My year in recovery

Hey beautiful child of the universe,

It’s hard right now. But I want you to think of where you were a year ago. Back when recovery really began. Back when you had no idea what you were doing.

This is what’s going to happen over the course of one year for you.

In August, you’re going to start graduate school! You’re on your way to becoming a therapist. Everything is going to seem overwhelming, but you are going to meet so many incredible friends in your cohort, and you are going to learn some amazing knowledge about human behavior You are so passionate about this field. This is right where you belong. Oh, and don’t stress too much about the homework and tests…your clients aren’t EVER going to care about your grades. You’re going to kick ass on every single essay, because if you didn’t notice, you were born a writer ūüôā

In September, you’re going to start really processing your emotions in therapy. This is going to be a huge challenge. You’re going to be defensive, and you’re going to minimize what’s going on. You’re going to think she’s judging EVERY SINGLE WORD YOU SAY. You’re going to try and brush off the severity of your disorder, and you’re going to pretend everything is okay. Fortunately, you have an intelligent therapist, and she’s going to read through your watery bullshit. You’re going to look forward to therapy. A lot. So much that you will develop a fear that you’re becoming dependent on it. Too dependent. That’s normal. It happens. Just ride it out.

In October, you’re going to go through a TON of shit with your ex-boyfriend. It’s going to literally wear you down. You will pick daily fights with him. You will take breaks. You will question love, happiness, and security. You will act indecisive, when deep down, you KNOW it’s over. It’s going to hurt to make that decision, but you’re getting close. You’re also going to tell your father about your eating disorder. It’s a scary step, but you are ready to make it. And I’m proud of you for taking that leap!¬†

In November, you end the relationship. It’s abrupt and intense, but you’ve been emotionally checked out of it for months. He’s devastated, but you remain strong. You know you deserve better than his lies and empty promises. You know that you need to work on yourself. It’s going to be difficult to be single after living in the cushion of being someone else’s girlfriend, but this is an identity you need to become comfortable with. You need to learn how to love yourself! You’ll attend an Overeaters Anonymous meeting at the end of the month, because it is a free and local support group for people struggling with eating disorders and your therapist recommended it. You felt awkward and uncomfortable there, but you kept going, because you weren’t sure what else to do.¬†

In December, you’ll begin making out with a lot of dudes. You start going out and drinking heavily. You like the attention, but you end up coming home and feeling empty. You don’t exactly know what dating is, but you’re determined to figure the game out. You end your first semester at school, and it feels great!! Recovery is hard at this point. Everything is new. Every meal is a challenge. You make this blog public and you get a HUGE, overwhelming response of positive feedback. This makes you so happy! Strangers like watching and reading about your journey! You have so many people supporting you.¬†

In January, you decide to abstain from ALL sugar, and it works. For awhile. Then, you slip, and it scares you SO badly. You feel unsure about work. You’re just always¬†busy.¬†You’re very immersed into the OA philosophy and make it a point to adopt the Twelve Steps. You don’t have a sponsor, but you go to the meetings, read the literature, and write frequently. It’s still really hard at this point. You just feel stuck. Meal by meal. Breath by breath.¬†

In February, you make the very emotional and difficult decision to quit a job that you love. You were only there for six months, but you were working two jobs averaging 42 hours a week and attending school full-time. You were busy from essentially 6am-10pm during the week. It was exhaustive. You were afraid of leaving your position. You feared the prospects of free time on your hands. You have been used to compulsive¬†doing for so long that it seems unnatural and foreign to just relax and be. That’s okay. Hang in there! You’re going to be SO relieved that you quit. You reveal your eating disorder with a Facebook post for National Eating Disorder Awareness Week and the positive feedback you receive is overwhelming. You are such a little rockstar.¬†

In March, you end a friendship that meant everything to you. You actually planned on living with this girl and thought that you could ignore her alcoholism. You tried sweeping it under the rug until it became too enmeshed in your relationship with her. This was devastating, but it needed to be done. For your recovery and for hers. You start applying to internship sites, and the thought of becoming a¬†real, live¬†therapist terrifies you! So many interviews. You’re going to end up in an incredible agency. Just keep your chin up! You survive a minor house fire! Look at you. Oh, and you find a wonderful sponsor in OA, and she helps you through many dark points. Lucky you! Unfortunately, you slip again REALLY badly towards the end of the month. So badly that you actually end up getting ¬†food poisoning (don’t eat an entire roll of raw cookie dough, friends). This keeps you sick all weekend on a road trip to visit family. You felt hopeless, isolated, and scared. It’s going to be okay. I promise. The light eventually emerges. You need to go through hell first.¬†

In April, you go to Vegas with friends, and it’s a wild weekend of drinking, partying, and all the young fun that comes with spring break. You end up securing a position at your top-choice agency! See how easy that was! The eating disorder fluctuates. You’ve developed a few coping skills, but it’s still tough, and you frequently feel preoccupied and anxious. You wonder when it’s going to feel better…you feel like you’re just waiting very patiently. Your therapist recommends consulting with a psychiatrist, but you decide to wait it out. That’s okay. When you’re ready, you can make that decision.¬†

In May, you struggle. You feel like nothing is working, and it is incredibly painful. You just feel so triggered all the time!! I know it’s hard. You have to go through that agony, though. It’s part of the process, and that is exactly what anyone and everyone will tell you. The end of the month turns around with the conclusion of your first year of graduate school, your birthday, another impromptu trip to Vegas, and a trip to the river with your friend! You speak at an OA meeting and it goes really well! People are very inspired by your story. You start feeling confident in recovery.¬†

In June, you struggle A LOT at the beginning. You feel hopeless. You call it a relapse. You’re fluctuating between starving and bingeing. Your body is constantly hurting. You spend a week caught in this turmoil. You hate everyone. I’m so sorry. You are desperate for help, and yet, you turn away from those who want to give it you. Your eating disorder is STRONG, so strong, but you’ll pull through. I promise. You’ll even cry in therapy! Look at you, expressing that emotion! I You’ll be leaning on people A LOT this month, but that’s all right. You’re allowed. At your lowest of lows, you contact a psychiatrist through your insurance company to make a consultation. He doesn’t give you an official diagnosis, but he puts you on Prozac. You’re willing to try anything at this point, despite the apprehension you have towards medication. Don’t stigmatize yourself. YOU deserve to feel better. You decide to take a break from OA for a variety of reasons: the rigidity, a general dislike in the Twelve Steps addiction philosophy for food, the somber and somewhat depressive atmosphere.

Oh, and you’re randomly going to meet the love of your life in the middle of the month. It’s going to be EPIC!!!

In July, you spend a month head-over-heels with the most amazing guy you’ve ever met. You both understand each other in a way nobody has, and EVERYTHING just feels so great. Hardest class of your program? No big deal. Gotta work? Who cares??Everything is amazing. It’s a month of staying-up-all-night talking, holding hands, spontaneous beach dates, raw and passionate sex, and nonstop laughing. You’re so happy, and you deserve it!!

In August, you’ll wander all around Europe. You won’t do laundry for eighteen days, but you WILL walk thousands of miles, sleep in dozens of hostel beds, interact with people all over the world, see the most beautiful, famous sights, eat food from every culture, and learn what it’s like to navigate this crazy world with just maps and public transportation. It’s going to be the trip of a lifetime, and you’ll GROW so much through this experience! You’ll come home and rejoice with your amazing boyfriend and spend the next week together before starting school.

In September, you’ll start seeing your first clients! Now you’re the therapist! See how far you’ve grown. The eating disorder voice has somewhat returned after a nice long summer vacation and you’ve been slipping into old behaviors, but it’s okay, because you have the tools now. You have the support now. It feels scary, but you can and you will do this.

Recovery has been your number one priority for twelve months, and you’re not about to reverse that now.¬†

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.

Processing the binge (as much as I don’t want to)

Dear Bee,

Here is my double-edged sword. Too many important people know about our relationship. And they want to know¬†every little detail.¬†They want to know how we interact, what you say to me, how I respond, and what we do when we spend time together. They are¬†so interested.¬†You’re threatened by their inquisitiveness and intrusiveness, and I understand. Together, we were mistrustful of guidance. Together, we were safe. You provided safety from others hurting me, and for so long, I believed in every word you told me.

That’s why I¬†still¬†defend you to this day. That’s why I am¬†still¬†attracted to your facade and ashamed of our bond. I no longer mind telling people about you; I love telling people when I¬†conquer¬†you,¬†but I loathe telling them when you¬†defeat¬†me.¬†The preoccupation may have somewhat faded and the behaviors may have lessened, but you are still strong and intense, and you enjoy to remind me of your ferocity.¬†

The pressure to¬†not mess up my recovery¬†is increasing. I don’t know how¬†not¬†to be a perfectionist with this. I feel like if I need to push myself in order to succeed, and I fear if I become lax on it, I will just spiral back into deep relapse.¬†

None of that is true. Fear is constructed in the mind, and that’s where my perfectionism stems from. Fear. Fear. Fear. Fear of not having control. Fear of not being the best. Fear of being average. Fear of losing others’ approval. Fear of losing my own approval.

¬†I feel like I’m frustrating. I feel like my mood swings are too much to handle. I feel like I’m secretive and deceitful. And with recovery? I feel like I keep taking three steps forwards and one big leap backwards. I feel like I know¬†every single damn coping skill¬†in the book, but in those frenzied moods, all that logic and reason leaves me. It seems so common-sense, this recovery process, and yet it continuously baffles me.¬†

I have an amazing sponsor who provides unconditional nurturance and support. I am so grateful for her guidance, but I feel like I am a disappointment when I do not always follow it. I feel like I am bothering her with my venting. Of course, I know this is just in my mind. I simply have issues with asking for help and relying on others. She accepts me for who I am and accepts me for where I am in this process. It doesn’t matter what I do or do not do. I love describing my moments of clarity and optimism, but it’s so hard for me to fess up when I’m struggling.¬†

And goodness, I PAY my therapist for eating disorder treatment. This is her JOB. This will be MY job. It is irrational for me to think I am a burden to her. And yet, I still feel a sense of protectiveness over her and defensiveness over myself. We call these projective processes ¬†transference¬†in the mental health field, but those unconscious themes are its own saga. All I know is that I want to release this shame. I think of all the clients I will be seeing…we are TRAINED to serve their needs. Therapy is for the clients, not for the clinicians. Eating disorders are known to be incredibly difficult to treat; progress is not linear, slips and relapse are to be expected, and dual-diagnosis treatment is common. So, why do I still feel like I am letting her down? She had an eating disorder for almost twenty years…clearly, she knows the pain I’m suffering. Clearly, she knows this process is not easy.¬†

What am I trying to prove to the world? I guess I am just so used to making others proud, and it worries me when I feel like I am not meeting such expectations. 

The most important person in this process, of course, is myself. Am I letting myself down? I don’t know. Times like tonight are rough. Earlier this evening, I half-binged, stopped and spent HOURS coping in the best ways I knew how. But, a half-binge for someone who struggles with compulsive overeating is like a half-buzz for an alcoholic. For the alcoholic mindset, one either abstains or becomes passed-out drunk. It’s just as black-and-white: any in-betweens are anxiety-provoking and uncomfortable; the sensation of just being “buzzed” is far worse and triggering than avoiding the alcohol altogether.

That’s how I get with food. Stopping mid-binge can be insanely hard. It’s triggering. It creates emotional agony. I’ve been able to successfully stop, but nine times out of ten, I need to¬†finish the job.¬†All-or-nothing mentality. I know, I know.¬†

Regardless, I thought I had fully calmed myself down tonight. I thought I could get through it. I tried so, so, SO hard. I acted “as if.” I went through my coping skills. I sought help. I talked about it with brutal and open honesty. I did my best.

We always tell people that as long as they do their best, they did a good enough job. 

Now the challenge is to believe it for myself. 

 I know this journey requires patience and love and nurturance. Knowing and feeling, however, are completely different. Forgiveness of the self is such a challenge, probably because I associate it with enabling myself. As my therapist once said, bingeing is punishment, but beating yourself up afterwards is just torture. 

I am asking to be relieved of this emotional pain, regret, and shame…these are real feelings, and I do not invalidate them, but the path of healing requires accepting the raw experiences for what they are and finding the means to release and let them go.¬†

So Much Gratitude Today.

Dear Bee,

I’m on this recovery high lately. Maybe because it’s summertime and the promise of sunshine, carefree days, and the ocean lingers. Maybe because I always feel inspired after a birthday. I don’t know. I’m just grateful for this clarity and happiness. At the same time, I am trying to monitor that euphoric, overconfident¬†I don’t need any help mentality¬†that tends to creep into my mind when I start feeling successful. Once I start feeling cocky, I start disbelieving the severity of my eating disorder…and that’s when things begin to get slippery. For now, I know I must be diligent. Maybe as recovery progresses, I can afford to become more lax, but as of now, I am determined to continuously move forward.¬†

You are tricky to manage because you can seep into any emotion and conquer it as one of your own. You can take my happiness and deplete it and take my sadness and leverage it.

But, because I am so happy right now, I think it’s important for me to reflect on my gratitudes for the day:

I learned so many amazing new stretches in my Pilates class. Connecting the breath to the body is so powerful. I am continually amazed with the strength and vitality in my body. I can hike mountains; I have run miles after miles; in martial arts, I routinely sparred against men twice my age and twice my size…my physical finesse is superior. It astounds me how I could ever treat my body with disrespect.¬†

This morning, at a meeting, I overheard someone talk about “showing up for life.” I loved this. Because everyday, I can choose to show up. In fact, every moment, I can choose to show up. And by showing up, I leave you at the door. Because living in the present moment and engaging in life cannot coexist with living and engaging in my relationship with you. Not really, anyway. It is simply a facade, an allusion that omits transparency and authenticity.¬†

I spent most of the day with my sponsor and her family, and it was beautiful and amazing. I am so grateful for their love and support throughout my journey. They gave me a belated birthday present and took me out to dinner. It was lovely! She wants me to speak at a meeting next week, and although I’m somewhat ambivalent about agreeing, I probably will. I figured, she’s asking me for a reason. Even though I am not very far in the Twelve Steps program nor do I have any real defined abstinence, I guess I can speak of the strength and hope I have found through recovery. We’ll see how it goes.

I saw the Hangover III with my brother…and it was actually better than I anticipated.¬†

I found out I was able to drop one of my summer classes because I met the prerequisite requirements. YES. Because, I loathed the idea of studying another semester’s worth of statistics and research. Did enough of that as an undergrad.

I realize that the more I continuously immerse myself in love and gratitude (towards both myself and others), the less desirable you become. The less I need to isolate. The less I need to punish myself with food. The less preoccupied I feel with eating. The less black-and-white the world seems. The less control I seek to have. It’s not perfect, and I’m absolutely not following any rulebook, but I know this year is going to be the year where I make the TRUE strides in my recovery.

Over the past few months, I set the foundation and began the footwork, but I was also afraid, apprehensive, and doubtful. Now, I know what recovery takes. I know the tools, the actions, the coping strategies. I have incredible support. I realize recovery involves 1% food and 99% mentality and attitude. My life is changing, and where I once feared that unknown element, I am so ready to embrace it, for the stagnation only kept me sick. 

I want this, and I can get whatever I set my mind to! 

DON’T TELL ME NOT TO FEEL SAD.

Dear Bee,

For this moment, I can accept you. For this moment, I am okay, and I am happy with myself. That’s not to say it has been an easy day. This morning was rough. I resented you. I was tired of dealing with you. I went to an OA meeting, and I basically spent four minutes sharing my frustration and anger over having an eating disorder.¬†

And then, I ate lunch with some people from OA, and felt sickishly overjoyed for being the skinniest one among them. I liked being able to eat without feeling judged, because hey, I was the thin one. I was the healthy one. I was the “sane” one.¬†

That was all you, Bee. That was your logic that my problem must not be real enough. I hate that I feel inferior to people skinnier to me and that I feel superior to those who are not.

My ex-boyfriend has been on my mind all week. I have so many urges to call him. I just want to see what he’s doing. It doesn’t bother me that I miss him, but it does bother me that I feel¬†guilty¬†for missing him. That I feel¬†guilty¬†for feeling lonely, sad, or regretful. That I feel¬†guilty¬†over wanting to know what he’s doing.¬†

Guilt represents an underlying theme that maintains my distorted thinking and distress. People have always invalidated my feelings, which probably instilled this rigid notion that feelings are bad. For example, I told various people about my missing my ex. What were the responses I received?¬†Well, you’re so much better off! Look how far you’ve come! He didn’t deserve you. You’re so much happier now. Don’t be sad!

For two days, nobody could empathize, support, or even acknowledge that my feelings were real. Nobody could just say, that must be rough. It’s okay that you’re sad. Nobody even asked why I thought I might be feeling this way.¬†I was expressing my frustration to my sponsor this morning, and, bless her soul, she put her hand on mine, and said,¬†I’m giving you permission to feel all those things. Your feelings are real. Sit with them. Honor them. They are there for a reason.¬†

This was so refreshing to hear. Someone who was NOT trying to fix me. Someone who was NOT telling me that I was a bad person or “wrong” for feeling those emotions. Later, a good friend told me something similar. She said,¬†it’s normal to feel these things. You don’t have to explain or justify them. People go through this. You don’t have to feel guilty for wanting to talk to him or wanting to miss him. You can’t help how you feel.

I know I developed an eating disorder because I struggled with acceptance. Acceptance of uncomfortable feelings. Acceptance of my whole self. Acceptance of reality and its messy, unpredictable ways. I wanted to control my feelings, control my body, and control the world.

I struggle to accept happiness, because I compare myself to people who are far worse than me. I struggle to accept sadness, because I compare myself to people who are far better off than me. I invalidate my own feelings, and in turn, I experience guilt for having emotions. But, feelings are healthy. Feelings are real. Feelings are ours, and they are spontaneous, beautiful, and meaningful. And yet, I have spent years denying myself of them. I have stuffed them down. I have ran them off. I have starved and binged them. 

I have focused on behaviors. I have focused on thoughts. But I rarely considered my emotions. I hardly think to ask myself, how do I feel right now? Or, what feelings does this bring up for me? 

And now that they are all resurfacing, it can become overwhelming. That’s okay. This is where the growth happens. This is where the realizations and transformations occur.

I thank the universe every single day that I am on the road of recovery, and that, even though I may be young and relatively inexperienced, I am creating a life worth living. 

This afternoon, I was sitting at a coffee shop finishing my last paper of the semester. I struck conversation with the girl sitting next to me. She was also studying, and she lamented on the fact that she¬†had no idea what she was doing with her life.¬†I encounter this often. Most people my age don’t know what they want to do, and even more, I see people¬†of all ages¬†unfulfilled and unsatisfied with their lives. So many of us are just waiting…eternally waiting for something to just click or happen…are we living lives in eternal limbo?¬†

I never want to live that way. I know I am fortunate. I knew I wanted this career path for years, and everyday, I feel more satisfied, rejuvenated, and passionate about it. But, even more so, life is so much greater than our career paths. I don’t ever want to be unsatisfied. I don’t ever want to feel unfulfilled. There are far too many ways to generate that satisfaction and find that fulfillment.

What if we all believed we were meant to be happy, joyous, and free? What if these were nonnegotiable? How would we live then? How would we live without the bondage of fear holding us back? How would we live without the choke-hold of preoccupation and obsession? How would we live in a world absent of our own desires to control?

All I can say is, I know I have a purpose in this world. And I know I’m damn well going to rock the life I have.¬†

the dreaded fearless and searching moral inventory

Dear Bee,

Step Four in any Twelve Steps program asks us to make the infamous¬†fearless and searching moral inventory of ourselves.¬†I haven’t gotten this far in my work yet, but I will be reaching it soon. I actually think this is a good exercise for anyone (not just people in these programs) who wants to reexamine their past, own up to any mistakes, and release any of the anxiety they may have about their secrets. We owe it to ourselves to stop holding onto all these grudges and regrets, right?

In my meeting this morning, we did a 15-minute free-write response on the question: Do I really seeing the importance of doing the inventory?

My response (unedited)

 To me, Step Four embodies strength, in that it exclusively focuses on exposing weakness-on unleashing vulnerability. Step Four requires us to break through the shame of our illnesses. It expects us to choose ruthless honesty, and for many of us, this may be the first time we really learn how to tell the truth.

An inventory shows us how the events and decisions made in our past have shaped us into who we are in the present, into the people we are today.

In the very first session I had with my therapist, I told her that nobody really knew about my eating disorder, about my longstanding secret from the world, to which she responded, “secrets keep you sick”, a phrase I have heard many times in these rooms. My secrets are what keep me caught in the preoccupation and insanity. Honesty, on the other hand, allows me to release and let go, to learn and contemplate, to explore potential outcomes for the next time, to discover new solutions. For this reason, an inventory is a tool–a timetable of who we are and what we’ve done, and with that tool, we can work towards becoming who we want to be and what we want to do.

Inventories acknowledge the whole picture- we find new patterns, new ideas ,new framework to embark and continue our recoveries.

What a gift, then, this must be for us- what an inspiring way to heal ourselves- to release the weight off our shoulders, to let go of what we’ve been clutching onto, to find the silver linings in the choices that once haunted us. What a way to reinforce that we are worth the happiness we want, the freedom we seek, and the recovery we need.¬†

I get cocky when I read my writing aloud because I know it moves people. In fact, a guy today told me that I should be publishing this. I just laughed…brushed it off.

I’ve been praised for this skill my entire life, and I don’t discredit my talent. Sometimes, however, I do wonder if this is just another way I desire external validation? I love helping others, sure, but I also like feeling good about myself. And praise feels good!

I mean, I know this blog moves people because I have received extraordinary feedback and the kindest of compliments from my readers. I would be lying if I said I didn’t care about the attention. Do I write for the sheer pleasure and joy of it? Absolutely. But, do I also write because I know I’m good at it and people enjoy reading what I have to say? Absolutely.

As my sponsor likes to tell me,¬†every time you speak or write, something is getting through to someone.¬†So knowing that somewhere out there, I”m helping someone else while also satisfying my own selfish need for attention and approval…well I can accept that.

And who knows? Maybe one day I can turn all these letters into some kind of a memoir to show the world what the real up-and-down journey we call recovery looks like. To show that it’s messy, unpredictable, but always, always perfectly imperfect.¬†

Pantless Yoga

Dear Bee,

I never really thought I could ever wrap my head around that crazy, cultish-sounding Anonymous jargon known as Higher Power. But, after a few months of attending these OA meetings, I have.

Sell-out? Maybe. Do I care? Nope.

For me, the definition is simple: The universe will take care of me. And whatever problems I have, they will work themselves out by the natural laws and energies of this universe. I never had much control to begin with and by letting go of that desperate need, I can mature from a life once riddled with fear, anxiety, and preoccupation. 

Even when I’ve lost hope in myself, I’ve never lost hope that somehow everything will work out in the end. John Lennon said it best when he said,¬†Everything will work out in the end. And if it’s doesn’t, it’s not the end.

 And WHO wants to mess around with the Lennon?

So, I understand the whole Higher Power thing now. I really do. It’s just believing that everything will be okay. That I’m being taken care of. That I don’t have to do everything on my own and that I’m not a “failure” for leaning and depending on other people or things.

And for a staunch skeptic, non-religious individual like myself, that must be some kind of miracle. I can just replace God with¬†The Universe.¬†Because, I’ve always believed in the good energy of our world. I’ve always believed in the general karma of spirituality.

Today, I was going to do my Bikram yoga class, but I wasn’t feeling it. I had work in the morning and was just kind of dreading going. I had done yoga yesterday and had an amazing class, but felt I¬†needed¬†to do it today. The reasons are distorted: “I need to exercise.” “I’m wasting money if I don’t use all my classes.” “I’m in the area anyway, so I need to go.”

AKA #compulsiveexerciseprobs (#didireallyjusthashtaginthisblog?). 

I was sitting in my car because I had arrived fairly early. And it was really hot. And I needed to do some homework, but I didn’t have the right textbook with me. So, I was just messing around on my phone (isn’t this a riveting story?). Then, as the start time approached, I pulled out my yoga clothes to get ready. And it was then I noticed that I had packed a black SCARF instead of my my black YOGA PANTS.

Yep. No yoga for me.

I personally have no qualms about doing pantless (or thong-underwear) yoga in 110 degree heat, but I’m not sure if my fellow yogis would be okay with that.¬†

Where this would have IRRITATED the hell out of me before starting recovery and provoked a plethora (honestly, isn’t plethora the coolest word, ever) of negative self-talk (I can’t believe I drove this far; I can’t believe I waited an hour; I can’t believe I’m so stupid to have made this kind of error), this time, I just laughed.¬†

As I was driving home, sure, you told me that I had been somewhat lax on my working out lately. You warned me of the repercussions this missed opportunity would have on my weight. You reminded me that I had barely moved my body at all today.

And how did I react? i just reminded you that working my recovery meant that I’d have to sit with some discomfort (and that includes getting over my anxiety of no longer compulsively exercising). Just like one workout cannot sculpt a body, one missed workout cannot destroy a body. That’s recovery logic. That’s common sense.¬†And yet, I could not understand and accept this reasoning until lately

I had to text my sponsor to tell her this interesting phenomenon. Was this some kind of paranormal sign that I was overdoing my exercise this week? A message that my body was sore and needed rest? A gentle reminder to take it easy?

Or did I just make a ridiculous and very common mistake?

Who knows? At this point, who cares? The point is: I didn’t do yoga. I didn’t freak out. In fact, I was¬†relieved.¬†Relieved because I didn’t feel like doing it anyway. And that’s how I know I’m making strides in my recovery. That’s how I know I’m easing away from my compulsive identity and slowly adopting the¬†living life on life’s terms¬†philosophy everyone raves about.¬†

Yesterday, I spent three hours in an OA meeting. If someone had willingly told me I would spend a Saturday morning surrounded by a bunch of people talking about their food compulsions, pathways to spiritual restoration, and deepest wounds, I would have asked, are these people my clients? Or is this a school assignment? I finished Step Two yesterday and will be sharing it with my sponsor this week. I have been attending meetings daily, sharing, writing, and reading literature. Most importantly, I have not been bingeing. 

Last night, I booked flight tickets for Europe this August. I’ve been dreaming of this forever. One of my best friends and I are going to spend about three weeks bumming around, backpacking, living the young, free spirited life. We fly into Berlin. That’s the only plan we have, and for the first time in my life, I¬†don’t want to plan out anything else.¬†

Do I want to be sick?

Dear Bee,

As I was mindlessly eating a piece of frozen ice cream cake, which sounds far more appetizing than it actually was, I briefly contemplating bingeing. Going through the motions. Numbing the pain. Stuffing myself senseless. The usual repertoire. 

The thought of going through with it full-force bored me. I didn’t want to cope with¬†the inevitable aftermath: the hazy food coma and achy body hangover attached with the guilt, shame, and loathing that tends to snowball afterwards. My last binge left me in utter despair, complete agony and splitting pain, and the wounds from that still linger fresh in my mind. I wrote myself a forgiveness letter (for everything in my life) just days afterwards–which I still haven’t read–but since then, I have been much easier on myself.

So there we were, you and me in my kitchen. You were just sitting next to me, not necessarily tempting me with your seductive ways, but instead, just hanging out. I know you’re only loud when I let myself listen to you. Still, you helped me devour with¬†quick and mindless eloquence, refusing to allow myself to really taste the food, engaging in all the classic behaviors of a quick and harried binge. I ate more than just that one piece of cake…but I eventually went back to that cake (because there were only about two pieces left anyway) and started chipping away at it. And then, I realized.¬†I don’t even like this shit.¬†So, I stopped. Like that. Put in in the freezer. Took a shower. You disappeared by then. Not sure where you went, but sure that I don’t care. ¬†

Within the past few months, I feel like I’ve done a lifetime’s worth of self-reflection, and I assumed I had ¬†everything about my eating disorder pegged, from the origin to the reasons to the coping mechanisms and so forth. But lately, I’ve been noticing a recurring theme that I seem to struggle to understand.

A desire to assume the sick role.

And this bothers me. Because I thought I hated those kinds of people. The needy ones; the ones who constantly need reassurance and approval; the ones who wallow, complain, bitch, and moan, but never take any initiative to change or better themselves. The sick role  contradicts everything I thought I knew about myself. But maybe it was never a contradiction at all. Maybe my desperate attempts to assume the strong and protective role were really just feeble tries to shield a deep internal pain. Likewise, maybe my tendency to downplay weaknesses and essentially avoid disclosing my emotions to others was just another trick to divert the focus off myself. 

And now, whether I like it or not, I am somewhat playing in the “sick role.” I have a therapist. I have a sponsor. I go to meetings. I have a support system who knows about my eating disorder. All of these things are invaluable resources, and I fully know that. They have each guided me so far in my recovery. Words cannot express my gratitude for that.

However, this is the first time in my life that I’ve bonded with people over my sickness, over an abnormality, a scientific diagnosis. Because that’s what eating disorders are. Mental illnesses. And part of me likes being taken care of in such a way. Part of me likes to think I’m special and worthy, which I am. But I am not special and worthy for having an eating disorder. That’s my Bee talking. That’s everyone’s¬†eating disordered voice talking.¬†

Logically, I know that eating disorders warrant attention and professional help. ¬†Therefore, I now feel like I “deserve” such treatment. Like I “deserve” to talk about this problem and receive all this amazing guidance. Am I using my disorder, therefore, as a crutch to validate why I “deserve” to receive unconditional positive regard and support from others?

And what does this all say about me? That I am deprived of attention? Having so many close friends and a supportive family, I certainly don’t experience feelings of loneliness often. But maybe the attention I desire is different. Maybe I want the attention to focus more on who I am, rather than what I do. Maybe I’m exhausted of all the attention placed on me to succeed, to accomplish, to (insert any verb here).¬†

And what about dependency? I feel like I am absolutely becoming dependent on my support, and that frightens me. Could it be because I deprived myself of it for so long? Could it be because I harbored this secret for years and years, and now that it’s out in the open, I’m leaning on whatever kind words people feed me? Or could I just be insecure? Needy?

Or maybe I want to avoid talking about my “real” feelings and instead just talk about the ones I know about: the ones surrounding my eating disorder.

Pensive night. More tomorrow maybe. 

Recovery is like spoiling myself with the best gift in the world

Dear Bee,

Sometimes, it’s depressing knowing that everyone has faith in me. My family, my friends, my therapist, my sponsor, most of the awesome support I get from this blog. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have faith in myself. Most of the time. Some days, I feel much more confident on this blind faith thing than others. And to be honest, part of me wonders, if all these extraordinary people have faith in me, that means I must be doing a good job. So why then do I feel like I keep screwing it all up? Why has the bingeing not completely stopped?¬†

Why do I still listen to you above all these (far more rational, intelligent, and kinder) people?

¬†Recovery is hard for someone who likes structure, who likes the concise and definite, who needs a clear-cut plan in order to feel safe. Recovery is hard for someone who always knows what lies ahead of them, because with recovery, that guarantee is not there. Recovery requires letting go of that need to to control and embracing life for what it is–spontaneity, fear, unpredictable turns and all.

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We can reflect on a particular experience and tag it a turning point. However, neither a lone prescription nor a single martini opened the door we passed through when we chose recovery. But they each may have played a part, and it’s the many parts of our lives, past and present, that guarantee us the turning points that nudge us further up the mountain. We will see the summit. And we will understand how, each time we stumbled, new strength was gained (Each Day a New Beginning).

This is exactly what I needed to read. As a former long-distance runner, I usually use the marathon metaphor to compare my recovery journey to the long and tumulus 26.2 mile feat. But I am also an avid hiker, so this comparison works just as well. I feel like I have reached many turning points and milestones within just the past year. Deciding to seek professional help: that was a turning point. Deciding to walk into OA for the first time: that was a turning point. Deciding to make my private journal public for the world to see: that was a turning point. Each experience disclosing my eating disorder to someone important in my life: those have all been turning points. 

Even my behaviors have been turning points. Every binge teaches me something new, and even though it is so hard not to, I really don’t regret any of them. I know true recovery will happen when I fully and really feel ready for it, and maybe I am not 100% there. Maybe I’m still hovering onto that last itty-bitty part of “needing” my sickness.¬†

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I have to be gentle with myself and accept where I am today. Every moment is a new chance to do something positive for my life. Rather than looking in the review mirror at all my past mistakes or worrying about the obstacles lying ahead, I know that I need to just embrace what I have right now. For right now, I can consider myself strong in recovery. For right now, I can consider myself wholesome and deserving of love and kindness.

Giving myself recovery is like spoiling myself with the best gift in the world! Easy, right?! Sounds like a no-brainer. Except, I do not usually spoil myself. How can I do that, when I am so naturally hard on myself?! I spoil¬†others,¬†but I tend to be cheap and stingy with myself. I need to unravel that attitude and challenge it! Because if I don’t spoil myself, who else is supposed to?! I once put that pressure on other people (family members, boyfriends, friends), but I know at the end of the day, that is MY job. I want to spoil myself. I want to be worthy of that love and self-respect.¬†I deserve it.¬†

Recovery is not store-bought or packaged with an instruction manual; recovery is not something one can wrap in a pretty box and give to me on my on a special occasion; recovery does not carry an expiration date; recovery is one-of-a-kind because nobody else will have the exact same one as me; recovery is sitting there, waiting for me to tear off all the paper and bows and just open and hold it; recovery is something I know I want, even if I don’t know¬†how it will change me.¬†¬†

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the laundry list: confessions of a binge eater

I don’t want anyone to put me on a pedestal in the wonderful blogosphere world. I have received a lot of emails asking for help/advice/feedback, and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE helping others as much as I can. In fact, it makes me wish I had reached out sooner. To everyone asking¬†do you know what I mean?¬†or¬†does this make sense to you?¬†or telling me that they¬†feel so alone¬†or believe that¬†nobody understands.

I want to tell you this: You are not alone. I get it. I do understand. It does make sense. And I have probably experienced it. 

Here is my own laundry list, my own painfully detailed confessions of some of my own bingeing experiences. Some of this content may be triggering, but I want to honestly portray the heightened, emotionally-charged “out-of-control” moments (that I still have!) to my amazing readers:

-When I binge, I get lazy with utensils. Most of the time, I don’t even like taking that extra step of putting food on a plate, as it makes my abominable act of overeating appear too real.¬†

-Lately, when I’m binge, I’m look up pro-recovery material at the same time, be it blogs, texts or encouraging words from my sponsor or therapist, OA literature, websites, or even positive affirmations. Sad!

-I have no problem grazing on nearly everything in sight, but I don’t usually finish one whole thing, because I worry people be more likely to notice its absence.

-While the number of my binges have significantly reduced since starting recovery, the content of the binges have gotten progressively worse. 

-I don’t think I’ve ever come clean about the exact inventory of a specific binge to anyone, including my therapist and my sponsor. I¬†always¬†minimize what I eat or¬†forget¬†to include certain items. People would be shocked if they knew how much how I could really pack it in.

-With that being said, I don’t even always tell my therapist about my binges. Sometimes, I want my sessions to focus just on my eating disorder, so in this case, I will tell her that I’ve been struggling or that I’ve been slipping. Other times, I want to focus on other issues, so I avoid bringing up my setbacks (eating disorders typically represent crisis management because they are a drastic and dangerous form of self-harm, meaning trained professionals tend to give precedence to these behaviors over other problems. This is obviously for good reason).

-Even though my therapist suffered from an extremely deliberating eating disorder for twenty years and can relate to everything I tell her about bingeing, I am not always sure if she really understands me, because she comes from an anorectic mindset. I don’t think she has ever struggled with a weight issue, as she is very thin. I do feel uncomfortable telling her how much I eat because I know that even my normal intake must be higher than hers.

-On the other hand, I feel superior to my sponsor, because even though she has never had a bingeing problem (just overeating tendencies), she is obese and I am not. Therefore, I feel like I am “better” in my disorder than she is, regardless of her admirable mental stability, ability to surrender, and mind-body balance. I feel far more comfortable telling her whatever I eat, because I know it is less than what she is eating.

-I have found that my latest binges have been more of “double” binges, where I binge once in the afternoon, ride it out, then binge later in the evening, as if I desperately need to get the last taste of my forbidden food.

-I recently told myself that the next time I binge on sugar, I will force myself to eat meat as punishment (I have been a vegetarian for almost seven years). It saddens me that I wanted to punish myself this way (I’m not going to actually go through with this).

-I have taken angle pictures of my stomach after a binge as a way to punish myself. I used to weigh myself just to see that number skyrocket, but I no longer do this.

-The food I tend to binge on is food I usually avoid, not because it’s “unsafe”, but because it’s food I don’t really like (store-bought cookies, frozen waffles, frozen pizza, cheap chocolate, etc.)

-Since developing my disorder, I have binged on nearly every holiday, ranging from Thanksgiving to Halloween to Valentine’s Day to my birthday to Fourth of July.

-Almost 100% of my binges start and end in my own kitchen.

-I rarely succeed in treating myself with kindness or doing anything remotely productive after bingeing (as much as I try!!!! This is a work in progress)

-I don’t usually make food to binge on, because I hate waiting for it to cook or bake. Talk about some great patience.

-I am guilty of wishing I could restrict as easily as I once could. This is a distorted wish. I do not actually want this, as I remember this phase symbolized an extremely dark and miserable time in my life. Anybody who “wants” to have an anorectic mindset clearly doesn’t understand the torturous throes of that vicious disease. But sometimes, in the midst of a binge, the idea of being able to just “not eat” seems much more satisfying.

-I have thought about bingeing during sex. 

-Although I’ve only done it a couple times, I have participated in those “multiple, drive-thru” binges before.

-I have binged on sugar-free gum to the point where my intestines were literally screaming and I suffered from terrible bloating and a rotation of constipation of diarrhea. 

-Even though most of my friends know I have an eating disorder, I do not typically disclose my bingeing to them. Because they wouldn’t get it.

-Whenever I binge, I think of how my future clients would perceive me. Would they be embarrassed? Ashamed? Think of me as inferior? 

-I have binged on vegetables.

-I compare my binges to others. 

-I have made excuses to leave places, get away from people, or change situations in order to binge. 

-I used to binge with one of my friends, and to this day, I wonder if she has an underlying eating disorder (this was before I had come to terms with the severity of my own).

-I have binged just moments after leaving a support group meeting.

-I have tried making myself vomit after a binge. I actually tried to do this recently. Fortunately, I have never been successful in this method of purging, and I am SO, SO grateful for that.

-At the time, I felt more accepting of myself when a former therapist diagnosed me with bulimia non-purging type, because I believed I had more restraint and self-control for at least trying to “burn off” the calories I had consumed. I am not sure if I actually ever met the diagnostic criteria for this diagnosis, but I know I no longer meet it today. I fit more into the EDNOS category. I once met the Anorexia Nervosa and then, subsequently, the Binge Eating Disorder (as listed in the DSM-V) criteria.¬†

-My last binge consisted of raw cookie dough (among many other things) and my stomach hurt SO BADLY.

-At times, I have fantasized about doing a dozen-donut binge, but truth be told, I’m not actually sure I could stomach it (though it’s not something I particularly want to test trying out).

-I think bingeing is one of the most shameful acts we have in society. Of all the gluttonous addictions including alcoholism, drugs, and gambling, I think we are the LEAST TOLERANT of overeating.

-I have rationalized getting drunk because it prevented a binge.

-Even though I had an eating disorder the entire time I was with my ex-boyfriend, I LOVED that he and his entire family (most of them were struggling with their own weight issues) thought I was this epitome of physical finesse, nutrition, and health. 

-My mom once confided that she ate an entire pound of M&Ms during her finals week in college. When she told me (this was long before I had an eating disorder), I remember feeling appalled and amazed and shocked someone could do such a thing….oh, how I wish that would be my worst eating vice.

-I once set “eat an entire pizza” as a bucket list goal (why, I don’t know), and I actually completed it. At the time, it was SUCH a challenge. Nowadays, I feel like it could just be the precursor to a binge.

-As much as it pains me, I think I have an advantage of over 95% of the people I meet in OA because I am younger and skinnier (Thank goodness for anonymity on this blog and in those rooms). I absolutely know I am not better than any of them and that mindset is a clear indicator of how this disorder completely impairs my judgment. 

-I love listening to depressing heartbreak music after a binge.

-I really want to work with eating disordered clients, but sometimes I wonder if I will be secure enough in my recovery to actually start in that field after obtaining my therapist licensure. 

 

Those are all the dirty secrets I can think of right now…so just know that I DO KNOW EXACTLY WHERE YOU ARE COMING FROM. Even though this post invoked a lot of shame, anger, frustration, and humiliation for me, I am trying to work on being brutally honest with myself in my recovery process. I know I need to feel these emotions in order to feel the motivation to keep going!

PS: feel free to keep emailing me. I always try to respond as soon as I can and absolutely help to the best of my ability. Do not ever feel as if you are alone in your disorder ‚̧