Saturday Morning Writing

I spent a long time talking about my eating disorder with my fiancé last night. It was real and raw and scary, but I felt so much better afterwards. I always do.

I admitted things I didn’t even realize I was hiding. Like the fact that I’ve been weighing myself every single day. Like the fact that I’ve been labeling food as “good” or “bad,” and the bad list continues to grow.

I haven’t been hiding these things from him; they have just been so unconscious to me, such embodiments of old behavior that I hadn’t even realized they embodied symptoms of sickness.

I’m committed to working recovery again. It’s been so sloppy over the past two years, and I forgive myself for that. I’ve been cocky and fake- I’ve been preaching recovery like it’s a miracle, and, at the same time, I’m measuring my progress via a number on the scale and the amount of mental calories I’ve consumed that day. My “behaviors” may be less frequent than they ever were, but we know the distorted mind speaks volumes, and, for me, the obsessive thoughts far outweigh the compulsive acts.

With that said, it’s time to go back to the basics. For me, that means writing- really writing about me. Not about my work, not about the external things in my life, but the real stuff. The stuff that scares me, the stuff that keeps me stuck and ashamed. It also means talking- for now, my safe person is my fiancé, and I have vowed to be open with him, as terrifying as it can be. It also means utilizing my actual coping skills: this means self-care in the form of hot showers, yoga, stretching just to feel good, nice walks, doing my nails and makeup, playing with the dog, reading a good book, scrapbooking, being in nature. It means introducing food back into my life- in a way that’s not diet-centered, macro-centered, calculated and rigid.

I’ve never been in a mental place where I can have ice cream in the freezer. Without obsessing, fantasizing, or bingeing on it. I’d like to get to that place.

Yesterday, I ate grilled cheese and left some on the plate and went home and enjoyed my night. Who knows what today will bring? I’m not going to pre-plan it. I’m not going to place expectations and rules on it. This is new terrain, but I’m committed. I believe in myself, I believe in the universe taking care of me, and goddamn, I believe in recovery.

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The anatomy of eating disorder recovery

In a nutshell, 

You’re going to fall down. A lot. You’ll probably hit an extreme rock bottom, maybe one that’s lower than the rock bottom you thought you reached when you were sick, and you’ll wonder what the hell at the point of all of this stupid, shitty-ass work is all about. You’re tired of falling. You equate falling with failing. Aren’t they the same thing? You’ll cry to a God if you believe in one, and if you don’t, you’ll still cry and probably wish you believed in one.

There will be low points. And they will hurt like hell. 

You’ll think you are the exception. You are the one who won’t heal, the one who cannot recover, the lost cause who is doomed to a lifetime of misery. 

People are going to tell you this part of the process. What, this falling down, slamming yourself into the ground, time and time again? This utter inability to actually take care of yourself constructively? The continuation of the very habits you want to break the most? Oh, yes! They’ll tell you with their knowing nods, condescending smiles, and confident attitudes. This is part of the journey. 

You’re going to slip. Professionals like to use that term. Slip. Maybe you’ll slip right back to where you started. Maybe you’ll slip even harder and fall into a new realm of hell. At least you’re gaining insight. This is part of the process. You’ll keep hearing those words. Be kind to yourself. You will also hear that, even though that’s the most fucking counterintuitive advice you’ve ever heard. Be kind to yourself? REALLY? Who could be kind to such a monster? Who could be kind to someone who continuously beats, torments, and wrecks me? This just seems nonsensical. In fact, you may even hate yourself now more than you ever thought you did in the past. You will not be kind to yourself for a very long time because unfettered kindness equates with immense self-love, which in turn, KILLS the eating disorder, literally diminishing it from existence. You just can’t get rid of it that fast. It just doesn’t work that way.

You will doubt recovery. You will doubt you even had an eating disorder. You will doubt the validity of positive affirmations, doubt your treatment team (if you have one), and doubt that anything is actually going to stick. You will still lie, because lying has been the basic bane of your existence. In fact, don’t be too surprised if you even get better at it. You will become talented at cheating the system and cheating yourself. You will hang on to your eating disorder for dear life, while, at the same time, doing everything you can to throw it away. You will constantly feel tormented, conflicted, and vulnerable. 

If you are fortunate, you may quickly stop the behaviors. But the negative, distorted thoughts long preceded those behaviors, so they will linger far after. You will become just as obsessed with recovery as you were with sickness, wanting to be perfect yet again. Seeing the world in black-and-white yet again. This is your habit. This is how your eating disorder trained you. If you can’t be the most perfect sick person, you have to be the most perfect recovered person. The obsession stays for a long time, and that is one of the hardest parts. Food dominates your mind. Every meal, every unplanned snack, every new item of clothing, every change in your body…this will be scrutinizes and analyzed. This will be your new compulsion.

After awhile, with some smooth sailing, you may get cocky. This happens, too. During those high points. You will get confident that you will never use that behavior again. You will never be back to the way you were. You will never choose to hurt yourself again. These statements, you will realize, are just as detrimental as the negative, all-or-nothing statements that maintained your disorder. People will try and warn you about potential triggers and the risk of relapse. You will shrug them off. Couldn’t happen to me. I GOT THIS. 

It’s only a matter time before you are triggered. You will spiral out in a tailspin. You will realize they were probably right. You will curse them…and then, you will realize you are a fucking human being who is recovering from one of the most beastly, complex, chronic mental disorders in the DSM, and therefore, YOU WILL FALTER. You didn’t move into hell overnight. You won’t be able to move out overnight either. Even though you desperately want to. But, with recovery, you get to start seeing other places to live. You get to check out the other real estate. You get to see if it’s worth moving. You are shopping; you are learning what else is out there.

And if you start liking what you see, you will start to push yourself. More than you’ve ever pushed yourself. You will start accepting, HONEST-TO-GOD accepting the fact that you can’t “WIN” recovery any more than you can “WIN” an eating disorder. You just plug at it. You may have epiphanies and you will probably feel random bursts of inspiration and motivation, but sadly there is no magic formula or voodoo secret. You will have to trial-and-error. And, in a clinical sense, trial-and-error essentially means TRY, TRY, TRY until something works. And that’s what recovery is. TRY, TRY, TRYING until something works. 

There is no timeline. There is no right or wrong. There is no prize for you at the end, except, of course, your health, vitality, sanity, and freedom. But, here’s the catch. You don’t actually receive those just at the end of your journey. Those gifts are with you from the start, from the first moment you decide you’ve extended your stay in Hell and want a new place to live. Those gifts are what keep your path, and all its ups and downs, worthwhile. Whatever sense of health, vitality, sanity, and freedom you thought you had in sickness can ONLY improve in recovery. You will notice that. You will start to see, taste, hear, and feel it. The sensations may be overwhelming. Stick with them. 

Healing hurts. Unleashing the pain hurts. The rawness of exposed wounds hurts. That is part of recovery. There is no way to avoid all the suppressed feelings, the stuffed-down anguish, the starving fears. But remember this. With an eating disorder, pain progressively increases. With recovery, pain progressively decreases. 

And on the other side, of pain, you will see, lies a pleasure you may have never known existed. 

 

Happened to stumble upon this thing.

  • What ‘eating disorder behaviors have you been able to overcome so far? I no longer feel a need to incessantly COUNT things (calories, minutes exercising, pounds, grams of protein, carbs, pounds, etc.) I make every conscious effort to avoid skipping meals. I do not frequently binge or restrict anymore. I avoid compulsive exercise.
  • How did you overcome some of your eating behaviors? Stopping all the counting and calculations took time and acceptance. For about six months, I did not weigh myself. I weigh myself every now and then, but that number does not determine how I eat for the day. Even though I look at nutrition facts, I do not mentally calculate how much I am eating a day and make food choices depending on some arbitrary number. Quitting the overeating and binge behavior was the hardest, as I consistently want to rebel agains my own self. Bingeing was a coping mechanism for stress, and, at times, I still resort to it. With exercise, I learned how to accept that my body was NOT going to dramatically change due to a missed workout.
  • What is a part of your body that you have come to love since embarking on recovery? Strangely enough, my hips and hipbones. I have a narrow waist and wider hips. Childrearing hips, I once heard. Either way, I love them now. I know I do not have a straight flat-as-a-board body, and I can honestly say that it’s okay. 
  • What does recovery mean to you? It means learning how to ADD passion and SUBTRACT compulsion. The rest just falls into place.
  • Why have you chosen to recover? For my mental health, physical health, because I deserve it, for love, happiness, freedom, and joy. 
  • What has recovery given you so far? Same as above. 
  • When you were in the depths of your eating disorder, what were some of the irrational/false beliefs you had? How are these different now? I believed that I was “good” or “bad” depending on what I ate/exercised. I believed that a certain body weight could bring me a certain emotion or certain outcome, such as love or happiness. I believed that I lacked willpower and just needed to have more control over myself. Now, I know that I am not a good or bad person…I am just me. My appearance doesn’t sustain an emotion, at least not a genuine one. Eating disorders are not about willpower or control. They are about learning how to relinquish both. Oh, and I thought I just had a problem with food. Turns out, I had a problem with LIFE.
  • What have you learned to appreciate since starting recovery? Intimacy, existentialism, spirituality, bubble baths and showers, yoga, good music, eating out with friends
  • Can you remember when you started to think about recovery? What were your thoughts? Are these any different now? Yes. “This will be done quickly, and soon, I will be fixed.” Are these thoughts any different now? You bet. There is nothing quick and no magic fix to this. It’s day-in, day-out. Progress is not linear, but it emerges in some way, shape, or form. 
  • 10 What makes life worth living? The constant element of surprise that is life, love and everything that comes with it, the prospect of marriage and children, traveling the world, sunshine and summer, the beach, exploring nature, the people who make my life worthwhile
  • 11 What things have you learned about yourself since starting recovery? I can be very hard on myself. I struggle with compulsive behavior outside of food. I never formed a proper relationship with myself, even though I always deserved it. Self-care is not selfish. I can LET GO of the things that no longer serve me or feel good. Food is not the enemy; exercise is not punishment. Love doesn’t conquer all, but it MAKES you want to conquer all. 
  • 12 What things did you used to deny yourself during your eating disorder? How do you feel when you allow yourself them now? New clothes, simply because I always thought I was going to lose more weight. Now, I don’t give a fuck. I also treat myself to pedicures and massages (when I was working, anyway…now not so much). I thought self-care was optional, and so I opted out of it. Not anymore. I treat myself to long walks in nature and good conversation with people I love. I LOVE that I allow myself these things. It feels great. 
  • 13. Who can you rely on for support? My family, boyfriend, therapist, former sponsor, classmates, and everyone on here 🙂
  • 14 What has been a positive stand out moment for you so far in recovery? I loved being a speaker and candidly talking for 20 minutes about my eating disorder at an OA meeting in June. I also loved writing a letter of forgiveness to myself in April. So freeing. 
  • 15 Have you had any ‘A-H-A’ moments? Absolutely.
  • 16 What keeps you going day to day? My love for life. 
  • 17 What is a food you missed during your disorder that you enjoy now? Lattes, pizza, slurpees, pancakes, egg yolks, cheese, cereal…
  • 18 What is a hobby you missed during your disorder that you enjoy now? Nothing really comes to mind. 
  • 19 What did you eating disorder take away from you? For the most part, it stole my confidence and intuition. These are two elements I continually fight to take back. 
  • 20 Have you experienced any relapse? How did you overcome it or how are you working through it? Yes. I overcome it by refusing to quit. I know I can always relapse; I am not immune to it.  
  • 21 Are you able to exercise for enjoyment? If not, how are you working towards this? If yes, what do you enjoy? Yes. I enjoy moving my body. I do not consider this exercise, but rather nourishment for the soul. I like taking long walks with people I love. I LOVE hiking. I like dancing with my friends. I like roller-skating and swimming and going to the gym with my boyfriend. I love a good run every now and then. I enjoy playing sports. I like it all.
  • 22 How were your relationships with others tested by your eating disorder? Are they better now? They were completely strained, and I didn’t realize how bad of shape they were in until embarking on recovery. Things were tense and hostile between my family members and me. I lived on edge, constantly irritable and anxious. Friendships were often superficial, as I found it difficult to be vulnerable or reach out when I needed to vent or talk to someone. Everything always needed to look picture-perfect. Things have improved significantly. 
  • 23 How was your relationship to yourself tested by your eating disorder? Is it better now? I was at war with myself, to say the least. I wanted to change everything, from the way I looked to the way I acted to the person I was dating to the job I had. I just wasn’t happy, and I didn’t ALLOW myself to be happy, because I didn’t think I was worth it. My relationship with myself has improved tenfolds. 
  • 24 Do you believe that you are beautiful? Do you believe that one day, you will believe you are beautiful? I’m beautiful, inside and out. I truly believe it now. 
  • 25 What are things you can do now you are recovering/recovered that you couldn’t do during your eating disorder? Eat at restaurants without freaking out, enjoy clothes shopping, eat spontaneously without preplanned times or foods 
  • 26 Were you ever diagnosed with an eating disorder? How did this effect your recovery, either yes or no. Yes. It gave me a label for my abnormalities and encouraged me to seek help. 
  • 27 Have you identified triggers? How do you avoid them or manage them? Yes. I often do CBT work and consider my thoughts and feelings. I try to identify the distorted thought and challenge it. If that doesn’t work, I simply leave the scene or distract myself. I will write about it. Sometimes, I reach out to someone. And sometimes, I give in to the trigger. It just depends. 
  • 28 How have you rewarded yourself throughout recovery? If you haven’t, how can you? I reward myself with frequent self-care, positive affirmations, and enjoyable activities. I LISTEN to what my body is telling me. 
  • 29 What is a current short term goal you are aiming for in your recovery? I want to be able to just continue doing what I am doing. I like where I am right now. 
  • 30 What does being ‘recovered’ mean to you? Do you think this goal is realistic? Yes. I believe “recovered” refers to the absence of eating disordered pathology. I do believe one can “recover.” That doesn’t mean one isn’t immune to never having a distorted thought or temptation, but one can manage it quickly, effectively, and remedy the situation. They are not preoccupied with food or weight. They can live full lives despite what they consumed for dinner. 
  • 31 Have you been able to take any positives from your experience of having an eating disorder? Yes. Absolutely. 
  • 32 What parts of recovery are you truly proud of? I am proud that I sought therapy on my own at a young age. I am proud that I attended support group meetings. I am proud that I was able to tell people in my life what was going on. I am proud that I started this blog to reach out to others. 
  • 33 Have you been able to eat a ‘fear food’? What was it? How did it feel? Yes. All my fear foods at some point or another. Some of them are still iffy for me, but other foods I can eat without necessarily feeling triggered. For example: pizza, ice cream, cereal. I still struggle with some trigger foods, such as Nutella, Poptarts, and packaged cookies. 
  • 34 What do you like about yourself now that you are in recovery? I like my quirky sense of humor, intelligence, creativity, and perseverance. 
  • 35 When do you feel most attractive? Why? Is it a place, time or outfit? Naked. Or chilling my bra and underwear with my boyfriend. I always feel gorgeous around him. I also like wearing sundresses because they are adorable. 
  • 36 What health problems are you now doing better with since embarking on recovery? I no longer have as many stomachaches, bloating, or gas issues. Decreased acid reflex, less cold all the time (but barely, I’m still cold), improved iron levels, lowered body fat.
  • 37 Do you have more confidence in yourself now? YES
  • 38 How did your eating disorder recovery change the way you think about things now? I no longer see the world in rigid black-and-white. I am comfortable with the fifty shades of gray. I realize NOBODY is perfect, and it’s OKAY if I screw up every now and then. I realize TALKING can be just as healing as anything. 
  • 39 Were you ever in denial of your eating disorder? How did you overcome this? Yes. I consistently compared myself to others, and once I learned more about eating disorders, I struggled to believe mine was ever BAD enough to warrant help. Especially when I alternated between restriction and bingeing without the purging by means of vomiting. I felt like I didn’t fit in with the obese binge eaters or the underweight anorectics or the tormented bulimics. Since my weight was in the normal range, I felt invisible. 
  • 40 If you could have started recovery earlier, would you? In hindsight, no. I wouldn’t have been ready for it. I needed to straighten out other things first. 
  • 41 Did you isolate yourself during your eating disorder? How has this changed now? If it hasn’t how do you hope it will? Occasionally. I would avoid going out with friends when I felt triggered or had just engaged in eating disorder behaviors. Or, I’d show up but run on auto-pilot, in that I was there, but wasn’t really THERE. Now, I am much more present. 
  • 42 How did your eating disorder behaviors make you feel about yourself? How do you feel about yourself in comparison now? Or how do you hope you will feel? I felt like an absolute freak and I loathed myself. I thought I was broken. I now realize I was never a freak, and I have never been broken. Everyone has something.
  • 43 What was something that made you realize an eating disorder was unhealthy for you? It didn’t really register until I began therapy. 
  • 44 Did anyone reach out to you during your eating disorder? How did you respond? How do you feel about that now? Not really. I kept it very secretive and under wraps. When people asked me anything related to food or exercise, I quickly shut them out. 
  • 45 What was your body’s purpose during your eating disorder? What is your body’s purpose now or what do you hope its purpose to be? My body was constantly under renovation, in the sense that I was always engaged in some kind of project to “make it better.” It was for aesthetic purposes. Now, my body is my temple. I nourish and love it. My body is not meant to be abused or harmed. 
  • 46 What was success during your eating disorder? What is success in recovery? Success was being able to eat as little as possible. Success was being able to “eat clean.” Success was avoiding binges. Success was seeing a lowered number on the scale. Success was intense soreness the day after a workout. Success in recovery is managing a trigger, identifying the emotions, and finding a healthy way to cope. Success is learning how to live in moderation and APPRECIATE food and exercise for what they are. Success is loving my body for exactly as it is. 
  • 47 Did you ever view ‘thinspo’ during your eating disorder? How do you feel about that now? Not really, no. I wasn’t very involved in the eating disorder community. I actually became more involved in my recovery to increase my support system. 
  • 48 Did anyone ever encourage your weight loss? What would you say to them now if you could? Yes. Of course, they did. I wouldn’t say anything to them now. We live in a society that encourages losing weight and thrives on scrutinizing appearance. It wouldn’t have matter what I said. 
  • 49 Do you plan to symbolise what you have been through in anyway? I do every single day as a therapist, and I plan to work with this population one day. My life today symbolizes that my battles were with it. 
  • 50 If you could give advice to someone contemplating recovery, what would it be? Know that you deserve  recovery. And read WHY CHOOSE RECOVERY at the top of this blog. All those reasons<3