making rules & breaking rules

Dear Bee,

As much living and wholeness as there is in my revitalized state of being, there are those times when I do feel like I’m just existing meal to meal. As if food is still the central force driving my thoughts and behaviors. It’s frustrating, right? Because surely, other people don’t live to eat. That whole motto, eat to live vs. live to eat runs through my mind.

One of my boyfriend’s colleagues, another young therapist in eating disorder recovery, has these grandiose plans to build a treatment center. She is interested in possibly teaming up with me. I don’t know the first thing about running a business nor do I even know if I want to specialize in eating disorders anymore. But I do know this. Inpatient and residential treatment out there is spotty. At best. Eating disorder therapy is also spotty. Recovery is so complex, relapse is so common, and most of the well-being gains consist of being able to really drill in the message, that yes, life can be lived in the gray, and, in fact, IT HAS TO BE LIVED IN THE GRAY.

Anyway, this won’t be for years. I don’t have to think about it much now. Something interesting to possibly look forward to though. While I don’t believe a professional needs first-hand knowledge to understand the complexity of a mental illness, eating disorders are slightly different. As in…they tend to be progressive, and rather than a marathon-style recovery, they represent more of a convoluted labyrinth-style maze. Also, people with eating disorders tend to have other co-morbid issues and character qualities including terrible self-esteem, lying and deceit, minimizing, and a total devoid or absence of feelings. 

I still have some voids left in me. I know this because I still have the eating disorder gnawing with certain meals and foods and clothes and numbers on the scale. I still want to fill it with food or the absence of food or exercise or weight loss. I am still wanting the perfect body, despite my absolute knowledge that a perfect body will not bring me anything. In fact, I can guarantee this so well that I have a feeling even if I got CLOSE to this so-called image of a perfect body that I have in my head, I would self-sabatoge it. Because then, what would I have to work on? I’ve always lived thinking that I’m this never-ending work-in-progress, but to be honest, I’m tired of that faulty logic. I am good enough. Just as I am. Not a work-in-progress, but more of a progressing soul! Work makes it sound tedious and negative. It makes me sound incomplete, which I am not.

The absence of disordered behaviors often just fuels the perfectionist side in me. I want to make bigger goals. Clean eating, X amount of calories, Y days of exercise, absolutely no Z. The rules are endless, and yet, I break them all the time. Absent rules makes for an absent eating disorder. I have learned that. I need to embrace it! Rules made me sick in the first place. Breaking them takes me on the stairway to freedom. 

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What happens when you are more than just a body?

Dear Bee, 

When we are valued for our bodies, our worth depends on the size of our thighs, the shape of our breasts, and the curves in our butts. We are measured by the flatness of our stomachs, the colors and textures of our hair, the straightness of our teeth, the polish on our nails, the complexion of our faces. We become succinct categories measured by numbers and colors. We are objectified. Society chooses which traits are superior, and most of us spend our entire lives chasing after those traits, no matter how unattainable they may be. We can always improve. We can always be prettier, skinnier, younger-looking, whatever. Society makes billions of dollars sending this message to individuals everywhere. They are doing a damn good job at making us feel inferior. We are completely under the illusion that the quality of our lives depends on the quality of our appearances.

From time to time, we need to be validated to feel appreciated and secure. To feel confident and loved. You, Bee, love those appearance-related comments. From the compliments about my straight, white teeth (thanks to 5 years of orthodontic care) to the breathless adoration for my body, specifically my breasts, in a bikini, I revel in the attention. At times, I need it to feel good about myself. To feel loved and worthy. To feel special. Yes, I used to equate beauty with superiority. Subconsciously, I still fall into this trap. Most of us do. We rank people immediately based on what they look like. We draw conclusions.  When I hear these compliments, you remind me that it was your presence and hard work that made this possible. You deserve the credit. Without you, I would be ugly and worthless. Without you, my fears would become my reality. 

Today, my therapist told me, you are more than a body. More than a body. 

I was expressing how much compliments on my appearance can trigger me. Over the weekend, I felt overwhelmed with praise.  I felt confused why I didn’t feel flattered. I could understand feeling upset if people were insulting me, but complimenting me? Why would I spend seven years agonizing almost every meal if I didn’t want the praise? Wasn’t this how it all started? To lose weight? To be beautiful? To be adored and loved? Wasn’t I fucking chasing those compliments?

