Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

where the *@#&^ have I been?

I’d to to check back in with my faithful readers and let them know I was vacationing at a nice, sunnyside southern California retreat.  It was marvelous.  Relaxing.  Peaceful.  Warm. Sunny.

If only that were true.  But I will be in California in January–for the Jackie Bristow Memorial 5K.  Please visit this page and consider donating.  This is a family very dear to my heart.  I will not be running, of course, but I do have an awesome voice to cheer people on.  And if you are thinking about running, I please ask that you discuss this with your treatment team.  We would love to have you there supporting the organization, but we would like you to take care of yourself first.  Join me in the cheering section.  The race is in San Dimas.  I have no idea where in California that is really.   I’ve never been there before.  I hope it lives up to my expectations.

So where have I been?  Classes and the library.  The semester is over half finished (hallelujah!) and I’m ready for Christmas.  I’ve been sick, I’ve been shocked by my ICD, I’ve graded a lot of papers and translated a lot of Latin.

I’ve wanted to blog, but I haven’t been sure how to go about doing so.  I find myself confused, upset, frustrated at some of the things I notice in the eating disorder community online.  Sometimes I feel so powerless to change any thing–any small thing.

Honestly, I’ve wanted to throw up my hands and walk away, and I haven’t been saying much online because my mommy taught me that if I can’t say anything nice, I shouldn’t say anything at all.  But that feels so hypocritical, because I’m here, on the other side, seeing some things I went through and understand and some things I just don’t understand, and I know I was once “there.”  But one of the things I’ve tried to do in this blog is be honest.  So here it goes.

I wish I could stop the cross-postings that go on between the people returning to treatment and posting from treatment and then when the get back from treatment and all of the people leaving all these positive comments about “how this will be the last time” “you can make this work” and “i’m sooooooo sorrrrrry is there anything I can do?” and the really confusing “don’t let them get to you.”  Them being the treatment team at the hospital.  Because, of course, treatment teams are out to get their patients and make their lives hell.  (please read sarcasm there)

Yes, this umpteenth hospitalization could be the one in which things “click” and changes are made.  But here’s the kicker: I’ve seen people get better after going to one of the worst god-awful treatment centers in the united states (I was there and it really is hell and if you know what place I mean, please don’t comment with the name because of the fact that I have known people to get better there).  I’ve also seen many many many people bounce around between some of the best facilities in the country–inpatient, residential, IOP, transitional living–and it’s always “the place sucked” or “staff sucked” or “the rules were crappy” or “the food sucked” (that one makes me laugh) or “they didn’t know what they were doing.”

We’re the experts on being sick.  They– the treatment professionals – are the experts in helping us recover.  And of course the rules suck, but if we didn’t need the rules, they wouldn’t be there.  And the place sucks–who wants to be in treatment facility?  And “staff sucked” and “they didn’t know what they were doing” are really just ways of saying, “I didn’t want to listen to them.”

A friend of mine told someone I had been to SP and recovered.  And that someone said, in a very negative manner, “well she must have really wanted to get better.”  (I’m not sure if this was meant to be an insult to the place or me or what.  Or an excuse for themselves.)

Yes.  As a matter of fact, I did want to get better.  I wanted it so much that I listened to my treatment team–sure I cried and whined and yelled–but I did what they told me.  My way had never worked.  It hadn’t even ever helped the situation.  So I decided to try it their way.  100%.  And I found out that if you’re willing to work with them and be honest and trust them, they are more than willing to work with you.

Sometimes I want to post as a comment to a status update of “going back in again” and have it say: “we all saw that one coming awhile ago.”  I’ve stopped giving the platitudes of false optimism:  You can do it!  You are so brave! Don’t give up!  Not to everyone.  Some people I know are really throwing everything they’ve got into recovery, using every opportunity they have to get better and fight.  But some people are not there yet.  I have no magic words to shake them out of it.  I have no anecdote that will make them wake up and smell that coffee they live on (with splenda).  Because I was there.  And it took almost dying for me to wake up.

This is a rambling post.  But this is my point:  bouncing from treatment center to treatment center not only affects you, it affects every single person around you, both in real time and online.  Don’t ever fool yourself and think you are in this alone, that your actions have no repercussions.  I used to think that.  And then my friends got tired.  They got scared I would die.  They felt powerless to help.  They ran out of words to say.  And they left.

Early in my recovery, every time I heard of another person I was in treatment with who relapsed and went back in the hospital, it took some of my hope away.  How the hell was I supposed to recover if no one else could?  How could I turn to them if they were fighting to stay alive on a very real level?  And every time someone went back in the hospital, I was jealous.  I’ve written about this before.  The pull of the hospital.

Now?  Every time I hear of the endless cycle of admissions and ER visits and fights with treatment teams, I wonder how long that person has to live and I wish I had the power of words to make them believe in and choose life.

And yes.  It does come down to a choice.  We did not choose this illness.  But, even if you are forced into treatment, it is always your choice to recover.

October 30, 2010 Posted by | Eating Disorders, feelings, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

reassigning ice cream

I was on facebook today (of course), and EDIN posted an entry that caught my eye with the words: When you were young did Food keep you sane and alive? Well, then, thank Food, but re-assign it a new job . . . and find other ways to stay sane.  There was a link to a blog entry about a woman who realized the role eating had played in her youth and how to “re-assign that role.”

I understand the concept.  I realize that anorexia was a way I survived.  But I know other ways to survive now, ways that will, ultimately, not harm me and that will allow me to fully participate in life.  In recovering from any eating disorder or any disordered relationship with food, I think you do need to take a step back and look at things from a more objective point of view and not let food fill emotional needs.  Doing so can trigger relapses.

But one of the things I am grateful for in terms of my recovery, is the ability to let food fill an emotional need.  I was giving a talk a few weeks ago and said, in response to a question about whether or not I let myself eat what would be fear foods, “If I have a really crappy day when life sucks and want ice cream for dinner, I eat ice cream for dinner.  And I love every single bite.  If I did that every night, or if I binged on the ice cream to numb out the feelings, there would be a problem.  But when I get stressed, I crave two things: something soft and sweet (ice cream) or something salty.  I have learned that allowing myself to eat those things when I’m stressed is quite rewarding.”

How is it rewarding?  I can sit down with a bowl of ice cream (not a half-gallon) and enjoy the taste and texture.  There is something about the combination of flavor and texture and temperature that I like.  I also like salted sunflower seeds when I am stressed.  I have no idea why.  But I’m glad that I let myself have them.  I enjoy them.

Does eating ice cream for dinner solve my problem?  Absolutely not.  Does it numb out my feelings?  No.  Do I continue eating more ice cream (bingeing) or do I do this several nights a week?  No.  Does it give me something to enjoy in an otherwise stressful day?  Yes.  Does it give me time away, a mini-vacation?  Yes.  Could I do other things instead of eating ice cream?  Yes.  Do I do other things besides eating ice cream?  Yes.  Do I have to have ice cream? No.

I have an arsenal of coping skills at my disposal now.  My eating habits are balanced, and I know that if I do have a bowl of ice cream for dinner, I’m going to get hungry later and want something more substantial and will likely have “real” dinner, or my body will tell me it needs more the following day.  I’m at a place where I can rely on these hunger cues to guide my choices.  In the beginning of recovery, I couldn’t.  I followed a meal plan, and I followed it religiously at first.  This shift to giving myself freedom has been relatively recent in the timeline of illness and recovery.  Food has been re-assigned.  It is no longer scary, something to be eaten only for physical sustenance.

It’s a balance.  Some nights I have ice cream.  Some nights I take a hot bath.  Some nights I knit.  Some nights I do all three.  And I enjoy all three.

October 12, 2010 Posted by | Eating Disorders, mindfulness, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Can I Just Be Me?

Recovery does not equal “life free of stress.”  If only it did.  I know I am not alone with this: my eating disorder was a way I attempted to make the stress of life disappear.  A significant proportion of life was absolutely terrifying to me, and a lot of my symptoms were attempts to numb all of that stress away.  Of course, if you numb the crappy parts away, you also numb the good parts.  You don’t get to choose.  It’s all or nothing.

Recovery involves letting Life back in.  All of life.  Not just the good stuff.  Once again, it’s all or nothing.  You let the crappy parts back in as well.  There is no way around it.  A full life is never one or the other.  It’s everything.  And, a lot of the time, it’s everything all at once.  The good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly and everything in between.

Early in recovery, the bad and the ugly parts of life were little apples from the Forbidden Tree: temptations to return to the eating disorder.  And I could have gone back at any time.  I could have chosen to numb out once again.  But I had gotten a taste of the good and the beautiful, the parts of life that balance out the pain, and I wasn’t ready to give those things up.

I am still not ready to give those parts up.  Even when I post status updates about stress and hating a current situation or being depressed or apathetic.  These are all normal feelings, and most of the people I interact with on a daily basis also post them.  It’s called being a doctoral student.  It’s called being a wife or mother or father or husband.  It’s called planning a wedding or planning a family.  It’s called work.  It’s called living in the world.

But.  They do not have this “eating disorder” label hanging over their heads.  I do.  And so, when I post status updates that are less than positive, I not only get much appreciated comments of concern, I get private messages telling me that using behaviors will not solve anything.  I get private messages giving a list of things to do besides act on behaviors.  I get people telling me to “be strong and not let the eating disorder win.”

There are no desires to use behaviors.  I am not letting the eating disorder win.  I have already won.  I have chosen life–the good the bad the beautiful the ugly–and I am not letting go.

I expressed frustration at people assuming stress=a return to the eating disorder and people were offended.  One of the things I’ve learned through recovery is how to use my voice.  When I was in the stages of weight recovery and weight maintenance, I had the right to ask people not to comment on said weight gain or on my appearance in general.  It’s a suggestion that is respected within the eating disorder community.  We congratulate people when they ask their friends and family to refrain from comments.  And we also understand when people get angry at their family and friends for questioning them excessively: if they left the room after eating something and then being asked, “did you go throw up?”.  Constant monitoring of meals, with “Aren’t you supposed to be eating more?”

We want, at some point, trust.  And the allowance to move beyond the eating disorder. To not have our motives questions.  To not be watched 24/7.  To be allowed to grow and change.

Do not hold me to my past.  I have lost friends because they could not allow me to change.  They only ever saw me through the eating disorder lens, not the lens of the present moment.

I am not my past.  I am me.  Now.

October 10, 2010 Posted by | Communication, Eating Disorders, feelings, identity, recovery, relationships | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Change What You See–Identity

altered flowers

My life has been a little crazy lately.  ER trip for what we think was most likely a small veinous blood clot.  We “think” because it was located in an area that they couldn’t test for because of Lily, my ICD.  School has been chaotic.  My social life has been rather  . . . upsetting?  My constant wavering on whether or not I should face my cardiac diagnosis head on and let myself get hit with all it entails–while being responsible for five classes–is always present.  And sometimes not much of a choice.  But today I had this revelation, of going back to a more reliable plan of action, one that is familiar, in order to manage school and chaos, and suddenly the world seems doable again.  Life seems doable again.

I spent some time with one of my mentees yesterday, and spent some time with my favorite poet today: Lousie Glück (in print form, not in person.  I might die in trembling fear if I met her in person).  Last night my mentee and I discussed identity, that tremendously terrifying word for so many people with an eating disorder facing recovery.  Who are you without the eating disorder?  To some degree, we all have to face this question.  Some of us managed to hold on to slivers of our old selves.  Some of us need to discover new selves or unbury old, forgotten selves.

This is one area where we don’t have to be confined or hampered by our past.  We can set the past free and wave goodbye and look ahead.

The preface to my favorite book of Louise Glück (Vita Nova) is:

The master said You must write what you see.

But what I see does not move me.

The master answered Change what you see.

Beautiful, freeing, powerful words.  You must write (create, become, embody) what you see when you look into the mirror of your inner self.  Don’t like what you see?  Don’t know what you see?  Then change what you see.

You have the power to recreate who you are.  You have the power to ignite passion inside of you for new things, for old things, for strange things, for the familiar.  I asked my mentee this last night: Who do you want to become? Forget about who you were and certainly toss out who you were with the eating disorder, and focus on who you desire to be.  And then become it.  The power to be is in your hands.

I am a college teacher and a student.  But those things are not who I am.  I love teaching, helping students come to new understandings and helping them see things in a new light.  I thrive on the acquisition of knowledge.  I find order in translating Latin.   I cherish my nephew and niece, and want to strengthen my relationship with my family.  I miss my family.  I love knitting–creating in general.  I crave silent nights with tea and a good book or a blank sheet of paper and a pen.  Poetry speaks to me in a way I can’t explain.  These passions and loves are what define me, not my job.

Find your passions.  Try new things.  Go out on a limb and take a class in something you would never have thought of before.  Say hello to someone you see a lot but haven’t ever approached.  Go see a new movie.  Read a book that is outside your comfort zone.  Talk to people.  Give things a chance to blossom and bear fruit.

You will do this over and over again as you grow and develop.  Life is not static; it is evolving.  Let yourself evolve with it.

October 1, 2010 Posted by | Eating Disorders, identity, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments