Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

My Recovery=My Responsibility

images

Since I wrote my previous blog post, “To the Bone” has continued to stir up controversy and anger.  Project HEAL, an organization that supports eating disorder recovery, has fielded a lot of angry questions about how the organization could be on board with a project that is potentially triggering for people with eating disorders.

In addressing the potential for triggers, their cofounder writes, ““Eating disorder recovery was the most challenging journey in my life, and in the early stages, I was triggered by many things—friends from treatment, diet talk amongst peers, stepping into a gym, and seeing very underweight people. I had to understand where I was in my journey and avoid those triggers. As I progressed in recovery, I was able to be around those triggers, and now, facing them solidifies how strong I am in recovery and how I never want to go back. I hope that our community can keep this perspective in mind when carefully evaluating whether to view this film.”

One of the most difficult things in my own recovery was acknowledging, and eventually accepting, that other people aren’t responsible for my behaviors.  Although I wasn’t triggered by seeing underweight individuals, I was triggered when my friends would talk about exercise, especially about running.  Sure, it would have been nice if the whole world stopped talking about exercise; then I wouldn’t have had to face the negative consequences both negatively idolizing and obsessing about an activity that other people enjoyed.

What was worse than talk about exercise, though, was the actual act of eating.  Meals, snacks, coffee house trips–all had the potential to bring up bad memories and connotations.  But I kind of had to eat, and I kind of had to eat and drink around other people.  If I had chosen to eat in isolation, I would have been giving in the distorted thoughts in my head that made me miserable.

So did I grab a whole bunch of friends and invite them over for a feast that rivaled Thanksgiving dinner?  No.  I started by eating meals with a close friend or family member at somebody’s house before I went out to eat in public and chaotic restaurants.  With peers and colleagues, I went to grab coffee with them before saying, “hey. Let’s grab some lunch before our workshop.”  As I felt more and more comfortable, I gradually began to expose myself to other difficult eating situations.

The same happened with exercise.  I didn’t just jump right in to discussions about someone’s specific training schedule, but observing my friends discuss exercise helped me see the positive and healthy role exercise played in their lives.  I didn’t go from not exercising for a whole year to training for a competitive half-marathon.  I had to learn how to approach exercise in a completely different manner than before, and I did so gradually.

During recovery, especially the early stages, I had to make some very difficult choices.  I had to ask myself what would be upsetting and potentially triggering and what would be upsetting and uncomfortable and what would be upsetting but okay.  And what would bring me joy.  At first, I did choose not to engage in some activities for my own well-being.

I do that still today, and this extends far beyond food and exercise habits.  If I know an upcoming event will be lots of people talking and laughing in a rather small room that amplifies all the chaos, I have to decide ahead of time whether or not I want to go, or if I want to go for a short time and then leave.  I find that when I am physically exhausted or under a lot of stress, my social anxiety flourishes, so I take into account all aspects of my health.

And there are times that I have no other choice but to walk into a room full of chaos and act like my brain isn’t sending me millions of messages that tell me to run and not look back.  But because I have learned to take care of myself, and because I have learned new coping skills, and because I have learned how I react in different situations, I know I can face upsetting environments without being tempted to use unhealthy coping skills.

There are shows and movies I choose not to watch because they are too close to home.  I cannot tell other people what to read or watch or listen to because it is triggering for me.  I am responsible for my own actions.  If I choose to watch something that I know will be more upsetting than I can deal with, I am responsible for my state of mind afterwards, and I am responsible for any and all actions that could result from that state of mind.

A movie itself is not responsible for my mind state.  Upsetting thoughts and emotions arise from a seemingly endless number of situations and images and words and people.  But thankfully, thoughts and emotions do not “make” me do anything.  What I do, I choose to do.

 

 

Advertisements

June 28, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, exercise, family, feelings, guilt, health, identity, images, movies, progress, recovery, responses, To the Bone, trauma, triggers | Leave a comment

13 Reasons Why

ThirteenReasonsWhy

Okay, so I will join the great online debate over the book Thirteen Reasons Why, which has led to a television show.  I have read the book, but I have not seen any television episodes.  Most of the online discussions have centered on why people shouldn’t watch the show, how horrible a person Hannah is, how it will only encourage teens to commit suicide, and how it’s just “another mental illness book” that doesn’t actually confront anything.

I read the book when it first came out.  Although the writing wasn’t the best and the plot was contrived, I was glad it was written.  A teenager voicing her feelings and thoughts regarding what led to her suicide.  No, I do not agree with leaving thirteen tapes behind that nit pick and blame other individuals.  Her suicide was her decision.  She had full agency.  No one made her kill herself.

But . . . what the book shows is that suicide is anything but a simple decision resulting from a single bad day.  No, her friends didn’t make her commit suicide, but their behaviors contributed to how she felt.  Imagine if she had been able to voice what she was feeling in an open and honest manner while she was alive.  That’s what we should be focusing on.  This book exposes the truth that people suffer in silence.

You may say that with all the options out there now, there was no reason she had to suffer in silence.  Have you ever been a teenager and known something wasn’t “right” but you had no idea where to go or who to ask or even how to put the idea that something isn’t right into actual words?

Yes, there are options.  More than before.  But they still aren’t easily accessible for youth.  There is still so much judgment concerning mental health and mental health treatment.  So maybe Hannah was cruel in leaving those tapes behind, but she was still suffering and she still felt completely alone.

As a suicide survivor, to pass judgment on Hannah’s character and actions would be hypocritical.  I’ve been her.  I didn’t leave people tapes and letters, even though I had something I wanted to say.  My attempt was my decision; no one else is to blame.

I am grateful I’m here to write this.  Most days.  The chilling nature of Bipolar Disorder is that I know it doesn’t leave.   We have found a treatment that has proven most beneficial, and I have learned a zillion more ways to cope, but I still go through dark spells and I still make mistakes.

As for this book making suicide look trendy–we’re blind if we say that society hasn’t experienced this before.  The Bell Jar;  Girl, Interrupted; and Prozac Nation are the first three books that pop into my mind.  The harsh truth is that teenage suicide existed before, it exists now, and it will continue–even if no one watches this show or reads this book.  Maybe instead of discussing Hannah’s character flaws and how it was unfair of her to do what she did, we should discuss what it is in our  society that creates real-life-Hannahs every single day.  And then maybe we should discuss how we could create a new environment, one with less judgments and less isolation and more forgiveness.

April 20, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, death, depression, Eating Disorders, family, feelings, guilt, identity, Mental Health Parity, progress, publicity, recovery, relationships, shame, suicide, therapy, trauma, treatment | Leave a comment

Whatever You Want

JUST TRY HARDER!!

If you wanted it bad enough, you’d have it by now. All you have to do is try. It’s easy once you decide to really go after it.  Give yourself some credit and just do it already! 

Anyone else hear these, or similar, sayings while struggling with an eating disorder or addiction or trauma or depression?  Or life in general?  I *think* they’re supposed to be motivational. How many people actually find words like this motivating?  How many people feel guilty after hearing words such as these?  I’ll raise my hand to the latter.

I’ll admit, those early hospitalizations for the eating disorder and self-harm—I didn’t want it.  I had no intention of wanting it.  I had every intention of following the program’s rules in order to be discharged so I could go home and get back to the weight I was before admission.  I was there because my treatment team told me to go.  I played nice so I could avoid involuntary commitment.

Then there came the stage when I began considering recovery.  I began wanting it.  I knew people in varying stages of recovery, and I was starting to see just how miserable the eating disorder was making my life.  But at the same time, I began to notice how difficult recovery was.  How many daily choices I would have to make to stay on that path.  How exhausting those choices could be.  How exhausted I would be.  And how terrifying everything in front of me was.

