floating, swimming, drowning.

Dear Bee,

I guess I haven’t made writing to you much of a priority lately. That’s not to say you haven’t been around, because you certainly have, but I suppose I not felt the itch to just write out all my worrisome thoughts and feelings.

I spend a lot of time talking philosophy and existential concerns with my boyfriend. That used to be the purpose of this blog. But, to be honest, I prefer talking to a live human that I love over a computer screen. Even if the computer screen is safer. My eating disorder ties into philosophy, existentialism, and every other facet of life. Because my eating disorder is a part of my life- and it represents something symbolic. A mental illness always signifies something. 

I remember bingeing last Wednesday with fierce vigor. A lot of food. There’s never enough food in an all-day binge fest. That night, I tried to induce vomiting multiple times in the shower. I couldn’t do it. Part of me felt blessed (I’m aware of that slippery slope), and part of me felt resentful that I couldn’t empty out my insides. Needless to say, I woke up on Thursday with a pounding headache and that full-body-hangover we all know quite well. My eating has been “normal” since.

Food-wise, this year has been more of a struggle than last, but only because I haven’t made RECOVERY the utmost priority. I would be lying if I said differently. A new job and a new relationship have somewhat shifted my scope of thinking and being. Do I still practice recovery on a daily basis? Yes. But I just use different tools now. I’m not going to therapy, support group meetings, or writing daily on this blog anymore. Instead, I’m trying to be honest with myself and my boyfriend, use meditation and deep breathing, and practice moderation and living life on life’s terms rather than controlling every morsel of food. Is it an ideal change? Well, probably not. This change heightens the risk of relapse and keeps me in that weird “gray” area between choosing recovery and choosing disordered behaviors.

But, I’m MUCH happier than I’ve been in…well, years. I give love, I receive love, I grow, I learn, I help others. Those who have followed my blog since the beginning have seen so many changes unfold, so many insights discovered. This is just another stepping stone in my journey of life.

Turn every opportunity into an experience. When I do that, there is no such thing as “wasted time.” Only time well spent. Only lessons well learned.

Freedom tastes sweet. I understand WHY I engage in every single behavior. The awareness, I have found, is more important than the actual engagement. It teaches me so much about myself: When I feel the need to binge, I want to escape, avoid feeling, procrastinate, center my good feelings into the “bad” ones that I think I deserve. When I feel the need to restrict, I want to feel pure and light; I want to punish myself, I want to feel “in control.” When I feel the need to compulsively exercise, I want to feel strong and competent; I want to “burn off” pain and worry and fear. 

The choice to sit with feelings is hard for me. That’s an understatement. It’s been the single greatest challenge of recovery. But, feelings are like waves. They pass. They crash over us, they knock us down, maybe…but they pass. They always pass. We can choose to sink or swim. Or we can choose to lie on our backs and float. Today, I’m choosing to float.

 

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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. 

R.E.C.O.V.E.R.Y. You know it’s worth it!

R.E.C.O.V.E.R.Y acronym (I DID NOT MAKE THIS UP MYSELF. I would love to give credit to the original creator of this beautiful acronym, though!).

Realizing you’re worth it

Until I believed that I was worthy of treating myself with kindness and healing the maladies inside me, I could not start recovery. I stayed sick and tormented. I did not believe that my problem warranted help, and for a long time, I dismissed the severity of my eating disorder. In fact, I didn’t even know my issues consisted of an eating disorder until I received an actual diagnosis! You would think that dropping thirty pounds on my already normal frame in two months, losing my period, freezing my ass off all the time, and refusing to eat almost anything would have convinced me to go to the doctor. But, no. You would think stuffing myself senseless with food, punishing myself with hours upon hours of exercise, starving off cravings with excessive amounts of water and calorie-free drinks would make me realize I had an issue. It took awhile. I was convinced it was a willpower problem, convinced I could fix it on my own. It took so long to realize I was worth help. No matter how little or how much you eat or weigh, if it is affecting your functioning and quality of life, you have a problem, and you are WORTH more than the suffering you are inflicting on yourself.

Experiencing true happiness

Happiness is stable over time, as much as we like to believe it is fickle, fleeting, and depending on situational circumstances. I used to wait on happiness. Like many, I relied on external sources to lift my mood: boyfriends, wealth, success. And yet, happiness is innate. It lies within us. We all know the happiest moments (those BIG huge moments we can hardly wait for) pass. It’s the day-to-day mood that counts. Being able to experience the virtues of true, unadulterated bliss is what my life is now all about. Be present. Be rich with feelings. Be authentic with your needs. Happiness is a choice: each day, I do my best to wake up and CHOOSE it.

