the cliche of the rock bottom

Unlike the throes of addiction and many other mental illnesses, we will rarely find a definitive answer for what constitutes rock bottom in eating disorders. There are the extreme cases, of course, with hospitalization and medical emergencies, but these do not account for the millions of sufferers silently mutilating their lives.

I don’t have a definitive rock bottom, but I wish I did. It sure would make for a beautiful, neat little story for my cliched memoir one day, wouldn’t it? I can jut picture it now. Chapter 6: THE MOMENT I REALIZED I NEEDED TO CHANGE. A moment of total clarity, a sudden, black-and-white realization that said, OH I NEED TO CHANGE! It probably has to do with getting some kind of scary news from a doctor or someone telling me that they were worried. I mean, that’s what we read about, right? That’s what we hear from so many people. My story isn’t quite so neat, and there is no definitive beginning, middle, or end. In fact, I don’t even know if I have the “climax” (rock bottom) and a resolution. My story is all over the place. I would bet MOST of yours are, too.

I’ve had lows, yes, but they’ve been scattered, and none of them have felt particularly worse than the others. The lying and deceitful ones stand out. Denying that I had stolen food. Lying that I had already eaten. Telling people I felt “great” and had “no triggers” and was “coping well” when it was entirely untrue. The physical pain ones stand out, too. A two-day, free-for-all binge spree which led to severe food poisoning, and (in hindsight) probably dangerous levels of dehydration due to such bad diarrhea and vomiting. The sugar-induced headaches. Pain in the back of my throat. Terrible stomach cramps. Feelings of heaviness. Feeling like I was going to pass out.

But my rock bottoms weren’t illegal nor were they necessarily destructive to society. And nobody really even had to know. Unlike most addictions, I will never be treated as a criminal. Because I don’t have to resort to theft, violence, or prostitution to get my drug of choice. Food is fucking everywhere. Simple as that. And it’s pretty fucking cheap, accessible, and rampant. And best of all: it’s perfectly legal and absolutely essential to live. Talk about a fun thing to abuse, right?

I didn’t have to be scared of jail or hitting someone with my car. I didn’t have to be scared to be stamped with fines or a criminal record. I didn’t have to worry about my physical safety. I just had to worry about my goddamn body and the nonstop chatter in my head.

The cold truth is that if we keep waiting for rock bottom, we keep flirting with death. We can always go deeper. We can always surprise ourselves. As humans, we are incredibly adaptive creatures, sometimes to a fault. Eventually, the “bad feeling,” no matter how terrible it was, wears off…and we will try again. We test boundaries. We push. We think nah, it won’t be so bad this time…I got this…I know my limits. We feed ourselves line after line of bullshit because our diseases will say and do anything to keep us committed to their school of thought.

There is a reason eating disorders are progressive. There is a reason you can’t stop no matter how thin you get, you can’t stop eating no matter how full you feel, you can’t stop obsessing no matter how many times you convince yourself you have control. The science of the disorder may have been built on logic, but the mechanisms of its wiring is entirely irrational and entirely destructive.

I have suffered with an eating disorder on-and-off for about ten years. I have flirted with recovery about half that time. Sometimes, I doubt I ever had a problem. Other times, it feels like nobody has ever had it worse than me. This is not unusual thinking: this is the etiology of any mental illness. It’s conniving and tricky. It’s entirely crazy and entirely reasonable at the very same time.

And yet, there may not be some milestone rock bottom. There may not be a lightbulb moment for change. God may not smite you, in the middle of the road, telling you that you have to pick recovery. In fact, forget God. Nobody may ever tell you to pick recovery. You may never feel like it’s reached that point of life-or-death. You may never be homeless or abandoned by everyone who loved you…you may not even reach that state of pure emaciation you so desperately hoped. You will never be as skinny as you want to be, and your life will never be as perfect as it should. And yet, the disorder will keep promising you the easy ticket to avoiding feelings, shortcutting pain, and mimicking control. You will keep going, numbly and bluntly, because it may never reach that point where you realize that you are choosing the chase of losing weight at the expense of losing everything else.

Emotionally, you are dying. You are avoiding life. You are numbing yourself, self-sabatgoing, self-medicating, doing whatever it takes to avoid the real feelings around you. You may slip through the cracks for months, years, decades without anyone really knowing. You may fool them all. Good for you! Then WHAT?

I was fooling everyone, EVERYONE, but what did that lead me with? A destroyed self-esteem, relationships full of toxicity, insurmountable shame, utter anxiety and depression, and a race on the never-ending hamster wheel towards perfectionism. I may have been fooling the world with my academic success and circle of friends and planted smile, but the more important question remains: why was I taking care of THE FUCKING WORLD instead of myself? 

The WORLD won’t be there when you are driving from restaurant to restaurant at night HOPING that none of the employees will recognize you from a few nights before. The WORLD won’t be there when you don’t get the perfect job, boyfriend, or happiness even if the supposedly perfect body arrives. The WORLD won’t be there when you’re crouched over your toilet seat, finger in your throat, tears stinging your eyes, in that fog of fear, guilt, and total humiliation. The WORLD won’t be there because you’ve probably done such a damn good job at shutting the world out.

You are screaming for help and you are pushing help away.

You are dying because you think it will give you a greater chance at living.

You are sure you have reached your limit, that this is your last time, that you will never do this again because it will never be worse than it feels right now, and then you will fucking turn around and do it again…three times worse.

You’re already on the tightrope. You’re already standing on the quicksand. There will always be more opportunities to fall. Stop glamorizing the rock bottom…because if and when you finally achieve it, the WORLD will finally know thanks to the tombstone with your name.

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hanging in there?

God, it’s been a rough few weeks.
I don’t know where to begin.
I’m just on the roller coaster of emotions, and I can only blame it on stress.
I’m working so much, too much, I know that, and this overachiever lifestyle is only harming me.
I’m helping way too many other people…and not helping myself.
It’s really ridiculous.

I miss this blog–it was my baby for so long. I don’t know why I am abandoning it.
I have lots of my clients talking back to their illnesses, using the same strategy I used to do, but I’m not doing the work to myself.
I’m telling them to be kind, while I continue to beat myself down.

This is not healthy.

Three weeks ago, my old therapist called me and asked if I wanted a full-time therapist position at a residential facility eating disorder unit.
Not even kidding. This came out of nowhere.
I haven’t really heard from her since- apparently, it is in the developmental stages, and I’m scared to even get my hopes up because it’s really up in the air, but talk about a dream come true. I’ve been scrapping three part-time therapy jobs, barely making livable wages, working 60ish hours a week. A full-time position would be a dream right now. And working with ED clients? That’s why I went into this field in the first place!

But, I’m also struggling in my own eating disorder life, and that’s because I’ve been stressed as fuck. I’ve been bingeing, craving junk food, not exercising as much as I’d like to, and not sleeping as much as I need. I feel fat, and fat isn’t a feeling, but whenever I “feel” that, it means I’m feeling really insecure, incompetent, and unsettled in my own skin.

But, in my own shallow words, I FEEL FAT.
And there is nothing more triggering in recovery or in quasi-recovery than the threat of being fat.

I’m not fat, but I am not taking care of myself. There’s a difference.
I need to start.
Otherwise, I’ll be burnt out before I know it.

Just needed to get this off my chest. Had a horrible binge earlier. Feeling the post-food coma of laziness, guilt, despair, and anger…it’s nothing I haven’t felt before, but it’s painful nonetheless.

Hope all is wel with my lovely readers. Shout and say hi! I miss this community.

Aside

dieting season and milkshakes.

Dear Bee,

Good morning, sunshine. Haven’t written to you in awhile. Too busy. Okay, that’s a fallacy. Not having enough time is a misconception. It’s more like not making it a priority. 

At one point, you were my biggest priority. Writing to you, talking to you, getting to know every little part about you. I had to familiarize myself with your voice. I had to study and dissect and analyze it until I knew every suckle of your distorted self.

I’m happy with the number on the scale, but not with the reflection in the mirror. And it’s petty. My thighs will always look too big. My stomach will always look too round. These are all misconceptions in my head. It’s my mind that needs a workout, not my body. No matter how much I whittle down my frame, it won’t matter. The mind will see what it wants to see. You will see FAT if you want me to believe I’m fat.

People around me are losing weight. Everyone, it seems, is on a diet. Guess it’s that time of year. Summer and itty-bitty short season is just around the corner, and we all know that means short-term crash dieting and fanatic exercise. I hate it, probably because I’m jealous of it. Probably because I still fall prey to the idea that just losing ten pounds would dramatically enhance my already wonderful life. Probably because I am torn between STILL believing the perfect body will give me the perfect life and realistically knowing that the very idea of that is absolute bullshit. 

I’m not bingeing so much, but I’m overeating. I don’t like that either. That’s more in the gray area, and that area frightens me. It’s the meshing of “safe” and “unsafe” foods. It’s the no-man’s land between “perfect” eating and “destructive” eating. Perfect, being the foods I can eat without worry or fear. Destructive, being the pathological, insatiable bottomless pit that craves all the sugars and fats. This weekend was good practice in the gray area. There was lots of meals out. Heavy meals. Desserts. French toast and cheesecake and milkshakes. Triggering meals. But happy ones because they were spent with the people I love. To eat those by myself would have been much more dangerous. 

And I’m not exercising as much as I would like. Because I’m busier than I have been in years. I have about 12-15 clients on an average week now. In addition to running two therapy groups, supervision meetings, trainings, and a full course load of classes. It’s chaotic. It’s what I love. It’s not going to be this fast-paced forever, but for right now, time is of the essence. There are days when I barely even get to move. My restless homeostasis hates that, but, at this point in my life, I’m taking care of other aspects of my health…and that is by advancing my passions and pursuing my dreams. I am working out my mind and soul, instead of just my body. Different, but just as important.

I’m trying to do the best I can. It’s not easy. It’s a conscious effort. There are many times when I fall backwards. The definition of recovery constantly changes. But I know I’m better than I was. And I’m happy where I am. And I’m excited for where I will be. 

fighting the good fight.

Dear Bee,

I’m writing this letter knowing that I’m probably going to binge later. I’ve already started a bit. Just because I feel so tense and so out of control and so all over the place, and I don’t want to feel my feelings, nor do I want to sit with them. I don’t want to do anything but isolate myself with you. That’s when it gets scary, you know, when I actually isolate myself to be sick. 

I just want to give myself permission to do it. I don’t want to work the recovery right now. It just seems too hard.

I know this is distorted. I don’t care. This is the time when I’m supposed to intervene, when I’m supposed to reach out and use my coping tools…but I don’t want to. I would rather just sulk in my own misery.

Eating disorders are terrible. They really are. They are conniving and painstaking. They are a measure of endurance. 

I’d rather feel internal pain than external stress. I’d rather avoid than be vulnerable. I’d rather stuff my fears than risk being exposed to them. I romanticize this eating disorder, when really, it’s a monster.The eloquent writing makes it seem as if we can somehow capture the patterns of mental illness in a predictable, almost whimsical notion, but that is not always the truth. This is when it is difficult: when I know with 100% certainty that bingeing is not the right answer, but I consequently also know with 100% certainty that bingeing is the only thing I want to do right now. Binge to ease the anger of bingeing. It’s a fucked-up cycle, but one that I’m used to. 

And I can tell myself tomorrow will be different, because it will be. My mind, like most, is wired to believe that somehow, after the magical minute of 12:01am, I have a clean slate. We call this all-or-nothing thinking. Mess up just a bit, and the day is ruined. Again, awareness of the distortion can only take us so far. 

I need an action-based preventative plan, and I am in the works of making it right now. I feel like I’ve experimented A LOT: I’ve done individual therapy, group therapy, twelve-step work, medication, reading and writing. I’ve done meditation, exercise, this diet, that diet, no diet, etc. Some work better than others. All have their flaws. There is no perfect remedy to this calamity. I have to stop expecting perfection, and I have to account for the very real understanding that my eating disorder will always find a way to turn me back to the food. It doesn’t matter what mood I’m in. An alcoholic will always find an excuse to drink. I will always find an excuse to eat (or not eat) depending on which end of the spectrum I oscillate towards.

Time to go back to the basics. 

1. Begin using the Recovery Record app again. 

2. Blog consistently.

3. Make a conscious effort to meditate everyday.

4. Eat three meals and two snacks. Actually go back to cooking and preparing food so I can account for 14-hour workdays…instead of somehow convincing myself I can survive on just yogurt and an apple.

5. Go back to Gratitude. 10 things that make me grateful every damn day. Because there’s a lot in this life worth appreciating.

I’m giving myself permission to binge. I’m not going to resist it right now. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. We’ll see how this goes. Appreciate all your lovely support during these past few days. You guys are a blessing 🙂 

I don’t feel like being anybody’s hero.

Dear Bee,

I don’t feel like being anyone’s hero or role model today. I don’t feel like modeling a pinnacle of mental health or promoting the glory of positive vibes and self-acceptance. Because that’s not honoring how I really feel right now…and to be honest, right now, I just kind of feel lousy.

I just mini-binged, and I say “mini” because I was able to stop myself before it really spiraled. Sometimes, those are the worst kind of binges, simply because it almost feels like I’m cheating myself out of all the sinful delectableness I “deprive” myself of when I’m being “good.” Ha. Being good. There’s no bad or good. I’m not a bad person for what I ate, and I know that. But sometimes, it’s just…BLAH.

The ironic part about my eating episode was that I had just started working through Step One of the Twelve Steps workbook for recovery. I know something about writing it all out triggered me (how weird is it that something that has been SO HELPFUL in my recovery can be so triggering at the same time?!?). I also know I am procrastinating finishing a major paper due later today, and eating, of course, assisted me in avoiding actually doing that task. I also had an interview this morning for a clinical training site, and while I felt like it went pretty well, there is some lingering fear telling me that I have no fucking clue about how to really help people with “REAL” problems. Again, I realize this is a distorted thought. I am highly qualified.

I ate some sugar. It wasn’t a lot, but I had committed to “abstaining” from it for thirty days, and so now, I’m grappling with the guilt from breaking this vow. Like everything else, I know I need to let go, forgive myself, and move on. I would tell my best friend to do that. I would tell anyone in my shoes to do that. Now, I just need to listen to the advice I preach.

Anyway, I just texted my sponsor. Maybe I could have reached out to her before, like in the heat of the moment, but that’s in the past, and I have to let that go. I know that coming clean and being honest about my behavior was the best thing to do. I am sure she will be able to help me out. I realize I’m transferring what I used to do with my therapist onto my sponsor…but that’s okay. That’s a sponsor’s main task, and even though my therapist always tells me to reach out to her whenever I need anything, I worry about blurring those boundaries and becoming overly dependent on her help.

I never, ever imagined myself becoming dependent on anyone, and now I realize, maybe I’m absolutely exhausted from being so fiercely independent that I’m attaching onto the first lifeboats who provide me with some support.

On a side note:  I know that I have gained quite a following through this blog, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to help so many people. Of course, that was not my intention when I started simply writing letters to my eating disorder…and, to be honest, I sometimes wonder if I’m losing my authenticity, as if I’m writing more for my audience, rather than for my own sanity. Sometimes, I wonder if it would be better to keep my writings private, but I swear, every time I receive an email or note with someone expressing their gratitude, I instantly feel lifted.

It deeply astounds and humbles me when people call me an inspiration…I just can’t believe people see me as a change agent, as someone whom they strive to be. I know that this is a conniving and unpredictable disorder and working through recovery is no easy task. But, you take the good days with the bad, the tough times with the easy, and little by little, the breakthroughs happen (damn it, I didn’t mean to end this on an optimistic note, but I guess that’s just how I’ve become).

Still running my marathon, everyone, so don’t worry. 🙂

PS: Sponsor just texted me asking “do you want to talk?” No. I don’t. Not really. But that’s YOU not wanting to talk. That’s YOU, my eating disordered voice, not wanting to talk and wanting to keep me feeling trapped, isolated, and ashamed. So, after this, yes, I will call her…

Brief recovery updates: sugar-free for 30 days & a new sponsor

Dear Bee,

PS: None of this is really exciting (not as thrilling as the whirlwind of my afternoon, anyway), but I wanted to document it, because I promised that I would.

After a somewhat nightmare-ish month of slips and lapses, I’ve decided to forgo all refined sugar for the next thirty days. It’s simply made me an emotional and unstable mess in terms of recovery and my efforts at moderation have not been successful. Even when I’m eating sugar in moderation, I find myself more anxious and distressed…I know I keep flip-flopping on avoiding trigger foods versus eating intuitively, but you know what…I’m only committing to thirty days here. So that’s what’s going on.

