These are my reflections

Dear Bee,

This is officially my last week of classes, pending that I pass that annoying comprehensive exam I took two weeks ago.

My last week of classes.

I still have an incredibly long journey ahead of me towards obtaining licensure. The future is absolutely unclear. I have no idea what my next step is, though I have some creative ideas. But, the grind is just about done. The juggling-four-classes-managing-a-full-clientload-and-learning-every-goddamn-thing-about-my-inner-self process marathon is nearly over. Graduation is next week. 

Reflecting on this is strange. It’s a bittersweet goodbye, an ending that just represents another beginning. I suppose that is how all endings works. I began this blog a year and a half ago, just after concluding my first semester of graduate school. My readers have seen me at highs and lows, have followed me through adventures in therapy, adventures in BECOMING a therapist, wanting love and falling in love, traveling abroad, psychiatric concerns, existential crises, and any and all issues related to food, body image, inner peace, and recovery.

Oh, recovery. What a beautiful blessing. Bee, you may always be my achilles heel, my weakness, my “comfort” when life becomes stressful and hectic. We all have our vices. But, you are no longer my world, sweetheart. You are no longer my vying one, true love, my toxic best friend, my chokehold force of a nemesis. You are just the occasional voice vibrating in my head, trying to tell me that I’m not good enough or pretty enough or whatever enough. You exist, but you are smaller. You poke and prod, but it no longer pushes me into hopeless, utter despair.

In this wild journey of becoming a therapist, I have learned most about myself. And again, what a blessing. I thought I knew myself prior to starting this program. I thought I understood myself inside and out. HA! What a lovely delusion. I had barely scraped the surface of my inner working, of the delicate intricacies that comprise my unique spirit. Working through these has been an uphill challenge. Good thing I like to hike! It was never easy. But most worthwhile things aren’t. 

Recovery was and still is the single greatest gift I can ever give myself. It is free; it is limitless; it is full of joy, gratitude, and heartlessness. 

Recovery was my answer, and I remind myself that everyday. Even through the “fuck-its,” the slips, the binges, the compulsive energies, the desires, the “bad” days, the “fat” days, the feelings of ugliness and worthlessness. Recovery is still the answer. Recovery is still the path towards healing and acceptance.

When I am in recovery, I am the person I want to be. When I am in recovery, I am the person I need to be. And, finally, when I am in recovery, I am choosing love and gratitude OVER hatred and resent. And that is a beautiful miracle. 

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are you your own best friend?

Dear Bee,

It is such a gorgeous morning, and it is going to be a lovely day. I’m excited to get started. I’ve been very optimistic lately, a nice change of pace from my semi-winter slump. Maybe it’s the Daylight Savings time change and the added sunshine. Either way, I’ll take it. Days are full, but that’s okay. I’m probably busier than I’ve ever been, but that’s also okay. I get to do what I love. 

My eating has been so normal lately. So refreshing. It’s easy. I feel really good in my skin. I’ve been exercising and hydrating and allowing myself to eat whatever I want. I’ve been doing meal prep, which is useful for those very long days. I’ve been cooking again.

This is how I want it to be. This is how I’m going to keep it. 

There is always choice. No matter how out-of-control we may feel, there is always, always, always choice. Ultimately, accepting that choice can be both empowering and defeating. We recognize it is in our own hands whether we want to continue the self-sabatage or make-that-super-painstaking-decision-to-stop. That was where I disagreed with the Twelve Steps philosophy. I am not powerless to an eating disorder. I just felt powerless. And that’s not to minimize the severity of that feeling- it’s a very real and potent and daunting emotion to feel like you can’t control something within you. It’s terrifying.

But accepting that only I am responsible for my recovery, that only I have tools to make myself heal, was the most profound step in bettering myself. 

I am my own best friend. I can finally say that. My therapist used to drill it into me. Be your own best friend. I’m finally there. It sounds cheesy, but it’s miraculous. I actively seek out things and places that make me feel good. I have grown in my own spirituality. I have learned how to self-soothe. I have let go of the vices that are perfectionism and self-loathing. No, it’s not perfect. But it’s a hell of a lot better than it’s ever been. 

I treat myself with kindness. I enjoy my own company. Again, I repeat…this is a miracle. For the first time in my life, I am proud, happy, and overjoyed to be who I AM. I no longer feel this incessant need to change, makeover, or be someone I’m not. 

I am so grateful for my journey. It’s been such an incredible, educational, and inspiring adventure. I hope to never stop learning and growing. But that’s the future. For right now, I’m just appreciative to be exactly where I am being exactly who I am.

It’s one of the most reassuring feelings I’ve ever experienced. 

Cliched thanksgiving post!

Dear Bee,

I have spent most of the week reflecting on my gratitude and really soaking in just how fortunate I am to be who and where I am in life. Switching to an “attitude of gratitude,” as cliched and trite as it may sound, has been a profound movement for me. Rather than focusing on what I lack, I have really begun to appreciate the invaluable treasures I have: love, connection, passion, health.

The universe has been kind to me. I spent so long refusing to be appreciative–other than on the obligatory Thanksgiving go-around-the-table-and-say-what-you-are-thankful-for speeches spent pouring out my love and adoration for the family I was often rude and obnoxious to 364 days out of the year. I was a selfish kid, a bratty and entitled girl who thought I deserved whatever I set my pretty little mind on having. I didn’t grow up spoiled, not by any means, but I was always wanting more.

I would think most people with an eating disorder history have a tendency to want more. 

Recovery has meant wanting EXACTLY WHAT I HAVE. 

Now, in the spirit of gratitude and the joys of Thanksgiving, let’s talk about recovery. I could write extensively why I am eternally grateful for the limitless gifts recovery has afforded me. It would be exhaustive and repetitive, saturated with similar notes that are sprinkled among this blog. Everyday, I come up with new reasons, really.

So let me list the few that really come to mind.

1. I am grateful that I no longer perceive my body as this work-in-progress that constantly needs to be refined, improved, or enhanced. Instead, I am learning how to value the assets I have and appreciate my body for the rare and unique vessel that it is.

2. I am grateful that recovery has taught me how to express my emotions and COPE with them in healthy and constructive ways.

3. I am grateful for being able to eat. At home. At restaurants. With friends. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Even snacks and desserts. Even spontaneous coffees. WIthout the stress, chaos, planning, and anxiety that used to come with every single damn morsel that passed my lips.

4. I am grateful for my increase in PASSIONS other than food, working out, and losing weight. Life just feels so much fuller that way.

5. I am grateful that I can talk about my eating disorder and recovery process without nearly as much shame or resentment as I once did. 

6. I am grateful for learning how to live in the gray, live in balance, live in moderation. Doing these allows me to LIVE, and I mean live for the beautiful energy and flow that is our spontaneous life journey. 

7. I am grateful that I no longer wake up at the crack of dawn to push myself through an excruciating workout. Just because it was something I needed to do. I am grateful that I view exercise as more of INDULGENCE to my body than PUNISHMENT to it.

8. I am grateful for freedom. And that tastes better than any binge. And it feels better than any number on the scale. 

9. I am grateful for recovery revitalizing my health, both mentally and physically. Recovery has allowed me to love myself and others in dimensions I never believed to be possible. 

Today was a beautiful day spent with the people I love.

Recovery allows me this. I never forget it. 

Last year, I restricted during the day and sneaked three slices of pie at night, alone and frantically. The year before, I remember weighing myself, disliking the number that flashed back at me, and promising that I would use self-control. As a child, I spent Thanksgiving with my grandparents. My grandma, who passed away nearly nine years ago, was the champion of the feast, a published cookbook author, who I loved with all my heart. I miss her terribly. I live my Thanksgivings in spirit of her gregarious personality and contagious happiness. 

