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. 

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everyone has problems, but not everyone feels the feelings

Dear Bee,

Having an eating disorder doesn’t make me special. I thought it once did. I was a fragile, delicate thing. Vulnerable and helpless. I needed to be saved by anyone, but I pushed away those who tried, because, of course, I needed to protect that part of who I was. I needed my disorder to feel defined, to feel important. Nobody could understand. I was tormented. I was different from everyone. In my superior mind, I had a problem nobody knew how to handle. I scoffed at the broken set of solutions people offered, already knowing none of them could work for me. After all, I was unique. Important. Special.

There is an unspoken competition among such sufferers. By statistical significance, people with eating disorders tend to have high-achieving, perfectionist tendencies. Thus, it makes sense that if we have to have a mental illness, we have to strive to be at the top of the pyramid.

Again, this doesn’t make us special. Truth is, everyone has problems, and life throws every single person curve balls. That is the bane of human existence, the common core among emotional processing. Pain and misery are, to an extent, inevitable. No developmental life path comes easily, despite the fallacies people present. Resilience and the courage to heal is what matters. It’s really not about your issue, but rather, what you want to do about it. The sickness doesn’t make you special. The recovery from it does.

I find it ignorant and ridiculous when people claim that recovery or sobriety is the magical cure to life’s deepest problems. It’s not. Absence of compulsive or addictive behavior, in fact, just offers you the opportunity to see your problems with more clarity. It makes you interpret life and all its twists and turns for what they are, rather than through the ill-fitting, disordered lenses. You actually feel the feelings. The spectrum of them. Happiness, sadness, fear, jealousy, calmness. They penetrate you. You ride in them. You experience sensations that may have once been dulled or suppressed. And suddenly, those problems you’ve been stuffing? They seem larger than life.

The maladaptive behaviors are no longer your go-to band-aid or remedy for life’s unavoidable stress. When things go awry, you cannot just blame your body or your food intake. When someone treats you poorly, you have to realize that your size had nothing to do with it. When you fail to accomplish, you cannot blame that brownie. It’s easier to point our fingers at our bodies or our diets when life doesn’t unfold the way we want it to. It’s much easier to turn the pain inwards. After all, we self-inflict pain. We are used to it!

But now you are told to FACE LIFE HEAD-ON. You are told you need to do this.

I am the only person living my life. I have no control over essentially anything that happens to me, but I do control what I think and feel about such events and circumstances. This does not mean I live a passive existence. Rather, it demonstrates that I have surrendered to the incredibly freeing idea that LIFE HAPPENS. Terrible things can happen; amazing things can happen. At any given moment, everything can completely change or be taken away. This is terrifying when we really let such an idea soak in. People lose it all every moment of everyday. Lives are shattered. People are torn apart. Violence is everywhere. Grief is everywhere. I have to accept this, and when I think you learn how to accept things for what they are, rather for what they could or should be, the fear dissipates. It is when we resist this idea, when we clutch onto the illusion of control, when we try to manipulate and distort the natural path of life, our lives and our behaviors become toxic. Our thoughts turn against us, and our behaviors harm, rather than aid, us.

I am not afraid of true recovery, but it’s taken me a year to get this point, and I still falter and doubt it often. It’s not always a consistent desire, but it’s a consistent need, and I’ve learned how to distinguish the two.

I have the choice to embrace life, and I do.

I have the choice to FEEL FEELINGS, and I do. The good, the bad, the scary, the ugly. Feelings are beautiful; they send us subliminal messages, for they are the unspoken words speaking louder than any thoughts or behaviors we may have. Nothing in life is more organic than that.

I feel like I’m 16 again.

Dear Bee,

This isn’t real life, okay? I must be in some kind of insane daze. So, I’ve known this guy for literally four days, and it’s felt like I’ve known him for a ten years. We talk effortlessly. I am so intrigued. He is so intrigued. I’ve never experienced something this intense so fast.

Last week, I was moaning about my ex-boyfriend moving on. Last week, I was bitching about my married coworker and our weird office flirtation.

And then this guy came out of nowhere.

Literally and utterly nowhere.

And he’s essentially the male version of me. It’s almost creepy. Almost.

Like, he’s also in training to be a therapist. Exact same program as me. Different school. We started at the same time. We speak the same therapeutic language. It’s beautiful. We had an hour-long conversation about the DSM. Who does that? Meaning not only can he talk about thoughts and feelings, he WANTS to talk about them.

Like, he works at the exact same place of employment I did a year ago. As in, we totally just discovered we have mutual friends. 

Like, he enjoys hiking and yoga and “being one with nature.” The hippie in me is swooning.

Like, he has the exact same family structure as mine. His brother is three years younger than him, just as mine is. 

Like, we had the same major in college. Psychology. Oh, and he also majored in philosophy, for good measure. 

LIke, he is also a beach bum. YES.

LIke, he also has a black belt in martial arts. We can both kick each other’s asses!

Like, we share the same religion (even though neither of us are religious).

Like, we can talk for hours about philosophy, existentialism, the downfall of capitalism, and all the other exciting topics that few people can even understand much less enjoy.

Like, he’s CUTE. SUPER CUTE. 

Like, he has a puppy. That he walks and takes care of faithfully!

Like, he’s genuinely INTERESTED in all my ramblings, musings, and quirks.

 

 

This is so absolutely irrational. My head is screaming at me to slow down. But, screw it, man. I never give my heart a chance, and this time I’m giving my heart all the attention. Not letting fear in. Not letting doubt in. Just following the intuition; listening to what feels right. It feels so good to feel. To feel butterflies. To feel excited. To feel happy!! Emotions don’t come in pretty, predictable packages, and these moments don’t just happen without a reason. So, I’ll just ride this wave of bliss and let it carry me wherever it needs to go. 

Cheating myself and others

Dear Bee,

Being abstinent puts us into a new world. Instead of trying to cheat ourselves and get away with it, we learn to be straight with ourselves and others. Instead of escaping problems, we learn to face them honestly. Instead of despair, we feel self-respect and a developing self-confidence.
As we get rid of our obsession with food, we get in touch with our feelings and abilities so that we are able to function calmly and efficiently.

I didn’t know what to write about (for once), but I felt like writing (as is usual). So, I checked out the daily meditation for OA from the book Food for Thought. What does this mean to me?

In order to be in a relationship with you, I had to cheat on all the relationships I shared with other people. I had to lie to myself. I had to make the lamest excuses to keep your existence secretive and protected from all whom might judge. I was so afraid of you, so fearful of what you could do to me, and so, I tried to conceal you…tried to control you, tried to handle you with my bare hands and blind eyes.

I spent many years “out of touch” with my own feelings. I did not realize this until September, until my therapist told me that I had no idea how to sit with my feelings, recognize my feelings, or even really tell her how I was feeling. That is frightening. That is what an eating disorder does to its victims; that is what you stole from me, and taking back what was inherently mine feels like such sweet justice.

The very thought of handling life can be scary. For me, it was foreign. I was compulsive, anxious, and emotional, but never knew how to constructively manage anything. I busied myself with activities I did not enjoy, spent time with friends who wore me down, stayed in relationships that made me sick, and numbed myself with food, exercise, and the newest diet of the week…because at least that gave me “control” over one element in my life.

I dislike the term abstinent in recovery of eating disorders. I dislike it because it maintains the black-and-white rigidity I tortured myself with for so long. I do not use the term “abstinent” when talking about my own progress. While I mentally keep track of how many days I haven’t binged (currently up to 11; highest since starting meetings was 58), I don’t collect chips or consider myself a failure for slips. Doing so just perpetuates the guilt cycle, and I’m tired of living in an all-or-nothing world. I have accepted some days will be harder than others; some days, I will have cravings; some days, my emotions will run more rampant: but every time I can intervene, explore the root issue a little deeper, and choose a better option for myself, I am making strides.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Only I have the power to decide what constitutes as a failure, and therefore, only I can decide when I have failed. If I remove the idea of failure from my recovery, then failing becomes impossible.

I am not cheating as much anymore: not at eating, not at life, not with you. Am I perfect? No. Do I lie sometimes about how I feel? At times. Do I always fess up my setbacks? Not always. Progress not perfection. 

 I can now tell when I feel anxious or compulsive. I can now identify my triggers. I accept my feelings: the good, the bad, and the confusing. Even when they feel unbearable, I know they will pass. I know the difference between physical and emotional hunger. I know how to eat for my body, mind, and soul. I no longer “play dumb.” I have learned to ask people for help when I need it.

I am a WINNER.