 I also have found a new sponsor, a wonderfully sweet woman who I met at an OA meeting this past week. She’s  meeting me in-person next week to really get me started on working the steps and starting out the program. I’m excited and ready for it. Although I love the fellowship of OA, I have not made much of any effort to really get involved or practice the principles of the program…but I want to begin. I have seen the sanity others have acquired, and well, I want that. I want to live free of the preoccupation.

Although I do feel more positive and am practicing being gentler and more forgiving of myself, I haven’t felt all that secure in my recovery since “breaking abstinence” in January. And I’m really determined to stay running in my marathon!

Recovery voice vs. Eating disorder voice

Dear Bee,

Last night, for the first time in awhile, I felt lonely. Ironically. Feelings do not always accurately match their events. Last night, within the course of an hour, six different people invited me to six different sets of plans. I didn’t feel like doing any of them. I thought of my vulnerable teenage self, of the girl who struggled to find her niche and sense of belongingess, who always felt “somewhat off,” who would have done anything for that rare taste of popularity.
I now have that. Or most of it anyway. At least on the surface. I have so many friends–good, quality friends, too. I recognize that even though I may feel “somewhat off,” this is not the image I project to the rest of the world. Most people perceive me as calm and collected, as someone who can handle everything and is up for anything.

Even if it may feel like a facade, I like being accepted.

Last night, I was tired. Anxious. A little insecure. I just wanted to go home after work, change, relax, and go to sleep. I didn’t want to go out the bars. Didn’t want to go to a random house party. Didn’t want to get wasted at the club. Didn’t want to watch movies at my friend’s apartment. Didn’t want to dress up and go out dancing.

Raging party animal, I know.

For the first time in awhile, I missed being in a relationship. Not necessarily my ex-boyfriend, but I missed the familiar comfort of him. I wanted one of his hugs and hear his his comforting validation that I was beautiful and perfect.

Basically, I needed someone else to give me something I must practice giving myself.

The presence of an eating disorder assures me that I am never alone. If others irritate me, you are there to provide comfort and love. If I feel awkward in social situations, you can relieve that anxiety. If I don’t feel like doing anything, you offer me a non-committal, low-energy activity that will make me feel better (guaranteed!).

I know that’s your advertising claims, anyway.

God, I wanted to binge so badly last night. I was literally shaking on my drive home from work. I don’t think I’ve ever had such strong urges in my life. Or maybe I’ve just never let myself sit with that discomfort long enough. I couldn’t focus; as I drove past stores and restaurants, I imagined what I would order (and subsequently devour) in each of them. You were screaming at me…and my recovery voice was screaming at me. I was drowned out by the cacophony of my own inner demons, of the illogical voice of reasoning that dictates so many of my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

I tried the positive affirmations and deep breathing…while thinking of sugar, glaze, and the feeling of absolute fullness. I tried remembering all my recovery progress…tried reminding myself that I will be tested and that I CAN overcome any feeing, no matter how unbearable it may feel at that moment.

I wanted to love myself.
I wanted to give myself what I needed, but after ignoring my true needs for so long, I felt like I didn’t know what to do.

At that point, I just knew that eating any food would have been a dangerous spiral into oblivion and rage.
I would be eating to fill a void, a painful void of loneliness and insecurity, and if I’m eating to satisfy those reasons, it was going to take a LOT of food before the true sense of numbness could sedate me.

I talked to my mom last night. I told her I was feeling anxious. I told her I was feeling lonely and I explained why. Just opening up and being honest is so therapeutic; the presence of another individual’s empathy is so healing. I am so blessed to have her in my life.

I did not binge.
Two hours later, I had an ice cream sandwich and a few cinammon twists.

Was I physically hungry for them? No.
Did I need them? No.
Did I beat myself up? No.

I realize that ate for my painful emotions, but the “out-of-control” feelings had long subsided.

I am not aiming for a perfect recovery; I am just aiming for everyday to be better than my yesterday.

I woke up this morning after another binge dream. These brief moments of did that really happen? terrify the hell out of me, but I know that they indicate progress, because i never had them before starting this journey. I know they indicate the absence of something that used to be so central and prominent in my life. I know they represent my subconscious longing for that familiarity.

I think embracing self-love (and with it, recovery) means making the best choice for myself at a given moment, and even if I briefly lose sight of that and later realize I had a better solution, I can release any guilt or blame and simply say, I learned something new for next time.