Today, food barely crossed my mind. In fact, it’s 9pm, and I’m already in bed, and my stomach has been angrily growling. So, I ate. Because that’s what people do when they’re hungry and they are fortunate enough to have food available.

I am thankful everyday that I choose recovery and thankful everyday for the beautiful opportunities recovery has given me.

May everyone have a blessed holiday. ❤ 

late-night thoughts

Dear Bee,

Not really sure what to write. Just wanted to check in and say hello to you. It’s been a long day, and I want to thank you for not interrupting it. You didn’t trigger me today. You didn’t make me want to restrict or binge. You didn’t make me loathe the skin I’m in. 

That deserves gratitude. 

I think about how quickly you can enter my mind and alter my mood. It’s stunning and baffling, terrifying and unpredictable. I know my triggers, sure, but that’s not to say you don’t just appear out of nowhere. Because you do. Yes, you’re there during those high-stress times, those moments where I expect you to be lurking around, but you sometimes appear during the mellow, easy days, when everything seems to be falling into place. You like me in your clutches. That is how you feel powerful. It doesn’t necessarily what mood I’m in, person I’m with, or place I’m at. You have no problem intruding any of those.

I’m at such a good mental place right now. Like for real. I don’t even know what else to say except how truly grateful I feel to be at this point in my recovery. It is a wonderful place to be, a place that I didn’t think I would be able to find…through all the obstacles and hurdles, through all the lapses and triggers and rock-bottoms, there is a glimmer of hope. Hold out for it. Even in the darkest of days, it shines. 

I have learned more in one year than I have in all my years being alive. I have learned to establish boundaries with people, take care of myself, put my needs first, and change my thoughts. I have learned to let go of control and trust the process. I have learned that the world is a fabulous, exciting place to live in, and I want to be an active participant in this game we call life.

They say recovery may be the hardest process we ever endure. I can attest to that. There is nothing simple about the complexity of an eating disorder. There simply cannot be. To suddenly believe that depriving our bodies of the very nourishment we need to survive, to purge ourselves as a means of feeling empty and clean, to stuff ourselves so we no longer have to feel…there are deep, gnawing issues at the foundations of those symptoms.

Before we learn to hate something, we learn to fear it. We fear our bodies before we hate them. We fear food before we hate it. We fear ourselves before we hate ourselves. 

old friendships, rebellion, caffeine, bulimia, & positive affirmations.

Dear Bee,

It’s strange. For the first time in about a year, I’m struggling to actually sit down and write these posts out. This was such a natural catharsis for me, a creative high of sorts, but now, it just feels dull. I’m just going to keep writing and see what happens. Spin gold out of a chaotic mess of the clouds in my mind. Or something artsy like that. I don’t want to edit this either. In fact, once I feel like I’ve said what I wanted to say, I will click Publish Post and be done with it. I just want to ramble. I’m not going to go back and read anything I wrote. So, here goes. 

Several months ago, I wrote this: http://loveletterstobee.com/2013/03/21/the-day-i-broke-up-with-my-alcoholic-best-friend/ in regards to my painstaking decision to end a friendship with one of my closest friends. Last night, we met up for dinner. I initiated the contact. I missed her. I wanted to see how she had been. This girl had been by my side through multiple heartbreaks, graduations, vacations, and spontaneous adventures. A few years ago, we had a threesome with my ex-boyfriend, but that’s an entirely different story. We’ve been close. Closer than close. “Breaking up” with her was harder than breaking up with anyone else. So, we were at dinner, and it was emotional. Tears, hugs, laughs. Flowing conversation for five hours without a hint of awkwardness. We both said our pieces. She still drinks. To what extent, I do not know. I struggle to believe that alcoholics can drink in moderation once they’ve reached the threshold of substance dependence. I’ve heard that some percentage (like five percent) can do harm reduction, but the rest must commit to sobriety in order to kick their addiction. Again, she still drinks. I don’t know what boundaries to set up with her just yet. I don’t know if I want to be friends. It just felt good seeing her last night. Telling her about what I’ve been up to. She’s missed so much of me: my new boyfriend, my new internship, Europe, things with my family. At this point, I just wish I could avoid the alcohol problem, but I know if I choose to do that, it will just become the white elephant in the room. And I don’t want that either.

Anyway, enough about that.

I’ve binged once this week. Last night. Any coincidence that this was right after meeting with my friend? I think not. My eating disorder is boring me. Bingeing once used to be exciting, seductive, and glamorous. I actually felt like such a rebel in the middle of the act, like look at me, I’m breaking ALL THE RULES. Now, it’s just a step-by-step process with predictable emotions, inevitable self-loathing, and a total sense of, I don’t give a fuck. I guess in a sense it’s still a form of rebellion. Except, instead of rebelling against whatever so-called diet I was on, I’m rebelling against recovery. Sometimes, to be honest, recovery just feels like another euphemism for diet, but I know it’s not. 

I’ve also been drinking copious amounts of coffee over the past few weeks. This is 1/3 due to the taste, 1/3 due to the jolt of energy, and 1/3 due to the low caloric content. I keep hearing all these positive studies about the effects of caffeine, so that rationalizes my consistent brew. Still, I know it’s not good to suppress my appetite with a cup of java. I know it’s not good to use it as a natural diuretic, and yet, I can’t lie and say I don’t enjoy those benefits. Whatever. One vice at a time. Nobody would look at a serious drug addict and condemn him or her for chain-smoking cigarettes. The same could apply to eating disorder recovery. The importance thing is awareness. Awareness that I am still using/abusing certain substances to mask the remnants of my disease (I write this as I chew a piece of gum. I chewed at least 4 pieces in a row yetjerday, something I haven’t done in a long while. Five second pause. Just spat the gum out). 

Talked about eating disorders in supervision yesterday, because one of my colleagues is working with an individual struggling with bulimic symptoms. It’s so interesting how easy these cases can sound when presented. Just, you know, teach her some coping skills, show her to value her body, pinpoint how there will never, ever be a good enough body when living with an eating disorder, no matter what number, size, or look she is trying to achieve. Obviously, I know nothing about an eating disorder is simple. But then again, nothing about any mental illness is simple. If it was, I would be out of a job. Plain and simple. Surprisingly, I don’t have any clients who have presented eating disorder pathologies just yet (about the only disorder I haven’t seen), but I often wonder how I will be in the room with them. Will I self-disclose the same way my own therapist did? Or will I remain professional, safe in my powerful chair, and keep distance between us? What if someone who reads this blog was one of my clients? They would never know it was me, I can guarantee that. I present myself so much differently in the world than I do on here. It’s subconscious. Part of it is my ability to deceive as a means of survival. I know what it takes to be successful in this world, and, unfortunately, vulnerability isn’t the road to it. It’s an interesting thought to think that a reader could be a client, since many of them must be struggling/have struggled with an eating disorder or relative mental illness. 

This rambling feels amazing. The morning is turning out well. I randomly picked a positive affirmation out of my “recipes for my soul” love box that I made as a demonstration for a group therapy class I lead, and today’s read, I am exactly who and where I need I am supposed to be in this exact moment. Damn straight. Who am I? A young, talented, creative, loving individual with an unquenchable thirst for life and hunger for adventure. Where am I? In my bed, laptop perched on my stomach, listening to music, ceiling fan blowing over me. I don’t have the answers. I am still exhibiting disordered behavior. I STRUGGLE. I fight. I complain. I question whether it’s worth it. But choices, people, and experiences have brought me to this point, and, when I really think about it, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. 

I am so grateful for this life, for recovery, for all of you lovely readers (I read every single one of your emails and do my best to respond to all of you), for the cloudless blue sky, for the warmth of my bed, for the breakfast I am about to eat (I no longer have to suffer and “starve” today to make up for yesterday), for the clients I’m going to see later, and for the boyfriend I’m going to fall asleep with tonight.

Change is a product of acceptance.

Image

Dear Bee,

I reread this quote at least three times while going through my assigned reading for a trauma and grief class. It absolutely amazes me. Rogers, first of all, is a brilliant genius in the realm of psychotherapy. His person-centered model of therapy has truly changed the way therapists interact with their clients. Second of all, just let this quote soak in.

Radical acceptance is something I frequently talk about on this blog, simply because the concept has helped me IMMENSELY. Before recovery (and many times during recovery), I have RESISTED myself, my urges, and my behaviors. I would look at myself and see only the things I needed to change, remove, or hide. The idea of accepting myself? No, that was unfathomable. I always thought I was traveling on the fast-moving train towards bettering myself, when, in reality, I was trekking on some unachievable mission to reach the point of utter perfection, because I assumed that place was the same meeting ground as the point of utter happiness. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be the greatest version of yourself. There is, however, something deeply distorted when you do not believe you have any baseline of greatness to start with.

Change is hard. Incredibly hard. Even when we think we want it or know we need it more than anything. The initial steps may be easy, but once the novelty wears thin, we often regress right back to our homeostatic states. Why do we seek change? Because we feel stagnant or insecure. Because we know we deserve better. Because we want to improve some area in our life. Rarely does change come naturally or passively. Change is a product of our environment and our actions, our decisions and our influences. We must trust ourselves in order to change ourselves. We must stay by our own sides. If not, we engage in war with ourselves. We will resist, fight, and try and stop the changing, even if it’s good for us, even if it’s what we think we want or need. We have to be tolerant of the mismatched emotions and accept distress…at least temporarily. We have to become comfortable with living beyond the comfort zone. Comfort with discomfort. Because all change, lasting change, requires a period of discomfort.

In April, I wrote a letter to myself where I forgave myself for every single thing I had ever done (http://loveletterstobee.com/2013/04/02/forgiving-myself-for-every-single-thing-i-have-ever-done/). I did not post the actual letter here. It is folded and next to my bed. I occasionally read it when I need a pick-me-up, when I need to hear my own self tell me how far I’ve come and how wonderful of a person I am. I just find it amazing that I could claim I had no regrets, and yet, I held so many grudges against myself. That letter was eight pages long. I forgave myself for my insecurities, for relationships, for my eating disorder, for my fears and vulnerabilities, for everything I had ever been ashamed or embarrassed about. It was highly therapeutic, and I recommend it for anyone.

I still have to consciously decide to accept myself. All of myself. Because I’m not just parts of a personality. I’m not just the “good things” or the traits that shine on paper or ingredients to a recipe. I’m a whole person: a flawed perfectly imperfect human. I am easily distracted, klutzy, occasionally shy, and unbelievably sarcastic. I don’t own the nicest clothes, my car is always a littered mess of papers, books, and trash, and I cannot draw a straight line or circle to save my life. I still count on my fingers for basic math and recite the alphabet in my head when I need to place things in order. I will never win a beauty pageant nor be mistaken for a model. But I love the life I have been given, and I accept all the adversities and pain that have come and will come with it.

I accept that I am in recovery for an eating disorder. I accept that I don’t always like recovery and don’t always want to work recovery. I accept that I have carried years of shame and self-loathing. I accept that I have eaten entire pizzas and boxes of pop-tarts and bags of cookies and cartons of ice cream and cried over them. I accept that I have stolen food, eaten secretly in dark cars and bathrooms, and lied about eating. I accept that I have exercised to the point of nausea and muscle deterioration. I accept that I have worked out at two in the morning in the middle of the dark…just because I “needed to.” I accept that I have canceled plans because my eating disorder was too strong at that moment. I accept that I have chain-chewed packs of gum to avoid eating and binge-drank coffee or tea to excessively urinate (and therefore, weigh less). I accept that I have chosen intoxication of alcohol over intoxication of food. I accept that I have zoned out during entire conversations because I was too preoccupied with thinking about eating. I accept that, in high school, I was secretly excited the first time I lost my period, because I thought it meant I was finally on the track to anorexia. I accept that I hated what I looked like, what I weighed, and what I thought of myself for years.

