Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

Gaining Back Trust

DEAR MAN

Describe Express Assert Reinforce Mindful Appear Confident Negotiate

The first time I encountered Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)  was back in 1999, and let’s just say that when I first began, I was anything but cooperative.  I really had no faith that this type of treatment could help with anything, let alone the reasons that landed me in the hospital.  But, by the time I finished my rather long inpatient stay, I had been converted enough to agree to the outpatient program.  And by the time I finished the outpatient program, I had been converted enough to drive two hours one way one night a week for skills group for the following year.

The acronym DEAR MAN comes from DBT, hence my little intro of me and DBT.  The reason for this?  I got an excellent question on my Questions and Topics page from someone who developed her eating disorder while living with her parents.  She is now in college and in recovery, but is home for the summer and is finding that her parents are not trusting this new stage of recovery and make comments about her weight and her eating habits and then she gets defensive and then the parents react and well, I think most of us have experienced what comes next.  She ends her comment with the main questions of “are you ever able to gain your loved ones’ trust back?”.

I’ll address that question first, since it’s the easiest to answer.  Yes, you can gain back trust.  No, it is not easy, and yes, it will take some time.  After going to college, I never lived at home again, but I still had to regain my family’s–and my friends’–trust.  At first, I did go through the stage of constantly feeling like I was being watched and having to answer way more loaded “how are you doing?” questions than before I went to treatment. All I can offer here is that time really is the key factor.  Time and consistency.  Friends and loved ones need to see you doing well and not acting on symptoms for a good period of time to trust that it isn’t a calm period in the eating disorder leading up to another relapse but really is the real deal.  How long this takes will vary from family to family and will also depend on the length and severity of the illness.  But yes, with that time and consistency, you will show them that you can be trusted again.

However, promising eventual trust doesn’t help the current situation of comments on food, eating habits, symptoms, and weight.  It may help you some to remember the fear your loved ones had of losing you while you were sick, so these questions are not meant to annoy you but to reassure them.  Of course, you’re still in the same situation, and here is where DBT and DEAR MAN may come in handy.  DEAR MAN is a method of discussing difficult subjects with people and a way of asking for something.  In this case the difficult situation is the lack of trust you feel and you would be asking them to stop asking so many questions.  The reason you would use DEAR MAN is because it helps both parties remain calm and focused, rather than reacting emotionally, which can lead to irrational arguments.

I would suggest asking your parents to sit down to talk one day.  Perhaps not near a meal time and not directly after they’ve asked a question about habits or weight.  You don’t want to enter this conversation when you are already ruled by emotions and are anything but calm.  When you talk to your parents, follow the acronym above.  This is your time to calmly describe how you feel when they ask their questions and to suggest alternative ways of handling the situation.  You want to avoid blaming statements and rely on those “I feel” statements we learned in treatment and therapy.  Back up your “I feel” statements with proof of how you are holding onto recovery–give specific examples.  And as far as negotiation is concerned, maybe you could have a weekly check in or, if you are in therapy, you could say that if you start to slip, you will bring it up with your therapist.

Gaining back our loved ones’ trust is something almost all of us who have struggled with an eating disorder or other addiction have had to go through.  It’s not an easy time, and I wish I could say there was a given length of time that it would take.  The more you are able to remain calm and not react emotionally, the easier this time will be for you, however.  I wish you the best through this and hope that some of this wordy response helped.

May 31, 2011 Posted by | Communication, Eating Disorders, recovery, relationships | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How Far You’ve Come

I started off in a little, tiny town in upstate New York.  And now, thirty-four years later, I’m working in central Missouri.  I’ve come quite a long way.  Distance wise, to be sure.  I’ve also gotten my (two) Bachelor’s degrees and my Master’s along the way and am now teaching at a college.  I started a PhD program, but due to health reasons, withdrew from the program.  Too many heart complications kept rising up.  I tend to get down on myself for that.  I mean, I was also the honors student and school was my thing.  I sometimes feel like I’ve failed by withdrawing from the program, even though I know it was the best thing for me to do for multiple reasons.  And then one of my Facebook friends posted this quote:

‎”Success isn’t how far you got, but the distance you traveled from where you started.” — Steve Prefontiane

It’s a great reminder for me.  So I don’t have my PhD as I had planned.  But I really have travelled a hell of a distance over the years, and not just academically.

There was a point when I wasn’t able to be in school because of the anorexia.  I was in and out of treatment and I just physically couldn’t keep up.  I won that battle though.  And, as I mentioned in my How I Did It post, during and after recovery, a lot of issues raised their ugly little (big) heads.  I’ve worked through a lot of those issues in therapy, and I’m not ashamed to admit I’m still in therapy and still working on some issues.  I’m proud as hell that I can now work on those issues without resorting to the eating disorder, though.  There was a time when I never thought that would be possible.  Yet here I am.

My journey is not finished.  I still have things to work on, and I’m sure that life will throw new things in my direction as I continue along this path.  But my success isn’t measured by where I stand now.  My success is measured by all the work I have done over the years, all the progress I have made–sometimes fast and sometimes painstakingly slow.  My success lies in the fact that I am still working, that I am still growing, and that I am still setting my sights ahead of me and making progress.

I know it’s easy when you are struggling with an eating disorder, another addiction, depression, and anxiety (to name just a few things) to feel a sense of failure because you aren’t “better” yet.  It’s easy to compare yourself to people who may be further down the road of recovery than you.  But I want to encourage you to think about where you started and think about where you are now.  Don’t think about other people or where you eventually want to be.  Think about the progress you have thus far and give yourself credit for it.  Be proud of the progress you have made.  You’re still here, fighting this battle, which is a huge success in and of itself.  Be proud of that.  Be proud of you.

May 28, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

my spirituality and my recovery

One of the questions I received is how my faith has impacted or influenced my recovery.  What I’d like to preface this entry with is as brief as possible explanation of what “faith” is in my life.  Faith isn’t a term I use very often, because I find it to be limiting.  Spirituality is the term I prefer to use, for I find it encompasses more.  As far as my faith is concerned, I belong to the Moravian Church, a Protestant denomination.  I consider myself to be a Christian, with a lot more thrown in.  And here is where I know I might rub people the wrong way or offend some people.  My spirituality encompasses much more than my Christian beliefs.  I find a lot of wisdom and comfort in Buddhist philosophy, and practice meditation and mindfulness.  Prayer is an important part of my spiritual life, although I do not limit myself to praying to what a lot of people consider the traditional concept of God.

Now, spirituality and my recovery.  I think in the beginning, I was rather angry.  I was trapped in the thinking that if you believed and were faithful, God would protect you from harm.  And I was praying to get better.  But, due to what I later acknowledged as choices I was making, I was not getting better, and at the time blamed it on my lack of faith.  Which really didn’t help my spirituality at all.  Guilt and blame can be very harmful emotions when it comes to belief (or just in general, actually).

Neither my faith nor my spirituality made me well.  I’m not sure when exactly I realized this, but praying to get better is not enough.  In fact, praying to get better really didn’t help me at all.  Recovery really was a series of choices that I had to make and then remain committed to.  God wasn’t going to reach down and make them for me, nor was he just going to touch me and *poof* make the eating disorder disappear.  (But wouldn’t that be nice?)

This is not to say that my spirituality did not play a crucial part in my recovery  or that it doesn’t continue to play a crucial role.  Prayer didn’t make me better.  Reading my Bible and other sacred texts did not heal me.  My devotional practice did not make symptoms disappear.  But all of these things did help my recovery.  I discovered that the more I allowed spirituality to play an active role in my life, the stronger I became and the better able I was to remain committed to my recovery.  I was able to draw strength from sources outside of myself, which was rather helpful on days when I felt anything but strong.  I was also able to feel a peace that I could never feel while engaging in eating disorder behaviors.  I don’t know how to describe it other than this peace allowed a type of rest I had never experienced and also a certain feeling of home and belonging that the eating disorder stole from me.  My spirituality has also been a great source of comfort on the hard days, and is one of my many healthy coping skills I have learned to develop in my journey of recovery.

I do not believe that you have to belong to any one religion or follow any one spiritual movement in order to recover.  But I do think that nurturing your spirit can help you with finding a source of strength and healing.  Perhaps walking in a beautiful park provides rest for your spirit.  Perhaps having a cup of tea with a friend.  Perhaps reading a spiritual or sacred text.  Perhaps meditation or prayer.  Each of us is a unique individual and we each have unique spiritual needs.  As with a lot of things in life, it may take some trial and error to find what works best for you, but I wish you the best on your spiritual journey and hope you find peace, a peace that will show you there is a reason to let go of the eating disorder.

May 26, 2011 Posted by | coping, Eating Disorders, faith, mindfulness, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

cicadas and recovery

 

the shell

I was outside drinking my morning cup of coffee and noticed about thirty cicada shells and newly molted adult cicadas, stretching their wings and crawling on the ground, not yet strong enough to fly.  This may sound weird, but I thought of recovery from an eating disorder when I saw all of these insects (which are not related to locusts, by the way and a harmless to humans, although their noise can be annoying, and they do look kind of creepy).

Cicadas actually amaze me–how do they crawl out of their shell and leave the shell completely intact, as you can see in the first picture?  (Cicada shells are used in traditional medicines in China.) One cicada was in the process of crawling out of its shell, and I wanted to watch the process, but I quickly lost patience.  Apparently, it takes some time.  And this is when the eating disorder recovery metaphor hit me.  I know, it’s a strange metaphor.  Blame on the early morning hours.

How many of us have, at various points, decided to get better and went to treatment, had the support offered there, and came home expecting to continue on our merry ways of recovery only to find it wasn’t that easy?  And with a whole of “Is this possible?” questions?

And maybe in the process of recovery, you have asked, “I’ve had my eating disorder for so long, there’s nothing left but the eating disorder?”

And here is where we can learn something from these creepy looking but fascinating insects.  They spend most of their lives in hibernation of sorts  (The eating disorder), waiting to crawl out of their shells (recovery).  When they emerge from their shells, they need a little time to adjust to their new selves, stretching their wings, crawling before flying.  But there they are, adult cicadas, ready to face the world.

Recovering from an eating disorder is much like this.  We spend so much time with the eating disorder, that we lose sight of who we really are inside.  A great many of us doubt that there is something inside at all.  We crawl out of our shells, only to discover the world is a scary place, and we think maybe we aren’t ready for the world, or maybe the world is just too much for us.

We need time to stretch our wings, and we need to walk before we fly.  A lot of us get frustrated at this point; we lose patience–like I did while watching the cicada crawl from its shell this morning.  We lose faith that flying is possible.  But even after 17 years in it’s shell, the cicada keeps stretching its wings and walking and remembers it was born to fly and sing that annoying song of theirs.

Recovery takes time.  It doesn’t happen in the one or two months we spend in a treatment center.  Those months are the preparation.  They help get us stronger so we can emerge from our shells.  And then we rejoin the real world.  Yes, it is scary.  Yes, it is tempting to retreat back into our shells.  But if you retreat back into the shell, you will never stretch your wings and fly.  You will never feel the breeze on your skin, the pure joy of soaring through the sky.
If you don’t emerge from your shell, you will never know who you were meant to be.  And I promise you that there is someone waiting to emerge from that shell.  It may take time, and as you grow, you will continue to learn more and more about yourself and who you were meant to be.  You will find your place in this world.

Don’t give up.  Give yourself the same patience you would give others.  And leave that shell behind you and fly.

The adult cicada

May 25, 2011 Posted by | Eating Disorders, faith, identity, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How I Did It

I was asked a rather thought provoking question on Facebook today in the middle of a discussion of how once you are in recovery, the issues seem to multiply, not go away.  And let’s be honest, who out there didn’t think life would automatically be better once we kicked the eating disorder to the curb?  I know that’s what I expected.  The eating disorder was making my life hell, so obviously the only way to go was up, right? (sarcasm fully present)  And life did get better without the eating disorder, but it wasn’t great, and I for one was surprised at all the issues that suddenly reared their ugly heads.

So someone asked me how I did it.  How I became aware of the issues and faced them without falling back into the eating disorder behaviors.

First off, let me just say that I wasn’t immune to the temptation of relapse, and it wasn’t a smooth ride.  I had my moments of relying on the old behaviors; I was not perfect.  No one is.  And that’s okay.  Don’t beat yourself up for an off day; acknowledge it for what it was and know that tomorrow you have a chance to make it a different kind of day.