I wanted recovery.  But I was already exhausted and frightened and overwhelmed.  How was I supposed to take on even more exhaustion, terror, and change?  I really had no faith that I could do so.  I mean, I had an eating disorder.  How strong could I possibly be?  How could I be strong enough to overhaul my life?  I knew how easy relapsing after treatment was.  Fighting that felt like too much for me.  So when I heard someone say “You just have to want it”, I felt like a total failure.  I thought that I obviously didn’t want it enough, or else I would be choosing recovery.

Yes.  I think you do have to want it.  People can’t make you recover.  They can force you to eat and gain weight and they can monitor your diet and when you use the bathroom and how much you exercise, but that can only last so long.  Eventually, it will come back to you again.  And if you don’t want to change, you won’t change.

But desire is not enough.  If you are so exhausted and physically compromised that you can’t think through the decision of what movie to go see, how can you be expected to make a serious life decision?  If you really do want recovery but have absolutely no idea how to even begin walking that path or whom to talk to or where to go, how can you be expected to “just” get better.  And if you know you want a better life but don’t honestly believe you have an eating disorder, how can you choose not to have one?

Sometimes, someone else will have to step up and make decisions for you.  They may have to force you to go into treatment.  A doctor may have to initiate involuntary feedings.  And you may hate those people and be angry and bitter and swear you’ll never talk to them again.  But because of these people, you will have a chance to regain enough strength and mental clarity to make the decision for yourself.  And even then, you may well need those same people to help keep you on that path of recovery.

After I choose to recovery, I didn’t immediately begin eating 100% of my meals and calmly sit in the hallway afterward without yearning to get up and pace for hours to burn all of that food off.  I struggled against my treatment team.  I tried to “make deals” with them to get out of certain parts of health.  I was confused as to why they were demanding so freaking much out of me.  I wanted to get better, but I just didn’t want to put forth the required effort.  For a while.  Then I began *gasp* working with my treatment team and making choices for myself that supported a healthy lifestyle.  And after I regained enough strength, I found that it was easier to make those daily choices to recover than to make the choices to relapse.

If you are at that stage of wanting it but are completely exhausted and don’t know what the hell to do, tell someone else and tell them you need their help because you can’t do it by yourself.  And then resent that person with all your heart as they help you get to the point where you can thank them with your life.

January 26, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, family, feelings, guilt, health, identity, progress, publicity, recovery, relationships, self harm, shame, therapy, trauma, treatment | Leave a comment

I’m Sorry and I Thank You

15825794_972598482875988_2553151471534202818_n

These are things I remind myself of almost every day.  It’s difficult to examine my life and realize that I’m not where I was supposed to be.  According to my own expectations, of course.  I do look at my life and am content–I never really planned to end up where I am, but it turns out, I like it here!  But I also like finishing what I’ve started, and there are a whole lot of things I started and never finished.

I often take stock of my life in this manner–and around this time of year, I get even more introspective.  Thinking about what I’ve accomplished in the previous year, but also since I left Missouri, since I left Washington, D.C., since I left Pennsylvania.  Since I used to work for Certain Company and taught at Certain University and climbed rocks as a hobby.

Since I knew various people that once were a significant part of my life and no longer are.  I wonder how these people are doing.  I wonder if they are still angry with me.  The ugly truth is that I lied to people, manipulated them, and screamed horrible things I don’t even remember.  I hurt people.  I wish I could contact each and every single person to apologize, to say that regardless of my pain, I should not have said or done those things.  I’m aware of that now.

I also wish I could thank these people.  The ones who walked away out of exhaustion and frustration and confusion.  I may have hurt them, but I am here because of them, and I wish I could let them know where I’ve been and where I am now and what I’m doing.  I’d want them to know that some of my dreams have come true and that I’ve been dreaming new dreams.  I’d like them to see me as I am now, because I hope they’d agree that I’m a better person–and that I’m a better person in part because of their influence.

I’d like to know I’ve made them proud, even if it’s just a little bit.

