vacations be like…

I was on a brief family cruise the past week. It was nice to just spend quality time with my brother and parents; these days, we rarely have the opportunity to spend time all together. And so…cruising. I’ve mentioned it before, but they can be like the achilles hell of eating disorder recovery. Food everywhere. Buffets and chocolate extravaganzas and fruity drinks and room service and 24 hour pizza.

I just ate. What a miracle, right? But, of course, I dutifully observed and analyzed the contents on my family members’ plates. I watched how they decided which entrees to select; who ordered desserts; how many rolls they selected from the bread basket. I made judgment. I can’t help it. My mom is on an eternal health kick who is now on the “lower” side of weight after battling with dieting swings for years; my brother is (annoyingly) the most intuitive eater I’ve ever met and has an awesome metabolism to boot; my dad is a grazer and junk-food lover who has a slight stomach and seemingly bottomless pit of an appetite. So, mom ate a bunch of salads and fruits. Dad ate a bunch of pizza and bread and chocolate desserts. Brother ate a bunch of whatever seemed appealing to him. I tried to embody my brother; I tried to practice moderation.

It went well. I beat myself up too much. But overall, I think I did well. The voice in my head, Bee, she’s telling me that I could have done better. She’s calling me a gluttonous pig, but then again, she likes to shame me. She thinks it will somehow motivate me to “cure myself,” as if the answer to any healing was through shame and hatred.

Whenever I come back from a vacation, I have the desire to restrict, to “cleanse,” to magically “detox” myself from all the supposed poison in my system. It’s hard, you know, living in a thin-obsessed, obesity-epidemic society, and struggling to find a balance between wanting to be healthy and wanting to feed into a mental illness.

If it wasn’t an eating disorder, though, it’d be something else. We humans have the tendency to make chaos out of life–calmness bores us; calmness makes us think terror is just around the corner.

It’s a messy life, the one I live. But I wouldn’t call it flawed, and I wouldn’t call it imperfect. Because it’s the way it damn well needs to be. And I’m doing what I damn well need to do.

I feel good right now. I’m lucky to be alive.

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Father’s Day.

Dad, you taught me how to play. 

You taught me how to explore. We had chemistry sets and binoculars and art farms. I wanted to be a scientist, and you encouraged me to become an astronaut.

You taught me how to ask questions. How to challenge, critically think, fight against the norm, complain when being mistreated. You taught me how to raise an issue if one needs be raised.

You taught me creativity. For months, I drew a daily portrait of you. And you sat still with a half-smile on your face watching as I intently outlined your face. You let me paint your toenails and brush your hair and shampoo it over and over again with little bottles of water.

You taught me how to learn. We read books and studied multiplication facts. You gave me history lessons and helped me with long division. You knew more than all my teachers- you were the smartest person in the world.

You taught me what it means to be a child, an adult, a female, an employee, and a friend. You taught me the virtues of working hard in order to travel and love hard. You made sure I knew my manners, but you never told me to be ladylike. In your eyes, there was nothing I could not do. The world was limitless; I could be whoever I wanted to be. Even if I was the smallest, scrappiest kid out there, you were always cheering me on.

Through soccer, through girl scouts, through the drama classes that you disliked but tolerated, through martial arts, through the weird friendships and the failed boyfriends, through the stormy adolescent years, through the time I thought I almost lost you.

You were there. You are always there.

We argue. You’re stubborn; I’m stubborn. But I love you to the moon and back.

You were my hero then. You are my hero now.

when you aren’t allowed to have problems

Dear Bee, 

It sucks when people don’t validate feelings. Right? That’s probably the MAIN reason I’m in this field. I learned how to validate everyone else because I wasn’t getting any of it myself. I have great parents, awesome parents, who I love very much, and they supported whatever I did with unconditional regard. But when I had to cry? No, toughen up, don’t cry. When I was angry? Calm down! When I was hyper? Stop bouncing off the tables. When I was scared? There’s nothing to be afraid of. No wonder it’s hard for me to express emotion nowadays. I’ve never been allowed to do so.

In a sense, by internalizing this message, I wasn’t allowed to have problems. Because why should i? Problems meant that they were doing something wrong. And I quickly learned that if I complained, I was acting entitled. Problems meant they had somehow failed as parents. Problems meant I wasn’t appreciative of what they did. This isn’t a post to bash my family. I love them. There isn’t a perfect person in the world, and I am on the very lucky end of the spectrum as far as family-of-orginis are concerned. 

But yes. I had problems. I still have problems. 

But, here’s the thing. I was a complicated kid. Over-anxious, paranoid, overly-shy, and perfectionistic. I distinctly remember feeling like an outsider in the world; as if I was always at a slight distance from everyone else. And I was intense. Wise for my age. Hyper-smart. That’s what people used to say. I’ve since grown into myself. My anxiety mainstreamed into an eating disorder, which I am working through, my paranoia is nonexistent, my shyness has mostly disappeared lest for the occasional social anxieties, and my perfectionism has seriously diminished. I like who I am. Even better, I embrace it.

My dad doesn’t really believe in therapy or mental illness. That’s just how he is. He sees the world in black-and-white and believes any problem has a solution and can be fixed. Alcoholics should just stop drinking, depression can be cured by doing things that feel good, and, if you have an eating disorder, just eat. It’s highly simplistic and, in my opinion, ignorant. We argue about it constantly, and it’s hard for me to accept that he thinks so differently from me on this aspect. If mental illness could be explained in such primary terms, why would people be suffering? Why would these diseases be so chronic and complex? It makes me feel invalidated, as if my own experiences with therapy and mental illness were just about me complaining and being unable to fend for myself. As if I had much of a choice.

He thinks my going to therapy is a waste of time and money. He was pissed when he found out I was on Prozac. I can’t really talk to him about my eating disorder without feeling insecure. I think his anger stems from fear and a place of perceived helplessness, as if he feels guilty he could not “save me” from this distress. I don’t know. Maybe it’s a conversation we will someday have. 

I was talking about this with the boyfriend today, because he may start therapy too. He’s also a training therapist and thinks it could benefit his insight and self-awareness. His parents are all for it. They think it’s a great idea! MIne are like, how much are you paying? When are you going to stop? Do you even need it? I wish they understood how much it helps me to just have a safe place to express. I love my child/adolescent clients’ parents when they are supportive of treatment, and i instantly feel protective over my clients when they have parents who do not think therapy is necessary. 

Anyway, if anyone saw a teary-eyed girl talking to herself to vent out her anger on a Southern California freeway today, that was me.

I would like to say that I know I have everything to be grateful for, because I do, but right now, I’m going to really try and honor my feelings and just experience my sadness fully. Because it’s there for a reason, and it’s okay to have it there. 

What more could I want?

Dear Bee,

The end of a long, much overdue weekend has arrived. It has been a jam-packed past four days, full of the people I love and the things I love doing. Friday consisted of lounging around with the boyfriend…and I can’t really remember exactly what we did. Oh, wake up sex. And errands. And a long nap. And there were pancakes. And a really long walk. Saturday were the two birthday parties! On Thursday, I had written that I felt somewhat apprehensive about the food situation (one party can be triggering enough, but having two of them back to back seemed overwhelming). Needless to say, it went exceptionally well, meaning I didn’t just sit around and focus on what I was or wasn’t eating. Yesterday, I went hiking with one of my best friends for a few hours, had lunch with her, and then went over to the boyfriend’s, where we lounged for a bit, walked around an outdoor mall, and then hung out some with my family. Today, I went hiking with my dad, coffee and dinner with my mom, and watched a movie with my brother. 

It’s amazing how much I can eat without WORRYING incessantly anymore. It’s okay for me to eat out. It’s okay to eat at different times. It’s okay to be a little hungry or a little full…I can handle them both. Things have just gotten easier. For the first time, I don’t feel like I’m swinging between restriction and bingeing. I don’t feel like I’m riding onto the orthorexia train, rejecting every packaged food or ingredient I cannot pronounce. I’m just eating. Pancakes here and guacamole and chips there. Shaved ice and breakfast cereal. Coffee cake and Thai noodles. Sure, sometimes I feel a little stressed, which cues the internal, which is healthier or how much am I supposed to eat or maybe if I eat this, I’ll skip lunch or I’ve already eaten all this, so I may as well keep going, but that soundtrack is more faint as time passes.

This eating disorder will be behind me, and I know that. There’s just more to life. I chose recovery. I choose recovery. I don’t want an identity bound by sickness nor do I want to engage in behaviors bound by compulsion and maladaptive habituation. I did not choose this illness. None of us do. But I’ve moved on from that. I no longer beat myself up for something that I may have been genetically, biologically, or behaviorally predisposed to developing. It wasn’t my fault. I was sick. It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t know how to stop.

I’ve grown. This eating disorder has forced me to live beyond my comfort zone, to challenge the distortions that composed my here-and-now reality, to accept life and all the ups and downs that come with it. It has been a journey, a worthwhile one. I am finally at peace with myself and finally in the mental state I always wanted to be. There is no perfection. LIfe doesn’t change dramatically. But everything feels different. Renewed. Fresh. Beautiful. Life feels exciting. And I am very much enjoying the ride. 

And, really, what more could I ever want? 

“You need to gain some weight.”

Dear Bee,

So, my brother has to gain weight. Literally. His doctor told him so yesterday. He laughs at this. Jokes that now it’s time to get yoked and start putting on muscle. Starts shoveling down cookies because he can. 

My brother is my best friend. He’s always been thin as a rail. It’s just how his metabolism works. I’m not jealous, simply because I recognize that I have stubborn, but beautiful boobs and an ass that prevent me from having a gaunt look. I also have a muscular frame due to years of doing every sport and physical activity imaginable. But, I am intrigued by his response to this news.

In the past, the idea of gaining weight seemed unfathomable. No matter what number flashed back to me on the scale, it was never too low, and even thinking about it inching any higher sent me into a tailspin.

I distinctly remember the first time I weighed over 100 lbs. That was exciting for me. I was thin and tiny as a child; most of my friends were more developed, and I felt too skinny around some of them. I hit puberty around 14. Then, my breasts grew (what seemed to be overnight), my hips emerged, and my feminine features arrived. I was no longer an underdeveloped little girl. I was (gasp) becoming a woman?

That’s probably when the eating disorder pathology started. It’s a slow progression. Nobody just meets the criteria overnight. It starts as a casual diet, a controllable choice, a “project” of sorts. I just needed to lose 10 pounds. Or so I thought. I started writing down what I ate. Started exercising for reasons other than enjoyment. I was convinced I needed to lose weight. Convinced that when my body became perfect, I would find the perfect boyfriend. Convinced that a perfect body would make me popular and fit in with the girls I desperately wanted approval from. I just needed a perfect body, and I acted as if this was an achievable feat!

Eating disorder intervention really needs to start in elementary school and junior high. That’s when our bodies start changing. That’s when appearance and fitting in becomes a top priority and dating becomes equally important. We need education and support. It’s not just about positive body image; it’s about teaching young children how to accept themselves, how to ask for help when they feel alone, how to reach out and seek guidance when they are struggling, how to nourish and take care of themselves in healthy and fulfilling ways. 

So, back to my brother. He has to gain weight. Many people would kill to be in his position, but really, he’s just annoyed. This is unintentional. He does not want to be underweight. It just happened that way. He’s very active at his new job, and this sudden spike in physical movement caused him to lose some weight. So, he just has to eat a little more. What a simple remedy. At one point, I would have killed to be told that I just needed to gain some weight by a medical professional…I would have finally felt “sick enough.” I would have finally felt like I was pretty and pure enough.

I am not a little girl, and my body reflects that. I never want to be told I have to gain weight. I am not in a position right now where I could handle being told that I need to lose weight, either. I am grateful for the body I have. It is not perfect, but if I could go back and tell my adolescent self, I would tell her that she will fall in love multiple times, create amazing and genuine friendships, and live a happy and whole life…no matter what her body looks like. 

It wouldn’t have made sense then, though, because it’s only starting to make sense now.  I am proud of my body, but it does not define me. With my eating disorder, it did. With my eating disorder, my body was all that mattered, and if something adverse happened, it had to be because of my weight, size, or what I ate that day. I couldn’t accept that there were things beyond my control. I couldn’t accept that maybe some people just didn’t like me…and it wasn’t due to my body. Some things didn’t happen the way I wanted them to…and it wasn’t due to my body. My feelings weren’t where I wanted them to be…and it wasn’t due to my body. My body was just the force that took the beating. I blamed it for anything and everything. 