I thought so. 

With this disease, there isn’t a low enough number to make us feel beautiful. There isn’t enough food to fill a void of emptiness or enough exercise to burn away self-loathing. We cannot starve your way to happiness. It’s recovery or death: It’s a black-and-white. One may not die right away, sure, but the life, the fire, the passion has been stolen and replaced with compulsion, distortion, and exhaustion. The world becomes a string of numbers and calculations. I don’t think that’s life. Not the life I want to live, anyway. And I would bet most don’t want to live that way, either. 

You never made me feel beautiful. Ever. No matter how little I ate. No matter how many times people complimented me. No matter what number I weighed. You promised me that when I weighed this much or when I ate thatI would be beautiful. I would be happy. I just needed to hold on a little bit…you were always talking in future-terms. The future you promised never arrived. You were a fallacy. Such a future does not come in sickness. When you hate who you are and what you do, how can you possibly expect beauty and self-love to emerge? How can a stupid number of amount of food give you that love? 

I only now see glimpses of beauty and gratitude for who I am now that I have chosen the future that goes against every single damn thing you stand for. I see the future you promised only when I chose recovery. Twisted, isn’t it?  

I love my body, but it is just my shell. I love my mind more. I love my personality. My quirkiness. My compassion. My intuition. My creativity. Those are the things I want to be remembered for; those are the things that make an impact on my relationships; those are the things that make me happy. My body is just the vessel holding all that in. 

why shame keeps you stuck

Dear Bee, 

Earlier this morning, I told a very distressed client that shame counteracts healing. Thus, to foster the process of healing, one must express the shame. One must become familiar, attack, and confront it. Shame keeps us sick. Toxic, stuck, hurting. Shame penetrates into every fear and robs us of our ability to be genuine with ourselves and others.

The antithesis of shame is acceptance. And that’s why recovery, recovery from anything, is hard. Because we don’t want to accept ourselves. We don’t want to accept our self-perceived flaws, and we don’t want to accept the elements that are simply and painfully out of our control. 

Shame is deeply entrenched in any mental illness, but I only recognized my own roots of it this year. I think of mental illness as a tree. The leaves embody the outward manifestations we call symptoms. The branches represent triggers that exacerbate the symptoms. The trunk is the history that develops the branches. The roots signify perceptions we hold about ourselves and the world, which, in turn, make the trunk grow. 

I couldn’t talk about my eating disorder. Whatsoever. I still struggle with open disclosure of my distorted thoughts and difficult feelings, simply because I often think I’m crazy, irrational, stupid, incompetent, etc. etc. etc. The list of negative adjectives could go on forever. Before this year, I couldn’t even identify my feelings. Imagine that. If someone had asked me how I was really feeling, I couldn’t tell them. Because I didn’t know. 

I would minimize, lie, exaggerate…I was essentially wrapped in a choke-hold of shame. I wouldn’t tell people when I began slipping back into old behaviors. I wouldn’t tell people if I was bingeing. Weighing myself. Getting obsessive with food counts. Checking calories. Overdoing my exercise. And so forth. I would smile and say, everything was fine. Because that’s what I thought people wanted to hear, and that’s what I wanted to believe. And the more you lie, the more bitter the taste…but that taste becomes familiar, and eventually you are all but desensitized to it. I’ve been working with the same therapist for a year, and I still find myself occasionally being deceitful in session! This just shows how painstakingly uncomfortable it can be to express utmost honesty. I have a hard time letting people believe I am anything less than perfect. I still sometimes feel weak asking for help. In turn, I do not like being vulnerable. Because it triggers the shame, and sitting in shame is like sitting on a bed of nails. 

Face the vulnerability. Relish in it. Accept it. If shame is Trainstop A, vulnerability is the train that takes us to Health, Trainstop B.

Bee is a voice that thrives in the name of shame. Even through recovery, you do all you can to keep yourself hidden, concealed, and protected from the world. You want me all to yourself. You absolutely recognize that healing comes from expressing, which is why you do all that you can to prevent yourself from being talked about. You’re a smart and powerful voice. It’s taken several years, books, individual and group therapy sessions, and support teams to start using MY voice, rather than yours.

You kept me in deep pain and turmoil, and I now recognize that same deep resentment in my clients. Their struggles may be starkly contrast from my own, but each person I work with desperately wants to remedy his or her distress. They want that sense of normalcy and health we all crave. Shame, however, often prevents them from believing they are truly worthy and deserving of those gifts.

Shame may manifest in different ways through different illnesses, but the feeling is universal: sheer humiliation, self-loathing, disgust with oneself, the disbelief that others can possibly accept or tolerate the particular circumstance. Shame is dangerous; shame keeps us isolated and afraid. 

The process of healing shame takes time. It involves forgiveness and a willingness to examine inner turmoil. Ultimately, it also boils down to finding a place of acceptance: acceptance of past, present, and future. This is not an easy task. Not by any means. We are constantly bombarded with reasons not to accept ourselves or our realities. We are constantly receiving messages that tell us we are not worthy of health, respect, or dignity. When we feel broken in some way, we often think we are doomed.

I know I did.

I didn’t think I deserved help for my eating disorder until I finally felt so frustrated that I walked into my college counseling center and asked to talk to a professional. I didn’t think I deserved to be honest until I met a supportive treatment team who promised that I could not let them down, no matter how many times I believed I failed. 

Tackle the shame. Even though it may put up a tough and scary front, you will overcome it if you are willing to put forth the fight.

We need to talk about how much I trip, spill, and break.

Dear Bee,

Clumsiness is one of my greatest assets. Seriously, one of these days, I need to put it down on my resume. But ever since school started, two weeks ago, my awkward encounters have been worse than usual. To summarize, I’ve gotten a UTI, torn a skirt, spilled stuff all over a shirt, did an applause-worthy trip, chipped a tooth (on a fork. I kid you not), spent two hours messing up an entire software program, burnt myself, and literally forgotten something essential every single one of those days.

I’d like to chalk it up to bad luck, but let’s face it. My multitasking is back in full swing, and although I used to pride myself on the ability to pump out a 5-page essay in one hour while simultaneously listening to music, stalking Facebook, and texting, I know that this type of fanatic energy only increases the anxiety I am trying to deplete. 

I. Need. To. Slow. Down.

Mindfulness, staying present, focusing on one task at a time. Sounds great in theory. Sounds like the advice I’d tell anyone to follow. But in actuality, it’s hard. We run on a 24-hour, round-the-clock treadmill where doing is synonymous with success. Therefore, one must do MORE, MORE, MORE to win. 

And if I need to keep going? Just drink some coffee. 

We’re constantly wired. Buzzes, vibrations, tones…we can distract ourselves with a million different things at any given moment. This isn’t healthy. Not for the mind, body, or soul. And that’s what this recovery journey is all about. Healing the mind, body, and soul. Because they work in tandem. 

We didn’t evolve to engage in simultaneous activity at the same time. In fact, studies show that we decrease our cognition and increase our risks when we do this (texting and driving, anyone? Mindless eating & TV?)

I think a part of my overall recovery needs to focus on just being okay with doing one thing at a time and being comfortable with that. Staying in the task, even if I want to stray away and scroll through my phone or check something online or so on.

Anyways, with that said and done, I’m exhausted. Not much on the eating disorder front. It’s 10pm, and I had two bowls of some generic cereal for dinner. I was too tired to make anything else. Whatever. 

I’m ready to pass out. My schedule is absolutely erratic. I have clients tomorrow and Thursday, and I’m crossing my fingers they all show up. Looks like I have some pornography addiction, Borderline Personality Disorder, couples counseling, and adolescent trauma up ahead. Stoked.

Peace out friends. 

Every single person has won the lottery

Dear WORLD, 

I am against all odds. Really. So is everyone reading this. Statistically speaking, I shouldn’t be alive. Because in order for me to be existing, my mother needed to meet my father. They needed to have sex while she was ovulating, and one sperm (out of infinite) needed to meet with one egg (out of infinite) to conceive my fetus. And from there, the embryo needed to develop, and I needed to be released from the womb and into the world. How many people have sex a day…how much sperm fails to create a child? How many eggs are released by means of menstruation? Infinite. Infinite. I am rare, special, and essentially an anomaly. One missed turn, and my parents may have never met. One last decision to use protection that time, and my mother may have never become pregnant. 

All seven billion of us– and all our predecessors–are RARE.