I think one of the most difficult things that people struggling with recovery face is the knowledge that we’ve let people down along the way.  It’s not easy to own up to this, to honestly admit to the dark parts of our pasts.  I think hearing “I’m proud of you” is the greatest phrase because of this.  Each time I hear this, in sincerity, I chip away at the dark parts of myself that I fear so much.  Each time these words are spoken, I heal just a little bit more.

Remember to thank those you love.  Remember to let people know when you are proud of them.  You never know what they might be carrying inside.

January 10, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, feelings, guilt, identity, mindfulness, progress, recovery, relationships, responses, self harm, shame, suicide, therapy, trauma, treatment, well earned pride | 1 Comment

Trigger Warning

Trigger-warningIf you’ve been reading this blog, and you’ll know I try to limit any obviously potential triggers, such as the use of numbers, sizes, weights, etc., and I usually avoid pictures focusing on weight and size.  When I posted the link to the documentary clip a few entries ago, I made people aware that the video would include sensitive topics.  In general, I don’t want people to take what I write and find justification for an eating disorder in it.  I am not in support of the Pro-Ana “movement” or websites.

Here, and on my facebook page, I don’t generally use trigger warnings that often.  Hopefully, because of the above, people don’t find my blog too triggering.  After all, it is an eating disorder blog, so if you are venturing inside, you should be expecting some mentions of eating disorders.  And like I said, hopefully I do so in a sensitive manner.

I think our overuse of various trigger warnings and ways of avoiding the obvious on social media may actually be a problem.  I don’t tell people personal information that could upset others, such as my weights, specifics of the childhood abuse, or pictures that seem to glorify when I was sick.  I try to avoid using the word “fat” in descriptions because of the inaccuracy of the word and the negative stigma it promotes.

And I do encourage people to limit their exposure to known triggers, especially in the beginning stages of recovery.  It’s been over a year since I’ve self-harmed, but I still do not feel ready to read Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects.  I’ve read Gone Girl and Dark Places. I thought they were excellent books, and I hope to read Sharp Objects one day for its literary value.  But for now, I do not know if I could read descriptions of self-harm and be okay with it.  But other people seem to like the book, and if they want to read about it and post about it and talk in general about it, that’s their choice.  It is my responsibility to determine what I can read and what I can’t.

Here’s the thing:  you will not find trigger warnings in life outside of a treatment setting, a Safe Environment, or a website, blog or chatroom specifically designed for those in recovery.  You will open the daily newspaper and sexual abuse will be mentioned in an article.  It will not come with a warning.  Hopefully, specific details will not be mentioned, but you will see the word rape.  They will not write these words without vowels:  s*x, ab!se, or r%pe.  I am not sure what good comes of this.  If, given the context of the article, you already know what the word is, then your mind will associate that word with the actual word, and your mind will still jump to the same thoughts as before.  Seeing “s*x” instead of “sex” does not protect the reader from the word’s meaning.

My intention is not to criticize where you are at in your recovery if you rely on trigger warnings.  At some point, however, you will find yourself in a situation where things are not censored for you.  If an article title includes the words “terrible abuse” and you know you are struggling with coming to terms with your own situation, then you should assume the article will mention things such as abuse and make the choice not to read further.  If you start reading an article and discover the topic to be too upsetting, then stop reading.

If you are with friends and they start talking about diets, if they are good friends they won’t mind you saying, “Hey, do you mind if we talk about something else for a bit?”  But if you are standing in line at the local coffee shop and two other customers are talking about their diets and mention their weights, it would be impolite to turn around and ask them to change the topic of their conversation.  You will need to find a way to distract yourself from their discussion.  While in a waiting room, if a news channel issues a special report alerting people to a suspected child predator and other people are watching this, you might not want to get up and turn the television off.  You might want to pick up a magazine and try focusing on those words instead.

I guess my warning is this:  the general population will not respect your individual needs relating to your recovery.  This does not mean they are intentionally trying to sabotage your recovery, but it does mean that you will need to know how to cope in those moments.  If you find that you are easily triggered, or triggered by specific things, then I suggest talking with someone about ways you can safely deal with these situations.  I wish we all had a mute button to use when the world gets overwhelming, but we don’t.  (It would make writing in public spaces a lot easier!)

I am very very grateful for the treatment I received in hospitals for self-harm and anorexia.  I felt safe on those units.  But neither was I prepared for discharge and re-entering society.  I’m not sure what the solution is to this, if there even is a solution, other than giving people the knowledge that world outside their doorstep is not always a safe place to be, but it is a place we must go.

May 12, 2015 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, Eating Disorders, mindfulness, recovery, self harm, trauma | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

trauma and eating disorders

Someone left a comment on my Topics page:

I recently learned there is a high correlation between those who have experienced rape/sexual assault or domestic violence and those who have eating disorders. I wonder why this is not addressed more often when talking about eating disorders – is it something you’ve heard talked about? How can we (as people who want to make change in our culture/world/etc.) work to address these issues? I’ve been frustrated lately because I was raped and then developed an eating disorder but feel this was never addressed in any of my treatment (and though I recognize it not as solely causal, I think it is important to recognize as there is such a high correlation)!

To answer your first question, this is an issue that is addressed and talked about, both among professionals and in treatment centers.  Some eating disorder treatment centers also have some type of trauma program or track for individuals who need it.  One of the places I went to had a trauma track and we had separate groups on certain days of the week.

One of the reasons trauma may not be brought up in certain cases is because often, addressing trauma issues is usually extremely intense and emotionally draining and takes a lot of energy.  Often, in an inpatient setting, the focus is on restoring physical health and quite often, that’s all that can be accomplished inpatient because of insurance time constraints.  But also, sometimes restoring physical health is a necessary priority because it keeps the individual alive.  And also, it’s difficult to address trauma issues in the early stages of treatment because there is so much anxiety, fear, confusion, anger, and a whole bunch of other feelings.  And if an individual is malnourished-regardless of weight-physical health has to be restored before he or she will have the cognitive ability to deal with the trauma.

Here’s what happened to me.  I finally told my therapist about the abuse and rape that went on during my early childhood years.  I hadn’t ever repressed memories, but if I happened to have one, I’d push it away before I could really think about it.  I was in a partial program for the eating disorder at the time.  My therapist, who specialized in early childhood trauma, suggested I read Courage to Heal, an excellent book for survivors of childhood abuse and rape.  It’s pretty damn thick and includes stories of survivors, strategies for coping, and questions to ask yourself about where you are at with healing.  I bought the book and read it in a day.  I do not recommend that anyone do this. I relapsed immediately–it was ugly and fast.  I tried dealing with too much at once and I ended up back in the hospital.

Healing from the eating disorder is important.  Healing from sexual trauma is important.  But you need to have priorities clearly outlined when you are working on both.  And if you decide to work on both at the same time, there needs to be a plan for what to do if dealing with the sexual trauma begins to affect your recovery from the eating disorder.  In my case, this meant taking a break from the trauma work from time to time.  Even if there is no eating disorder in the picture, I think taking a break is a necessary way to regain strength and energy again.

As for why this isn’t talked about  more, I think it may have to do with the tendency for survivors to keep the knowledge of what happened to themselves out of fear or shame or confusion.  It may have to do with our society’s tendency to not really want to talk about such issues.  I think there’s a great deal of isolation when it comes to sexual based trauma.  We often feel that we are alone, not realizing that if we walked down a city street a great number of the women also have similar histories and are feeling just as alone.

If you have experienced sexual based trauma, I would recommend finding a trauma specialist as a therapist.  Something Fishy has an excellent treatment finder, and treatment centers will often have a list of area resources as well.

March 4, 2010 Posted by | Eating Disorders, recovery, trauma | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

asking for help

I have a difficult time asking for help.  Help in all its various forms.  When I was in third through eighth grades, I rode to school with my father since he was a teacher in the same building, and I’d have my school bag and a gym bag and my saxophone and I wouldn’t allow him to carry anything for me, and I hated that he would have to open the door for me.  I was fiercely independent, and prided myself on not relying on anyone.

I think some (a great deal) has to do with the early childhood trauma and learning that it was not safe to trust adults.  As I grew older, that morphed into “It’s not safe to trust anyone” which automatically included accepting help that was offered and asking for help when I needed it.  Then there was a period of time when I was just beginning medication and was in and out of the hospital for depression and self-harm, and I in allowing a couple of people in, I dropped all walls and couldn’t really maintain healthy boundaries, and then placed my trust in people who really shouldn’t have had it in the first place.  This list includes not only peers, but people who were in positions of authority and in two cases, treatment professionals.  

Now I have a healthier sense of boundaries and respect for other people’s needs and space, and I’ve gotten better at asking appropriate people for help if I need it but, as I said, it’s still difficult.  For example, I would rather have a trunk full of recycling and and additional two bags in my kitchen that also need to be taken to the recycling place, but instead of asking someone to help with these, I’ll wait until the restrictions from my surgery loosen up and I’m able to lift more and reach more, thus enabling me to throw the box into the dumpster and reach into the depths of my trunk to retrieve the cans and bottles that fell out of the boxes.  I hate that feeling of dependency that comes when I ask for help.  

But I have, both materially and immaterially.  Yesterday, two friends with a jeep took me to Target so I could get a sofa/bed for my spare room.  They were my heros for the day, even if they came with self-imposed guilt.  And recently, my therapist told me he was going to take off the week before classes started, and impulsively, acting on my gut instinct, I asked him if I could see him twice the following week because I was having a difficult time adjusting to the “new normal” of having ARVD and an ICD.  I’m not sure I could have done that in the past.  

This semester will be . . . interesting.  I’m not fully healed from my surgery yet.  I don’t have my full energy back and there are restrictions on lifting and movement.  I somehow think that I’m going to have to ask for help at various times throughout the semester.  I hope I’m up for the challenge.

August 23, 2009 Posted by | Eating Disorders, heart, recovery, self harm, therapy, trauma | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Taking Back History

I am similar to many survivors of early childhood sexual abuse and rape: in the beginning, we blame ourselves for what is happening or what happened in the past.  We do this because we are taught explicitly by the abuser or we learn it implicitly because in a child’s head the only way abuse can make sense is in a black and white world “I’m good, I don’t get hurt” or “I’m bad and deserve to be hurt.”  

It took years to begin speaking about what happened, and even though my adult mind could logically know that I was not the one at fault, I still felt like it was my fault.  I couldn’t get passed the years of being told that I deserved it; I couldn’t get passed the years of living in fear; I couldn’t get passed the believe that I didn’t deserve intimacy or care as an adult. For awhile, as I told the my family therapist when I was admitted to the hospital the next-to-the-last time, I honestly believed that I was “over it.”  And then because of events that happened in therapy, all the memories came back, and I discovered that I was anything but “over it.”  But during that stay, working with an excellent trauma therapist, I did begin to let in the idea that I was not at fault in any way shape or form.  And over the next year, those ideas grew stronger until I fuller accepted and believed them.  I could place the blame on his shoulders, even if it took some mental processing to do so.

Today I was at my favorite little hole-in-the-wall mexican restaurant and was re-reading part of my manuscript to prepare it for a guest lecture I’m doing.  And I got to one of the abuse scenes just as my order was called.  And I started to eat and re-read, looking for typos, and I thought, “Maybe this isn’t the best scene to be reading while I’m eating.”

And then I thought, “This bastard kept me from enjoying meals like this for over twelve years.”

This was the first time that I honestly went directly to that correct conclusion without any intervening mental gymnastics to get my head in the right space.  I placed the blame where it belonged with ease.  

And it felt amazing.

August 13, 2009 Posted by | Eating Disorders, recovery, trauma | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments