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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to acknowledge relapse

I work with a young woman who identifies herself as a “problem drinker.” Very long story short and for the sake of confidentiality purposes, she experienced a highly-traumatic childhood and lives with a mentally-unstable mother. Alcoholism runs through her family, as it frequently does with addictive disorders. She drinks to self-medicate; she drinks to avoid feeling; to avoid the constant reminders of her broken past.

She’s been sober since I began working with her several months ago. We’ve worked on depression, anxiety, exploration of childhood pain, recent relationships. She’s a motivated client, and we have built very strong rapport (which I consider the single most important therapeutic skill).

Recently, she relapsed. I astutely observed as she told me this in session. The cowardly look. Eyes gazed down at the ground. Embarrassment. Shame. Lowered voice. I’ve started drinking again.

If shame had an emoji, it would have been the expression on her face. At one point, it would have been mine too.

It’s a painful truth to admit, and I know how much shame arises in just telling your therapist you’ve, in your opinion, fucked up. I hated doing it with my own therapist. So much transference occurs: so much fear of letting your therapist down, so much resentment and pain at letting yourself down. All people with addiction struggle in recovery, but it is far more important to examine how they acknowledge relapse.

I know this is true for me. Every time my therapist told me relapse is part of recovery with that smiling, you-can’t-possibly-disappoint-me expression, I wanted to knock that grin right off her face and yell at her for instilling doubt rather than hope. I obviously understand her intentions now, but back then…hell no. I thought I was the only one screwing up; I thought I was the terrible client; I thought I was somehow responsible for wasting her time and ruining all her hard work. I wanted to always be the exception; I wanted recovery. Perfect, black-and-white recovery…clean, concise, and predictable.

A good therapist, however, never works harder than his or her clients. Thus, when the therapist keeps that mentality in check, it is impossible to be disappointed by any content the individual can bring into the room. Am I concerned about my client’s relapse? Yes, absolutely. But…I recognize this is part of her process. She’s not a bad person for using a “bad” behavior. She made a mistake, as all of us humans do. Alcoholism is a mufti-facted, complex disease that isn’t as easy as stone-cold sobriety. I understand that.

I’m so fucking proud of her for being able to tell me. For being able to own up to that shitty part of herself that she hates, that she believes nobody can accept. Because…I can accept it. I can hold it. I can give her the love and validation she deserves to give herself, but, for obvious reasons, cannot do right now.

My therapist used to do that for me. And it felt good. It is something I always promised I would give to my clients, and it’s something I try and transcend in every single session with every single session. Validation. Support. Constant hope and reassurance that things can and will get better, that they are good enough regardless of what they do or do not do.

Some people never get told that by anyone. My aim is to tell that to anyone who needs to hear it.

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. 

 

Let the fear work for you

Dear Bee,

I had a really good therapy session this morning. I didn’t think I would, because I had a session just last week, but it was extremely useful. We are still processing recovery and what that looks like, especially now that I’m working in the field, containing the emotions of my clients who face similar triggers in their own journeys. I admitted my fear that this whole recovery thing still seems so fragile–like it could just slip through my fingers at any given time. She said, yep, you’re always one step away from relapse. It’s good to be scared. We’re all one step away. 

That’s addiction logic. The idea that you are always just one “something” away from sickness. It doesn’t matter how many years of recovery you have behind you; you’re not immune to relapse. 

I’m not used to fear. Rather, I’m used to minimizing, avoiding, or stuffing it down. Fear itself scares me. It makes me feel incompetent, out of control, and anxious. I liked her reframe. Use the fear to work for you. 

This is the first time in my life I truly feel like I have so much at stake. I’m in the healthiest and happiest relationship of my life. I’m working at an amazing agency with a truly wonderful group of clientele. I’m finishing up graduate school. I’m healthy, I’m relatively happy, and I’m experiencing more tastes of freedom than ever before. I don’t want to lose any of it. Ever. I don’t want to push anyone I love away. I don’t want to isolate myself. I don’t want to be manipulative. I don’t want to lie.

I’ve worked hard to get to where I’m at. I refuse to let my eating disorder stand in the way of that.

I don’t want my eating disorder, because I don’t NEED it as a crutch anymore. Is life harder without it? Sometimes. Is life better without it? Absolutely. I’ve made tremendous, indescribable strides in the past year, taken risks I didn’t believe were in me, and have emerged into a more resilient, autonomous, and empowered soul. I am not the same person I was when my eating disorder was my best friend. I am not the same person I was even when my eating disorder was my sworn enemy. Recovery isn’t about the conflict or the resolution; recovery is about the willingness to fight when needed and, ultimately, surrender when needed. 

My therapist is doing guest lectures at local high schools about eating disorder awareness around the area. She’s going to be sharing her story and asked if I wanted to come with her and share my own. I might. I don’t know how that will impact our therapeutic relationship- it’s something I need to process with her- but I’m also flattered that she even considered bringing up to me in the first place. Do I feel ready to expose my vulnerabilities and obstacles in front of a room of strangers? Unsure. Will I do it? Probably. Why? Because, on the other side of fear lies freedom. 

 

This isn’t square one, baby.

Dear Bee,

When I reflect on what happened Monday, I realize that it was pretty much bound to happen. My triggering thoughts led to the inevitable action. This does not mean I was necessarily doomed, but it indicates I was not actively working as hard to change my thoughts and acknowledge my feelings as I could have.

It was a weird binge. You know how some kind of make sense and they’re so satisfying because you’re eating all the foods you’ve been depriving yourself of in one harried sitting? Nope, that wasn’t the case this time. Over the long span of the day, I ate basically a bag of fun-sized candy Snickers. Leftovers from Halloween. Overcompensation for all the candy I avoided over the past few weeks.  And some flavored mini rice cakes. Again, nothing great. And some Pop-tarts. Those always show up in binges. I can’t remember the last time I ate Pop-tarts just as part of a regular meal or snack. They taste like cardboard with a coat of cheap icing. With a binge, there is never enough. With a binge, taste doesn’t matter and neither do calories, texture, or stomach pain. With a binge, you are filling emptiness with food…and because one cannot satisfy a feeling with such nutrients, even being stuffed to the brink of explosion does not satisfy.

It was right after my therapy session, too. And we barely even touched on eating disorder related content. We focused more on other things happening in life, on my internship, family, friends. That kind of stuff. I left feeling pretty good. Then, BAM.

I would love to think these slips are completely random, but my ego knows better. There is always a reason, always some kind of underlying motivator that provokes me to engage in destructive behaviors. Otherwise, I would constantly do it. Or I would be able to stop completely. There is a reason I take a few steps back after seemingly taking so many steps forward.  

Of course, I woke up yesterday on a mission to restrict. I had gained two pounds of water weight, after all. I didn’t actively do it, although I wasn’t hungry at all much during the day. Forcing myself to eat was tough, especially when I wanted to get away with consuming as little as possible to “make up” for what I had “messed up.” This SCREAMS eating disorder logic. I’m well aware. That’s why I ate. Restricting just propagates the yearning desire to overeat. This is common sense. 

Today is my half birthday. I don’t think anyone else in the world celebrates these little six-month marks, but my family and I always have. And I love it. Just another significant milestone to remind me of how much I have done in this life and how much I have yet to achieve. Just another reminder of how much I’ve grown and developed into the person I always aspired to be.

I am damn proud of who I am, and there is nothing and nobody who can convince me otherwise. I have my back. It doesn’t matter how long I neglected myself. What matters is that now I know I DESERVE to take care of myself. I DESERVE to love myself. These affirmations are not easy, and it isn’t something I just automatically resonate with. I have to be reminded on a daily basis. I am used to being at war; I am used to being my own enemy; I am used to feeling like I am stuck on a battlefield. And you know what? It is EXHAUSTIVE and, at the end of the day, it is absolutely FUTILE. No matter how much you hate yourself, you’re stuck with yourself. So, sooner or later, you either need to accept or change, because the self-loathing just becomes  and it filters into every crack and crevice of your life, from your relationships to your hobbies to your personality. Self-loathing is an ugly outfit. 

So, I binged on Monday. It wasn’t fun. But, in great news, it was probably only the second or third time in about a month and a half. Am I back at the dreaded Square One? Not a chance. Square One means returning to denial. Square One means choosing to not only engage in destructive actions, but also choosing to BELIEVE distorted thoughts, rather than challenge them. Square One means losing hope and giving up on recovery. Square One means staying in sickness.

I am at Square 38493797. And yes, that is a random number. And no, I don’t care. I can be wherever I want to be. Because I know what direction I am headed. And it’s the furthest path from backwards

 

 

What’s been going on with me.

Dear Bee,

We sure shared a whirlwind of a week, didn’t we? Just like old times. Except, it wasn’t. It was far worse. When I talk about “old times,” I think about my “before recovery” phase, the years where I knew I had a problem, but I had no frame of reference concerning its severity or how complicated it could be to manage.

I reached the lowest point of my recovery this week. Maybe this is called relapse. A slip. Regression. Whatever. Labels carry little significance to me. I feel like as long as I’m trying, I’m in recovery. As long as I say I’m in recovery, I’m in it.

You dictated everything this past week. I let you into my little world and you destructed everything in your pathway. To manage our relationship, I lied to everyone. And the lies were insane. I lied to people who WANT to help me. I lied to myself. This is what you do to me. The lying is the hardest part. It is a blanket of shame, humiliation, and fear wrapped into one untrue statement. 

 I’ve been in emotional and physical agony. Looking back, the post I wrote about taking a leave of absence? I want to take holistic credit and say it was in the spirit of mental health. to be honest, it was more of just you pulling me deeper into our unbelievably warped relationship. It was you protecting me from the supposed disgust I believed my readers would experience at my accounts of such raw vulnerability. Eating disorders instill this idea that if others knew what we did to ourselves, they would become horrified. They would run from us. 

I’ve literally been wrecking my poor and beautiful body with food. I’m either starving or bingeing. And the binges have been appalling. Oh. My. God. There is no remorse. No stopping point. I was attacking food like I hadn’t eaten in years. Stealing food and not caring. Wasting money on food and not caring. Leaving crumbs and wrappers and not caring. Finishing entire boxes/bags/etc. and not caring. Food constantly on my mind. I felt like an addict just vying for my next fix. I wrote down all that I ate on one of the days and couldn’t even fathom it. Nobody would believe me. Like, how am I alive? I owe my body a thousand apologies. Oh, and on that note, I’ve hated my body this week. I’ve been REPULSED by how it looks. And it’s been incredibly uncomfortable and painful. I’m sorry, Body. You’ve been so good to me. So unconditionally forgiving. 

To cope with the physical pain and and anger at the prospects that I “must be gaining weight” due to my insane eating, I tried vomiting on three occasions. This makes me absolutely ashamed to admit. Am I actively trying to develop full-blown bulimia? I recall feeling like an utter failure for my inability to purge. I feel like I am offending anyone who actually suffers with bulimia. I can just picture them shaking their heads, remembering how they never believed something as innocent as their first purge could spiral into such a life-threatening, all-consuming disease of the mind, body, and soul.

Again, this is what you have done to me.

I am so grateful I could not purge. On my knees grateful. Bingeing is horrendous enough as it is. I have mostly rid myself of my rigid and compulsive exercise tendencies…I cannot imagine falling prey to another compensatory measure. But without compensation, the weight gain obsession creeps back into my mind. 

What a cycle. This is exhaustive. I am better than this. I am MORE than this. My life is BIGGER than any of this could EVER be. 

 

I have felt all of these this past week: anhedonia (loss of pleasure), fatigue and lack of energy, irritability, trouble concentrating, heart racing, and restlessness. I do not know if the anxiety and depressive symptoms are resulting from the active engagement in my eating disorder or vice versa. 

My therapist said, “Being here, in this pain, is a good opportunity for you.” My (typical smart-ass) response, “What? I feel like absolute shit. Tell me where this is good?”

She’s right, though, and it does not take a mental health professional to know this basic common sense. We all need these crossroads sometimes. Obstacles are incentives to test our strength, force us to look at alternative views, invoke change, and feel a sense of pride when we conquer them. Without challenges, we would not be alive. It is the fear that holds me back. 

There is nothing inherently going wrong in my life right now; in fact, everything is going “just right.” The lack of “something bad happening” makes my negative emotions that much harder to bear and accept. I feel like I need some kind of legitimate excuse to be feeling this deep state of pain and anguish. 

How many rock bottoms does it take? My sponsor told me that I need to stop believing recovery is some kind of magic pot-of-gold…recovery is what I’m already in. It will get easier and the coping will become more automatic and the behaviors will lessen or leave me entirely, but no, I won’t just wake up with everything in place. 

I am going to what it takes to get better. To feel balanced. To be in the place I want to be heading in the direction I want to go. That means relying on the support I have, listening to their advice and actually following it, acting “as if” to the best of my ability, and keeping sight of my values, goals, and morals. That means working recovery in the ways that worked for me. I am not hopeless nor broken. I am not a victim, but rather, a warrior.

After reaching a desperate low, I made an appointment for a psychiatric evaluation. That’s something I’m proud of myself for doing this week.

The bottom line is, I don’t deserve to suffer. Neither does anyone else.

And in the meantime, I am going to be patient with myself and take baby steps. As I write this, the doubt at that “simple, but not easy” sentiment is creeping in, but I have to push through that skepticism and fear. I cannot stay in this dark place. I will not stay in this dark place.

I am a beautiful child of this universe. And even though I KNOW the universe is an extraordinary place to live, I want to FEEL it, too. 

2am Rants: hiking, bikram yoga, beer, and bingeing.

Dear Bee,

I’m buzzed right now. I don’t even care. This is my blog, so who cares what state of mind I’m in when I write my deepest and most pensive thoughts and feelings? Despite the ridiculous binge I just had (seriously, WHY DIDN’T I JUST GO TO BED?!…okay, forgiveness is key right now), the past few days have been good. 

I’ve been making such a conscious effort to fill my spare time with pleasure. I spent all morning yesterday hiking with one of my best friends. It was gorgeous; the air was clean, our conversation flowed naturally, as words tend to do between close people. You weren’t anywhere to be seen. And afterwards, I went to an afternoon Bikram Yoga class to stretch out my muscles and relax my body and that felt so, so, so good. And I went out for Happy Hour with my coworker just before work…we’re wordlessly attracted to each other and the sexual tension is obvious. The only caveat is that he’s almost twice my age and married. Disaster. 

Today, I kept the good vibes going. Lunch at this awesome vegan restaurant with a friend from school. Again, not a peep from you. Thanks for that. Browsing around the shops. Someone complimenting my body. Not triggered. Awesome. Another hot yoga class (I did experience some more self-consciousness, but whatever). Came home. Took a nice, looooooong bubble bath and that felt amazing on my sore body. Went out for drinks with another good friend. I think this girl may trigger me. Something worth exploring. I have noticed that I have binged after hanging out with her before. And then, I came home.

Binged. Sugar for days. 

What. The. Fuck. 

I know alcohol is a trigger. I get that my inhibitions are lowered. I get that alcohol is a diuretic and can therefore create physiological symptoms of hunger. But seriously!?!?! 

Why?! Ugh. I know why. That’s not the problem. But, I have to stop this. Because it’s getting old. When I fist made this blog public in December, I was so sure of my recovery process, so abstinent from these behaviors, so sure that relapse wouldn’t happen to me. Now, I’m just full of more skepticism. I know what I need to do: I just need to keep doing it. 

And this pharmaceutical treatment idea? Honestly, I don’t know. I have my next therapy session on Monday, so we’ll talk about it. I guess. I don’t really want to talk about my feelings…I feel like they have been so beyond my control lately. Up until a few months ago, I felt stable with my emotions…just mellow, kind of numb. Now, they just seem ALL over the place, constantly changing and not necessarily matching the situation.

 I don’t even know what (if anything) is really wrong with me. I thought all my core issues stemmed from my eating disorder, but I’m discovering that may not just be the case. Who knows? And I hate being that person, but I never thought this kind of thing would happen to me. And while mental illnesses are never a bad thing, not by any means, the pain can be excruciating. But like I always say, pain is inevitable…the suffering is optional.

Anyway, for a half-drunken post, this turned out all right. Goodnight, Bee, you sweet, but conniving little trickster. I’m going to keep you away for awhile this time. I just can’t deal with your bullshit anymore. I deserve better than that.