Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

Intentional Acting

14358754_10101428559527125_201134823500979566_nThis time of year is always difficult for me.  I have come to accept that life in general will be  . . . interesting during the winter months.  This year, however, I made some changes to my routine to make sure this would be a successful winter.

DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) and I agree on most things, but not so much on a few things.  I have learned a significant amount about taking care of myself, however.  A relatively new concept if you look at my life as a whole.  This year, I decided that, above all else, I would make sure I went to bed and woke up on a regular schedule.  This meant saying “the world won’t end if I don’t finish grading these papers tonight” and asking “you already know how to stay in bed for 24 consecutive hours, so how about we try something new?”  I’m not saying it was easy to maintain a regular sleep schedule; it took a hell of a lot of self-talk/self-lectures on a daily basis, and I certainly didn’t have a 100% success rate.  But I tried another new concept out this year by not shaming myself with negative self-talk when my day was less than perfect.

Not feeling guilty is actually more difficult for me than maintaining a good sleep schedule.

Healthy sleep habits definitely helped, but so did healthy exercise habits.  I said at the beginning of the winter that I wasn’t even going to go into the season with the intention of walking every day.  I hate the cold.  I hate the cold wind.  And I hate snow.  Going out for a slow walk was just not going to happen in upstate New York.  It was easier when I was able to run.  Then, just knowing the endorphin high was coming was enough to get me outside and exercising.

This year, I told myself I would try to maintain a regular yoga practice, along with my regular meditation practice.  My daily sitting practice went by unscathed.  However, there were many many many days when I just couldn’t make myself do yoga, or even do some simple stretches while watching television.  But–this winter I didn’t lecture myself about how bad it is not to exercise.  Turns out, guilt isn’t such a great motivator.

A couple of weeks ago, however, I found myself thinking, “It’s winter.  Just chill out and watch more Bones reruns.”  It was the end of winter and I didn’t feel like showing up at work, let alone exercising by myself at home.  And I’d just continue to sit there and read or knit.  And even without any self-lectures, I’d feel worse.  Mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Then I remembered another DBT skill: Acting Opposite.  I wanted to curl up in bed after going to work, not because I was enjoying a good nap that would be refreshing, but because I didn’t feel like dealing with the world.  Or my mind.  So I intentionally (a big mindfulness concept) decided to start (restart? revisit?  continue?) a daily yoga practice–with gentleness.  I started off with a few slow sun salutations–they only took a few minutes.  But I was okay with “just” doing a few minutes of yoga.  Each day, I added one more pose to my sequence.  I didn’t automatically just add on the next pose in the ashtanga series; I thought about what would feel good for my body and went with it.

So for part of the winter, I let myself sit and do nothing, exercise-wise.  For the rest of the season, I chose to challenge my depressive habits.  But in each case, I had to do so in a balanced fashion.  I had to listen to what was right for me in that given moment.  And I had to learn how to forgive myself.  These concepts of acceptance and forgiveness and gentleness are still new habits for me, and don’t come naturally.  But–I am discovering that, overall, I feel better when I choose to practice them.  My body and my mind thank me.

March 16, 2017 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, feelings, guilt, health, heart, mindfulness, progress, recovery, shame, therapy, treatment | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Status updates and the community

Today I was browsing my newsfeed on Facebook and I came across a status update in which, instead of mentioning she was having problems with self-harm urges, she let her friends know the specifics of where and how she cut.  I’ve noticed this sad trend lately–the status updates that detail the specifics, i.e. how and where someone cut, how much weight someone has lost, how many times they’ve purged in the past day.

Apparently, it is now fashionable to trigger the hell out of other people with status updates as well as photographs.

It’s not me I’m worried about.  I get annoyed at these posts, but I am not triggered.  But I’ve been in really solid recovery for over three years and started working for recovery over five years ago.  A status update from someone I hardly know isn’t going to change that.  I am worried about the people on Facebook who aren’t yet in recovery or who are new to recovery.

Sure, you can unfriend people.  But that will only prevent future instances of being triggered.  It does nothing to help the current situation or feeling.

