Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

“enough: the cry for sabbath”


syllabi, Latin, and writing, oh my!

So this was my life for about a week: writing two course syllabi, studying Latin, working on my own writing, calling financial aid and the cashier’s office in an attempt to sort out my account, cleaning, organizing, finishing a scarf for my father, and trying not to run into walls (literally) as I was still getting over the effects of sleep deprivation illness.  This weekend, I am trying to finish all course prep and work on Latin and finish cleaning and laundry before my parents arrive on Monday.

Needless to say, I woke up this morning completely exhausted.

But this is what I do.  I work and work and work because “I’m supposed to” and “I need to succeed” and “I need to make sure other people think I’m competent” and then I crash.  I suppose a good sign is that I no longer crash and burn (which I equate with mental health and, in the past, certain behaviors), but simply crash on a physical level.  But crashing is no good any way you look at it.  Sure, I expect to crash after the last week of school when I’m turning in my own final papers and projects for my courses and grading my students’ final papers and portfolios, but I have this tendency to do it on a fairly regular basis.

Anyone relate?

So the other night, during my devotional time, I was reading a passage from the book The Seeking Heart: A Journey with Henri Nouwen by Charles R. Ringma.  Nouwen was a spiritual leader to thousands during his life and lived with and ministered to a community of people with special needs during his final years, and even with all the books he published and lives he changed, he often felt as if he wasn’t doing enough, and that what he was doing wasn’t good enough.  Ringma writes:

Ours has become a strange and contradictory world.  We are constantly promised much, but much eludes us.  We are bombarded with messages of rest, relaxation, and the ultimate vacation, but we are working harder than ever, and our inner world knows more of turmoil than peace.

The orientation toward productivity, usefulness, achievement, success, and upward mobility has left us full of exhilaration as we respond to all the challenges before us, but has also left us deeply depleted and inwardly restless. . . .

A further contour may have to do with our frayed sense of calling.  We never thought that the journey would be so long, the job so difficult, the career path so arduous, the spiritual ministry so taxing.  Did we make good vocational choices?  And if we did, how can we regroup and continue for the journey? Most of us, therefore, know the cry for rest. . . .

Our cry for rest is often much more a cry for those words that can most basically shape us: Well done, my beloved daughter, my beloved son.  And in the shape of the human communities of which we are a part we also need to hear such words from our companions on the journey.

A significant number of people with eating disorders did not grow up in a validating environment; the message was that you have to be more, do more and do it better.  And a significant number of people with eating disorders are perfectionists either by nature or nurture (which came first the chicken or the egg?).  We didn’t here, “well done” from our parents or teachers or coaches.  We heard, “this is what you need to do to be better.”

In the journey of recovery, at least my journey, I have found the same to be true.  When I was in a program for self-harm, I frequently wrote about how each time I self-injured I was reprimanded or lectured at, or I could see the disappointment on my therapist’s and peers’ faces.  But the first time I went a week without any self-harm, there was no validation.  It was just expected of me.  In my recovery from anorexia, when I decided I wanted to stop purging and was in the hospital, there was no award at the end of the first day, my first day without purging in months.  At one hospital, there were a significant amount of consequences for not eating 100%, but no praise when you did begin following the meal plan.

When I was at Rader, there were no reprimands, no lectures, no disappointment on the days I fell short of 100%.  But there was recognition of the days that I gave it my all and tried, even if I still didn’t make that 100%.  The small steps of progress were taken note of.  There was validation for these steps.  There was an acknowledgment of the difficulty of the journey and an acceptance that there will be steps backward as well as forward and the focus needs to be on the steps forward.

We place enough guilt on our own shoulders when we slip; we do not need reprimands or lectures from others.  Instead of hearing, “You’re overexercising still” we need to hear “Good job on cutting back by fifteen minutes today.”  Instead of hearing, “You need to stop purging and let go of that behavior if you ever want to get better” we need to hear, “I think it’s awesome that you just went two days in a row without purging.  I know how hard that must have been.”

This validation is key.  If you are not getting it from your treatment providers, I’d discuss it with them, and let them know how you feel and then I’d also find someone else in your life to provide that validation, be it a friend, a mentor, or a family member.  Yes, the validation eventually needs to come from within, but I am a firm believer that until we start hearing validation from others, we will have no idea how to validate ourselves.

I’m giving you permission to take pride in your successes, whatever they may be.  I am giving you, and me, permission to take a break from the work and reward yourself.  For me, that’s time spent knitting rather than studying, or a walk through the nearby flower gardens.  Time spent away from the pile of books by my chair.  Time spent with friends, time spent relaxing, time spent at my favorite coffee shop drinking a cup of coffee while reading a magazine rather than a textbook.

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August 7, 2010 - Posted by | Communication, Eating Disorders, feelings, recovery, self harm, therapy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

7 Comments »

  1. All I can say is, shabbat shalom. 🙂

    Comment by Halley | August 7, 2010 | Reply

  2. ?enough: the cry for sabbath?…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

    Trackback by Mental Disorders 101 | August 7, 2010 | Reply

  3. ?enough: the cry for sabbath?…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

    Trackback by Beat Alcoholism 101 | August 7, 2010 | Reply

  4. This is a very insightful post and I say it really hit home for myself. Validation for even the smallest thing is always such a huge mood booster and a true weapon against an eating disorder – while I find reprimands (even for destructive behaviors) only fuels the self-loathing and power of an ED to punish one further. Perhaps we should all write daily achievements lists?

    Comment by thegabbingmind | August 7, 2010 | Reply

    • One of the things that I do with my current therapist IS right daily achievement lists. And it’s not even because I was dealing with reprimands for destructive behaviors. He’s a DBT therapist, and so we do work with the DBT skills, and he’d focus on the skills I wasn’t using. Inside I’d feel like, “But what about all the skills I AM using, skills that push me out of my comfort zone?” and finally, I talked to him about it. So each day I write down three things I’m proud of and then give it to him each time I see him. And it’s become a very important part of him knowing how I’m doing in general. The things I’m proud of when the depression is really bad are “minor” things, but when I’m doing really well, the things I’m proud of are the types of things that I’m working on and tend to take a great deal of effort. So he both remembers the whole validation part of therapy and gets to know how I’m doing in general all in one.

      Comment by surfacingaftersilence | August 8, 2010 | Reply

  5. Great post – I relate to it on so many levels. One word that one of my previous therapists told me to wary of is “BUT” – for example, a doctor/therapist/etc. could say “You did a great job resisting purging this week, BUT – you didn’t gain any weight”. And that BUT feels like it negates whatever was infront of the BUT, whatever you did accomplish. The statement can be reworded in many different ways, including “While you didn’t gain any weight, you still resisted purging all week, good job”, and for me, that has a completely different tone. I’ve heard the BUT word all my life, so that I’ve internalized it – for me it’s about discounting the small victories because of not accomplishing other things. But each seemingly little victory adds up.

    Your post reminded me of Billy Joel’s song “Vienna”, where he says:

    “Slow down you’re doing fine
    You can’t be everything you want to be
    Before your time
    Although it’s so romantic on the borderline tonight

    Too bad but it’s the life you lead
    You’re so ahead of yourself
    That you forgot what you need
    Though you can see when you’re wrong
    You know you can’t always see when you’re right”

    Comment by anon | August 9, 2010 | Reply

  6. great post, after contemplating the idea of validation i realize that for me the ed Is my validation. I use it to reward myself for accomplishments in my work or family life – as a mother it is my job to help my children celebrate their successes in an uplifting and healthy way. But i celebrate my own by recommitting to the ed. I also realize how totally backwards this is! The path of self realization is not straight.

    Comment by Lanon | August 10, 2010 | Reply


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