, the problem has been removed. It does not exist for us (p. 85).

And here was my response:

To me, this is the pinnacle of recovery–this experience of freedom from the bondage of an eating disorder and all the exhaustive mental preoccupation associated with it. Right now, there is so much fighting, and maybe that is because I have not yet fully surrendered to this idea of powerlessness.

Am I avoiding temptation? I don’t know. Sometimes, it feels that way, because I realize I cannot eat the same way normal eaters do…yet. Will I always be disordered? The school of Overeaters Anonymous says yes. The alcoholic will always be an alcohol, despite how long he lives in sobriety. The compulsive overeater, likewise, will always be a compulsive overeater, abstinence or not.

To some extent, I agree that those maladaptive tendencies will always be somewhere in my mind (preferably the back) during stressful or changing times. Rather than try to resist this, I know I just need to accept and embrace the possibility. That does not mean I need to stress over the future, but rather, adjust the way I cope. The more I love myself, the more I truly and fully value my whole being–mind, body, and spirit–the more automatic these choices will be.

In a sense, this will remove the “problem.” Because harming myself with food or without food will not only seem irrational, but it will also seem ridiculous.

I know that i have been chasing these feelings of “safe” and “protected.” And sometimes, I thought I had achieved these feelings by virtue of my sickness, but they were never lasting, and once removed, I only felt more unstable and vulnerable. So I know now these feelings cannot come to me so long as I punish myself. Because if I am not keeping my own self safe and protected, if I am not able to give myself that primitive need, who will? This is nobody’s responsibility but my own. Maybe that once scared me, but now, it only empowers me.

Because I know I have this extraordinary potential to unconditionally love myself, and that love will transcend to everything I do and everyone I want in my life. To me, that is this surrender, that is letting go and embracing hope.

I am so worthy of happiness. I am so worthy to be own best friend–because the greater my self-worth, the more wholesome and authentic my experiences, reactions, and coping.

Okay, so I went somewhat over the five-minute limit, but once I start writing, well…I just get in my zone, as we all know.

When we went around the room to share, I didn’t originally intend to read what I had written, because most of the people were discussing the spiritual component of the text (it was a very God-heavy reading). And sometimes, being agnostic, I feel somewhat mystified with how to respond to the religious aspect. I know that the Twelve Steps does not prescribe to any particular religion, and I have never felt one ounce of pressure to believe in God, but at the same time, I know many people have found success by turning their lives over to Him.

But at the last moment, I decided, this meant something to me…these are MY thoughts and MY feelings, and I wanted to express them whether people wanted to hear them or not.

Sharing is healing.

And so, I read what I had written aloud and it felt good. So many things have been feeling so good lately. Afterwards, a few people came up to me to praise my writing. One woman in particular said, You’re a writer, right? You have to be. What else have you written? You have a gift. 

And you know what? This took me back for a moment. Because writing was my first passion, and since I learned how to pick up a pencil at four or five years old, I was scribbling stories on scraps of paper. I have drafts of novels, pages after pages of poetry and short stories, thousands of essays from all my classes. And now I have these journal letters.

I always imagined envisioned myself becoming a novelist, as this free-spirited artist meant to move people with my written words. And most of my teachers felt the same way. In sixth grade, I was accused of cheating on an essay. The grader thought my father had written it. He couldn’t stop laughing–said he didn’t even know how I knew half the words I had used in my story. Still, the fleeting and unstable reality of the starving artist scared me enough to settle my eighteen-year-old self into a practical–but absolutely fascinating–major (psychology).

I am extremely lucky to have found a calling that can heal others in a different, creative way by virtue of my presence, empathy, and guidance as a therapist. I know I will be the change agent in so many lives, and I desperately want to be the person to provide that unconditional positive regard to those who cannot even see it for themselves.

Still, writing has been my own higher power, my own spiritual awakening, throughout my entire life. Writing has healed me–this is where my creative energy flows, this is me in my most natural and happiest state.

And writing, probably more than any other tool in my recovery, will be my constant savior. Readers or not, I know that putting the words on paper channels my inner imagination. And that, in itself, is its own religion.

I smiled back at that woman with absolute confidence and thanked her. And to answer her question, I told her I was a writer.

Because I am. And I realized that I will always be writing something or another. I pulled out an old draft of my first novel and worked on it…because, that’s what I do and that’s who I am and that’s who makes me happy.

Today, I am blessed. Today, I am humbled and full of hope.

