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.

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I never thought I’d…

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I saw this project this afternoon, and, after feeling royally un-feminine, un-artsy, and un-creative (thanks gorgeous, perfect Pinterest world), it really struck a chord. I want to make a huge poster for myself with all the things I never thought I’d be able to do, experience, or feel. We so often focus on the opportunities we missed or the things we lack. Yet, very rarely do we step back to admire ourselves or reflect on the accomplishments we have made. 

This is sad!

Today, we were discussing depression in one of my supervision sessions, and my supervisor said, Depression happens when expectations mismatch reality. This resonates so much with me. Depression manifests itself in a world of “what-could-have-been” and “what-should-be.” Very rarely does the individual feel content with him or herself because a dark cloud of mistakes, flaws, and vulnerabilities looms over the overall forecast.

This mismatch also happens with eating disorder recovery. We experience that sense of painful failure when expectations mismatch reality, when we place too much emphasis on where we think we “should” be in our journeys, when we fail to recognize the uniqueness of our process, when we become too hard on ourselves. I know the majority of my slips in recovery occur when I feel like I am “not doing good enough.” I become impatient. I think, I shouldn’t be doing this or I’m stupid for thinking this way or why am I still acting like that? 

And admittedly, it can be tough to avoid the comparison trap, especially in a society that thrives off quick fixes, speedy recoveries, and essentially a non-relapsive mindset. No wonder we expect ourselves to be perfect. We watch the reality shows and read all the “success stories” and wonder why the same formulas cannot or do not work for us. Duh. They make eating disorder recovery look simple! Switch around some behaviors. Love your body. Practice being kind to yourself. And boom! Recovered! With a snap of the fingers.

Again, expectation versus reality. It is so important to learn how to distinguish the two, and, more importantly, recognize when one is surpassing or overshadowing the other.

In honor of Pinterest and positive affirmations and having pride in myself, I am going to complete this activity, and I welcome all of you to as well! Why not make yourself feel good? You deserve it.

I never thought I’d….

Find that one person who connects with me at every single level, makes me laugh so hard I cry, keeps up with me intellectually, spiritually, and mentally, and turns me on like nothing else. 

Stay this close to my brother.

Like country music. I totally do.  

Actually stay vegetarian after just deciding at 14 that I never wanted to eat meat again.

Run a half-marathon. 

Actually feel confident dancing.

Travel across the world without having a tangible plan.

Have a threesome. Yep. That once happened.

Outgrow the high school mentality. Thank GOODNESS. 

Be proposed to at nineteen years old. That was tragic.

Graduate college just days after turning twenty-one.

Play a confederate in a research lab.

Learn how to cook.

Enjoy yoga. 

Work with the special-needs population.

Learn how to skateboard. 

Swim with sea turtles.

Float in the Dead Sea.

See a bear in my own campsite.

Be able to type as fast as I can…remember how hard it was when you first learned???

Develop an eating disorder.

Go to therapy.

Write a screenplay…nothing really happened, but it was cool nonetheless.

Appreciate my parents as much as I do now.

Outgrow make-believe and my invisible friends. I still miss that.

Become frugal or cheap. Totally, totally am. 

Drink coffee. HA. 

Enjoy non-fiction books.

Want children. 

Believe I was beautiful.

Lose some of my first friends….that’ s just life.

Like beer.

Be kinky. Yeah. I am. I like that shit rough.

Always feel cold. I DON’T REMEMBER THIS AT ALL AS A CHILD.

Pass geometry in ninth grade.

Have a lead in a school play. What’s up, eighth grade?

Volunteer to do homeless outreach.

Learn how to print film photography in a darkroom.

Figure out how to like my hair. I LOVE MY HAIR NOW. 

Enjoy hiking as much as I do.

Become an adult….maybe 🙂 

 

what’s it worth?

Dear Bee,

So today is off to a great start. I went hiking this morning. My energy level is high. I feel happy and grateful. I reread what I wrote a few times yesterday, and it felt so reassuring to see how far I’ve come. I work hard for this recovery. As hard as I would like to be on myself (especially after this particularly difficult couple days), I know that I am still trudging along the right path. Sometimes, I lose sight of all the changes and progress I have made over the year. NONE of it has been easy, and yet all of it has been worthwhile. Obviously, I still have a journey ahead of me, but I’m not afraid of the experience. I am turning into the strong and resilient person I was always destined to be! 

This recovery challenges me on a daily basis. Growing up, I never learned how to cope with emotions. I’m learning how to do it now, but it undoubtedly embodies a struggle. I have to remember that I am allowed to experience a spectrum of emotions, that none of them are inherently good or bad, that some may feel better than others, but that doesn’t mean I need to chase them in the wrong settings. It is okay to be hurt. It is okay to be sad, disappointed, insecure, or angry. These feelings tell me about myself and the experiences around me. The only thing bad about these feelings is how I choose to manage them. And by engaging in my eating disorder, I am not addressing the emotions. I am starving, exercising, bingeing, and thus avoiding, suppressing, and numbing them. 

As children, we follow our intuition and believe in our instincts to guide us in the right direction. We listen to those we trust. We avoid things that hurt and seek pleasure when we can. We are selfish and put our own needs first. We would never think of hurting ourselves. I think the road to mental illness starts once we ignore our inner voices, once we stop following sound wisdom, and once we become more comfortable with discomfort. We put the needs of others often before our own. Rather than protect ourselves, we start harming ourselves. This becomes our reality. This becomes our way of life. We are prisoners of the mind, and, with an eating disorder, we are prisoners of the body.

Pain is an inevitable fact of life. The only common thread we have as humans is that we all are born and we all die. That’s it. What lies in between is largely up to us. One can take this is a free-for-all opportunity to fuck it up, to say nothing matters, to disregard responsibility. Another can interpret this existence as the chance to make the most out of it, to live it up, knowing that ultimately, it just doesn’t matter. Although parents will try to pose influence and society will try to tell us how we should live, it’s really up to us. Suffering is optional. None of us want to be in a chronic state of despair, but few of us realize we have the emotional and cognitive capacities to release ourselves from that torture. We just have to be willing to try. To push. To fight. To be persistent. It’s likely going to get worse before it feels better. That feeling of being stuck and alone will hurt like nothing else.

Pain may accompany you throughout life, through the rough moments and tragedies and crises, but one day, you may just realize you are no longer suffering. You just have to ask yourself how much feeling good is worth to you. 

What’s been going on with me.

Dear Bee,

We sure shared a whirlwind of a week, didn’t we? Just like old times. Except, it wasn’t. It was far worse. When I talk about “old times,” I think about my “before recovery” phase, the years where I knew I had a problem, but I had no frame of reference concerning its severity or how complicated it could be to manage.

I reached the lowest point of my recovery this week. Maybe this is called relapse. A slip. Regression. Whatever. Labels carry little significance to me. I feel like as long as I’m trying, I’m in recovery. As long as I say I’m in recovery, I’m in it.

You dictated everything this past week. I let you into my little world and you destructed everything in your pathway. To manage our relationship, I lied to everyone. And the lies were insane. I lied to people who WANT to help me. I lied to myself. This is what you do to me. The lying is the hardest part. It is a blanket of shame, humiliation, and fear wrapped into one untrue statement. 

 I’ve been in emotional and physical agony. Looking back, the post I wrote about taking a leave of absence? I want to take holistic credit and say it was in the spirit of mental health. to be honest, it was more of just you pulling me deeper into our unbelievably warped relationship. It was you protecting me from the supposed disgust I believed my readers would experience at my accounts of such raw vulnerability. Eating disorders instill this idea that if others knew what we did to ourselves, they would become horrified. They would run from us. 

I’ve literally been wrecking my poor and beautiful body with food. I’m either starving or bingeing. And the binges have been appalling. Oh. My. God. There is no remorse. No stopping point. I was attacking food like I hadn’t eaten in years. Stealing food and not caring. Wasting money on food and not caring. Leaving crumbs and wrappers and not caring. Finishing entire boxes/bags/etc. and not caring. Food constantly on my mind. I felt like an addict just vying for my next fix. I wrote down all that I ate on one of the days and couldn’t even fathom it. Nobody would believe me. Like, how am I alive? I owe my body a thousand apologies. Oh, and on that note, I’ve hated my body this week. I’ve been REPULSED by how it looks. And it’s been incredibly uncomfortable and painful. I’m sorry, Body. You’ve been so good to me. So unconditionally forgiving. 

To cope with the physical pain and and anger at the prospects that I “must be gaining weight” due to my insane eating, I tried vomiting on three occasions. This makes me absolutely ashamed to admit. Am I actively trying to develop full-blown bulimia? I recall feeling like an utter failure for my inability to purge. I feel like I am offending anyone who actually suffers with bulimia. I can just picture them shaking their heads, remembering how they never believed something as innocent as their first purge could spiral into such a life-threatening, all-consuming disease of the mind, body, and soul.

Again, this is what you have done to me.

I am so grateful I could not purge. On my knees grateful. Bingeing is horrendous enough as it is. I have mostly rid myself of my rigid and compulsive exercise tendencies…I cannot imagine falling prey to another compensatory measure. But without compensation, the weight gain obsession creeps back into my mind. 

What a cycle. This is exhaustive. I am better than this. I am MORE than this. My life is BIGGER than any of this could EVER be. 

 

I have felt all of these this past week: anhedonia (loss of pleasure), fatigue and lack of energy, irritability, trouble concentrating, heart racing, and restlessness. I do not know if the anxiety and depressive symptoms are resulting from the active engagement in my eating disorder or vice versa. 

My therapist said, “Being here, in this pain, is a good opportunity for you.” My (typical smart-ass) response, “What? I feel like absolute shit. Tell me where this is good?”

She’s right, though, and it does not take a mental health professional to know this basic common sense. We all need these crossroads sometimes. Obstacles are incentives to test our strength, force us to look at alternative views, invoke change, and feel a sense of pride when we conquer them. Without challenges, we would not be alive. It is the fear that holds me back. 

There is nothing inherently going wrong in my life right now; in fact, everything is going “just right.” The lack of “something bad happening” makes my negative emotions that much harder to bear and accept. I feel like I need some kind of legitimate excuse to be feeling this deep state of pain and anguish. 

How many rock bottoms does it take? My sponsor told me that I need to stop believing recovery is some kind of magic pot-of-gold…recovery is what I’m already in. It will get easier and the coping will become more automatic and the behaviors will lessen or leave me entirely, but no, I won’t just wake up with everything in place. 

I am going to what it takes to get better. To feel balanced. To be in the place I want to be heading in the direction I want to go. That means relying on the support I have, listening to their advice and actually following it, acting “as if” to the best of my ability, and keeping sight of my values, goals, and morals. That means working recovery in the ways that worked for me. I am not hopeless nor broken. I am not a victim, but rather, a warrior.

After reaching a desperate low, I made an appointment for a psychiatric evaluation. That’s something I’m proud of myself for doing this week.

The bottom line is, I don’t deserve to suffer. Neither does anyone else.

And in the meantime, I am going to be patient with myself and take baby steps. As I write this, the doubt at that “simple, but not easy” sentiment is creeping in, but I have to push through that skepticism and fear. I cannot stay in this dark place. I will not stay in this dark place.

I am a beautiful child of this universe. And even though I KNOW the universe is an extraordinary place to live, I want to FEEL it, too. 

Striving for normal in an abnormal world

Dear Bee,

I guess it’s already a twice-a-day type of afternoon. Writing you is tough, but it’s necessary, and I know that. I find strength in addressing and confronting you directly, rather than trying to run and hide from you. Because no matter how fast I sprint or how sneaky I think I can be, you always catch up to me. By now, I know that simply “wishing you away” does not work. 

Times like these can be incredibly frustrating. Times like these I want to complain and slink into the dangerous why me? syndrome. And yes, times like these I wonder if it will ever get easier, if I will ever feel “normal” concerning food, eating, exercise, my body.

But normal is overrated, and to be honest, nobody I have ever met has felt “normal.” We all have our quirks and irregularities: these are the characteristics that distinguish us from one another, the traits that create boundaries, personalities, impulses, and attraction. Eating disorder behavior is clinically considered “abnormal,” but I firmly believe it is human nature to carry abnormalities, whether it manifests via our thoughts, feelings, actions, or a combination of the three. 

How boring would it be if we were all perfectly rational and stable all the time?

Humans are the only creatures that have cognitive capabilities to experience and think beyond the primal moment of survival. It is no wonder we have developed mental disorders; once our evolutionary needs are met, we naturally encounter different, higher-level problems.

There is a huge misconception that eating disorders ONLY stem from depression and low self-esteem. While they are undoubtedly correlated, not everyone with eating disorders has these symptoms. During the six months I essentially starved myself, my body did not look  emaciated; likewise, during the height of my frantic binges, my body did not appear outwardly large or grotesque. Not once did I feel “depressed.” Sad, yes. Upset, yes. Utterly hopeless? No. Uncomfortable with my body, yes. Wishing I could change my body, yes. Absolutely hating my body, nope.

My relationship with you was rebellious. Even though, at one point, I met every single criteria for binge eating disorder (which has not yet been classified in the DSM, although it will likely be included in the upcoming DSM-V release), nobody had a single idea. The same occurred when I fell into the throes of anorexia and bulimia, non-purging type. 

You were smart. You kept our relationship secretive.  You kept my weight and body looking “normal.” You made sure I ate “normally” when around others. Not wanting people to raise their eyebrows or ask intrusive questions, you kept me all to yourself. You figured if people knew you were in my life, they would do everything in their power to eliminate you. Your reasoning was correct. Because, yes, once I finally started revealing you to the people I trusted, they banded against you. They convinced me I did not need you, convinced me that I deserved BETTER, and most of all, they convinced me that I was not “abnormal” or “weird” or “broken,” feelings that you had engrained onto my soul for so long.

Nobody really knows how much you influenced my life; I often sugarcoat our relationship, categorizing your power in safe ways I think people will understand and approve. When talking about binges, I cannot be honest in admitting my exact intake, because even I sometimes struggled to believe it myself.

Yes, I still fight with the shame and embarrassment surrounding our relationship and our past history. But, slowly, it is getting easier to talk about. Slowly, I am realizing that I AM NOT ALONE and that there are so many other people, struggling and understanding, growing and learning…and we all need support.

 Asking for that support is the strongest thing we can possibly do.

And, on that note, it is the ONLY thing that has worked in getting over you.