There is a balance between living in the absolute essential moment and planning for the future. Do I know if I will be alive tomorrow? Nope. But chance is on my side, and I am guessing I will be. Can I truly live today as if it were my last day on Earth? No. I cannot. Because if that was the case, I would empty out every dime I have and go out on a limb. I would skydive and throw a huge party with all my loved ones. I would donate give the rest to my family and charity. I cannot do that today. Because, even though my id tells me one thing, my ego reminds me that every action has a consequence. Humans are smart and cognizant. We can plan ahead. 

Balance is best, because hedonism and utter impulsivity will eventually wear off. I like to think of impulsivity as a symptom of underlying distress and discomfort with the state of one’s being. You have an incessant need, therefore, to rebel against yourself, to be radical and unpredictable. Impulsivity and spontaneity are not interchangeable- spontaneity is going with your gut instinct to chase the feeling-good, in-the-moment high. Impulsivity is similar, but rather than going with what you feel, you go by driven compulsion. Chaos, not empowerment, turns you to that choice. 

Today, you are alive. Alive. In this earth, breathing this air, surrounded by life. We are all going to die. You will never be younger than you are at this very second. In fact, after just reading that last sentence, you have already become another second closer to death. You can be terrified of the prospects that every single thing is temporary…or you can be exhilarated. You can determine that, in the end, nothing matters, so what’s the point? Or you can perceive life as this extremely lucky lottery that you won, and therefore, you  may as well make the most of the money remaining while it’s still in your pocket. 

Your life. There are no concrete rules or limitations. Your life to create or your life to destroy. Pick what you want. 

when two halves don’t make one whole

Wholeness- before you truly and fully experience its virtues- is a nearly impossible feeling to describe. When I reflect on my past, something always felt missing. There always seemed to be some kind of deep void taking precedence over my mood, sanity, and, ultimately, road to happiness. Being whole didn’t even seem like a viable goal: I always thought I would be in a constant state of anxiety, running on this never-ending treadmill to find some miraculous pot of gold at the end of the infinite rainbow.

Through working recovery, I have taken the journey to achieving wholeness. Maslow used the term self-actualization to describe the state of discovering inner peace. Self-nirvana in a hypothetical sense. One must have his or her primary needs met before reaching the top of this hierarchy of needs. I like the word wholeness. It makes me think of a puzzle without any missing pieces. A beautiful picture that may have taken years to create.

And just like a puzzle, wholeness is precious and can be destroyed by careless fingers or a fit of rage. Wholeness is delicate. Wholeness is a gift.  

I find my sense of being whole means actively seeking balance while maintaining a sense of consistent gratitude for what you have. Being whole entails being alive rather than just existing, being present with the moment, being joyous and passionate about life. Being whole means feeling like you have everything you need, even if you do not have necessarily everything you want. Being whole is not synonymous with being happy or rich or in love or healthy. Being whole ultimately comes down to finding an inner place of acceptance- acceptance for everything, what is in your control, what is not in your control. Acceptance of your past, present, and future. When you are a whole with yourself, you are safe with yourself. You enjoy yourself. You enjoy life, because you can fully and completely live it. 

I met my boyfriend at a very fortunate crossroads in both of our lives, at a time where we were individually delving deep into self-discovery and learning about the importance of compassion, genuine communication, and honesty. Had he met me when I did not feel “whole,” I may have become overly dependent on the relationship (in order to fill that insatiable void I once felt) or I may have been completely afraid to jump into the risky and unpredictable game we call love. This goes both ways. He had his own obstacles to overcome. Everyone has growing up to do.

Contrary to the cliche, he is not my other half. He is my other whole. And two wholes make for a whole and radical love, not a spotty or inconsistent or incomplete sense of love. 

When I was sick and riding an existence of utter compulsion and self-loathing, I was not whole. The eating disorder stole some of my most valuable assets: my confidence, mood, and body. Most of all, it stole my ability to accept life and all its spontaneity and craziness.

 My eating disorder kept me incomplete. Not broken, not destroyed, not even damaged…but I sure wasn’t whole. If one is as sick as her secrets, I was walking with a chronic fever…but always with a smile plastered on my face and a convincing, I’m fine whenever asked how I felt. I was lying to the entire world, and we say we hate liars. Most consider lying a deal-breaker in an intimate relationship. Well, I spent every past relationship entrenched in my own fallacies and struggles. Fortunately, at the time, I was just a good actress who kept my mouth shut.  