Caring about yourself

Caring about myself? What did that once mean? Pushing myself to extreme limits. Always working, never resting. Putting the needs of others before my own. Caring about myself was something I could do later. I really learned about the importance of self-care in graduate school. My professors emphasize it in every class on a daily basis. It is that important. Taking care of myself now means checking in with my emotions, learning how to distinguish what is and what is not in my control, doing activities that make me feel good, visiting places that I like, spending time with people who make my time worthwhile, and being able to relax! For someone who was always go, go, go, really learning how to relax took practice! I care about myself: I now care about myself the way I would care about a best friend. Finally!

Overcoming your own demons

My demon was my eating disorder voice. I nicknamed her Bee and personified her pathology in these letters. At the time, separating my eating disorder from my existence made it easier to confront and dissect. I had to recognize what was factual and what was eating disordered logic, as it had all mushed into my reality. Bee was harsh: she told me I didn’t deserve to eat or that I needed to eat everything in sight, she wanted me to exercise when my body was exhausted, she always needed me thinner and prettier, she told me I was never good enough and that I would never get better. Bee scared me, but she was the only real voice I knew. I have learned how to overcome her voice through a variety of coping strategies: writing to her, talking to my support team, relaxation training, meditation and yoga, etc. I now know when I am overreacting or faltering between the dichotomous thinking. I now recognize when I am being triggered or vulnerable to eating disordered thoughts and behaviors.

Validating your worth

I am worth anything and everything. What does that even mean? It means that I can and will stand up for what I believe in. I deserve the best and nothing less. This may sound conceited, but it’s not. I used to settle for the mediocre because I thought that was all I could get. Because I thought that was all I was worth. Wrong. I am worth treating myself with kindness, nourishing myself with love, and providing myself with happiness. That mantra has changed my entire life perspective.

Eating without regret

With an eating disorder, eating is never just a neutral act. It’s an emotional ritual: a challenge, a fear, an internal battle. We may look normal to any outsider, as we delicately sip our drinks and play around with our food, but inside, we are in genuine, deep pain. Most of us experience the regret and remorse after an eating episode from time to time. Especially when learning how to break the barrier between “good” and “bad” foods. Especially when we eat more than we desire. Especially when we are having a low body-image day. Eating without regret is one of the hardest challenges to overcome in recovery. In order to achieve this, we must PRACTICE eating while continuously telling ourselves that we DESERVE to nourish our bodies. We need food to survive, and nothing can possibly make us gain or lose significant weight in one day. Therefore, no matter how difficult our days in recovery may feel, eventually the emotions stabilize. In recovery, we can learn how to ENJOY and SAVOR food once again, without fear that we will restrict, binge, or need to compensate for the eating.

Relapse- it’s going to happen at one point or another, and that’s okay.

My current therapist told me Relapse is a part of recovery during our very first session. This terrified me. Throughout the year, I slipped. I made mistakes. Take a couple steps forward, take one step back. That’s what she used to say. Relapse is a part of recovery. It made me feel doomed. I wanted to be the exception. I wanted the perfect recovery. I wanted to just be cured and healed and forget any remnant of my vicious disorder. It didn’t happen quite that way. Again, I wanted the black-and-white, when really, I needed to learn how to exist comfortably within the shades of gray. Still, I pushed. I kept trying. Picked myself up. Wiped away the tears and put my fighting face back on. Relapse is hard: it’s painstaking, gut-wrenching, and exhaustive. It makes us feel defeated. In fact, I believe relapse is harder than life before recovery. Because before recovery, we are often in denial. In recovery, we have gained acute awareness. We acquire resources and tools to overcome our triggers and habits. Some of us gain a willingness to get better and a sense of motivation to heal ourselves. Thus, we feel like failures when we engage in behaviors that detract us from those goals. We are not failures. Every lapse is a learning mistake, a teachable opportunity, a chance for us to try something new. The message and reasoning may not be immediately obvious and clear, but it always comes. Relapse is okay. Nobody told you that you had to be perfect. Your journey is your own, and it will take you to extraordinary places so long as you trust the process.

Yearning to live

I used to look at recovery as the SUBTRACTION of things: subtraction of the obsession with food and weight, subtraction of eating disordered behaviors, subtraction of feeling triggered, experiencing negative thoughts, subtraction of feeling worthless. Now, I perceive recovery as the ADDITION of things: addition of the joys and treasures that make life worth living, addition of new ways to indulge and take care of myself, addition of wanting to experience and savor each moment as it comes, addition of feeling worthwhile and beautiful. I used to yearn to do. Now I yearn to be.

Preachy or not, repetitive or not, I like to leave a positive note at the end of these journal entries to remind ALL OF YOU that my life has been transformed by virtues of choosing recovery. It may be the hardest decision you ever make. It will hurt. It will feel uncomfortable. You WILL have to take risks, bust out of your homeostasis, and learn to sit with difficult feelings. You WILL feel shame, fear, and humiliation. You WILL need support and a positive mindset. I’m not some unique know-it-all hotshot. I don’t have all the answers (or any of them, for that matter). I don’t believe in the I-can-do-this-so-can-you comparison game of recovery, because everyday is still a learning lesson for me.

I’m just an everyday girl who decided that there was more to life than the food I ate and number I weighed. I hope all of you can one day choose to believe the same 🙂

Recovery is a gift. Everyday, I get to choose to reopen it. And being able to open it is the most amazing miracle.

Traveling with the boy

Dear Bee,

Well. Life has been good! I spent the entire weekend with my lovely and amazing boyfriend on a mini vacation, and it was all I could have hoped for and more. 🙂 I was told to eliminate the word perfection from my vocabulary, but I just can’t think of a more fitting word to describe this relationship right now. Serendipitous. He likes that word. We can use that one instead of perfection.

This was the first vacation in quite some time that you weren’t in my head. Two months ago, I spent a weekend with one of my good friends. I recapped the experience related to the food here:  http://loveletterstobee.com/2013/05/27/when-normal-eaters-are-triggering-and-other-rants-thoughts-and-musings/.

My boyfriend is a very conscious eater because he is on a specific fitness plan to acquire muscle mass. In other words, he follows a relatively strict regimen concerning macronutrients (protein and carbohydrates). The cool thing is: it doesn’t trigger me in the least. He eats what he has to eat; I eat what I have to eat. We cook with each other. He makes what I like to eat! However, we simply indulged this weekend. Like ordinary people do on vacation. We went out to eat a few times, and it was wonderful. I ate good food: pizza, pancakes, and ice cream…yep. Fear foods, say what? We also worked out together and ate salads and veggie omelets. Moderation, moderation, moderation. No desire to binge or restrict. Very little eating disordered talk. And I was in shorts, my bikini, or just naked for most of the trip. So there you go. Confidence is sexy. I’m so happy with myself and with my life.

I had therapy this afternoon. It was our last session for about a month because I’ll be on a plane to Germany this time next week! We kind of talked about my eating disorder while I’m abroad and explored how I think it will go. To be honest, I don’t have any concerns. And I know that may sound pretentious or arrogant, but I fully believe that I need to choose a positive mentality! After all, I choose how food does or does not affect me. I choose what I want to obsess over. I choose whether I let the eating disordered voice influence my decisions.

I’m not scared of you. Not even halfway across the globe. Six months ago? I would have been terrified. Today, I’m ready to conquer! I’m ready for a challenge! I’m ready for approximately eighteen days of NO planning food, NO predetermined safe meals, NO set exercise, NO weighing myself, NO counting numbers in my head, and NO body hangups holding me back! 

This is the trip of a lifetime, and there is so much to see and experience. I want to revel in ALL of it. Saying yes to recovery is saying yes to living, yes to joy, and yes to the sweetest freedom. And that tastes better than anything in the entire world. Recovery is the greatest gift in the world, and I am so lucky to get to open that gift everyday. 

When life gives you lemons, say THANK YOU.

Dear Bee, 

I’m always grateful for my recovery! I love writing down all the reasons recovery is worth it 🙂 

1. Being able to spontaneously go out for pancakes because they are my favorite food in the world and because I wanted them. And not feeling one shred of guilt, desire to binge, or the inkling to restrict my food intake later during the day. 

2. Going on long and beautiful walk on the beach with my brother. Not for the exercise, not for the workout, but just because it was a gorgeous summer morning and I wanted to catch up with my best friend.

3. Stumbling upon a cute coffee shop and drinking DELICIOUS coffee, because let’s face it, I’m kind of caffeine-blooded.

4. Wearing tank tops and shorts basically all day everyday because I know I can rock them.

5. Being in love with someone else is so much better when you are able to ALSO be in love with yourself. I’m FINALLY there. I’ve never been so confident and self-assured in my own skin before, and my goodness, it feels good!!!

6. Sex. Sex. Sex. Good, great, earth-shattering sex. No inhibitions. No reservations.

7. The awareness that life is hard. That life is unpredictable, crazy, jarred, and messy. But that the most gorgeous beauty lies in that chaos. I don’t have to try and control any of it. I can release the stress and fear and just RIDE the intoxicating energy that is the journey of my LIFE. 

8. Because I’m backpacking around Europe in a few weeks and this is the first vacation in years that I can honestly say I could care LESS about what I’ll be eating or not eating and what I’ll be weighing or not weighing. This experience is going to rock my world and I’m going to enjoy every moment of it.

9. Having the ability to reframe situations, challenge distortions, practice reality testing, and cope with stress in POSITIVE and CONSTRUCTIVE ways that HELP, rather than HARM me.

10. Being able to envision and live a happy life free of maladaptive behaviors and free of the prisoned chokehold that was my eating disorder.  

 

I am happier than I’ve ever been, and I don’t lose sight of that gratitude for one second. It could disappear at any second. In my past, I would be scared of this bliss slipping away, as if I didn’t deserve it, as if everything would crumble like sand falling through my fingers, but I no longer live in that fear. I am worthy of this joy and bliss. None of us deserve anything in this life, so I am grateful for anything and everything I receive.

I don’t believe in random luck. I believe luck is the sum of hard work meeting opportunity. The happiest people are the ones who DESIRE to take risks, who CRAVE growth, who INTERPRET the world with a curious eye. We are all existing…we are all ticking to our own individual death clocks, whether we like it or not. Mortality is the only given right we get in this life. May as well make the most of what we got, right?

 

Love.

I am so lucky. I will never lose sight of the gratitude for the miracle that has been happening in my life over the past few weeks. I don’t care if it’s fast. I don’t care if it’s intense. It’s the realest thing I’ve ever felt, and I have to pinch myself that this is my life. 

 
Lol it’s ok! I know babe I’ve been having a hard time focusing also because you are always on my mind too. I want you every moment of the day and when I’m not with you I take comfort in the fact that I know I will see you soon, that one day it literally will be just you, me, and OUR future. I am the one that’s blessed. I’m the one that is thankful. I want and love every single part of you. You make me a better person. If people could only be so lucky as to feel an ounce of the love I feel for and from you they would know the meaning of true ecstasy. I’m completely yours. And I’m going to marry you one day. I love you with everything I am and every inch of my body. It’s how I feel. And ill say it a million times over. I mean every word of it. You are so important to me, ____ I love you. And it’s not going to go away. Hearing you say those things means so much to me. Your love and support just gives me so much peace and motivation. Talking like this makes me miss you so much babe I just want you in your arms right now. Like seriously babe ill always be there for you.
 
Today 10:34 PM
 
 
   

Eliminate the negative energy.

Dear Bee,

All this year, I’ve been on this absolute journey towards health, sanity, and joy. That has involved eliminating negative people, places, and things and adding positive people, places, and things. Easy in theory, difficult in practice.

I’m having a dilemma with the girl who is potentially supposed to be my roommate. I think she has depression, and it’s getting worse. She is currently in my program at school, but she is ambivalent about our coursework and has spoken at length about dropping out. She complains often, yet she rarely takes action to change her mental state. Even though she has proven to be financially responsible and loyal as a friend, I’m not sure if I can depend on her. She doesn’t seem stable at this point in her life.

I want to say I’m at a crossroads, but I’m not. My intuition is telling me that I need to take care of my own needs and that I need to surround myself with the most positive energy possible. She is a sweetheart and a good friend of mine, but she does not provide that energy. And so, I realize that moving in with her will not be the best thing for my well-being.

The things I do for recovery.

But, I’m so proud of myself for putting my own needs first. I told that to my therapist today. Growth is all about taking risks. You can process and you can talk and you can analyze all you want, but until you take risks, you are not making changes, and you are not making real progress. You cannot transform if you want everything to remain exactly as it is. I am in no way looking to be stagnant. I am NO LONGER comfortable with the certainty of misery over the misery of uncertainty. And so, I told her that I didn’t think it’d be a good idea for us to live together.

I’ll have to find a new roommate. I’ll have to figure out that part of my life. I’ll have to figure out when and where I’m going to move. But I don’t have to worry about it now, because right now, I am proud of myself for taking a risk and being proactive towards my happiness and recovery. I am proud of myself for honoring my intuition and listening to the gut instinct I so frequently ignored. I am proud of myself for choosing assertiveness over passiveness, safety over danger, and my own needs over someone else’s.