A little accountability system.

Dear Bee,

A week has passed and there hasn’t been any engagement in eating disorder behavior. I hesitate when I write this, because I get scared that maybe, maybe, that means I’m somehow jinxing myself. As if I don’t have control over what I do and do not do to my body.

The last tastes of summer have been sweet and very warm, just as I like. Visits with family, plenty of beach time, work trainings, clients, the occasional yoga class, bike rides with boyfriend…it’s been an adventure. Summer is my favorite season.

I’m really trying to practice more of the self-care everyday. I know what makes me feel good; I know what makes me feel crappy. Some would call them coping strategies, and I used to call them that, too. But, I see them more now as “daily medicine,” something that keeps me at optimal health everyday. To hold myself semi-accountable and to keep myself in the habit of practicing good habits and avoiding ones that hurt me, I’ve allotted a mini point system to each one. For example, writing in this blog gives me 10 points. Yoga class gives me 8 points. Drinking enough water each day gives me 3 points. And so on. There are about 10 positive items, including writing my daily gratitude, writing a certain word limit on the novel I’m working on, meditation, reading for 30 minutes a day…It makes it a game, and I love competing with myself. I made just a few deduction points (For example, sleeping less than 6 hours a night is -3 points), but not too many, because I don’t want to be that hard on myself, and mistakes happen. Very little of it has to actually do with food, except bingeing, because going one week without a binge equals 25 points and bingeing is a deduction of 10 points. Nothing too harmful, but something to strive for. Something that keeps me amused and entertained.

I even created a little reward system to give myself “self-care” treats for meeting certain goals. These are small and cheap, like buying a $5-10 Groupon or getting a pedicure, but they are designed to make me feel good, and I’ve always struggled to reward myself.

At least with things other than exercise and food.

So taking it back to elementary school– taking it back to point systems and competition– I like winning. I like creating goals and watching myself overcome them. I like being better today than I was yesterday. 

Onto a loving recovery and a loving life. 

Happy fall.

treat yo selves.

Dear Bee, 

On Thursday, I treated myself. As in, I went on a date. With myself. Hokey-dokey, new-age, love-thyself pseudoscience aside, it was amazing.

Yesterday, I had a seven hour comprehensive exam that basically determines whether or not I graduate from my program. I’ve spent a semester studying for this test, hours and hours of writing papers and treatment plans and memorizing that little book we call the DSM. I think I did well, but I won’t know my results for a few weeks.

The day before, rather than cram my life away, I just did self-care. Took the entire day off. Cannot remember the last time I did that. 

Here’s what happened: Woke up, did a twenty-minute guided meditation, did about 40 minutes of flow yoga, went to the wetlands by the beach and went on a wonderful, mindful walk under the California sun, bought myself lunch and ate it outside, and then got myself a massage. Whole day cost approximately $30. And I was worth every single dollar. 

I was just so touch with my inner body. The meditation, the yoga, the feeling of the warm skies beating down my back, the firm hands rubbing and caressing my body. I could just feel the stress escaping from my pores. And I was FUCKING STRESSED.

Everyone deserves a day like this. And it doesn’t have to cost much, if anything. It’s not about having the time- it’s about having the priority. 

I went into that test feeling rested and prepared. And even though it was draining and challenging and a complete toll on both my mental and probably physical health, I did the best I absolutely could.

Can’t believe my grad program is almost over. The ending of one journey is just the starting line of another one 🙂 

 

 

candid morning thoughts

Dear Bee, 

I’m sitting next to an empty jar of Nutella. This was eaten in two separate sittings- half last week, half at two in the morning today. This was never a binge food before (surprisingly, because it’s basically the “perfect” binge food- I know that sounds so sick). Let me decompress. 

I have been stressed. This semester has been kicking my ass. I see clients three to four days per week in the mornings and afternoons and attend class three nights a week. I am also in the midst of studying for a huge comprehensive exam that will determine whether or not I graduate. No pressure. I usually don’t have trouble sleeping, but lately, I’ve been wide awake and anxious at one, two, three in the morning…even though I am exhausted, I am struggling to let go and fall asleep.

But not all has been bad. In fact, I would argue that most has been very, very, very good. I was offered an exciting new opportunity to work with a new group of clients and my supervisor praised me for doing a good job yesterday; things are super with the boyfriend; my relationship with my family is better than has been in years. However, I am noticing that I am somewhat in a bind. Several of my friends reach out to me, saying “let’s do something this weekend” or “I miss you.” I wish I could feel appreciative; instead, this just piles on stress. My time feels so stretched for the next few months; I am becoming THAT FLAKY PERSON unwilling to make tangible commitments and always keeps the option of canceling available…and I don’t like that I am doing that. I want to spend time with my friends. I also know that I need to remain focused for the next few months, at least until this huge test is out of my way. 

Last night, one of my friends said, “Oh my god, you always eat so healthy!” in response to the salad I was chowing down for dinner. This was awkward. She knows my eating disorder history; she SAW my very public NEDA support Facebook post; she is a training therapist! Then, she had to continue on with opening her bag of chips and offering one to one of my other friends. She turned to me and said, “I would offer you some, but you probably wouldn’t want these.” 

Really. 

I don’t restrict much at all in front of anyone. And yes, I do eat “healthy” by American societal terms, I suppose, but who has the right to judge me for that? Why are we so goddamn critical of how others eat (I am not immune to this, either)? She acted as if I were committing some asinine crime by eating vegetables over chips. 

Well, I got the last laugh because I was the one who polished off half a jar of Nutella and three brownies in bed, at 2am, six hours ago. Just because I couldn’t sleep. Just because I had tried everything else. I didn’t even feel triggered—I was just bored, really. Has it gotten to this point? Sigh. 

But, I’m going to try something new…I’m not going to label what I did as a binge. It was an oversized midnight snack and it was the best I could do at the time. People do this. I’m letting it go. I’m going to live in the gray area today. 90% of the time, the pattern is: either I eat perfectly or good enough or I binge and have an all access pass until midnight to keep on eating. 

Today will be different.
Today, I do not have that all-access pass. I will eat normally. I will turn the experience into an opportunity.

No restriction. No bingeing. 

That is my self-care promise to myself today…and now to all of you. Keep you guys posted.

End of Therapy Journey

Dear Bee,

Well, I had my last therapy session.

It was emotional, and by the end of the hour, we were both tearing up. This whole weekend has been insanely life-changing, but that’s for a different post. The five-day psychotherapy conference completely inspired me in every way, shape, and form, and I’m grateful for the experience to be in the same room with some of the most influential people in my field. 

Anyway, back to therapy. I ended up terminating. We had a closure session today. I had prepped her with a text. Reflecting on the past fifty-one sessions, I started treatment a completely different person than I am today. I wanted to work on my eating disorder. That was it. Little did I know that I needed to work on boundaries, end a few toxic relationships, including the one with my ex-boyfriend, quit my jobs, and learn how to take care of myself. Little did I know how much ALL this mattered before, during, and after the eating disorder work. Today, I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life. I cannot emphasize this enough. I am head-over-heels in love with my boyfriend and feel incredible fulfillment in what I do on a daily basis. 

Grieving the end of therapy is like grieving the loss of any other relationship. She helped me, and at the end of the session, after we hugged, I told her, Thank you for believing me. She responded, That was the easy part. 

But when you barely believe in yourself, hearing that validation and concern from someone else means the world. And, for so long, I did NOT believe in myself. It hurt more than anything.

My needs stopped being met. Therapy stopped feeling so magical. I started feeling more annoyed, more bored, more as if I was wasting my time in session. 

But God. I loved my therapist. Ethics and dependency aside, she was THERE, and I mean, UNCONDITIONALLY there for me. It was unlike any support I had ever received (prior to my boyfriend), and that was exactly what I needed at the time. That’s what most of us need, but never receive. And so, in fifty sessions, over the course of about fifteen months, I was able to end a volatile relationship, repair issues with my family, attend eating disorder support groups for a few months, quit two jobs, attain an incredible internship, trek around Europe, and, of course, fall in love. I was able to learn the value of self-care. 

I can always return, but I doubt I will. It’s time to move on. I’m sure I’ll go to therapy in the future, because I think ALL therapists can benefit, but for right now, I’m going to see what it’s like to work on my own self-regulation, emotions, and self-care. I have the tools. Now, I just need to use them!

I am no longer tormented by the vicious throes of daily eating disorder battles. And that doesn’t mean I’m recovered. It just means I know how to handle and manage the ebb and flow. I can live a life free of the absolute obsession and bondage that came with the compulsive nature of such a complex disease. I have worked my ass off in the name of recovery, but it’s been worth it. 

I hope therapy helps my clients as much as it helps me 🙂 

Taking care of others

Dear Bee,

I have a lot of friends in pain right now. It breaks my heart. Breakups, death, joblessness. It’s hard to be a stumbling, fearful young twenty-something living in this world. I’m doing what I can to be a good friend. To provide my unwavering support and my listening ear. That’s what people usually need. Nine times out of ten, people don’t want advice, even when that’s what they ask for. They just want to be heard and validated. Pain is universal, but sadly, support is not.

I have a therapist’s intuition, and I’ve had it my whole life. I’ve been a maternal figure for many , a stable force for my chaotic and unpredictable friends. I’ve always been that one that friends reach in times of need, because, for some reason, I naturally know how to listen, reframe, and offer positive encouragement. But this is a tough role that carries pressure and a sense of self-sacrifice. Taking care of others can take a toll on taking care of myself. For a long time, that was my problem. I used to shoulder the world’s pain. I would take their feelings and make them my own. Their sadness would become my sadness, turning misery into even greater misery. Last night, after spending the day with my boyfriend, I found out my friend’s uncle had passed away. Her boyfriend was being completely dismissive and manipulative towards her during this painful time. This is nothing new, as he is emotionally abusive, but I knew she needed love, even though she said she was “fine.” Oh, fine…Aka. Fucked up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional. 

I came over, armed with flowers and candies, just in time to catch her in the middle of a huge crying spell after a catastrophic fight with her boyfriend. My guy and I took her out, sat her down, and let her talk and talk and cry and cry. Not only was she grieving death of someone she deeply cared about, but she was also grieving the demise of her relationship. I hated seeing her in this state, but I also knew we ALL get in that mindset from time to time. We ALL experience grief, sadness, fear, and anger. These are primal emotions; these are the common threads of human existence. 

I am learning how to container other people’s emotions, rather than let them consume me. This is huge for me. For example, I used to feel guilty for taking care of myself after taking care of others. I didn’t think I deserved to feel happy when others were so distraught. Last night, I realized that I could be empathetic with my friend and feel horrible with her, even to the point of crying with her, but I didn’t have to take it all home with me. I didn’t have to take it out on my boyfriend, like I used to do with my ex. I didn’t have to make her sadness mine. 

When I came home, I had some of the most passionate sex of my life and fell asleep tangled in my love’s arms. It’s okay to be grateful and happy for what I have, even if everyone doesn’t have it. I spent enough time angry and disappointed with the world. I’m not doing ANYONE a service by holding on to emotions that are not mine. This kind of thinking requires a level of self-esteem and a standard of self-worth I’ve NEVER had before. This requires knowing how to be there for people without becoming that person. Happiness is my birthright. I have the freedom to enjoy it. I experience enough pain just by living in this world-we all do. I don’t need to inflict more on myself. Nobody does. 

short & sweet

Dear Bee,

I am sleepy and going to bed soon. I know I haven’t written to you in a few days, and that’s okay. I needed to give myself a mental health break this weekend. Talk instead of write. Express to the people I love rather than to the people who will never know me. Writing is easy for me. It is safe and keeps me at a distance. Exposing vulnerability in real life is much harder, and therefore, much more authentic. I like pushing myself and doing this.

Been taking a fabulous seminar class all weekend on Gestalt Therapy. It’s been truly mind-blowing. Maybe the best class I’ve ever taken in my entire life without exaggeration. Emotionally exhaustive, but absolutely incredible. 

I binged Thursday afternoon, called up my old sponsor to talk about possibly returning to OA (still on-the-fence about this), settled myself down, saw my clients, then talked about my eating disorder with my boyfriend. The shame is still wrapped around me tightly, but the more I just talk, the more I can wiggle myself free. Behaviorally, food hasn’t been problematic since, but I have experienced some deeply distorted thoughts, and some of them have ruminated far longer than I would have liked. Still, the only way through is with acceptance. Whatever I resist will persist.

This is one difficult journey, that’s for sure. 

Life is getting busy, and I need to take care of myself during it. Nobody is more important than myself, and I am worthy of being my first priority. I don’t have to be happy all the time in order to be healthy. I don’t have to be perfect. I am already good enough and I am already doing the best that I can. I don’t need to ask myself for anything more. 

It’s not about wishing the eating disorder was never part of my life; it’s about knowing that EVERY SINGLE PERSON in this world, ALL SEVEN BILLION OF US, have some kind of problem, issue, or obstacle that will manifest in either our past, present, or future or very likely, all three and THAT IS OKAY. The problem is not the problem. How we deal with it is. 

Whoa. I’m tired. Night world. 

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

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

Realizing you’re worth it

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

Experiencing true happiness

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

Caring about yourself

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

Overcoming your own demons

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

Validating your worth

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

Eating without regret

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

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

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

Yearning to live

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

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

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

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