The problem is not the problem. Coping is the problem.

Dear Bee,

Coping is the manifestation of our self-worth. The higher the self-worth, the more wholesome our coping–Virginia Satir

I know that is no coincidence that I really only started making breakthroughs with my eating discover recovery once I started my graduate school program. We spend so much time talking about the importance of self-awareness and personal growth. Our advisor told us on the first day of our semester last fall to “Prepare to learn about yourself. A lot. More than you ever imagined.” We all laughed. We’re graduate students. We’ve graduated college–we certainly most know everything there is to know about ourselves.

We were all so, so, so sadly mistaken. That’s the beauty of going into a field that involves such deep and interwoven connection with others. Everything reflects back on yourself–all the triggers, the transference, the symptoms–the growth never ends.

Virginia Satir is a world-renowned family therapist, a pioneer who believed individuals had all the internal resources needed to cope and successfully and to grow. In other words, you are your own expert. You have everything inside of you necessary to change and move your life in the direction you want to go.

Clearly, I like Satir. Her opinion on how people choose to cope is instrumental in my recovery. I realize that I cannot fully recover until I fully develop my own self-growth. Otherwise, I will never believe that I truly deserve the recovery and the freedom, peace, and balance that comes with it.

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For so long, you were my coping mechanism. And you did not serve me well. You accurately portrayed my self-worth (which was close to nothing), and in that, you hurt and brutalized me.

The problem is not the problem; coping is the problem.

This is powerful. In life, there will be problems. There will always be problems, as much as we try to run, avoid, deny, or wish them away. I believe that problems may cause us pain, but only we cause ourselves the suffering associated with such pain. Whereas events are inevitable, we choose how we react to them.

I am doing well. I really am. I’m doing so many good things for myself. I did not realize how exhaustive my life had become until this week, until I had some time, real time, to reflect on the treadmill existence I was running on. And now? Now, I can rewind and move at a slower pace. Every minute of my day does not have to be meticulously planned.

I went hiking around the beach wetlands alone this morning and I stumbled across a meadow of yellow flowers and a gorgeous pelican. Nature astounds me, and it always has. I moved closer to the pelican, and it did not run away. He just kind of stared at me, as if we understood each other, as if he was okay with just hanging out right there next to me.

I don’t know…this was such a special moment for me.

My senses are coming back. Like today, I took pictures. In high school, I used to love photography. I took a darkroom and film edit class and just became obsessed. I loved learning all the visual tricks and color contortions and so forth…and now, I can see again. Really, really see. And the world looks so beautiful.

I am appreciating touch more. When I got home this afternoon, I showered and allowed myself to feel the sensation of lathering soap on my body and feel the way my hands roughly massaged my scalp as I applied the shampoo. And it felt good.

And let’s not forget about sound. I listened to music as I showered…my Jack Johnson/Bob Marley station on Pandora. And the music felt good. Everything about it. I’ve had music playing for most of the day…and I’ve been singing and humming, something I haven’t done (except at concerts and in my car) in awhile.

And smell? I’m wearing my favorite scented lotion and perfume right now, and I just can’t get enough of how I can’t get enough of my fragrance (narcissism aside).

I have been eating slower and more mindfully, being able to eat out in restaurants and enjoying my company and the meals and leaving food on the plate when I no longer want anymore. I am not obsessing as much between meals. Now that I have some more time, I do pleasurable things right after eating, so I do not feel as anxious.

Things, they are changing.

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5 realizations + 10 reasons to be grateful

This is not a letter to Bee.

I was reflecting on my eating disorder recovery earlier today (I act like this is something shocking and new), and came up with some pretty profound realizations.

1. I still fully believe that eating disorder recovery symbolizes a metaphorical marathon. It’s a looooooong 26.2 miles to the finish line, and sometimes, I’m going to be moving at a fast and steady pace, and other times, I’m going to feel sluggish and unmotivated. There will be times I come to a dead stop. There will be times I question the entire point of this mission. But there will be times (and there have been times) where I’m deeply immersed into the zone and feel utterly connected to my deep breath, in awe of my body and strength and resilience…and that is when I know I will keep pushing, pushing, pushing no matter how tired I feel or how much I fear I will never see the finish line. When people recount their best races, they talk about the journey. They talk about the weather conditions, discuss the other participants, share their injuries, dehydration, aching knees and pounding feet, and lament on the barriers–big and small–that tried to sabotage their performance. In other words, they aren’t just blabbing about that last step crossing over the finish line.

2. I must recognize that I need an action-based plan for times of stress or change. People revert to their maladaptive and destructive patterns when their emotions are rampant. I am not an exception to this rule. Rather than try to avoid or deny that stress affects my attitude towards control and eating, I need to anticipate it, accept it and appropriately deal with it. 

3. My recovery process is a normal one, as much as I like to believe it is unique, complicated, and one-of-a-kind. The truth is, where I started out at a more rational and calm state of mind, I’m becoming impatient. I want to be CURED. I don’t like the “hard parts,” the struggling, the anguish. I feel like my disordered voice is so much stronger than anyone else’s, when I know this is absolutely not true. Recovery is messy…but I’m grateful for it nonetheless.

4. Everyone has baggage. Everyone has insecurities and weaknesses. Everyone has something about themselves they wish they could change or fix. Even though we get this message drilled into us from a young age, I never truly believed it until I started graduate school and began to really learn how people think, act, and feel. The bottom line is that nobody is perfect. I struggle with eating: others struggle with sleeping, academics, finances, anger management, and so forth. We can see these differences as flaws—or we can see them as the characteristics that uniquely shape who we are and what we do.

5. This process feels MUCH more empowering when I I tell myself, I am recovered. Although this may not be factual, in those desperate and bleak moments of inner turmoil and anxiety, telling myself hey, you know what to do; you’re in a different place than you were is so much better than playing victim to my eating disordered pathology. Otherwise, I’m just maintaining my self-fulfilling prophecy; I am just accommodating into my diagnosis.

Everyday, I write down ten good things that happened that day. Why? Because I firmly believe that a positive outlook creates a positive LIFE. Thoughts shape our world. I suggest that anyone who struggles to find the optimism in the mundane details of the daily grind try this for at least a week. It can really change your perspective and help you make the most of the “small things.”

Here are mine today.

1. I started my application process for my first fieldwork sites! In my traineeship next semester, I’ll be seeing my first clients, and I am SO excited to start!

2. My group and I were able to collaborate REALLY well and brainstorm some great ideas for our presentation this week! It’s so great when everyone can express their needs while compromising at the same time.

3. I was able to completely shift my focus from frantic binge-mode to a calm and content state of mind. So proud of myself.

4. Spent quality time with one of my best friends from school.

5. Played with my hamster 🙂 Love my little monster.

6. Hung out with my brother and we spent SO MUCH time just laughing. I cherish these moments with him. My brother is my biggest hero: he lives with the type of attitude I am working towards adopting (does what he wants, practices moderation, and lives fully).

7. I am just realizing that I actually DO NOT have a 16-hour work/school day tomorrow, and I am so excited at the prospect of taking some time for myself.

8. I am comfortable and warm in my bed and planning to get a GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP for the first time in awhile. In fact, I’m not setting my alarm for the first time in months. 🙂

9. The weather was cooler than the crazy summer weather we’ve been having, but it felt good walking outside to just breathe in the fresh air.

10. I was able to forgive myself for a few slips today…but better than that, I am able to unconditionally love myself.

Aside

Valentine’s Day all by myself!

Dear Bee,

Valentine’s Day.

First year in awhile I’ve been single on this day, and it feels good. No high-pressure, commercialized dates. No sugarcoated, over-the-top romance. No overpriced roses. No dependency on a man.

Total liberation. 

In the spirit of this day of love, I have decided that I am going to prioritize working on the most critical relationship in my life right now: the one I share with myself.

Yes “working on me” corny, but it’s something I’ve never actively done. To venture on a wild hunch, I would guess most individuals struggling with eating disorders haven’t. We’re too consumed in our own bubbles of punishment, self-loathing, and inner turmoil. We don’t think we’re worthy of receiving love.

But at the same time, we GIVE love so freely. We are some of the “nicest” people we know. Most of us have excellent support systems with bountiful friends and relationships. We give to others what we cannot accept for ourselves: unconditional forgiveness, timeless second chances, indefinite support. And when we make a mistake, we catastrophize. When we do not achieve perfection, we must be failures. We identify ourselves by our fragments (our weights, our distorted behaviors, the food we eat) rather than by our whole, genuine selves.

I developed a relationship with you because I experienced such discourse in the relationship I shared with myself. I was abusing myself to begin with: you merely exaggerated it. I was harsh on myself: you merely made the demands and discipline firmer. You did not plant new ideas into my head; you just helped cement and maintain them. You just encouraged the negative self-talk and fueled the disturbed pathology.

What will loving myself entail?

For one, giving myself time and energy to do the things I enjoy. To take care of both my needs and wants. To make myself feel good without experiencing guilt or remorse over it. I have composed a list of things that bring me joy and happiness, and I will make the genuine effort to engage in these activities on a routine basis. Once they feel like work, I will STOP doing them. Even though I did not recognize it before, passion is absolutely different from compulsion. Passion entails no expectations, time table, or punishment. Compulsion does.

On this note, I will make an effort to stop or reduce doing things I don’t enjoy. This includes spending time with people who add unnecessary emotional turmoil to my life, pursuing in activities that make me feel anxious or stressed, wasting time on things/people that do not matter to me.

For another, I will continue practicing my positive attributions and self-talk. Why? Because I am a damn good person! Because I deserve to FEEL like the person I so often project myself to be to others. I want to FEEL comfortable in my skin and FEEL proud and comfortable at the idea of simply being me. I want to FEEL happy with the choices I make and the personality I have.

Finally, I will start stop waiting to begin LIVING. I have devoted so much of my life to “my future,” to “what’s coming next” to “ten pounds lighter” to “being in a relationship” to “after I finish school” to “when I have more money.” No more. I don’t have enough time? Bullshit. I had time to binge, time to compulsively exercise, time to spend hours researching diet plans and weight loss strategies, etc. I don’t have enough money? Bullshit. Happiness cannot be bought and prioritizing my money on worthwhile things immensely stretches the value of the dollar. I need a relationship. Bullshit. I can rely on myself, feel the love I generate from my family and friends, and enjoy the unpredictable spontaneity of dating, lust, and attraction. I need to lose weight. Bullshit. This is a blog devoted to eating disorder recovery…I don’t even need to go into the reasons why this excuse is incredibly flawed, illogical, and detrimental.

Start living now. Live the life you want to live. If you don’t, who will?

The happiness myth

Dear Bee,

You know what I find incredibly liberating but simultaneously EXTREMELY difficult to accept?
The fact that I determine my happiness each and everyday.
The fact that I have the ability to consciously decide whether or not to be happy.
The fact that I can choose exactly how I want to respond to each situation in my life.

I have the choice and the freedom.

Society creates this terribly misconstrued illusion that certain things will bring us happiness. We all buy into it at some point. When I was younger, I just a Razor scooter. I begged and pleaded with my parents, promising them that I would never, ever ask for anything from them again. This scooter would bring me infinite happiness. I just KNEW it.

A few years later, it was a cell phone. Then, a laptop. Then, of course, the infamous first car.

Eventually, I outgrew my materialistic cravings and replaced my temporary happiness fixes with more intangible needs. I wanted fairytale love. And once I started noticing the opposite sex, I found myself on a perpetual quest to find a boyfriend. A boyfriend would bring me all the joy and bliss in the world, I just KNEW it.

What a tragic, enlightening wake-up call it was to find myself deeply immersed in love…with the harsh realization that even my happily-ever-after did not necessarily bring me the afermentioned happiness.

What does all this have to do with an eating disorder?

Well…because you promised me happiness too!!!
You promised binges would make me relaxed, distracted, and therefore happy. Lies.
You promised restriction would make me skinny, beautiful, and therefore happy. Lies.
You promised compulsive exercise would make insanely fit, strong, and therefore happy. Lies.
You promised counting calories would make disciplined, controlled, and therefore happy. Lies.
You promised weighing myself would make me aware, motivated, and therefore happy. Lies.

The worst?
You promised keeping you a secret would make me special, “in control,” and therefore happy.
Lies. Lies. Lies. Lies. Lies. Lies.

What is happiness?
Happiness is a fluid feeling, a conscious decison to live actively rather than reactively, a willingness to take daring chances and embrace the unpredictable outcomes, an ability to find pleasure in the mundane, an overwhelming sense of gratitude for every fortune that you have and an utter disregard for what you lack.

I have every single tool to achieve deep and meaningful happiness. We all do. Some of us just never get around to opening that toolbox.

We live in a society that saturates the notion that we must either change ourselves or our lives to find happiness. We must “make over” our appearances, our wardrobes, our love lives, and our careers. We are afraid of realizing that feelings, by nature, are intrinsic.

My response? Screw them. I am DONE with being told to makeover my life. I am DONE being told I need to CHANGE in order to feel better about myself.