When it ebbs and flows

Dear Bee,

Life ebbs and flows and everyone struggles, and that’s important for us all to keep in mind. I have another relative dying, and it’s hard. God, it’s hard. She’s old, very old, and has lived a full and vibrant life, but that doesn’t make the impeding permanency of nonexistence any easier. I am continuously finding myself questioning life and its meaning and the process of aging and the fragility of time, and it either way, I realize, it doesn’t matter how I think or what I do with that knowledge. Life can and still will happen. The moments still happen. The experiences still occur.

My first day of my last full semester starts tomorrow. Graduate school has flown. Everything in my life has changed. For the better. That is absolutely undeniable. But, it is still a complex ride, an up-and-down process full of uncertainty. 

I went away Weds-Fri to visit with my boyfriend’s parents about two hours away from where we live. It was a much-needed getaway, a spur-of-the-moment decision. They love me. Absolutely adore me. And it’s nice to be so appreciated. I usually do well meeting with parents, but they take it above and beyond. What a comforting feeling. And my boyfriend- I love him so much. That goes without saying. I was feeling really anxious on Wednesday after seeing clients (I felt I had a horrible session with one of them, I also felt very triggered to binge), and I could process this with him on the car ride there. I haven’t given into any disordered thoughts since then- well, maybe once, when I slightly overrate on a dinner meal out with his family. But, whatever. Water under the bridge.

I wish i could enjoy life without constantly obsessing over food, but I just have to accept where I am in my stages of recovery. Healing is slow. But it’s always better to take the long, scenic route than risk a dangerous shortcut. I realize that. I guess I just still grapple with what true recovery looks like. The definition I like is that I can eat whatever I want guilt-free without under or overdoing it. I want to say I I can be able to accept my body at any size, but at this stage, that isn’t true. I like the weight I am now. I don’t want to weigh more. I tend to eat a variety of foods, but I know it’s important to get proper nutrition, so I tend to stick with healthier fare. Some of that may be disordered; some may be genuine concern for my well-being. The lines are not as black-and-white as they seem. It’s hard knowing if my motives come from my eating disorder or from my general knowledge (ex: it’s good for you to workout, it’s good for you to eat salads, it’s good for you to do this, do that, etc.). I guess it becomes disordered when it starts impairing the other parts of functioning, such as relationships, work, and school, which I can safely say it has in the past. Today, not so much. Today, my relationships are excellent and work and school are both going well. 

It’s always a process. I’m always a student. I never want to stop learning, for then I stop growing. 

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 🙂

Grieving the Loss of Emotional Intimacy.

Dear Bee,

Tomorrow is my ex-boyfriend’s birthday. We haven’t spoken since the day I broke up with him, sitting in my car outside my house, last November. He cried. He pleaded. He promised to change. Always promising to change. Always promising to be better for me. 

He wanted to marry me. Spend the rest of his life with me. I was the one, and he said it from the beginning. He never questioned his feelings or love for me. I, however, lived in a chronic state of serious doubt and second-guessing. I didn’t want to think about marriage, and I was scared of any notion of finding the “one” at such a young age.

He may have been good to me, but he wasn’t right for me. I held on for a long time, but one of the first lessons I learned in my recovery journey was that I needed to learn when and how to let go of the people and things that were holding me back on living my life the way I wanted to live it.

I’m forgetting the little things; the intricacies that were once part of me; the minute details that seamlessly integrated into our shared existence. His voice. The sound of his laughter. The way he smelled getting out of the shower. Some of our jokes. But, I also remember the random bits that once seemed insignificant. How it felt holding his hand. Kisses on my neck. Driving together. How he smelled before getting in the shower. 

It is better that we don’t talk. This is the one black-and-white element in my life that doesn’t need to be balanced or grayed or lessened with rigidity. I need these boundaries because I know I cannot realistically form any sort of friendship or civil relationship after sharing such a deeply-passionate whirlwind of love with him. Any contact would only cause confusion and pain for me. We hurt each other so much towards the end. I think of the person I am now compared to the person I was with him. I’m not sure how we would even communicate if we ran into each other again. I’ve changed tremendously. Sometimes, I want to show him.

And yet, I spent the good part of my night flirting with my coworker, fantasizing about us having a quickie in my work office, and enjoying the riddling of lust overcoming my logic.

It wasn’t until my drive home that I realized I am grieving.

I am not grieving my ex-boyfriend. No, I am grieving emotional intimacy. Emotional intimacy: the warm blanket of comfort that you are deeply loved, those soft kisses on the forehead given first thing in the morning, the tightness of arms around your body, the whispered I love yous, the secret language comprised of inside jokes, smiles, and the puzzle of touch.

Emotional intimacy: the glue of love.

 

Emotional intimacy is a void that I have to grieve. And it’s a void I’ve never allowed myself to grieve. I’ve been delaying it, because admitting that I missed him or admitting that I missed feeling loved and protected and secure seemed weak. I was desperate to move on and as quickly as possible.

Emotional intimacy. It cannot be filled by my compulsions, despite my occasional desires to fill it with cupcakes, drown it in alcohol, disguise it with casual fucking, sweat it with exercise, bury it with work, or distract it with academics.

Emotional intimacy comes from love. And pure love can only be filled with pure love. Nothing more and nothing less. I want to experience emotional intimacy again. And yes, I’ll say it: I want to fall in love again. But, this time, I want it to be a healthy and mutual love. I want it to be real and authentic. I want it to be the love that lifts and inspires me, rather than the kind that drags and defeats me. I just want it to be love without boundaries, questions, or second-guessing. Maybe that’s far-fetched. Maybe it’s idealistic. But people have that kind of love, and it’s the kind of love I know I deserve. 

It’s hard to accept this loss and even harder to accept these feelings. I don’t like admitting that the single world can be lonely. I don’t like feeling inadequate. I don’t like that I’m attracted to someone I cannot have. I don’t like that I’m feeling triggered in many ways, with food, with sex, with regret, with doubting myself. I don’t like that I’ll probably be thinking of my ex-boyfriend tomorrow in class (ps: why do I have class on a Saturday?)

I don’t like that I sometimes still believe relationships bring happiness, when I GENUINELY KNOW only I hold the true power to control my happiness. 

Tomorrow will be a challenge in my recovery, because my recovery involves honoring my feelings, accepting my reality, and learning to let go and turn over what I cannot control. The food and eating are secondary; if I can manage and stabilize my thoughts and feelings, the appropriate coping behaviors will follow.

when normal eaters are triggering and other rants, thoughts, and musings :)

Dear Bee,

I feel annoyed. See, I don’t even like writing that, because I feel guilty when I have negative feelings, especially when omg, life is going so well, but if I’ve learned anything over the past few months, it’s that I need to stop ignoring or denying my feelings.

So back to being annoyed. I had a really great weekend getaway with my friend. But TALK ABOUT TRIGGERING. You were in full force. I had hoped you would stay back at home, but you decided to tag along. And that was hard.

Together, we judge people eating. We judge what they eat, how they eat, when they eat, and how much they eat. We judge Starbucks orders and mid-afternoon snacks, definitions of “pigging out,” and versions of “dieting.” You want a VENTI what? You feel fat after eating just that? I must be a monster. We judge cooking and type of ingredients. Real sugar in their coffee? Whole milk? Fast-food for lunch? We judge grocery lists and cocktails, portion sizes and favorite restaurants. You’re giving your kid SODA…you criminal? Are you really going to eat all of that?

I don’t know if this is due to the eating disorder or due to the recovery process. You use judgment to harm (wow, look at all that you’re eating) or help (at least you’re eating healthier) me. I don’t recall this kind of automatic judgment when I was younger, but then again, why would I? I didn’t notice how others drove until I started driving either. Same sort of thing, I guess. You cannot notice eating habits of others until you become so acutely aware of your own.

Still, I feel deeply ashamed of this habit, even though I believe it is characteristic of the eating disordered pathology. I do not judge skin color, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, religion, or any of the major causes for discrimination, but whether you order a burger or a salad, you can bet I’m making some kind of assumption.

Wow. Tangent. I assure everyone that there is a point to this rant.

So, back to my weekend. It was fun. It was needed. We went jet-skiing and swimming and relaxed at my friend’s parents’ house, where we read, napped, booked some SUPER EXCITING THINGS for our European adventures in August.

Being a guest in someone’s home while in recovery from an eating disorder is tricky. For one, I had limited control. Her family had taken the honor of preparing and home-cooking all this wonderful food for us. Most of these meals fell on the “unsafe” side of my rigid continuum. For nearly three days, I subsided on foods that created anxiety for me. I know this was a good test that pushed me out of my comfort zone and literally forced me to eat these foods in normal-sized portions, but I hated all the emotional turmoil it created.

For two, my friend has never struggled with an eating disorder. She eats intuitively, which is my eventual goal, but I am obviously not there yet. Over the duration of our trip, I experienced stress. And, yes, I felt jealous. I also felt superior. Even though she is relatively slim, this girl does not follow much of a nutritious diet. At times, I was appalled by her intake. I think, besides a lone tomato slice and shred of lettuce, I went an entire day without eating vegetables. I think she drank one bottle’s worth of water during our trip. This felt almost cruel and insane to me, but seemed routine for her. I doubt she once questioned it the way I countlessly did.

My friend maintains her envious weight because she eats when she is hungry and stops when she is full. Nobody would ever accuse her of being fat.

This was hard for me. I eat a very nutritious diet, but I struggle with satiety cues, be it waiting until I’m truly hungry to eat, stopping when I’m actually full, etc. She eats cookies and chocolate and chips without remorse. She eats at erratic times without thinking about it. She can eat one big meal a day and feel fine. She does not eat what does not appeal to her, even if it may be healthier, cheaper, or simply more convenient. She is okay with feeling hungry. She knows she will eventually have enough to eat, and when she is done eating, she moves onto her next task, without giving the food she just consumed or later will consume a second thought. In every way, I suppose she is a “normal eater.”

I felt jealous because at one point in my life, that used to be me.

Am I willing to do whatever it takes to get back there? Can I even get back there? I have no idea, but this weekend was a rue awakening with regards to how disordered my thinking still is. Even though my behaviors have lessened in frequency and intensity, I still obviously struggle with the undoing of my rigid mindset. I often play tug-of-war of my black-and-white world; sometimes, it feels that no matter how many times I reach for the gray area, the rope pulls me backwards. Back to my safe zone. Back to defined rules and structure. Black-and-white is predictable. It may not feel great, but it is comfortable. The gray area is evasive; it is unknown and spontaneous without discipline and instructions.

An old boss messaged me earlier today. One of the first statements he said was, I would ask you how you are doing, but it looks like all is well in the world with you.. lol.

I instantly felt irritated. Yes, there is so much that is going well with me, and I do feel incredibly humbled with gratitude, but his grandiose assumption provided just another reminder of the image I supposedly project to the outside world. Based on my outer self and personality, few would even guess I struggle. I told my therapist the other day that if I had a dollar for every time someone told me, you just seem so cool and laid-back all the time, I would have enough money for the BOTH of us to retire.

Sometimes, I wonder if I am entirely fake. I realize that I hide emotions almost automatically, and I know that I find it difficult to expose myself around others. For these reasons, intimacy, despite having many friendships and relationships, has never been easy for me. None of this, of course, I do on purpose. Even though I have made significant strides, I have not totally been able to let go of what others think. Their opinions still matter. I still want to impress. I want the attention. I want the compliments and praise and admiration, even when I think I don’t want it. Because I do not fully give myself unadulterated love, I rely on others to give it to me…and they always seem to provide. Maybe it’s because I always give them a reason.

Either way, I don’t want to be hard on myself for any of these things.

I am pushing through darkness. I am reaching for a light that shines so brightly on some days…and on other days, does not shine at all. I know I will hold this light and feel this restoration of sanity and peace so long as I keep looking upwards for hope, outwards for balance, and inwards for love. Recovery is healing of the body, mind, and soul…healing of the malady of dysfunction, trauma, pain, and compulsion that dominated my existence. This fight is my plight. It is the shaping of my identity. This recovery is the easiest process I undergo in theory and the hardest process I undergo in execution.

The exit is opposite of the entrance. I entered this war with bitterness, insecurity, and self-loathing. To leave, I must practice kindness and compassion over hatred and malice. I’m not totally secure with myself yet, but that’s okay. I’m just doing the best that I can. And for that, I can say that I, without needing anyone else’s approval, validation, or reassurance, am proud of myself.

PS: No longer feeling annoyed 🙂

PPS: Does anyone else judge how others eat? How have you worked through it?

Stop Triggering Me!

Dear Bee,

Your voice is so loud right now. I swear. I’m TRYING to do all that I can to tune you out, but it’s hard. It’s so hard. You have an annoying voice right now; one that’s as demanding as it is seductive. You’re beating me up, and I’m letting it happen. I just stared in the mirror and you picked at EVERY flaw. And I believed you! You’re telling me I don’t have to fight you. You want to take the pain and sadness away. You want to remove the edge. You promise to remove the anxiety and fear. I can just jump on over to your bandwagon, because you’re going to take care of me. And we can start over recovery tomorrow. 

Ugh. 

I know why I’m triggered. Over the past few days, my food has been “messy,” and that makes me anxious, because I like it “perfect.” I am procrastinating some work that i have to do. I am feeling insecure with my body. I have some anxiety about the future. 

I just have to remember: 

You are distortion. You are the collection of my negative self-talk and nothing else.

The growth emerges from the pain.

Everything in recovery is practice for “tests” like this one. I am prepared. I have studied. I know what to do. I don’t have to run away just because I have test anxiety. 

And when all else fails, I just have to show up and “act as if.”

The freedom comes from learning to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.

The feelings WILL pass. The urges WILL pass. 

I am allowed to feel, and I’m allowed to think, but it’s what I DO that matters right now.

So, yeah. That’s where we’re at right now. I recognize you are absolutely appealing to me right now. Compared to the “recovery” side, the grass looks far greener with you. But I know that’s an illusion. You are comfort. You are familiarity. You are temporary escape. I know you are able to paint whatever picture I may need at a given moment, whereas I only have a fuzzy picture of what recovery looks like.

 You are tempting, yes, but you are also desperate.

 I know EXACTLY how I will feel if I walk over to you.

Two can play this game, but only one will win, and this time, it’s going to be me.

 

 

Onto the positive coping skills…hopefully these go well. 

For my mother.

Dear Bee,

I loathe when you come around on Mother’s Day, but right now, I’m ignoring you, because that woman has given me more than you ever have and ever will. As a gift to her, I refuse to give into you. As much as I want to. My mom hurts when I hurt, and by engaging or even listening to you, I am choosing to hurt myself. 

I don’t know if I’ll ever fully understand how much my eating disorder has hurt my mother, but  I can’t imagine the pain I would feel watching my child suffer from such a complex and mental disease. She tries to help; she is willing to go at any length, and I am so grateful for that. I just have to get over the fear that letting her in more will hurt her more. Because it will hurt. No mother wants their child to suffer. But I know if my daughter was in pain, I would want to know. I would want to help her in the best way I could. 

Two weeks ago, I cried about my mother in therapy. The first time I ever cried in session. I was talking about her telling me she was willing to do anything to help me on this recovery journey. And I was telling my therapist how guilty I felt for her selflessness. How much I felt like I was constantly letting her down, even if she did not realize it, because I am still hurting myself, because I am still in the clutches of my eating disorder. 

As cliched as this sounds, my mom is my role model. She has always been my rock and anchor, my support system and my confidante. I feel safe around her. I feel loved and nourished. She is so good to me. Selfless and kind. Grateful and compassionate. I am not the only one who thinks highly of her. People love my mother. My friends come over and sit and talk to her for hours. Her coworkers rave about her. She is just one of those women who exhibits such an intricate balance of strength with selflessness.

I could ramble on about the life lessons I have learned from her, but I think one of the most important ones that has always resonated with me is: I’ll give you what you need. And needs are different from wants. Growing up, it was hard to distinguish the two, as I obviously wanted everything.

My parents did not spoil me. They were budget-conscious, even though they made decent money. I was aware of how much things cost and how to manage finances from a young age. My mother taught me to be humble and grounded: we never flashed money. We never salivated over materialistic or designer goods. We traveled to foreign countries but drove beat-up used cars. We went on family outings but wore jeans from the clearance rack. 

I am still this way. I prioritize my needs and limit my wants. People tell me this about recovery: sometimes, you gotta do what you need to do, even if it’s what you don’t want to do. You will get what you need, even if it’s not what you want. 

What do I need to do right now? I need to enjoy my family. And enjoy all the blessings I have in my life, because there are so, so many. I need to tune you out, because you are trying to tell me that I’m not worth all these wonderful fortunes. And you are trying to hold my hand and lead me into your dark abyss of anguish and turmoil. That path only goes one way: into the one that inevitably leads to guilt, self-loathing, disappointment, helplessness, hopelessness, utter fear, and pain. Why would I want to go there? 

No. I’m going back to my mom. Back to the person who spent nine months holding me and several more years loving, teaching, and guiding me. She didn’t go to all those lengths only for me to hurt myself the way I want to right now. 

Not stopping recovery and grateful for my eating disorder

Dear Bee,

You are absolutely triggering me, but I can deal with these feelings of discomfort and anxiety right now. I hear you. You want me to stop recovery. You want me to hang out with you and “start over again tomorrow.” You want me to just take it easy on myself, and by taking it easy, that means taking a break from this “hard recovery work.”

I just have to challenge these thoughts. First, I can’t “stop” recovery. I’m in recovery, and that’s not changing. I am in the meaty, middle stages of the process, and if I give into you, it’s just another recovery slip. Choosing to stop recovery means going back to the other side of denial, ignorance, self-loathing, isolation, confusion, and fear. And frankly, none of those feelings seem appealing. Second, I’ve “started over again tomorrow” way too many times to know that procrastinating mindset has ZERO effectiveness on my mental health. If I give into you right now, I will feel 348937489374 worse tomorrow. And finally, by giving into you, I am being HARD, not EASY, on myself. I am punishing myself. I am letting myself be battered, abused, and tormented. I am giving into someone who wants to kill me.

No thanks.

I need recovery more than I’ll never need anything, because without it, I cannot be the person I want to be or do the things I want to do. Not wholly and fully, anyway. And why live a clouded, half-assed life? Why exist in a secretive world built on denial, compulsion, and distortion? Recovery comes first. Everything else will fall into place. Everything else, be it my day-to-day routine, relationships, family life, mental health, career pursuits, or passions will be that much better when in recovery. As long as I can remind myself and BELIEVE that everyday, I will be on the right path. 

Today was Cinco de Mayo, and I went out with some friends, and it was fun. I ate restaurant food and I drank alcohol. None of it was particularly “healthy,” but I approached the situation with a “healthy” attitude, and that is all that matters to me right now.

You were kind of around, but I essentially tuned you out. Your voice is the loudest when I’m alone. That is when I feel most triggered. In the presence of others, if you’re even present, I can mostly ignore you. 

I am trying my best. I am going to get through this.

Today, I am grateful to be where and who I am, and that is all I can ask of myself. 

One final note: 

I don’t regret my eating disorder. Sure, you can be a raging bitch and unpredictable emotional roller coaster at times, but I don’t wish we had never met. I thought about that long and hard yesterday. We all have our challenges. We all have our stories. Life gives us what we can handle, and humans are incredibly resilient and adaptive to it.  If we were not, we would not have adapted into the resilient, evolving creatures we are today. We have relationships with people for a reason. We are attracted to certain qualities, passions, and places for a reason. We fall into certain patterns or habits for a reason. Everything, therefore, can be perceived as a greater life lesson.  

If I had not had this experience or underwent the turmoil, learning, and struggling associated with it, I may not be where I am now, doing what I’m doing now, loving who I love right now. Little in life is random; our thoughts create our world, and our world creates our personalities. Every decision takes us into a new direction; every experience stretches our intuition and imagination; every struggle heightens our intellect, creativity, judgment, and insight.

Who wouldn’t be grateful for that?