Let’s stop sugarcoating how to deal with holidays

Ah, Thanksgiving Eve.

There are always a million of pro-recovery, pro-love, pro-gratitude posts swarming around this time of year. These tend to include steadfast tips for enjoying the holidays, as if a 10-itemed list can accurately identify and provide you with all the answers to keep your eating disorder at bay at a time where your biggest vice- food- is what the entire day is all about.

I’m not knocking those lists. I’m not even knocking that advice. I dole it out to my clients on the regular. But here’s what we’re missing.

Yes, there’s family, and family is so important. Yes, there’s gratitude, and that’s even more important. We know this. I don’t have to tell you it.

While I appreciate the efforts to focus on what the holidays are really about, I find it dangerous and concerning to push down the reality of the food component, as if gratitude and connection with our loved ones will alleviate us from the stressors that come with our eating disorders.

Here’s the thing. Food is always going to be here to stay. Food is social glue. Food is there multiple times a day, in every setting, and is necessary for, you know, living. And I can rattle on and on about how we can’t change situations, how we just need to accept that fact, how we can’t let it defeat us. And while all that is true, we also cannot deny that Thanksgiving and the holidays alike can be kryptonite.

My piece.

I love my family. I fucking love gratitude. And for about ten years, I hated holidays surrounding food. I still struggle with them.  My point is, they are not mutually exclusive. Any holiday around food, no matter how actively I practice recovery, brings up some anxieties, desires to engage in old behaviors whether it be overeating or undereating, and general discomfort. I spent many dinners judging the plates of others, keeping score of how “good” I was doing until I inevitably “fucked up” and swore myself I’d start over again tomorrow. I can remember my weight on most Thanksgiving mornings, and most of the Fridays after. I can remember which Thanksgivings became full-pie, midnight binges and which ones entailed daylong fasts until I “allowed” myself a few bites.

This year, I’m doing two Thanksgivings. This year, like every year, there will be a lot of food. Food that “feels” scary and unsafe. Food that I don’t eat everyday. Food that has the capacity to create anxieties and stressors that, even when I know are irrational, suck to have.

I consider myself in a high phase of recovery. I am relatively happy with my body, the way I eat, and how I take care of myself. It’s not perfect. Far from it, but part of the recovery is also accepting the imperfections. With that said, the fall-winter season is still difficult.

I’m not here to write lengthy advice today. You’ve probably seen all the cliched suggestions, anyway. There is no right advice for navigating tomorrow, except for the notion that it’s one day, and one day never has and never will define us and our recoveries.

My only advice for you all tomorrrow? Don’t guilt yourself if you can’t fully stay present with your friends, family, and gratitude. It’s not always that easy, and I’m applying that same forgiveness to myself. Just do your best, reflect afterwards, and know that you’re chugging along, doing what needs to be done. There are no real mistakes, only lessons along the way.

 

 

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Overeaters Anonymous Drop-Out

Dear Bee, 

I walked into my first OA meeting in late November. It was cold. Dark. All women. At my therapist’s (routine) suggestion, I went. And I stayed. Because that’s what everyone kept telling me to do. Keep coming back. I planted my booty in several rooms several times a week for the next six months. I spoke. I wrote. I read. I found a sponsor. I worked Step 1, 2, and 3. I found relief. I found answers. I woke up early. I stayed up late. I put recovery first. Undoubtedly, OA helped me during a very excruciating and painful time in my life. 

I no longer attend meetings and have not for the past seven or so weeks. My recovery is stronger than it has ever been. I am in a healthier state of mind than I was before my eating disorder even began. OA taught me great tools, and I gained some wonderful insight and friendships along the way.

I love the philosophy of the Twelve Steps for addiction models, but the structure of OA became too rigid for me. I have a disorder, and I am aware of how it affects me, but I do not have a biological nor psychological addiction to food. I never have. I used food and exercise as a crutch and coping mechanism; in recovery, I have learned how to identify feelings and appropriately manage them. I have learned how to like myself. CBT has done wonders for me in that sense.

I maintained my eating disorder by denying my feelings, settling for people and things that negatively affected my happiness, and fighting for unrelenting control over everything in life. Part of my recovery meant dismantling the rigidity. Only in learning how to equalize all foods and exercise and practicing the method of moderation and intuitive living have I been truly able to make remarkable progress. I stopped the program at Step Four, meaning I did not complete the searching and fearless moral inventory. Why? Because, I realized I needed to stop focusing on my flaws, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities. I needed to LET THEM GO.

Recovery has made me insurmountably proud of my past. Every single choice, good or bad, led me to where I am today. And where am I now? Exactly where I want to be. In a state of mind that I never knew I could have. I am not “passively” existing. I am active and excited. I am okay with being busy and okay with relaxing. I love myself and I can give love freely and happily to others. I am Europe-bound, halfway through my graduate program, one month away from working with clients, in love with the most amazing man I’ve ever met, content with family, happy with my body, gratefully employed, and OPTIMISTIC and EXCITED for life. 

I am not in denial of my imperfections; I never have been. In fact, I had the opposite problem. I was acutely aware of my vulnerabilities and fears, but I was unwilling and unable to let go of them. I let my mistakes define me. I did not do Step Four because doing so would have just sunk me deeper into my own pity party, and I spent many years celebrating my shame. It is time to move on. 

I am a firm believer in the power of group therapy, but this is not the intent of OA. At times, the program made me feel broken; I was a “compulsive overeater,” and it was literally a chronic disease that can only be managed and not beaten. I was never comfortable identifying myself as a disorder. In school, we are literally forbidden from calling people by their diagnoses. I would never say he’s schizophrenic or she’s bipolar…this pigeonholes individuals into a cluster of symptoms. I am Me. I am not ____, compulsive overeater or bulimic or anorexic…whatever. I am ME.

I do believe I can beat my eating disorder; I have always believed that. From day one. Even during my lowest of lows, I always knew I was going to get better. That faith and optimism in myself has kept me going day in and day out. You can all see my progress and struggles outlined here. I am not just rainbows and sunshine. But I am positive about my life. 

I gained a sense of spirituality from OA, and for that, I am grateful. I absolutely believe in the good karma of the universe, and I adopted that as a sense of Higher Power. However, I do not believe in turning my eating disorder over to the universe. Moreover, I never felt comfortable praying to a force greater than myself. The universe has taken great care of me, and I realize that I can let go and release the stress and preoccupation, but I do have the power to control, stop, and CHOOSE my actions. The serenity prayer is beautiful; I may not be in control of much in this world, but I am in control my eating disorder behaviors. I used to think I was helpless and “out-of-control.” I couldn’t stop a binge to save my life. I couldn’t eat a fear food without freaking out. I couldn’t gain an ounce of weight without hating myself.

I gained some responsibility over myself. I learned just how much my eating disorder was influencing my self-esteem, decision-making abilities, and quality of life. I have choices, and to believe that I am powerless makes me feel helpless and scared. 

Moreover, I struggled with defining abstinence from the first day. What am I supposed to be abstaining from? Compulsive overeating. Well, yes. But that sounds rather black-and-white, which opposes the picture of recovery I tried to color. Abstain from trigger foods? When I did this, I underwent just another extreme diet, because suddenly I couldn’t handle anything that I didn’t deem as safe. Once again, I found myself putting certain foods on a pedestal. I kept labeling “good” and “bad” foods, and, in doing so, I developed even more of an anxiety and fear hierarchy. I was told that I needed to avoid the fears rather than face them. In other words, this was maintaining a self-defeating cycle, one in which I believed my body could not handle certain foods due to their alleged toxicity. 

Engaging in an eating disordered behavior is not a failure and perfect recovery is impossible. Slips are inevitable, and I wish OA would take those setbacks more into consideration. I was made to believe that any alteration to my “plan” sent me right back to square one. Indeed, I became caught up in the perfectionistic cycle of counting days and numbers…if I had to be the “best” at an eating disorder, I sure had to be the “best” at recovery as well, right? 

I needed to dismantle perfectionism, and, unfortunately, OA made that difficult. The structure felt so black-and-white. Don’t binge. Only eat at these times. Only eat these kinds of foods. No ifs and or buts. I realize OA does not actually endorse such limitations, but most of the fellowship followed relatively strict rules concerning their food intake. My recovery meant breaking the rules instead of making more of them. I was already living with countless rules that I had created for myself. I needed to learn how to listen to my body and intuition, rather than follow another plan. I needed to learn how to ultimately trust myself, which was one of the scariest, but most worthwhile, decisions I ever made. 

I am not for or against OA, and I have seen it create miracles for some. I met some wonderful people. I love my sponsor and her advice continues to be invaluable.

At this phase in my recovery, I am in no position to say whether or not I will go back to meetings. For now, however, I like the fluidity of my recovery. I like being able to eat what I want, when I want, and how much I want. I am at a healthy weight with a relatively positive body image. My disorder no longer defines or controls me.

I am not “recovered.” I am not cocky nor ignorant about my recovery process. There is an ebb and flow to this journey, and I have hit many rough patches and dark spots along the way. Food may always be my achilles heel…I know how likely relapse can is! However, I have learned an abundance of healthy coping strategies and I will continue with what works: therapy, writing in this blog, reading, seeking support, and continuously making myself feel good.

The best thing I learned from OA was the message of living life on life’s terms, and that’s exactly what I’m doing: riding this delicious energy called life.

update to last post

Dear Bee,

In response to the last post I wrote about an hour ago, I did end up calling my sponsor, and it went really well. We’re two completely different people, but she knew exactly how I was feeling, and wow…I fully believe strength comes in numbers. I feel so relieved.

One thing that’s really challenging for me to do is be honest. Okay, I’ve come clean about my eating disorder to most people. That’s a huge step, and I’m proud of myself for it. However, I still lie about the dumbest, smallest details.

She asked me what I binged on…and I hesitated. Because, yes, that’s where most of the shame comes from. I hate people knowing how much I eat (or what I eat), because I rarely feel like it’s an acceptable amount…this is why texting her my food has been so eye-opening. I’ve realized that, at the end of the day, it’s JUST FUCKING FOOD…and everyone with an eating disorder has their own weird habits and rigid routines. That’s why we have a disorder to begin with. In other words, perfectly normal in my own abnormal existence.

I told her what I mini-binged on. Yes, I hated doing it. Yes, I was humiliated.

And, yes, I felt much better afterwards. 

She also asked me how I felt when I texted her about my eating episode. I admitted my shame and guilt. I told her I felt dumb texting her an hour after I had started enthusiastically working the first step. She explained that digging up my eating disordered past will bring up a lot of repressed feelings and subdued pains…I anticipated that, yes, but you know, it’s always a learning experience. Good thing I love school, right?

Before hanging up, she told me to hug myself. She told me to be proud of myself for reaching out and pinpointing my triggers. She told me to find some affirmations and repeat the serenity prayer (or whatever mantra I like) if needed. I think I’ll just do that.

Back to the positive vibes.

My new sponsor and redefining my beautiful friend, Bee.

Dear Bee,

I have a sponsor. This time, she’s real and genuine, rather than someone who brushes me off and seems to always be “running out the door” whenever I called. And this woman is so sweet. She really is. Despite our age, weight, and lifestyle differences, she absolutely treats me as an equal and respects me for who I am!

We met for lunch today and talked for about an hour and a half, and I just felt so comfortable disclosing my personal issues and fears around her. It felt so good…so inspiring. And she shared her own story, which I loved hearing! She asked me what I want out of our relationship, and it was so awesome to just be able to express what I need in terms of support and guidance.

I attribute much of my recovery and inner peace to the support in OA; I am so glad I was able to set aside my stubbornness and preconceived notions about the foundation of the Twelve Steps and open my mind to all that the fellowship can offer! I love that there is no “right or wrong” way to do anything in that program; I love that everyone is welcome to attend, no matter where one may fall on the disordered eating spectrum; I love the positivity and humbled atmosphere.

I know I am in such a good place, and I am absolutely grateful for it. I feel so blessed for the lessons I am learning about myself, others, and the world. I fully believe in the power of self-awareness, and even though it can be difficult to work through the issues I long suppressed, denied, or avoided, it’s so empowering at the same time.

I will say that February was a difficult month for us. There were more slips than I intended. There were some insane eating binges. There were some extreme distorted thoughts. But relapse? Not a chance. Not me.

You, my friend, are jus becoming a smaller, less-consuming force in my mind. Sure, sometimes you come out to poke and prod me, but I can close the door and hang out with a different friend more easily than I ever was able to before.

In fact, I barely look at you as Bee anymore, an indication of how far I’ve come since I started writing these letters in December. Back then, most of those letters centered on the perils of our relationship, on our memories, on my feelings towards you, on my frustrations and anger; I used the nickname Bee as a catch-all for my eating disorder, and writing to “you” helped me separate all the irrationality going on inside my distorted mind.

We were never separate. And as much as I want to believe you were just some parasite that invaded my life, I know you were more than my eating disorder: you were representative of the way I chose to live my life; you were the cycle of my negative self-talk, uncomfortable feelings, and compulsive and destructive behaviors.

I emphasize the word were because I am referring to my past. Our relationship has shifted because my LIFE has shifted. I am starting to love myself…really! I am starting to relax and lighten up…REALLY! And finally, I am starting to just let go…TRULY AND HONESTLY, I am letting go of the yesterdays, tomorrows, shoulds, and what-could-have-beens.

I am achieving the freedom: freedom from your abuse, freedom from your dictation, freedom from your punishment and cruelty.

I know you’re still there, and that’s okay. I will always love you, because you are me…and in loving you, I am accepting me 🙂

“One cannot know peace with others when one cannot achieve peace with himself” (my-maybe-I-need-to-forget-this-whole-being-a-therapist-and-just-become-a-philosopher-quote-of-the-day)

Writing as my own spiritual awakening

Dear Bee,

 I was at this incredibly uplifting OA meeting this morning and we started out by reading out of the big book (of Alcoholics Anonymous). I really need to read this literature in its entirety. Personal opinion on the Twelve Steps aside, one cannot deny how effective these programs are. This text, indeed, has saved many lives.

Anyway, we did a ten-minute “read-around-the-room” followed by a five-minute writing session to elaborate on what we had just read/any thoughts.

I picked up this quote: We will see that our new attitude toward liquor has been given us without any thought or effort on our part. It just comes! That is the miracle of it. We are not fighting it, neither are we avoiding temptation. We feel as though we had been placed in a position of neutrality – safe and protected. We have not even sworn off. Instead, the problem has been removed. It does not exist for us (p. 85).

And here was my response:

To me, this is the pinnacle of recovery–this experience of freedom from the bondage of an eating disorder and all the exhaustive mental preoccupation associated with it. Right now, there is so much fighting, and maybe that is because I have not yet fully surrendered to this idea of powerlessness.

Am I avoiding temptation? I don’t know. Sometimes, it feels that way, because I realize I cannot eat the same way normal eaters do…yet. Will I always be disordered? The school of Overeaters Anonymous says yes. The alcoholic will always be an alcohol, despite how long he lives in sobriety. The compulsive overeater, likewise, will always be a compulsive overeater, abstinence or not.

To some extent, I agree that those maladaptive tendencies will always be somewhere in my mind (preferably the back) during stressful or changing times. Rather than try to resist this, I know I just need to accept and embrace the possibility. That does not mean I need to stress over the future, but rather, adjust the way I cope. The more I love myself, the more I truly and fully value my whole being–mind, body, and spirit–the more automatic these choices will be.

In a sense, this will remove the “problem.” Because harming myself with food or without food will not only seem irrational, but it will also seem ridiculous.

I know that i have been chasing these feelings of “safe” and “protected.” And sometimes, I thought I had achieved these feelings by virtue of my sickness, but they were never lasting, and once removed, I only felt more unstable and vulnerable. So I know now these feelings cannot come to me so long as I punish myself. Because if I am not keeping my own self safe and protected, if I am not able to give myself that primitive need, who will? This is nobody’s responsibility but my own. Maybe that once scared me, but now, it only empowers me.

Because I know I have this extraordinary potential to unconditionally love myself, and that love will transcend to everything I do and everyone I want in my life. To me, that is this surrender, that is letting go and embracing hope.

I am so worthy of happiness. I am so worthy to be own best friend–because the greater my self-worth, the more wholesome and authentic my experiences, reactions, and coping.

Okay, so I went somewhat over the five-minute limit, but once I start writing, well…I just get in my zone, as we all know.

When we went around the room to share, I didn’t originally intend to read what I had written, because most of the people were discussing the spiritual component of the text (it was a very God-heavy reading). And sometimes, being agnostic, I feel somewhat mystified with how to respond to the religious aspect. I know that the Twelve Steps does not prescribe to any particular religion, and I have never felt one ounce of pressure to believe in God, but at the same time, I know many people have found success by turning their lives over to Him.

But at the last moment, I decided, this meant something to me…these are MY thoughts and MY feelings, and I wanted to express them whether people wanted to hear them or not.

Sharing is healing.

And so, I read what I had written aloud and it felt good. So many things have been feeling so good lately. Afterwards, a few people came up to me to praise my writing. One woman in particular said, You’re a writer, right? You have to be. What else have you written? You have a gift. 

And you know what? This took me back for a moment. Because writing was my first passion, and since I learned how to pick up a pencil at four or five years old, I was scribbling stories on scraps of paper. I have drafts of novels, pages after pages of poetry and short stories, thousands of essays from all my classes. And now I have these journal letters.

I always imagined envisioned myself becoming a novelist, as this free-spirited artist meant to move people with my written words. And most of my teachers felt the same way. In sixth grade, I was accused of cheating on an essay. The grader thought my father had written it. He couldn’t stop laughing–said he didn’t even know how I knew half the words I had used in my story. Still, the fleeting and unstable reality of the starving artist scared me enough to settle my eighteen-year-old self into a practical–but absolutely fascinating–major (psychology).

I am extremely lucky to have found a calling that can heal others in a different, creative way by virtue of my presence, empathy, and guidance as a therapist. I know I will be the change agent in so many lives, and I desperately want to be the person to provide that unconditional positive regard to those who cannot even see it for themselves.

Still, writing has been my own higher power, my own spiritual awakening, throughout my entire life. Writing has healed me–this is where my creative energy flows, this is me in my most natural and happiest state.

And writing, probably more than any other tool in my recovery, will be my constant savior. Readers or not, I know that putting the words on paper channels my inner imagination. And that, in itself, is its own religion.

I smiled back at that woman with absolute confidence and thanked her. And to answer her question, I told her I was a writer.

Because I am. And I realized that I will always be writing something or another. I pulled out an old draft of my first novel and worked on it…because, that’s what I do and that’s who I am and that’s who makes me happy.

Today, I am blessed. Today, I am humbled and full of hope.

5 realizations + 10 reasons to be grateful

This is not a letter to Bee.

I was reflecting on my eating disorder recovery earlier today (I act like this is something shocking and new), and came up with some pretty profound realizations.

1. I still fully believe that eating disorder recovery symbolizes a metaphorical marathon. It’s a looooooong 26.2 miles to the finish line, and sometimes, I’m going to be moving at a fast and steady pace, and other times, I’m going to feel sluggish and unmotivated. There will be times I come to a dead stop. There will be times I question the entire point of this mission. But there will be times (and there have been times) where I’m deeply immersed into the zone and feel utterly connected to my deep breath, in awe of my body and strength and resilience…and that is when I know I will keep pushing, pushing, pushing no matter how tired I feel or how much I fear I will never see the finish line. When people recount their best races, they talk about the journey. They talk about the weather conditions, discuss the other participants, share their injuries, dehydration, aching knees and pounding feet, and lament on the barriers–big and small–that tried to sabotage their performance. In other words, they aren’t just blabbing about that last step crossing over the finish line.

2. I must recognize that I need an action-based plan for times of stress or change. People revert to their maladaptive and destructive patterns when their emotions are rampant. I am not an exception to this rule. Rather than try to avoid or deny that stress affects my attitude towards control and eating, I need to anticipate it, accept it and appropriately deal with it. 

3. My recovery process is a normal one, as much as I like to believe it is unique, complicated, and one-of-a-kind. The truth is, where I started out at a more rational and calm state of mind, I’m becoming impatient. I want to be CURED. I don’t like the “hard parts,” the struggling, the anguish. I feel like my disordered voice is so much stronger than anyone else’s, when I know this is absolutely not true. Recovery is messy…but I’m grateful for it nonetheless.

4. Everyone has baggage. Everyone has insecurities and weaknesses. Everyone has something about themselves they wish they could change or fix. Even though we get this message drilled into us from a young age, I never truly believed it until I started graduate school and began to really learn how people think, act, and feel. The bottom line is that nobody is perfect. I struggle with eating: others struggle with sleeping, academics, finances, anger management, and so forth. We can see these differences as flaws—or we can see them as the characteristics that uniquely shape who we are and what we do.

5. This process feels MUCH more empowering when I I tell myself, I am recovered. Although this may not be factual, in those desperate and bleak moments of inner turmoil and anxiety, telling myself hey, you know what to do; you’re in a different place than you were is so much better than playing victim to my eating disordered pathology. Otherwise, I’m just maintaining my self-fulfilling prophecy; I am just accommodating into my diagnosis.

Everyday, I write down ten good things that happened that day. Why? Because I firmly believe that a positive outlook creates a positive LIFE. Thoughts shape our world. I suggest that anyone who struggles to find the optimism in the mundane details of the daily grind try this for at least a week. It can really change your perspective and help you make the most of the “small things.”

Here are mine today.

1. I started my application process for my first fieldwork sites! In my traineeship next semester, I’ll be seeing my first clients, and I am SO excited to start!

2. My group and I were able to collaborate REALLY well and brainstorm some great ideas for our presentation this week! It’s so great when everyone can express their needs while compromising at the same time.

3. I was able to completely shift my focus from frantic binge-mode to a calm and content state of mind. So proud of myself.

4. Spent quality time with one of my best friends from school.

5. Played with my hamster 🙂 Love my little monster.

6. Hung out with my brother and we spent SO MUCH time just laughing. I cherish these moments with him. My brother is my biggest hero: he lives with the type of attitude I am working towards adopting (does what he wants, practices moderation, and lives fully).

7. I am just realizing that I actually DO NOT have a 16-hour work/school day tomorrow, and I am so excited at the prospect of taking some time for myself.

8. I am comfortable and warm in my bed and planning to get a GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP for the first time in awhile. In fact, I’m not setting my alarm for the first time in months. 🙂

9. The weather was cooler than the crazy summer weather we’ve been having, but it felt good walking outside to just breathe in the fresh air.

10. I was able to forgive myself for a few slips today…but better than that, I am able to unconditionally love myself.

On Freedom: Never Postpone Joy

Dear Bee,

Today was wonderful. It was my last day working at a very beloved job, and admittedly, I was nervous about how bittersweet the goodbyes were going to feel. Yes, they were just as bittersweet as I expected. But what was incredibly amazing? The realization that I made an incredible impact on the people I work with. The love I felt was so incredibly overwhelming.

I leave knowing I made a lasting difference and impression, and that is such an indescribable feeling of gratitude. 

I learned so much from this job, lessons that I will carry on with me for the rest of my life, and I am absolutely blessed for the experiences I attained. I can look at this goodbye as a sense of positive closure. I love the cliche when one door closes, another opens for a good reason!

You know, you weren’t around much at all today. That’s all I have to say about that. I have realized that you’re there when I let you be…when I want you to be..when I feel like I have nothing else, when I feel scared of thinking about anything else. 

Also, when I feel like I don’t deserve anything else.

That’s all you are. You’re the security blanket protecting me in the dark, scary world of the ruthless unknown. But in protecting me, you’ve suffocated me. 

I am so ready to FULLY let go- to let go of this rigid, extreme control. I want freedom, and it’s in my reach; I just have to be willing to hold onto it, rather than run from it. 

But to achieve freedom, I must surrender the war: the war with you, with me, with my body, with the food, with the obsession and preoccupation, with the compulsion, with the punishment, with the perceived control. 

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I am ready. I do not want to live ONE MORE DAY spent in this sickness. 

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What’s my thought right now? I am free and full of love for myself. 

I am continuing my journey of self-love and doing good things for myself. Yesterday, I wrote fiction for the first time in so long and it was amazing. I fell into that creative flow I’ve been depriving myself, and it was so healing to just let my thoughts run free.

Free. That’s definitely this week’s motto.

Today, I slept in late, enjoyed the sunshine, said my faithful goodbyes, listened to moving music, and drank blonde ale in a dive bar wearing a tank top and shorts. 

Little things add up to the every things<3