easier to blame the disorder

Again, I haven’t been blogging much, but I plan to write in here everyday this week, only because…accountability? It’s cathartic? It’s my own free self-therapy.

The past twelve hours have been hard.

I want to blame food, because that’s easy. I want to blame my body, because that’s easier. I want to blame the eating disorder, because that’s the easiest. And I always want to blame cookies, because why should those exist? How pretty and neat it is to wrap up all my fucking problems and feelings into this one category- this medical diagnosis. How controlling and concrete and nice that all looks.

I’ve struggled for about ten years. I’ve been weaving in and out of whatever this labyrinth called recovery is for about two or three of them. I’m so high-functioning that it’s ridiculous. I’m so good at hiding and lying and secrets that it’s only now starting to worry me. This disorder is SO GOOD at being this secretive lover, fleeting in and out of my life whenever it desires.

I’m still half-assing recovery. I’m afraid I’ve lost meaning of it. I’m afraid that I’m no longer afraid of slipping into old behaviors. The old defenses keep cropping: denial (I’m fine and nothing is wrong; there is nothing I need to be worrying about), intellectualization (I’m just being HEALTHY! Everyone can eat certain things in moderation!), rationalization (It’ll all be over tomorrow; I’ll start again tomorrow), and of course, the best one: minimization (I’m being melodramatic over nothing. People are much worse off than I am. I’m not even “sick enough”).

There will always be food. There will always be my body. But there doesn’t always have to be an eating disorder.

I have to keep preserving. I want to. I really, really, really want to keep onto the path of healing. I have to take care of myself. I’m taking really good care of everyone else. I’m holding the woes and worries of my clients. I’m doing killer therapy. But none of that matters if I’m in shambles.

None of that matters if I don’t choose active recovery.

To be continued…

continued changes and transitions

I’m just kind of in this weird transitional funk where life feels like it is slipping through my fingers and the changes are overwhelming and I’m drowning in a sea of uncertainty.

Feeling all the feels, and I don’t typically like feelings. I like numbing feelings instead. But experiencing them is an entirely different experience, one that I’m still learning how to master. 

I’m going to be leaving the agency I started working at a year ago in about six weeks. I already told two clients– I have three more difficult ones (meaning long-term clients who I have very strong rapport with) to break the news to. I hate this. I knew it would be difficult, but I’m struggling to shake off the sinking thought that I am letting people down, that I am just another disappointment in a string of rejection and abandonment. This sadness is different given that the therapeutic relationship is probably the only relationship both client and therapist enter knowing that it will end. It still hurts. Goodbyes are very hard, even on the other side of the couch.

I don’t know where I’m going to be living in the next few months. I have no idea what this new job actually entails (except that it involves at-risk adolescents and involves briefer, more solution-focused as opposed to my more traditional, insight-oriented therapy). I’m stressed about money. I’m stressed that I’m not doing enough. My inadequacies and insecurities keep cropping up, and everyday feels like an emotional swing.

The rock and anchor of all this, of course, is my loving boyfriend, but even that has had its own set of challenges, as we both try and maneuver and develop our own professional paths while simultaneously designing our relationship path. Thankfully, we are on the same page, and we keep each other sane and happy.  He’s doing a lot of great work, and the competitive and controlling side of me that gets jealous (since we are in the same line of work). It makes me question whether I am capable, whether I am doing enough, whether I will succeed or not.

I want to do a million things. I want to write. I want to go into private practice. I want to research. I want to see adolescents. I want to see adults. I want to pioneer new types of therapy. I want to become an expert on certain models. I want to get increased training. I want to work with eating disorder clients. I want to brand myself as a label. I want to make money. I want to get my name out there. I want to help people- above all and through it all, that’s the main one. 

Without the cushion of school to catch me, I now feel immersed in this strange land called adulthood, and even though I’ve been existing in this realm for several years, it has only felt like pseudo reality. There is always the, “I’m a student” excuse to make up for lack of money, full-time work, professional success, etc.

And I’m being impatient with myself. And hard on myself. I recognize this. I’m doing more than anyone I know my age, and I’m one of the only students in my cohort to have landed a job (even though it is part-time and very low-paying) BEFORE even completing my program all the way. I want to be more grateful for all that is GOING WELL, rather than focusing on what I cannot control and what is making me stressed.

It’s easier said than done.

I do feel overwhelmed, and this usually motivates me to go out and fight, but right now, this is making me feel somewhat frozen. I’m not sure what my next step is. Boyfriend keeps telling me to practice acceptance; he is right in saying that things will get better, that I am competent and will kick ass in this work, but acceptance of the journey is key.

I know this. I do know this in my flesh and bones, but it’s still hard. It’s really painful to doubt yourself and worry that the rest of the world is speaking some language you don’t know, that you are on the outside looking in, that you won’t get your chance to shine when you’ve been working so hard for it.

Self-doubt runs deep.

The good news is that I haven’t engaged in my eating disorder. The good news is that I’m talking and expressing and seeking support. Feelings are intense, but they pass. They pass, they pass, they pass. 

 

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 🙂 

This is the end.

Dear Bee,

I’m going to terminate with my therapist, and it’s really depressing…but honestly, she’s just being legitimately unethical. For one, we aren’t friends. We aren’t colleagues. And yet, she occasionally acts otherwise.

I may have shown some dependency at the beginning stages of our treatment together, but it’s her job to maintain the boundaries and keep the rules straight. She wants me to write her a letter of recommendation for a new position. She actually asked me that request through a text message. It’s very upsetting. For one, I shouldn’t be asked to do any sort of favor for her. And for two, what used to be constructive self-disclosure has now become intrusive and obnoxious. For instance, all the past history with learning about her eating disorder struggle was helpful in helping me feel normalized and understood, but I don’t need to hear about her hospitalizations or suicide attempts or cocktail of medication. I don’t need to hear about how many clients she is or isn’t seeing. I don’t need to know about her family and friends and where she likes to get her bagels. But I do. I also know where her kids go to school, her previous job history, and the types of books she likes to read. 

I can’t imagine EVER spilling all that out to my clients. 

At first, I loved the special treatment. Duh. Most clients do. Clients who want you to like them basically wear shirts with signs flashing, PLEASE LIKE ME. Yep. It’s that obvious to a therapist. So, I’m sure I was blatantly transparent that I was needy and dependent on her.  She would encourage me to call or text her anytime, and I would. And she’d talk to me. She would encourage me to come to multiple sessions a week. And I wouldn’t for financial reasons, but honestly?! I never needed to go to more than one session a week…most clients don’t. Maybe it was because she was the first person who didn’t look at me like I was crazy. Maybe, it was because she pushed me. That, I can’t doubt. With her facilitation, I was able to end a toxic relationship, quit an exhaustive job, and make some solid choices for myself. I was able to define what I wanted in life and develop some coping skills to manage with distress. Maybe, it was because I wanted to be her. A self-assured, recovered therapist with a husband and kids and supposedly happy life. When I was going through the beginning of school, unsure and single and active in sickness, she sure looked like someone worth idolizing. 

But, you know, it became stagnant over the summer. And now, I just feel like we’re not going over anything anymore. We haven’t gone over goals in…forever, and so now I feel like I’m just wasting my money. It seems more like a conversation social hour than it does professional talk therapy. 

So, why is it so hard to terminate? Because, well, I want her to like me. Yes, this is my transference. I hate disappointing people, even if it means sacrificing my own needs. I like to be the favorite. I don’t want her to think of me as just some other client who flaked out on her. I want her to believe I deserve that special treatment. Also, termination is just hard. You’re ending a relationship, you know? With someone who you’ve confided in with for a long while. I haven’t done a proper termination with any of my clients just yet, and there are a few I know I’d really miss if they just dropped out abruptly. 

I don’t really want to see her again. I want to end it over a text, but that’s shallow, so I’ll probably call. And say…what? I’m seeing someone else? I’m looking to go in a new direction? It’s not you, it’s me? Therapy relationships are just as intense as romantic relationships, except one person is making all the money, while the other is telling all the secrets. 

I’m going to miss her. And think about her a lot. And feel urged to talk to her and update her on my life. I want her to proud of me, just like most clients want their therapists to be proud of them. Our first session was in my first month of graduate school. I was just learning how to start a session with an individual, how to join with someone. Now, I have a full caseload. She’s seen me grow tremendously. I wish she could continue seeing me grow.

But my needs are not getting met. And that just defies the point of therapy. This isn’t about her; it’s about me. 

Time to learn the skills I learned in therapy and actually set some boundaries, practice my assertiveness, and stand up for my own needs. 

Life Musings

Dear Bee,

Yesterday, I received my first I love you from a client. This certainly is a complex job. I understand my client’s transference; I understand his need to express these powerful emotions. I’ve had the same overwhelming feelings towards my own therapist. Unlike him, however, I would never have mustered the courage to actually tell her that I love her deeply. Because, I know rationally, it’s not love. It’s more of the gratitude for her unconditional support and guidance. It’s a displacement of my admiration. I know it’s not love, because love, to me, is mutual. Our time together is 95% about me, maybe 5% about her.

Speaking of which, I just saw this couple, and I don’t know whether or not they will make it. The clinician in me has hope and faith, but the realistic person in me is absolutely apprehensive about the state of their communication and affection. Therapists have opinions, too. We’ll never be a blank slate, and it would be boring and inhumane if we were.

I’ve been so busy and time just keeps speeding. How is it seriously November? This just blows my mind. I just enrolled for my last full semester of graduate school. Hard to believe that, at this time next year, I will have my Masters degree. I won’t be licensed yet, but I will be well on my way. Life just moves.Every freaking, blinking minute. Flesh out every experience while you can. You never know when you’ll have that chance again.

My recovery train has been a joyful ride this week. This weekend brings up a few parties, but you know what, parties are about surrounding oneself with love, positive energy, and good people. Food is just the sustenance. I’m lucky to have so many incredible people in my life. Loneliness is the downfall of humanity, I really believe so. Yes, at the end of the day, we need to know how to rely and count on ourselves. But, I cannot undermine the power of support. Leaning on others is so uplifting. I know that when I withdraw, it’s a sign. A sign of diminished vitality and compromised confidence. Nobody is weak to ask to borrow strength. And everybody deserves the chance to heal. No matter who, when, where, how. The individual details do not matter. The circumstances do not matter.

I am sending positive vibes and love to anyone reading this (that means you!). Seize your day. You’ll never get this one again. You’ll never be as young as you are right now. What are you going to do about it?

 

Happened to stumble upon this thing.

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

Change is a product of acceptance.

Image

Dear Bee,

I reread this quote at least three times while going through my assigned reading for a trauma and grief class. It absolutely amazes me. Rogers, first of all, is a brilliant genius in the realm of psychotherapy. His person-centered model of therapy has truly changed the way therapists interact with their clients. Second of all, just let this quote soak in.

Radical acceptance is something I frequently talk about on this blog, simply because the concept has helped me IMMENSELY. Before recovery (and many times during recovery), I have RESISTED myself, my urges, and my behaviors. I would look at myself and see only the things I needed to change, remove, or hide. The idea of accepting myself? No, that was unfathomable. I always thought I was traveling on the fast-moving train towards bettering myself, when, in reality, I was trekking on some unachievable mission to reach the point of utter perfection, because I assumed that place was the same meeting ground as the point of utter happiness. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be the greatest version of yourself. There is, however, something deeply distorted when you do not believe you have any baseline of greatness to start with.

Change is hard. Incredibly hard. Even when we think we want it or know we need it more than anything. The initial steps may be easy, but once the novelty wears thin, we often regress right back to our homeostatic states. Why do we seek change? Because we feel stagnant or insecure. Because we know we deserve better. Because we want to improve some area in our life. Rarely does change come naturally or passively. Change is a product of our environment and our actions, our decisions and our influences. We must trust ourselves in order to change ourselves. We must stay by our own sides. If not, we engage in war with ourselves. We will resist, fight, and try and stop the changing, even if it’s good for us, even if it’s what we think we want or need. We have to be tolerant of the mismatched emotions and accept distress…at least temporarily. We have to become comfortable with living beyond the comfort zone. Comfort with discomfort. Because all change, lasting change, requires a period of discomfort.

In April, I wrote a letter to myself where I forgave myself for every single thing I had ever done (http://loveletterstobee.com/2013/04/02/forgiving-myself-for-every-single-thing-i-have-ever-done/). I did not post the actual letter here. It is folded and next to my bed. I occasionally read it when I need a pick-me-up, when I need to hear my own self tell me how far I’ve come and how wonderful of a person I am. I just find it amazing that I could claim I had no regrets, and yet, I held so many grudges against myself. That letter was eight pages long. I forgave myself for my insecurities, for relationships, for my eating disorder, for my fears and vulnerabilities, for everything I had ever been ashamed or embarrassed about. It was highly therapeutic, and I recommend it for anyone.

I still have to consciously decide to accept myself. All of myself. Because I’m not just parts of a personality. I’m not just the “good things” or the traits that shine on paper or ingredients to a recipe. I’m a whole person: a flawed perfectly imperfect human. I am easily distracted, klutzy, occasionally shy, and unbelievably sarcastic. I don’t own the nicest clothes, my car is always a littered mess of papers, books, and trash, and I cannot draw a straight line or circle to save my life. I still count on my fingers for basic math and recite the alphabet in my head when I need to place things in order. I will never win a beauty pageant nor be mistaken for a model. But I love the life I have been given, and I accept all the adversities and pain that have come and will come with it.

I accept that I am in recovery for an eating disorder. I accept that I don’t always like recovery and don’t always want to work recovery. I accept that I have carried years of shame and self-loathing. I accept that I have eaten entire pizzas and boxes of pop-tarts and bags of cookies and cartons of ice cream and cried over them. I accept that I have stolen food, eaten secretly in dark cars and bathrooms, and lied about eating. I accept that I have exercised to the point of nausea and muscle deterioration. I accept that I have worked out at two in the morning in the middle of the dark…just because I “needed to.” I accept that I have canceled plans because my eating disorder was too strong at that moment. I accept that I have chain-chewed packs of gum to avoid eating and binge-drank coffee or tea to excessively urinate (and therefore, weigh less). I accept that I have chosen intoxication of alcohol over intoxication of food. I accept that I have zoned out during entire conversations because I was too preoccupied with thinking about eating. I accept that, in high school, I was secretly excited the first time I lost my period, because I thought it meant I was finally on the track to anorexia. I accept that I hated what I looked like, what I weighed, and what I thought of myself for years.

I accept that I still have these urges, even though I do not like them. I even accept that I still occasionally use these behaviors, even though I do not like them.

Acceptance is not synonymous with enjoyment. Acceptance is synonymous with forgiveness, with saying, it’s okay, with saying, I’m human, and I am enough UNCONDITIONALLY. Imagine how much easier change can be when you are supporting, rather than completely fighting, yourself.

when being weak is strong.

Dear Bee, 

Before my clinical training, I wondered how difficult it would be to be present with my clients. With a compulsive-anxious-hyperactive-multitasking mindset, it’s not always easy for me to focus. Fortunately, staying in the moment with them is easy. It is as natural as the words I speak and as natural as the empathy I provide.

It is so easy for me to reframe my clients’ distress. So easy to provide unwavering support and guidance. So easy to point out the dichotomous thinking and negative self-talk. So easy to offer alternative perspectives, and consequently, alternative ways of living and being. We see people differently than we see ourselves. We are kinder on them. We are more loving and generous. We often accept their shame and secrets. In fact, I feel a tremendous sense of gratitude when my clients are able to expose their darkest secrets to me. The ugly ones, the ones that make them panic and cry, the ones that take them to the scariest places. It shows they feel safe with me. It shows a willingness to heal. 

I can help them when I know them. The vulnerable parts of them. 

Honesty is a tough pill to swallow, and those with eating disorders are conditioned to lie. Our disorder, in fact, tells us to lie. Whether we are suppressing our feelings, denying what we ate or did not eat, minimizing or exaggerating our behaviors, we are lying. And God, I used to lie. I lied about my lowest weight (to seem more credible for seeking help). I lied about how little I used to eat (I’ve never purposely starved myself for an entire day). I lied about the quantity of my binges (they were ALWAYS much bigger than I made them out to be). I lied about my feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. I wanted to be the eating-disordered client without the eating disorder. I wanted to be perfect in recovery…and, then, of course, when I was struggling, I wanted to be the most hopeless, impossible case EVER. Had to perfect. Had to memorable. 

When you lie to yourself enough times, it becomes reality. In turn, the truth becomes a terrifying, impossible plague. Lies, on the other hand keep us protected and safe in our own eating disordered cocoons, in our own predictable realities. Lies are controllable; we can be whoever we want to be and do whatever we want to do.

We can live in our constructed fantasy…until we get caught.

I cannot tell which clients lie to me, as I am still building rapport with each of them. I am still getting to know their individual histories and struggles. At this stage, I gather information, come up with therapeutic goals, and begin mapping out our treatment together.

I suspect omission is worse than outright lying. Not telling me pivotal information. Not disclosing something of significance. But that is their right, just as it is mine. Transparency, however, is a strength. A fucking, incredible strength. The ability to be absolutely raw and genuine with another human being takes incredible resilience and courage. It says, I love myself enough to expose this part of me to you…knowing you may or may not accept it. To be honest is to be accepting of one’s self: the good, the bad, the ugly. And let’s face it. We all have ugly. Just as we all have beauty. 

I have therapy tomorrow. I am going to sit my butt on that couch and just be honest. Honest that I spent the weekend feeling triggered. Honest that I’ve experienced some discomfort over my appearance. Honest that my eating hasn’t been regular or appropriate. Why else would I be spending my time and money just to pretend to be okay? Just to try and fool someone who wants to help me?

I would never want that of my clients. 

Today, I did good things for my recovery. This makes me very happy. I treated myself with kindness. I ate nourishing food. I exercised. I stretched. I read. I talked to people I loved. I kicked ass with all my clients, and it felt amazing. I’m signing up to run a group for trauma survivors soon, and I’m excited for that. I told my boyfriend how much I loved him and made wonderful plans for this weekend. I expressed my gratitude to my amazing friends. 

I am feeling good because I want to feel good. 

Anxiety Triggers

Dear Bee,

I’m feeling anxious. So, I’m writing to you. Because I’m not doing myself any favors by keeping that anxiety all up in my noggin. Healthy coping, that’s what it is. 

I want to eat, but I just ate. I’m triggered, although I’m not actually sure why. I think it’s because I have a full day still ahead of me (4 new, back-to-back clients. I’m crossing my fingers that at least 3 of them show up). And still, I act like my feelings will suddenly change and my symptoms will magically disappear so long as I shove some chocolate down my throat.

I feel stuck in my own therapy. We aren’t talking about much anymore. Just school and stuff. Basic conversation. I almost feel like I’m wasting my money. I don’t feel like I’m getting much of it anymore, but maybe that’s because I’ve been able to work through and improve most of the issues I originally had when we began working together. I think we need to go deeper with uncomfortable heavy processing, but I need to approach this with her somehow. I’ll figure it out. For now, I”m glad I’m not in crisis-mode. When I first started, I felt like I needed therapy to survive, the same way I needed food and water. The dependence scared me. Now, it’s like an added bonus to my life: a mental check-in. I’d like to keep it that way, but I’m also realistic and recognize that life ebbs and flows. 

Anyways, anxiety check-in: I’m going to leave my house soon. I’m feeling triggered by being here. Too much food around me or something. I don’t know what it is. I just feel a raging and uncompromising sweet tooth binge coming on. I feel the need to numb this discomfort, but I’m not giving in to that. Not today. Maybe, if I’m still craving sweets later, I’ll treat myself to something I really want. But I’m not going to binge. I’m going to savor. 

I want to give my body love and nourishment. I don’t want to hurt this beautiful and sacred vessel. Why would I ever want to harm something I desperately love? 

I recognize that I feel out of control, and I need to calm down. So I’m going to pack up my stuff for the day and head out to my agency. It’s time to clear my own mind before helping others clear theirs 🙂

why shame keeps you stuck

Dear Bee, 

Earlier this morning, I told a very distressed client that shame counteracts healing. Thus, to foster the process of healing, one must express the shame. One must become familiar, attack, and confront it. Shame keeps us sick. Toxic, stuck, hurting. Shame penetrates into every fear and robs us of our ability to be genuine with ourselves and others.

The antithesis of shame is acceptance. And that’s why recovery, recovery from anything, is hard. Because we don’t want to accept ourselves. We don’t want to accept our self-perceived flaws, and we don’t want to accept the elements that are simply and painfully out of our control. 

Shame is deeply entrenched in any mental illness, but I only recognized my own roots of it this year. I think of mental illness as a tree. The leaves embody the outward manifestations we call symptoms. The branches represent triggers that exacerbate the symptoms. The trunk is the history that develops the branches. The roots signify perceptions we hold about ourselves and the world, which, in turn, make the trunk grow. 

I couldn’t talk about my eating disorder. Whatsoever. I still struggle with open disclosure of my distorted thoughts and difficult feelings, simply because I often think I’m crazy, irrational, stupid, incompetent, etc. etc. etc. The list of negative adjectives could go on forever. Before this year, I couldn’t even identify my feelings. Imagine that. If someone had asked me how I was really feeling, I couldn’t tell them. Because I didn’t know. 

I would minimize, lie, exaggerate…I was essentially wrapped in a choke-hold of shame. I wouldn’t tell people when I began slipping back into old behaviors. I wouldn’t tell people if I was bingeing. Weighing myself. Getting obsessive with food counts. Checking calories. Overdoing my exercise. And so forth. I would smile and say, everything was fine. Because that’s what I thought people wanted to hear, and that’s what I wanted to believe. And the more you lie, the more bitter the taste…but that taste becomes familiar, and eventually you are all but desensitized to it. I’ve been working with the same therapist for a year, and I still find myself occasionally being deceitful in session! This just shows how painstakingly uncomfortable it can be to express utmost honesty. I have a hard time letting people believe I am anything less than perfect. I still sometimes feel weak asking for help. In turn, I do not like being vulnerable. Because it triggers the shame, and sitting in shame is like sitting on a bed of nails. 

Face the vulnerability. Relish in it. Accept it. If shame is Trainstop A, vulnerability is the train that takes us to Health, Trainstop B.

Bee is a voice that thrives in the name of shame. Even through recovery, you do all you can to keep yourself hidden, concealed, and protected from the world. You want me all to yourself. You absolutely recognize that healing comes from expressing, which is why you do all that you can to prevent yourself from being talked about. You’re a smart and powerful voice. It’s taken several years, books, individual and group therapy sessions, and support teams to start using MY voice, rather than yours.

You kept me in deep pain and turmoil, and I now recognize that same deep resentment in my clients. Their struggles may be starkly contrast from my own, but each person I work with desperately wants to remedy his or her distress. They want that sense of normalcy and health we all crave. Shame, however, often prevents them from believing they are truly worthy and deserving of those gifts.

Shame may manifest in different ways through different illnesses, but the feeling is universal: sheer humiliation, self-loathing, disgust with oneself, the disbelief that others can possibly accept or tolerate the particular circumstance. Shame is dangerous; shame keeps us isolated and afraid. 

The process of healing shame takes time. It involves forgiveness and a willingness to examine inner turmoil. Ultimately, it also boils down to finding a place of acceptance: acceptance of past, present, and future. This is not an easy task. Not by any means. We are constantly bombarded with reasons not to accept ourselves or our realities. We are constantly receiving messages that tell us we are not worthy of health, respect, or dignity. When we feel broken in some way, we often think we are doomed.

I know I did.

I didn’t think I deserved help for my eating disorder until I finally felt so frustrated that I walked into my college counseling center and asked to talk to a professional. I didn’t think I deserved to be honest until I met a supportive treatment team who promised that I could not let them down, no matter how many times I believed I failed. 

Tackle the shame. Even though it may put up a tough and scary front, you will overcome it if you are willing to put forth the fight.