Secondly, remember that this is how I did it.  This is not the one and only way to work through recovery, but this is what worked for me. Do not feel that this is how you have to go about things.  This is just one option, one path among many.

So.  How did I do it?   Because there were a couple of times when I left treatment on kind of solid ground only to be slammed by these issues that seemingly came out of nowhere and then I relapsed and went through the whole cycle again.  And again.  The important thing to note about those times in treatment is that I was never fully committed to recovery.  I wanted the hell to end, but I wasn’t yet ready to let go of the eating disorder because I couldn’t imagine life without it.  The very first thing that happened when I began recovery was I had to realize that I wasn’t living.  I was existing.  No more, no less.  I was in graduate school and everyone else around me was living full, fulfilling lives.  I was showing up to class and trying to stay awake and trying to convince people I was fine.  The day I realized the extent of my lack of life, I confided in a teacher and because I was afraid to do it on my own, called a treatment center from her office.  I hung up the phone and was shaking and she told me that choosing life was the most terrifying thing you could do.  And I started crying for the first time in months.  Then I packed my bags and went to treatment.  Except this time, I was determined to make it work.  I still went through all the normal struggles and I did my fair share of resisting, but the underlying motivation was different.

The second thing that happened was that I discovered a reason for living free of the eating disorder.  That happened when my nephew came to visit me on Christmas day, all 18 months of his little cuteness.  And I realized I didn’t want him to grow up visiting me in hospitals, and I hoped–and still hope–that he doesn’t remember that day.  And I didn’t want him to grow up thinking of me as “the sick aunt.”  So in the beginning, I ate for him.  I stopped exercising for him.  I stopped using pills for him.  Eventually, I was able to do these things for me.

The issues that reared their ugly heads?  Yeah, they came up.  But my therapist and I put them on the back burner while I concentrated on controlling my behaviors and getting through normal day-to-day stressors (and there are a lot of them in graduate school!) without relying on any eating disorder behaviors.  I practiced using healthy coping skills.  Once I had confidence in my ability to handle normal stress in a healthy way, using these healthy coping skills, my therapist and I began looking at the underlying issues, the ones I had kept buried through the eating disorder.  We started with the smaller issues first, working our way up to the deeper, more painful ones.  If things started getting too overwhelming and I was having a difficult time not relying on eating disorder behaviors, we backed off and focused on strengthening my healthy coping skills.

Right now, I am working with a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy therapist, and one of the main goals of DBT is to “create a life worth living.”  For me, that has been crucial in maintaining my recovery.  It’s been a slow process, and there has been some give and take at certain points, and I’m not finished.  My life has changed a lot due to medical reasons in the previous two years, and that has meant rearranging the things that make my life worth living.  At one point, I kept a list in my journal to help remind me of why I was fighting to stay in recovery on the days when things were particularly difficult.  I’ve had to reevaluate things recently due to some medical news, and that list has made another appearance.  I’m learning that this is life.  Sometimes–a lot of the time–we can’t control what gets thrown our way.  We adjust the best we can.  And sometimes the road will be bumpy.

So I guess my overall advice, based on what worked for me, is to first get to a point where you are physically strong enough to handle intense emotions and stress and then to make sure that you have a good amount of healthy coping skills that you can rely on.  The best time to practice these skills is when you aren’t overwhelmed, and then they will eventually become second nature and a natural resource during times of stress.

Above all, I recommend working with your treatment team and being honest with them.  Part of recovery involves trusting other people and learning to let other people help you.

May 23, 2011 Posted by | coping, depression, Eating Disorders, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 71 Comments

An Upbeat Playlist

First off, sorry I haven’t been around lately.  I went to visit my aunt and uncle in NC for a week and then my parents came to visit me for a week.  Yesterday was my first day of quiet and solitude in two weeks.  A very long time for a very strong introvert!

But now I’m back, and one of the things waiting for me in my mailbox was a mix-CD from a friend, and it got me thinking.  When I was growing up, the term “playlist” had yet to be thrown about as a common noun.  But now with all the digital music players and all the fancy phones, almost everyone has a few playlists on standby.  I now have 33 on my iPod, and knowing me, I’ll probably have 34 by the end of the week.

I’ve noticed something about my playlists, though.  I’ve got a few that I’ve made for friends, and they tend to be on the more inspirational/encouraging side, but are still on the empathetic-I-fee-your-pain side as well.  I tend to make playlists when I’m feeling down, lonely, frustrated, and depressed as hell.  And the music I choose is sad and slow.  My playlists are definitely in the “let’s keep you stuck in your current mindset” camp rather than “let’s pull you out of the dump” camp.  I’m beginning to think this is not such a great thing.  Don’t get me wrong–I am a firm believer that we need to acknowledge our own pain, name it, and express it.  But if that is the only thing we do, we tend to get stuck there.  And I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve spent a hell of a lot of time stuck in depression and it’s not a very fun place to be.

So a couple of weeks ago, I challenged myself to make a playlist that would help lift my spirits and help pull me out of the hell hole called depression.  I now have on my iPod “An Upbeat Mix” (original title, huh?).  Some of the songs, if you listen closely to the words, aren’t all that cheery, but the beat is catchy and makes me want to move.  Most of the songs are dance-able, if you’re like me and like to dance without any regard to what is considered “good” or “cool” dancing.  I’m more of a bouncer and twister when it comes to dancing to pick up my mood.  Some people may look at my list and not be cheered up at all.  And that’s perfectly fine.  Some people may want some heavy metal-head banging music on their upbeat list, and that would make me want to claw my skin off.

Here’s my challenge to all of you:  make your own upbeat playlist.  You may want to make it on a day when you’re not already in the depressive pit of despair.  keep that list on standby for the next time you enter that pit and then see what happens when you listen to it.

Some of us may not have a large reserve of upbeat or cheery music in our libraries.  So please leave a comment with the name of a song and the artist of a song that when you listen to it, you can’t help but smile.  Who knows, maybe I’ll eventually get two upbeat playlists on my iPod this way?

May 22, 2011 Posted by | coping, depression, feelings | , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Missing the Illness, Part Two

who are you?

Who do you see when you look in the mirror?  I think this question is another of the reasons why we may find ourselves missing being sick.  Not the body image problems of looking in the mirror, but the deeper meaning of the question, “Who are you?”  Just imagine the caterpillar from Alice In Wonderland and the drawn out “Whooooooooooo”.

Seriously.  How many of us lost everything to the eating disorder, so that all that remained was the eating disorder?  So that we became our eating disorder and how we identified ourselves?  One of the things that makes that initial step into recovery so difficult and so terrifying is the fact that you are stepping into the Unknown.  You’re letting go of the eating disorder and reaching out for . . . . what?  What is going to be there to take the eating disorder’s place?   That initial step into recovery is a huge leap of faith.

I was “lucky.”  When I made the decision to recover I was in the middle of my Master’s program and “all” I had to do was throw myself into the classes and workload.  I was also lucky in that while I was there, the group of students in the program and the professors were a very tight-knit group and were extremely supportive and encouraging.

So now, when the identity of student is no longer mine, and I’m caught in between that student identity and the next phase of my life, it’s only natural that I find myself longing for a familiar identity to cling to.  I think this is something a lot of individuals face when they leave an intensive residential treatment facility. After a couple to a few months of living and breathing the illness and recovery and spending your days talking about it with other people who “get it,” you are thrown back into the real world.  The same world you inhabited before treatment except this time you’re missing the eating disorder.  And how you relate to everything and everyone has to change.  It’s terrifying and oh so easy to slip back into your old identity.  The familiar is always more comfortable than the unknown, even when you know the familiar is killing you.

With the uncertainties all around me, it’s been tempting me–my old “friend” the eating disorder.  I haven’t given in, but the thoughts are there.  And I finally understand why.  And last night, in my journal, I took these black alphabet stickers I have for scrapbooking, and wrote the word “lose” in the middle of my entry.  And then reminded myself of all I stood to lose if I relapsed.  I look around my apartment and see everything that I have gained, the life I now call my own.  It would all disappear and I would be left back at the beginning, having to start over from scratch.  Again.  I am not willing to give up all I have become, no matter how terrifying this unknown that I am facing is.

So I challenge you again–what do you stand to lose if you relapse?  And to look at it from a positive angle–What have you gained in your recovery?  And–What do you stand to gain by continuing down the path of recovery?

May 1, 2011 Posted by | Eating Disorders, identity, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment