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The day my alcoholic best friend sobered up.

This post

Has consistently ranked as one of my top-read posts in my entire blog history. The day I broke up with my alcoholic best friend. 

She hit bottom recently. Real bottom. The reasons why don’t matter and I will avoid specifics to protect anonymity.

The miracle happened.

We hadn’t spoken in almost a year. Last November, we had a brief dinner and caught up on our lives. It was civil, but strained. A few months ago, we saw each other again. Even more strained. She was deep in her addiction.

Last week, she reached out. I received lengthy, lengthy apologies for her behavior, for her addiction, for how she treated me, for how she treated herself, for how grateful she was for our friendship, for how grateful she was that I was willing to call her out on her bullshit and willing to put our relationship aside for her well-being.  

I didn’t expect these apologies for years…if ever. This is a stubborn girl, defiant to all modes of conventional treatment.

And now…she’s sobering up. Attending therapy. Taking medication for depression. Ended a stagnant romantic relationship. Revamping her lifestyle.

My alcoholic best friend, my alcoholic best friend who has been drinking since she was 12, who fell in love with drugs and sex and rock and roll, to escape the pain that was her childhood trauma, ill-equipped parents, and near-poverty adolescence. My alcoholic best friend, who, from high school, has been on her own financially and mentally. My alcoholic best friend who literally has the IQ of a genius (she’s had the test). My alcoholic best friend can be my best friend again.

What a blessing. 

Miracles happen. 

When the only way out is by escaping.

The curious paradox about abusing vices to escape is that you don’t actually go anywhere. In fact, you stay stuck. You remain stagnant. I tried emphasizing that to one of my clients earlier today, a lovely girl, not much older than myself, struggling with the progressive throes of alcoholism. I know why she wants to escape. Her life hurts. She has had a traumatic upbringing. I cannot blame her for wanting to numb herself- hell, we all want to numb ourselves.

The other day I wrote that I recently came to revelation that happiness and meaning came from embracing life rather than escaping it. Escaping is done through the bottle, through the food, the sex, the drugs, the intoxication, the altered state of consciousness. Escape is the shortcut, the predictable, foolproof method of avoiding pain. Nobody is a bad person for wanting to escape. It has been said that humans have four basic drives: eating, sleeping, mating, and the desire to alter consciousness.

The fourth one is not essential for the survival of humanity. But many of us have made it essential to make the journey of humanity bearable. Anyone with an eating disorder or mental illness or addictive issue will probably resonate with this. We all alter consciousness. The degree to which we do it, however, lies on a spectrum. Some are satisfied with receiving a boost of energy from their daily cup of coffee. Others need a pack of cigarettes. Even on a healthier end of things, we use meditation to alter consciousness, to increase clarity, to feel more level. 

We may live to eat and sleep and mate, but we also live to chase happiness. We maximize pleasure and minimize pain. These are the common denominators behind every single basic drive. And when this becomes distorted in some way, we continue spiraling down the negative pathways of escape. We turn to our vices, we turn to the very substances that can harm and kill us, we turn our backs on ourselves. Because the pain of “sobriety” in whatever way, shape, or form that looks like hurts more than the pain of “sickness.”

Imagine. The sickness of being oneself is so potent that the individual MUST escape his or her own being to bear existence. That is the essence of addiction. That is why it is so hard to quit. That is why these battles are so complex. It is not about giving up the vice. It is about healing the sickness, the deep wounds inside of us, the ones that make life so unbearable and miserable. 

The school of thought in comparing eating disorders to addictions is controversial, but I do believe they share many degrees. Obviously, one cannot quit the substance he or she may be abusing (food), but behavioral compulsions (food, sex, gambling, shopping) can be just as detrimental and devastating as substance compulsions (drugs, alcohol). They may not kill you right away, but what’s worse? A slow suicide, such as an eating disorder, that is often laden with denial and minimization? Or a fast-acting one, like hard drugs, with the risk of overdose looming above everyday? 

Neither is better and neither is worse. All compulsions and addictions carry their own badges of terrible honor, of petrifying shame. All of them share the common denominator: An inability to be oneself. An inability to manage life. An inability to tolerate the weather of emotions, the ups-and-downs of life, the stressors of existence.

Addictions are not the problem; they are the pathological cries indicating a much deeper, scarier problem beneath. 

When the only way out of life is by means of escaping, you aren’t reaching hell. You’re already probably there. 

We’re all anonymous somewhere

Dear Bee,

This past weekend, my boyfriend needed to attend a variety of Twelve Steps meeting for an assignment, so naturally, I went with him. We went to AA and NA. We tried to go to an OA meeting, but when we arrived at the location, nobody was there.

I forget how wonderful it can be to sit in those rooms, to hear the stories, the pain, the struggle of people all experiencing the same highs and lows. Drug of choice doesn’t matter. Crack, tequila, sugar…they’re all potent and they can easily spiral any of us out of control. The strength and love in those rooms is incredible. Now, I remember why I liked Twelve Steps. The camaraderie and fellowship saved me in many ways. Your voice lives in every addict. Your voice lives in every single person who knows what it is like to be compulsive and addictive and secretive and ashamed. 

I’ve contemplated going back. Contemplated. Just to see. It’s been almost a year. How has the time flown so quickly? Recovery is back in full force, at the forefront of my work again. It needs to be that way for awhile. No more half-assing it. No more finding the loopholes and thinking I can somehow outsmart the disorder. I can’t. I’ve tried. Thousands of times. It’s failed. Just as many times. 

Day in and day out. That’s the process. Tedious, but worth it. Painstaking at times, but still worth it. Always, always worth it. I wouldn’t trade the experiences I have had in recovery for the “control” I felt in sickness, for the “escape” I found in sickness. I wouldn’t be able to love deeply and experience the riches of the world. The Twelve Steps reminded me that this weekend.

I was reminded how much SWEETER life is without you. 

Nothing tastes better than my recovery. 

It’s so easy to lose sight of that, especially when I’m in the thick of it, especially when your voice becomes so strong that it drowns out all the logic and reason. It’s easy for me to feel powerless next to you. And because maybe, in some ways, I am powerless to the throes of mental illness. But, I am not powerless to the fight of recovery.

Your voice is different from my own. It’s more shrill, more desperate, more deceptive. Your voice is not mine. You follow me, whisper in my ear, scream in my face…you always know just where to find me, just when to coax and comfort me into listening to you.

But your voice is not my voice. And my recovery will never be yours. 

to acknowledge relapse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the fantasies of eating

Dear Bee,

I’m home alone at my boyfriend’s apartment, and I’m finishing some writing for that novel I’ve been working on. I’m supposed to complete 50,000 words by December 1st. I just hit my 22,000 mark. The characters are taking own their own paths; the plot is shaping into its own story. I feel like I am just the puppet master overseeing the show. I do not feel as if I have control over what happens. That’s the beauty of writing. When you are immersed in it, the creativity just flows. The words cannot come out fast enough.

It’s a peaceful late afternoon. We’ve been working on homework, enjoying a leisurely Sunday. He’ll be back in about an hour. I’ve just been doing my best to relax.

Over the past few days, I’ve had  fantasies of bingeing, and I’m not sure what void they are filling. Sometimes, before I go to sleep, I’ll start thinking about cramming myself with food. The thoughts are seductive and fierce. It’s intensely realistic, almost in a fervent sexual manner. They terrify me. I haven’t been acting on these urges, and they feel nearly subconscious rather than immediately triggering, but it weirds me out. I feel silly for having such thoughts, because I know NOTHING makes me unhappier in life than acting on my eating disorder. There are a lot of terrible things in this world that I cannot control, but how I treat my body and soul IS in my control. I know this is a part of recovery. I remember when I used to binge in my dreams and wake up discombobulated and confused between reality and fantasy. It always felt so relieving to know it was just a dream.

I’ve been missing my “safe food” repertoire and feeling guilty for eating with less inhibitions and more intuition. I’ve been eating out a lot, which can be a struggle in recovery. Still, I’m pushing. I’m acknowledging my thoughts and feelings, but I’m choosing to act against them.Everyday, it gets easier to veer away from those low-calorie, bland foods and allow in what I really want without bingeing on it. I do not have to succumb to restriction or deprivation to avoid bingeing. Like I said yesterday, living in the gray is healthy. When living in the gray, anything is possible. It’s when we only want to look at the black-and-white, everything is impossible. 

Yesterday, I found out one of my close colleagues is in recovery from alcoholism. She regularly works the Twelve Steps and maintains her sobriety in the best ways she knows how. Like me, she is also studying to be a therapist. Initially, something about her bothered me. She complained frequently, projected her anxiety onto others, and seemed to stem her insecurities in all the inappropriate ways, but for some reason, I feel so much more connected to her now that I know the battles she’s undergone. On some level, no matter how different we are and how different are vices might have been, we have fought the same demons. We deal with the same emotional roller coasters and triggering situations. We know our poisons, we know our disordered voices, and we know how delicious the sober life tastes compared to the sick life. And yet, we both probably flirt with our sick selves more than we’d like to. That’s part of recovery. That’s part of healing.

I’m glad that I have therapy tomorrow. It’s been three weeks. And after running dozens of sessions in that timeframe, it will be refreshing to have my own selfish hour. 

Now, I’m going back to my novel writing. Going back to my creative flow. I love this blog, but I want to get lost in my own fantasies right now. Fantasies that don’t involve my sickness, but rather, ones that involve the uniqueness of my soul. 

old friendships, rebellion, caffeine, bulimia, & positive affirmations.

Dear Bee,

It’s strange. For the first time in about a year, I’m struggling to actually sit down and write these posts out. This was such a natural catharsis for me, a creative high of sorts, but now, it just feels dull. I’m just going to keep writing and see what happens. Spin gold out of a chaotic mess of the clouds in my mind. Or something artsy like that. I don’t want to edit this either. In fact, once I feel like I’ve said what I wanted to say, I will click Publish Post and be done with it. I just want to ramble. I’m not going to go back and read anything I wrote. So, here goes. 

Several months ago, I wrote this: http://loveletterstobee.com/2013/03/21/the-day-i-broke-up-with-my-alcoholic-best-friend/ in regards to my painstaking decision to end a friendship with one of my closest friends. Last night, we met up for dinner. I initiated the contact. I missed her. I wanted to see how she had been. This girl had been by my side through multiple heartbreaks, graduations, vacations, and spontaneous adventures. A few years ago, we had a threesome with my ex-boyfriend, but that’s an entirely different story. We’ve been close. Closer than close. “Breaking up” with her was harder than breaking up with anyone else. So, we were at dinner, and it was emotional. Tears, hugs, laughs. Flowing conversation for five hours without a hint of awkwardness. We both said our pieces. She still drinks. To what extent, I do not know. I struggle to believe that alcoholics can drink in moderation once they’ve reached the threshold of substance dependence. I’ve heard that some percentage (like five percent) can do harm reduction, but the rest must commit to sobriety in order to kick their addiction. Again, she still drinks. I don’t know what boundaries to set up with her just yet. I don’t know if I want to be friends. It just felt good seeing her last night. Telling her about what I’ve been up to. She’s missed so much of me: my new boyfriend, my new internship, Europe, things with my family. At this point, I just wish I could avoid the alcohol problem, but I know if I choose to do that, it will just become the white elephant in the room. And I don’t want that either.

Anyway, enough about that.

I’ve binged once this week. Last night. Any coincidence that this was right after meeting with my friend? I think not. My eating disorder is boring me. Bingeing once used to be exciting, seductive, and glamorous. I actually felt like such a rebel in the middle of the act, like look at me, I’m breaking ALL THE RULES. Now, it’s just a step-by-step process with predictable emotions, inevitable self-loathing, and a total sense of, I don’t give a fuck. I guess in a sense it’s still a form of rebellion. Except, instead of rebelling against whatever so-called diet I was on, I’m rebelling against recovery. Sometimes, to be honest, recovery just feels like another euphemism for diet, but I know it’s not. 

I’ve also been drinking copious amounts of coffee over the past few weeks. This is 1/3 due to the taste, 1/3 due to the jolt of energy, and 1/3 due to the low caloric content. I keep hearing all these positive studies about the effects of caffeine, so that rationalizes my consistent brew. Still, I know it’s not good to suppress my appetite with a cup of java. I know it’s not good to use it as a natural diuretic, and yet, I can’t lie and say I don’t enjoy those benefits. Whatever. One vice at a time. Nobody would look at a serious drug addict and condemn him or her for chain-smoking cigarettes. The same could apply to eating disorder recovery. The importance thing is awareness. Awareness that I am still using/abusing certain substances to mask the remnants of my disease (I write this as I chew a piece of gum. I chewed at least 4 pieces in a row yetjerday, something I haven’t done in a long while. Five second pause. Just spat the gum out). 

Talked about eating disorders in supervision yesterday, because one of my colleagues is working with an individual struggling with bulimic symptoms. It’s so interesting how easy these cases can sound when presented. Just, you know, teach her some coping skills, show her to value her body, pinpoint how there will never, ever be a good enough body when living with an eating disorder, no matter what number, size, or look she is trying to achieve. Obviously, I know nothing about an eating disorder is simple. But then again, nothing about any mental illness is simple. If it was, I would be out of a job. Plain and simple. Surprisingly, I don’t have any clients who have presented eating disorder pathologies just yet (about the only disorder I haven’t seen), but I often wonder how I will be in the room with them. Will I self-disclose the same way my own therapist did? Or will I remain professional, safe in my powerful chair, and keep distance between us? What if someone who reads this blog was one of my clients? They would never know it was me, I can guarantee that. I present myself so much differently in the world than I do on here. It’s subconscious. Part of it is my ability to deceive as a means of survival. I know what it takes to be successful in this world, and, unfortunately, vulnerability isn’t the road to it. It’s an interesting thought to think that a reader could be a client, since many of them must be struggling/have struggled with an eating disorder or relative mental illness. 

This rambling feels amazing. The morning is turning out well. I randomly picked a positive affirmation out of my “recipes for my soul” love box that I made as a demonstration for a group therapy class I lead, and today’s read, I am exactly who and where I need I am supposed to be in this exact moment. Damn straight. Who am I? A young, talented, creative, loving individual with an unquenchable thirst for life and hunger for adventure. Where am I? In my bed, laptop perched on my stomach, listening to music, ceiling fan blowing over me. I don’t have the answers. I am still exhibiting disordered behavior. I STRUGGLE. I fight. I complain. I question whether it’s worth it. But choices, people, and experiences have brought me to this point, and, when I really think about it, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. 

I am so grateful for this life, for recovery, for all of you lovely readers (I read every single one of your emails and do my best to respond to all of you), for the cloudless blue sky, for the warmth of my bed, for the breakfast I am about to eat (I no longer have to suffer and “starve” today to make up for yesterday), for the clients I’m going to see later, and for the boyfriend I’m going to fall asleep with tonight.

The woes of treating addiction in eating disorder recovery.

Dear Bee,

I am just so glad that it’s the weekend. My Monday-Thursday are such a blur between classes, paperwork, supervision, and clients.

I basically spend the weekend at the boyfriend’s house, which is such an amazing way to transition out of the therapist life. I like being able to unwind with him. It feels like a mini-vacation at the end of the week! He’s my greatest supporter. Okay, this is not a time to gush on and on about him, even though we all know I very well could.

So, I have my first addiction on my hands. Alcoholism. This client and I are close in age, but that’s where the similarities concerning our backgrounds end. She’s in that contemplation stage of addiction, that awful in-between in knowing that she has a clear problem, but not sure what to do about it just yet. Her support system is shit. Her living arrangement is shit. She has experienced significant trauma and represents a classic textbook case of life is against her. I understand why she drinks to numb out her feelings. She needs that blanket of intoxication to cope with the chaos that is her life. Like so many of us, escape is all she wants. We don’t fall into addictions to escape the pain and demons outside of us. We fall into them to escape whatever lies within us. When we cannot tolerate our own selves, our own genetic makeup and uniqueness, our own peaks and valleys of emotions and experiences, we must alter consciousness in order to keep going.

Obviously, I have an urge to help her. She reminds me of a friend, one I wrote about in a previous post (http://loveletterstobee.com/2013/03/21/the-day-i-broke-up-with-my-alcoholic-best-friend). Originally, I went into this field with the intention to specialize in substance abuse. Naturally, I wanted to save the world, which is such a novice, idealistic goal for young, fresh-faced therapists. In reality, working with addicts embodies hard, exhaustive work, and the recovery rates hover around 5%. Out of 100 people with chemical addiction, approximately 95 will relapse. Of course, I see it as, Let me be the one who guides those remaining 5.

I am not an alcoholic, but I know what it is like to feel dependent and compulsive. I know what cravings feel like. I know when the thing you want the most is the very thing that is destroying you the most. I know secrecy and deceit, hiding around from others, shame and lying, minimizing and saving face. I know what it’s like to feel like you have absolutely no control. Addiction is just a name and the drug of choice is just the band-aid poorly covering our deep wounds. Food, drugs, gambling, sex, alcohol, it’s all the same. We are in pain, and we cannot tolerate it. The addiction voice has tremendous hold and impeccable logic. There is nothing easy about recovery or sobriety. There is nothing easy about going against every single thing you believe you want or have or must do. Addiction may not be a choice, but letting go of it is. And for many of us, it will be the hardest choice and journey we ever take. Although it may sound contradictory, for those in recovery or sobriety, nothing is harder than letting go of torture and surrendering to freedom.

Alcoholism, just like any other addiction, including eating disorders, is progressive. It just gets worse. You start out with a drink or two a night just to relax and take the edge off, and soon enough, you’re blacking out daily. This is a stereotypical example, but not an uncommon one. The worse the addiction gets, the more the addiction voice justifies it. Our addiction voice protects us because it wants us to remain close and friendly. The addiction is the parasite, and you are its host. It will latch on you, rent-free, and never leave on its own. Only you can remove it.

I don’t know what will happen with this client. My agency does not allow us to work with active drug or alcohol addicts, simply because it hinders therapeutic treatment. She needs to commit to attempting sobriety, and I don’t know if she can do that at this point. I want her to, just as I want any addict to, but that change lies in her, not in me. Therapy is for her, not for me, and I have to continually remind myself that. I cannot change anyone; I can just metaphorically hold their hands as they decide to venture on a new path.

Recovery comes first.

Dear Bee,

There is only one real question that one has to ask- about everything: does this threaten my sobriety? If it does, we addicts cannot do it. It is as simple as that.

I am reading this therapy book and skimming through most of it (because I find the author arrogant and somewhat misinformed), but I stopped at the addiction and codependency chapter, and this quote jumped out.

 In the Twelve Steps philosophy, sobriety holds precedence above everything else. Above family, above friends, above work…because if one is not sober, one is not in the correct capacity to be the person he or she needs to be. I use the words sobriety, abstinence, and recovery synonymously. I prefer recovery, so, in my case, I have to put my recovery first. But what does that mean?

Putting recovery first means acting in ways that I once considered selfish. This includes putting my own needs first, recognizing uncomfortable situations, practicing assertiveness, and doing my best to eliminate negative energy. It also means putting in hard work: going to therapy, reaching out for support, writing as often as I can, talking about my issues, identifying triggers, doing reality testing/thought records/pros and cons lists with myself, and eating in a way that is healthy for my mind, body, and soul.

Full recovery entails the transformation of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. When I was only eating “normally” in the first few months, I felt miserable. My thoughts were still rigid, my emotions were still rampant, and all I could think about was food, exercise, food, therapy, and food. I was running too fast on a treadmill that was taking me nowhere. Or so I thought. But I kept going.

Putting recovery first is shitty in the beginning. I won’t lie. It’s messy. It’s painful. The days drag, and the alleged light at the end of the tunnel is dim to nonexistent. The lapses hit you, and they hit you hard. You wonder, is this even worth it? You wonder, how do people actually do this? You wonder, will it ever get better? Or am I just a lost cause? Am I doomed to live like this forever?

I think about my recovery every single day. But, I don’t live perfect recovery every single day. That would be impossible. Such unrealistic expectations increase the likelihood of failure, quitting, and self-loathing. I have to be easy on myself, but, at the same time, I need to be aware of the cunning and destructive nature of eating disorders. They don’t just disappear, and relapse rates remain stubbornly high. I’ve only been in real recovery for a year. Before that, my attempts were well-intentioned, but unsuccessful because they still focused on vanity (ex: I need recovery, because it will help me lose weight) and not vitality and overall well-being. 

When you recover from an eating disorder, you recover from the idea that chaos is comfort. You learn to accept that you aren’t special or entitled just because you meet criteria for a diagnosis. You realize that nothing else in life changes just because you lost or gained ten pounds except, of course, your own attitude and perspective. You realize that food is JUST food, and the only thing that is negative or positive about it are your thoughts regarding what it does to your body and mindset. You distinguish eating disordered logic from reality and realize that, at one time, most of your thinking about yourself was irrational, distorted, and destructive.

Recovery is a long process and miracles do not happen overnight. But progress does. Chip at it, day by day, moment by moment, meal by meal. If you slip, you slip. You learn and you grow and you toughen up from it. If you cry, you’re releasing the inner pain and torment. That’s normal. If you feel lost and alone, welcome to the club. I am blessed to have some recovery under my belt; I am fortunate enough to get a second chance at life and all of its virtues; I am grateful- ever so grateful.

Today, if the eating disorder comes out to play, I will ask myself, what do I have to do to put my recovery first?

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.

Having a relationship with an eating disorder.

Dear Bee,

So there is a very real possibility that things are going to be moving quickly with this guy. I just have a feeling. And normally, this is not how I roll. Because this isn’t part of some “plan.” Because this isn’t on some kind of safe timeline. I’m not that kind of girl who falls all over a guy she just met. Like at all. But, who am I to fight this conquering beast we call life?

Having always believed my emotions were wrong or inferior, I followed the all-knowing logic that existed in my head. Who cared what my heart felt? Feelings didn’t matter, but practicality and convenience did. This explains why I stayed in relationships with men I didn’t love. This is why I followed those dating rules almost religiously. Play the nice girl, dumb myself down if needed, give him what he wants, don’t fall too hard, etc.

But, I am also not native. Dating and relationships represent dangerous territories in early stages of recovery. Professionals typically advise recovering addicts to maintain sobriety for at least a year before considering a relationship. What about individuals with eating disorders? There does not seem to be a general rule of thumb for this. Do we need one? Obviously, the dynamic of a recovering drug addict may be different than someone recovering from an eating disorder, but is it? In fact, with an eating disorder, the recovery is less black-and-white. Individuals with codependency issues may find themselves prioritizing the other person’s needs over their own. I am aware that I am still fragile and vulnerable; while i have been making remarkable progress, I need to continue pushing forward. 

At this point, my recovery is the most sacred part of my life. I will sacrifice and change virtually anything to accommodate those needs. And yet, it seems like he can fit into this equation. For one, he already knows what I’m going through (because this what two aspiring therapists talk about all day). And for two, I didn’t feel any sense of shame in telling him. I didn’t plan on disclosing something so personal so soon, but our conversation somehow led us in a direction that opened the door for me to talk about it.  He was genuinely curious and said he admired my strength and willingness. So, there you go. 

You triangulated yourself in my past relationships, and it was extremely painful. You let me be in love, but never with myself. You let me be close to someone, but never to the point where I was fully able to let go and fall into my primal emotions. You always, always kept me grounded and orderly; structured and controlled. Because that’s where you liked me. That’s where you thrived the most. You needed to be the first priority in my life, and you did everything in your seductive powers to make that happen. When I think of past anniversaries, do I remember the feelings i experienced or the food I ate? When I think of vacations, do I remember all the laughs we shared or do I remember feeling self-conscious in my skin? When I think of holding someone in my arms, was I thinking about how much I loved him or how much I weighed that morning? It didn’t matter how many times he told me I was beautiful. It didn’t matter how much I knew that number on the scale didn’t really matter or the food I ate wasn’t really going to make me incredibly fat.

The eating disorder pathology isn’t about logic and reason. If it was, it wouldn’t exist. 

I would never wish for that history to repeat itself, but I just don’t think it will. You may still linger from time to time, but I no longer need you for protection. I no longer need you to keep me safe or in control. I can trust myself and the universe now. I know a world that is so much more beautiful than your reality.