the rainbow of emotions

Dear Bee,

I’m so sick of the holiday food. There. I said it. I’m so tired of junk food being EVERYWHERE. At my work, in my house, at the parties. It’s way too triggering right now. I don’t want to blame neutral ingredients, but it would be much easier to focus on my emotions without continuously feeling overwhelmed by the distractions of tempting chocolates, cookies, brownies, etc. I alternate between wanting to avoid everything altogether and fantasizing about extreme gluttony. 

To recap the past few days,

My loved relative is still dying. I’ve cried many times. I’ve pondered the meaning of life many more times. 

My ex-boyfriend is now engaged. This bothers me for many reasons. One, being that I felt so much emotional agony after I broke up with him, terrified that he would kill himself because he supposedly could not live without me. Two, he had proposed to me. Twice. And said I was the only person he could ever love. Three, I just don’t like to see him happy. Selfish, sure, but it’s the truth. Four, according to my highly judgmental opinion, he is immature and thus way too young/financially insecure/LAZY and ambitious to actually get married. 

My dad had a birthday. Things have been good with the family. The grieving process does that to people. 

My boyfriend has been off-the-charts incredible. SERIOUSLY. What kind of boyfriend is willing to help me process how and why I feel upset that my ex-boyfriend is getting married…while also completely validating my frustration. Love of my life, I swear. He’s my favorite person in the world. 

My clients are going through deep shit. What IS it about the holidays? There’s been self-harm, suicidal ideation, possible eating disorder behaviors, major depressive episodes, binge drinking, family fights… all I can say is that I’m happy I’m here for them. I’m learning so much every session. 

I did my first mandated child abuse & elder abuse report. These are really scary…

I’m going to Florida for a week with boyfriend. We leave Christmas Day. I’m BEYOND excited. 

I’ve been alternating between overeating and restricting. Too. Much. Sugar. Why does it have to taste so damn good?!?!?!

I’ve binged one and a half times. I stopped myself mid-binge this evening. I actually put food back. I know I’m supposed to be proud of myself, but I’m irritated that I was numbing my feelings in the first place. The first binge was atrocious. Really. It was just disgusting. I feel like such a savage animal attacking food like that.

Oh, and I’ve felt fat. And yes, I know fat isn’t a feeling. 

And most of all, I feel guilty because someone I love, someone who is close to me, is literally on her last final days…and I’m obsessing about the amount of candy bars I can cram into my mouth without anybody noticing that they are gone. I’m worried about someone getting married, someone who I can’t stand. 

I’m just grateful I can cry and express. I’m grateful for my support reaching out to me. I’m grateful that my life is colorful and vibrant. 

You, Bee, are a security blanket. I turn to you when my world becomes cold and frightening. Instead, I need to trust that my own body can handle the changes in temperature. Because no matter how much you may “protect” me, you also shield me. And this little bird wants to fly free. 

 

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Taking care of others

Dear Bee,

I have a lot of friends in pain right now. It breaks my heart. Breakups, death, joblessness. It’s hard to be a stumbling, fearful young twenty-something living in this world. I’m doing what I can to be a good friend. To provide my unwavering support and my listening ear. That’s what people usually need. Nine times out of ten, people don’t want advice, even when that’s what they ask for. They just want to be heard and validated. Pain is universal, but sadly, support is not.

I have a therapist’s intuition, and I’ve had it my whole life. I’ve been a maternal figure for many , a stable force for my chaotic and unpredictable friends. I’ve always been that one that friends reach in times of need, because, for some reason, I naturally know how to listen, reframe, and offer positive encouragement. But this is a tough role that carries pressure and a sense of self-sacrifice. Taking care of others can take a toll on taking care of myself. For a long time, that was my problem. I used to shoulder the world’s pain. I would take their feelings and make them my own. Their sadness would become my sadness, turning misery into even greater misery. Last night, after spending the day with my boyfriend, I found out my friend’s uncle had passed away. Her boyfriend was being completely dismissive and manipulative towards her during this painful time. This is nothing new, as he is emotionally abusive, but I knew she needed love, even though she said she was “fine.” Oh, fine…Aka. Fucked up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional. 

I came over, armed with flowers and candies, just in time to catch her in the middle of a huge crying spell after a catastrophic fight with her boyfriend. My guy and I took her out, sat her down, and let her talk and talk and cry and cry. Not only was she grieving death of someone she deeply cared about, but she was also grieving the demise of her relationship. I hated seeing her in this state, but I also knew we ALL get in that mindset from time to time. We ALL experience grief, sadness, fear, and anger. These are primal emotions; these are the common threads of human existence. 

I am learning how to container other people’s emotions, rather than let them consume me. This is huge for me. For example, I used to feel guilty for taking care of myself after taking care of others. I didn’t think I deserved to feel happy when others were so distraught. Last night, I realized that I could be empathetic with my friend and feel horrible with her, even to the point of crying with her, but I didn’t have to take it all home with me. I didn’t have to take it out on my boyfriend, like I used to do with my ex. I didn’t have to make her sadness mine. 

When I came home, I had some of the most passionate sex of my life and fell asleep tangled in my love’s arms. It’s okay to be grateful and happy for what I have, even if everyone doesn’t have it. I spent enough time angry and disappointed with the world. I’m not doing ANYONE a service by holding on to emotions that are not mine. This kind of thinking requires a level of self-esteem and a standard of self-worth I’ve NEVER had before. This requires knowing how to be there for people without becoming that person. Happiness is my birthright. I have the freedom to enjoy it. I experience enough pain just by living in this world-we all do. I don’t need to inflict more on myself. Nobody does. 

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. 

DON’T TELL ME NOT TO FEEL SAD.

Dear Bee,

For this moment, I can accept you. For this moment, I am okay, and I am happy with myself. That’s not to say it has been an easy day. This morning was rough. I resented you. I was tired of dealing with you. I went to an OA meeting, and I basically spent four minutes sharing my frustration and anger over having an eating disorder. 

And then, I ate lunch with some people from OA, and felt sickishly overjoyed for being the skinniest one among them. I liked being able to eat without feeling judged, because hey, I was the thin one. I was the healthy one. I was the “sane” one. 

That was all you, Bee. That was your logic that my problem must not be real enough. I hate that I feel inferior to people skinnier to me and that I feel superior to those who are not.

My ex-boyfriend has been on my mind all week. I have so many urges to call him. I just want to see what he’s doing. It doesn’t bother me that I miss him, but it does bother me that I feel guilty for missing him. That I feel guilty for feeling lonely, sad, or regretful. That I feel guilty over wanting to know what he’s doing. 

Guilt represents an underlying theme that maintains my distorted thinking and distress. People have always invalidated my feelings, which probably instilled this rigid notion that feelings are bad. For example, I told various people about my missing my ex. What were the responses I received? Well, you’re so much better off! Look how far you’ve come! He didn’t deserve you. You’re so much happier now. Don’t be sad!

For two days, nobody could empathize, support, or even acknowledge that my feelings were real. Nobody could just say, that must be rough. It’s okay that you’re sad. Nobody even asked why I thought I might be feeling this way. I was expressing my frustration to my sponsor this morning, and, bless her soul, she put her hand on mine, and said, I’m giving you permission to feel all those things. Your feelings are real. Sit with them. Honor them. They are there for a reason. 

This was so refreshing to hear. Someone who was NOT trying to fix me. Someone who was NOT telling me that I was a bad person or “wrong” for feeling those emotions. Later, a good friend told me something similar. She said, it’s normal to feel these things. You don’t have to explain or justify them. People go through this. You don’t have to feel guilty for wanting to talk to him or wanting to miss him. You can’t help how you feel.

I know I developed an eating disorder because I struggled with acceptance. Acceptance of uncomfortable feelings. Acceptance of my whole self. Acceptance of reality and its messy, unpredictable ways. I wanted to control my feelings, control my body, and control the world.

I struggle to accept happiness, because I compare myself to people who are far worse than me. I struggle to accept sadness, because I compare myself to people who are far better off than me. I invalidate my own feelings, and in turn, I experience guilt for having emotions. But, feelings are healthy. Feelings are real. Feelings are ours, and they are spontaneous, beautiful, and meaningful. And yet, I have spent years denying myself of them. I have stuffed them down. I have ran them off. I have starved and binged them. 

I have focused on behaviors. I have focused on thoughts. But I rarely considered my emotions. I hardly think to ask myself, how do I feel right now? Or, what feelings does this bring up for me? 

And now that they are all resurfacing, it can become overwhelming. That’s okay. This is where the growth happens. This is where the realizations and transformations occur.

I thank the universe every single day that I am on the road of recovery, and that, even though I may be young and relatively inexperienced, I am creating a life worth living. 

This afternoon, I was sitting at a coffee shop finishing my last paper of the semester. I struck conversation with the girl sitting next to me. She was also studying, and she lamented on the fact that she had no idea what she was doing with her life. I encounter this often. Most people my age don’t know what they want to do, and even more, I see people of all ages unfulfilled and unsatisfied with their lives. So many of us are just waiting…eternally waiting for something to just click or happen…are we living lives in eternal limbo? 

I never want to live that way. I know I am fortunate. I knew I wanted this career path for years, and everyday, I feel more satisfied, rejuvenated, and passionate about it. But, even more so, life is so much greater than our career paths. I don’t ever want to be unsatisfied. I don’t ever want to feel unfulfilled. There are far too many ways to generate that satisfaction and find that fulfillment.

What if we all believed we were meant to be happy, joyous, and free? What if these were nonnegotiable? How would we live then? How would we live without the bondage of fear holding us back? How would we live without the choke-hold of preoccupation and obsession? How would we live in a world absent of our own desires to control?

All I can say is, I know I have a purpose in this world. And I know I’m damn well going to rock the life I have. 

The harmful of effects of saying, “None of this will matter in five years, anyway.”

Dear Bee,

I remember in early adolescence, the critical turning point where everyday consists of another dramatic crisis, venting to my parents about the latest catastrophe. My best friend and I were in a fight. Nobody had asked me to the dance. I needed the jeans everyone else was wearing. And, most importantly, why couldn’t I wear thong underwear in 7th grade? 

I often received the standard response, oh honey, in five years, none of this will matter. Or why do you care so much what he/she thinks, anyway? Or you don’t need to be a clone of everyone else. Just be yourself. 

None of these statements are inherently bad. In fact, most of them provided a positive reframe, an alternative spin on my rigid thinking. Standard advice. Adolescents and teenagers tend to be incredibly self-centered and immature, anyway. And nobody that young needs to be wearing that kind of underwear.

But, none of it ever resonated with me.

Why? Because these statements, while realistically accurate, were incredibly dismissive, in that they completely invalidated the severity of my emotions. They undermined my experiences and my worldview, essentially telling me to just focus on the future and avoid the present turmoil.

I was never asked, what worries about you fighting with your best friend? Or, how does it feel to go to the dance without a date? Or, what would it mean to you if you wore that particular brand of jeans? 

I grew up never learning how to explore emotion.

And in turn, I developed this ideation that my feelings don’t really matter, because they will pass anyway. That the present moment doesn’t matter, because in the future, it will be different. That I’m “overreacting” for feeling sad or insecure. That I “shouldn’t” be feeling this way or doing these things. 

I love, love, love my parents and am eternally grateful for all they unconditional support, regard, and generosity they have provided throughout my life. I would never attack or criticize or condemn them for their style of parenting. They are both brilliant and inspirational people, and this was simply their way of handling “typical teenage woes.” Their way of challenging my own distorted thoughts and emotions. 

And sure, they were right. Most of what I obsessed about then I no longer worry about now. 

However, I firmly believe the most important component of my eating disorder recovery means learning how to identify, sit, and cope with any and all emotions. I found a friendship in Bee because I was unable to do that. Because I developed the idea that emotions just didn’t matter. People always reinforced my thoughts with questions and interest. They commented on my intellectual capacity, my ability to think critically, my talents in writing and speaking. Likewise, they reinforced my behaviors with praise, awe, and feedback.

But who was reinforcing my emotions? Who was validating or even asking about those?

That’s how I found you, Bee. That’s exactly where you came from. Is it any wonder we met in adolescence, during that tumulus time full of change and fear? Where, instead of being allowed to feel insecure, I was simply told that I had no reason to be. Where, instead of being encouraged to cry when I felt sad, I was often sympathized for my tears and then asked, how can I cheer you up? 

 As if my negative feelings were wrong, and therefore needed to be fixed. 

Bee, you centered me, numbed me, gave me what I needed when I needed it. I didn’t need emotions, and you made sure I didn’t have to feel them. 

You echoed my parents, reminding me that the present moment did not matter, fostering an acute anxiety about what lies ahead. And indeed, with an eating disorder, we are always worrying about the meals, days, months before us. 

You have helped me avoid emotions for such a long time. At the first sight of discomfort, I fled. WIth the food. With the exercise. With the beating on my body. Anything to avoid the real issues. Anything to shield me from pain. Anything to seek some sense of control…and even if I “lost” it, I could blame my own weak willpower for such loss. I could direct all my emotions to you in order to face emotions in the real world. 

I am finding that, in recovery, I continuously question almost nearly every relationship, decision, and milestone in my life. Admittedly, I often feel scared and unsure of my own capabilities: more than ever before, I wonder if I am this insane, psychological mess. 

But, I preserve. I write about it. I talk about it. I keep going. I have to. 

This is the unique story that I am choosing to write. Page by page. Experience by experience. Day by day. And maybe life is more beautiful when it’s chaotic. And if it’s not beautiful, at least it’s irresistible.