I accept that I still have these urges, even though I do not like them. I even accept that I still occasionally use these behaviors, even though I do not like them.

Acceptance is not synonymous with enjoyment. Acceptance is synonymous with forgiveness, with saying, it’s okay, with saying, I’m human, and I am enough UNCONDITIONALLY. Imagine how much easier change can be when you are supporting, rather than completely fighting, yourself.

when being weak is strong.

Dear Bee, 

Before my clinical training, I wondered how difficult it would be to be present with my clients. With a compulsive-anxious-hyperactive-multitasking mindset, it’s not always easy for me to focus. Fortunately, staying in the moment with them is easy. It is as natural as the words I speak and as natural as the empathy I provide.

It is so easy for me to reframe my clients’ distress. So easy to provide unwavering support and guidance. So easy to point out the dichotomous thinking and negative self-talk. So easy to offer alternative perspectives, and consequently, alternative ways of living and being. We see people differently than we see ourselves. We are kinder on them. We are more loving and generous. We often accept their shame and secrets. In fact, I feel a tremendous sense of gratitude when my clients are able to expose their darkest secrets to me. The ugly ones, the ones that make them panic and cry, the ones that take them to the scariest places. It shows they feel safe with me. It shows a willingness to heal. 

I can help them when I know them. The vulnerable parts of them. 

Honesty is a tough pill to swallow, and those with eating disorders are conditioned to lie. Our disorder, in fact, tells us to lie. Whether we are suppressing our feelings, denying what we ate or did not eat, minimizing or exaggerating our behaviors, we are lying. And God, I used to lie. I lied about my lowest weight (to seem more credible for seeking help). I lied about how little I used to eat (I’ve never purposely starved myself for an entire day). I lied about the quantity of my binges (they were ALWAYS much bigger than I made them out to be). I lied about my feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. I wanted to be the eating-disordered client without the eating disorder. I wanted to be perfect in recovery…and, then, of course, when I was struggling, I wanted to be the most hopeless, impossible case EVER. Had to perfect. Had to memorable. 

When you lie to yourself enough times, it becomes reality. In turn, the truth becomes a terrifying, impossible plague. Lies, on the other hand keep us protected and safe in our own eating disordered cocoons, in our own predictable realities. Lies are controllable; we can be whoever we want to be and do whatever we want to do.

We can live in our constructed fantasy…until we get caught.

I cannot tell which clients lie to me, as I am still building rapport with each of them. I am still getting to know their individual histories and struggles. At this stage, I gather information, come up with therapeutic goals, and begin mapping out our treatment together.

I suspect omission is worse than outright lying. Not telling me pivotal information. Not disclosing something of significance. But that is their right, just as it is mine. Transparency, however, is a strength. A fucking, incredible strength. The ability to be absolutely raw and genuine with another human being takes incredible resilience and courage. It says, I love myself enough to expose this part of me to you…knowing you may or may not accept it. To be honest is to be accepting of one’s self: the good, the bad, the ugly. And let’s face it. We all have ugly. Just as we all have beauty. 

I have therapy tomorrow. I am going to sit my butt on that couch and just be honest. Honest that I spent the weekend feeling triggered. Honest that I’ve experienced some discomfort over my appearance. Honest that my eating hasn’t been regular or appropriate. Why else would I be spending my time and money just to pretend to be okay? Just to try and fool someone who wants to help me?

I would never want that of my clients. 

Today, I did good things for my recovery. This makes me very happy. I treated myself with kindness. I ate nourishing food. I exercised. I stretched. I read. I talked to people I loved. I kicked ass with all my clients, and it felt amazing. I’m signing up to run a group for trauma survivors soon, and I’m excited for that. I told my boyfriend how much I loved him and made wonderful plans for this weekend. I expressed my gratitude to my amazing friends. 

I am feeling good because I want to feel good.