I no longer do that. My body may not be perfect, but it is close. I only have one, and for today, I choose to RESPECT and LOVE it for all its beauty and miracle. 

moving on and moving out

Dear Bee,

So, I’m like 99% sure I found my new apartment. YES. Everyone keep their fingers crossed!!! I’m ready to call this charming place my home!

And, on that note, apartment hunting and applying is SUCH A TEDIOUS, EXHAUSTIVE PROCESS. All I’ve done recently is APPLY for things (graduate programs, jobs, internship sites, apartments). In other words, I can do an interview in my sleep. Concerning this search, it does not help that I live in an overly-expensive city with little to NO affordable housing (that’s not in the ghetto) and make little to NO income since quitting my primary job. But, I’m going to be by the beach, and I’d sleep in the gutter for that. And my roommate is fabulous, so we’re going to have a ROCKING good time together until we slit each other’s throats. 

I’m really grateful for my roommate. We are in the same graduate program, and she quickly became one of my good friends. In fact, she was one of the first people I told about my eating disorder recovery, and she was the only person, besides my therapist and sponsor, that I felt comfortable confiding with last week during that rough, dark time. Living with her will be good. We are both responsible and mature. Besides, I can’t imagine actively working recovery while keeping my eating disorder a secret from someone living with me. Even though she’s not necessarily the confrontational type (aka she probably wouldn’t interrupt me during a binge), I would feel comfortable TELLING her what I was doing if I needed intervention and support.

I’m currently living at home with my family to save money, but the time has come to roam my wild spirit free. I love my parents, but the best kind of love entails honoring and maintaining boundaries. We’re just too enmeshed, and my home life has become a tremendous source of tension and hostility. It saddens me that I find my own home so triggering. I feel absolutely guilty even writing that, because I was raised under the premise that you can never badmouth your family, but it’s not my family I’m badmouthing. It’s simply the dynamic of us all living together. It’s just too emotionally toxic right now. Although we are close and I feel comfortable confiding in them, we struggle with effective communication. I feel that my parents are threatened by my rapid changes, since I’ve been evolving into an entirely new person since starting this recovery process. We get along well, and I am extremely fortunate to have my family, but living under the same roof is no longer cutting it.

So, it’s time to move on and out! 

I feel like I had more to write, but there’s not much else to say right now. So if you love all the anonymity that is me, please knock on wood, cross your fingers, or pray whatever prayer you like for me to get this apartment! 

Therapy with Momma

Dear Bee,

Overcame another milestone yesterday. I’m just kicking your ass lately. The more I hand you over to others, the less important you are in my life.

I had a therapy session with my mom. It was interesting. Most of the time, I actually felt like I was back in elementary school in a parent-teacher conference. While the “grown-ups” sat around discussing my progress, I occasionally interjected, nodded my head, and answered their questions. This probably would have been more beneficial when I was younger and more dependent on my parents, but I was so enmeshed with you that I never would have allowed that to happen. You kept me so secretive and ashamed. The fact that I can even openly talk about you to other people at all is a miracle. This blog blows my mind away! Honesty is an uncomfortable color for me to wear, but embracing my truth has completely spun my life.

I expected the session to be more intense and emotional, but my therapist maintained appropriate pacing and dialogue, keeping most of the content relatively surface-level. This was my mom’s first time even stepping foot in a therapy office, so she naturally had no idea what to expect. I’m glad my therapist recognized that and kept a stable atmosphere. My mom told me she enjoyed the experience and needed to process the session. Processing therapy can be a challenge, but it’s worth the occasional mental insanity.

Regarding my eating disorder, it was mostly psychoeducation for my mom, with my therapist explaining the progressiveness of it, how recovery works, and the distorted mindset. Nothing I don’t already know, but it was eye-opening for my mom. I am just so grateful for her support and willingness to help me. I know I am extremely lucky to have that, and I wish it were the same for everyone.

Anyway, I am writing all this on my phone in the car…because I’m on the road! I’m spending Memorial Day weekend at my best friend’s parents’ lake house. Looking forward to a weekend of sunshine, boating, swimming, relaxing, and whatever else. Nothing you throw in my way can possibly ruin my positivity.

Life is beautiful.