I didn’t love myself. The rigidity of my eating disorder and its toxic mentality kept me selfish with my needs, but because I could not properly express myself, I resorted to passive-aggression, control, manipulation, and deceit. When I was hurting inside, I had to hide it. Thus, my life became a malady of inner conflicts. Deep down, I must have feared I was unlovable, but now I realize I was never unlovable. People always loved me. People always cared about me. Being unlovable wasn’t the problem: being able to give love back was.

I am not perfect. My body is not perfect. My recovery is not perfect. Life is not perfect. My imperfections make me different from the other seven billion people sharing this home with me. My imperfections are my trademarks and quirks, and none of them make me any less whole and any less amazing.

. Earlier this year, I vowed to trust in the universe, to throw all my blind faith into whatever the good karma of the world could offer me…and you know what? The universe has treated me well. Unbelievably well.

When you choose recovery, you choose life. You choose freedom from self-harm and inner bondage. You choose a second chance and you choose the ability to truly and genuinely and intimately connect. 

I can freely love now. Fully, deeply, passionately, and without hesitation. And when you love yourself and your partner loves him or herself, and you bring both of that love into one dynamic love for each other…well, life just vibrates with ecstasy. 

Recovery comes first.

Dear Bee,

There is only one real question that one has to ask- about everything: does this threaten my sobriety? If it does, we addicts cannot do it. It is as simple as that.

I am reading this therapy book and skimming through most of it (because I find the author arrogant and somewhat misinformed), but I stopped at the addiction and codependency chapter, and this quote jumped out.

 In the Twelve Steps philosophy, sobriety holds precedence above everything else. Above family, above friends, above work…because if one is not sober, one is not in the correct capacity to be the person he or she needs to be. I use the words sobriety, abstinence, and recovery synonymously. I prefer recovery, so, in my case, I have to put my recovery first. But what does that mean?

Putting recovery first means acting in ways that I once considered selfish. This includes putting my own needs first, recognizing uncomfortable situations, practicing assertiveness, and doing my best to eliminate negative energy. It also means putting in hard work: going to therapy, reaching out for support, writing as often as I can, talking about my issues, identifying triggers, doing reality testing/thought records/pros and cons lists with myself, and eating in a way that is healthy for my mind, body, and soul.

Full recovery entails the transformation of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. When I was only eating “normally” in the first few months, I felt miserable. My thoughts were still rigid, my emotions were still rampant, and all I could think about was food, exercise, food, therapy, and food. I was running too fast on a treadmill that was taking me nowhere. Or so I thought. But I kept going.

Putting recovery first is shitty in the beginning. I won’t lie. It’s messy. It’s painful. The days drag, and the alleged light at the end of the tunnel is dim to nonexistent. The lapses hit you, and they hit you hard. You wonder, is this even worth it? You wonder, how do people actually do this? You wonder, will it ever get better? Or am I just a lost cause? Am I doomed to live like this forever?

I think about my recovery every single day. But, I don’t live perfect recovery every single day. That would be impossible. Such unrealistic expectations increase the likelihood of failure, quitting, and self-loathing. I have to be easy on myself, but, at the same time, I need to be aware of the cunning and destructive nature of eating disorders. They don’t just disappear, and relapse rates remain stubbornly high. I’ve only been in real recovery for a year. Before that, my attempts were well-intentioned, but unsuccessful because they still focused on vanity (ex: I need recovery, because it will help me lose weight) and not vitality and overall well-being. 

When you recover from an eating disorder, you recover from the idea that chaos is comfort. You learn to accept that you aren’t special or entitled just because you meet criteria for a diagnosis. You realize that nothing else in life changes just because you lost or gained ten pounds except, of course, your own attitude and perspective. You realize that food is JUST food, and the only thing that is negative or positive about it are your thoughts regarding what it does to your body and mindset. You distinguish eating disordered logic from reality and realize that, at one time, most of your thinking about yourself was irrational, distorted, and destructive.

Recovery is a long process and miracles do not happen overnight. But progress does. Chip at it, day by day, moment by moment, meal by meal. If you slip, you slip. You learn and you grow and you toughen up from it. If you cry, you’re releasing the inner pain and torment. That’s normal. If you feel lost and alone, welcome to the club. I am blessed to have some recovery under my belt; I am fortunate enough to get a second chance at life and all of its virtues; I am grateful- ever so grateful.

Today, if the eating disorder comes out to play, I will ask myself, what do I have to do to put my recovery first?