And you can “justify” the status updates by saying they are a cry for help or a way of getting support, but why in crying out for help do you want to jeopardize the welfare of others?  Because that’s exactly what is happening.  Being so casual about the specifics of these illnesses is only causing harm to this community.  And it is a community.  Facebook itself is one big community, and then within that community is the eating disordered community.  You can break down the eating disorder community into smaller communities: recovered, questioning recovery, just beginning recovery, ambivalent, pro-ana.  It would be one thing if we could select our community and then be protected from the invasion of other, less-healthy communities, but we can’t.  You can unfriend and block people, but that newsfeed still tells you what your friends are doing and what friends of friends are doing and in this way, we see things that we wouldn’t normally choose to see.  So if you are new to recovery and are trying to surround yourself with supportive people and then you see that your friend is also friends with “forever ana” and suddenly you see a pro-ana image and message on your newsfeed.  The only way to truly block these messages and images is to leave Facebook altogether.

Being part of a community means considering the welfare of the general community.  Think about what you are writing when you post a status update or leave a comment on someone’s wall.  Think about how it’s being perceived by others.  If you feel the need to give specifics beyond “I’m having a really shitty day” or “things aren’t going very well right now” think about how those specifics are affecting others.  I don’t need to know that you lost X pounds or that you needed X stitches to know that you are in pain and hurting.

I’m afraid this trend of specificity is going to turn into a competition.  I’m also afraid that someone who is considering seeking help might read one of these status updates and think, “I’m not as sick as she is, why am I asking for help?”  When turned into a competition, these illnesses are even more deadly than they already are, and anything that makes someone question whether they are worthy of treatment is hurting the community as a whole.

You may think this is a pointless post.  After all, what can you actually do to stop status updates like this?  But I’m hoping that maybe one person reads this and changes his or her status update.  Then maybe one of his or her friends will notice and that person might change his or her status update.  This is my naive and hopeful mind insisting that change is possible, however small that change may be.

August 13, 2011 Posted by | Body Image, Eating Disorders, relationships, self harm | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

But I’m Not Ready Yet

“There is never a sudden revelation, a complete and tidy explanation for why it happened, or why it ends, or why or who you are. It comes in bits and pieces, and you stitch them together wherever they fit, and when you are done you hold yourself up, and still there are holes and you are a rag doll, invented, imperfect. And yet you are all that you have, so you must be enough. There is no other way.” ~ Marya Hornbacher

I’ve been using this quote a lot lately, for various reasons and people, including myself.  It’s a quote that has helped me out a lot, and it takes a lot for a quote to do that.  It’s a reminder for me that sometimes you can’t wait until you want to change to go ahead and change.  Sometimes, you’ve just gotta dive in and, to complete the cliched analogy, completely submerge yourself in the process of change.  When you jump in the pool, you jump in with the faith that you’ll pop back up to the surface, that you’ll legs will kick and your arms will reach, and that your head will break the surface and you can breathe again.  But there’s always that second when you’re kicking and reaching and you’re just not there yet and there’s that touch of panic that you won’t get there in time.  And then you get there.

Recovering from an eating disorder is often much the same way.  You just have to jump in.  No waiting for the perfect temperature.  No dipping your toes in first and testing the waters.  Sometimes, our bodies are ready–they need–recovery before our mind is ready.  The starvation, the binging, the purging, the overexercise has taken its toll and your body screams “ENOUGH!!!” and you end up in the ER or you keep getting sick all the time or you’re just plain exhausted to the point of weakness.  You can’t afford to wait for some big revelation to come to say, “Okay.  I’m ready for recovery now.”  If you wait that long, your body may give out completely.  Sometimes, you just have to accept treatment with the blind faith that the motivation and desire will come, that you’ll make it through the initial stages of discomfort and pain and anxiety and that you’ll break the surface of the water in time to breathe again.

My decision to recover came as a result of lots of small realizations.  There was no one moment that made me change, and in the beginning of the process, I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing.  I wanted the old, reliable, familiar, eating disorder.  I didn’t want the anxiety and the pain of dealing with all the shit that was going on in my head as a result of getting treatment and not acting on symptoms.  But I stuck with it, because I was tired of being The Sick Girl.  I had no idea how not to be that person, but I knew I was exhausted.  As the months went on and I continued accepting the help that was offered, more and more realizations happened that told me that recovery was what I wanted.  That it was what I needed.

If you are struggling, go ahead and dive in to recovery and seek help.  I don’t care if you’ve had the eating disorder for years or for weeks.  An eating disorder can kill at any stage of illness.  You may not be at your ‘thinnest” or your “sickest” but the eating disorder doesn’t care about such trivialities.  You deserve to be free of this hell.  You can be free.  Go ahead and dive in and kick and reach and fight your way to the surface.  The air you’ll breathe without the eating disorder is the purest air you’ll have ever taken in.

July 29, 2011 Posted by | coping, Eating Disorders, recovery, therapy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

We Are What We See

“Each of us literally chooses, by his way of attending to things, what sort of universe he shall appear to himself to inhabit.” ~William James

I came across this quote today, right after reading about the idea of destiny and fate, which have never sat well with me.  I believe that we have the ability to choose what our lives will be and how we live them.  I am now recovered, living freely, because of choices I made, decisions I labored over, and dreams I had the courage to believe in.

Are you ready to choose recovery?  Are you ready to choose freedom?  There are so many small choices you can make to help that sometimes seemingly impossible decision along.  One of the decisions you can make is to surround yourself with positive people and things and, yes, images.  I see so many Facebook albums of images and quotes picked up from various places online.  The albums are created with the intention of empathy, of putting into words and pictures what the collector feels.  But so often, these images are ones of thin and bony bodies, and I’ve even seen images of arms or torsos covered with scars.

These albums do voice the internal thoughts and feelings, but they also serve to keep you trapped in the very thing you wish to escape.  So many of these albums fall into the category of “thinspiration” and, instead of encouraging change, encourage illness.  The quotes aren’t that much better.  And I see these images pop up on my news feed and wonder, “How many people are being triggered by this right now?”

Why choose these images?  Why not choose inspiring quotes and beautiful images of things that bring you joy and happiness and hope?  They’re out there; I see those albums pop up on my news feed as well.  It all depends on what keywords you type into the search engine.

I am not encouraging denying your feelings.  Write them down; get them out of you.  But do take care with what you surround yourself with.  Choose hope.  Read those quotes and sayings until they sink in.  Read them enough and you will start to believe in them.  Let them take hold of you.  Choose your universe; create a world of beauty and walk in it daily.

July 22, 2011 Posted by | Body Image, Eating Disorders, recovery, self harm | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Weekend Challenge

I’ve been noticing something on Facebook again.  Yes, yes, I know.  Too much time on Facebook.  I honestly do have a life full of other things.  But back to what I’ve noticed:  the amount of care and worry and concern we all have for our friends, and how Facebook has given us a way to leave encouraging messages on our friends’ walls.  We can remind them of all that they are fighting for and how much we care for them and how much they are worth the fight.  On a difficult day, how nice it is to see kind words from friends.  On a day when we want to give up, we are reminded why we must keep forging ahead.  We have lists of reasons for each other.

Why not apply this same amount of care and concern and worry and encouragement to yourself?

So here is my challenge for this beautiful Sunday afternoon, and any day when you need a little boost:

Write a wall post to yourself as if you were writing your best friend.  Remind yourself why you are fighting and why you can’t give up.  Tell yourself that you are worried about the direction you are headed.  Tell yourself that you are worth it and deserve it. If you find that this is difficult, find a recent post that you wrote to someone else and substitute your name for his or her name.  Then post this comment on your own wall.  Then, write it down on an index card or a slip of paper and stick it in your wallet or use it as a bookmark so that you see it several times a day.

My current bookmark is a list of all the reasons I could think of of why I could not relapse, which turned into a “all the reasons I want to live” list.  Each time I open my book, I see that reminder.  Even on good days, it’s a comforting affirmation of why I chose recovery.  Write down what you stand to lose by choosing the eating disorder.  Write down all you stand to gain by choosing life.  Keep these lists near.

You spend so much time encouraging others.  YOU deserve that same amount of energy and time.  YOU deserve that same amount of care and love.  I know it’s difficult to see that, to believe that, but if you practice it enough, if you make these lists and read them enough, it becomes easier.  Each time you read the list of all you stand to gain by choosing life one more reason will dig its claws into you.  Life will begin calling to you, and its voice will keep getting stronger the more you listen.

Choose life.  Choose to treat yourself as if you were your best friend.  Some day, you will find that you are your best friend.

July 17, 2011 Posted by | depression, Eating Disorders, recovery, relationships | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“the soul looked out”

“Immortal Love”

By Louise Glück

 

Like a door

the body opened and

the soul looked out.

Timidly at first, then

less timidly

until it was safe.

Then in hunger it ventured.

Then in brazen hunger,

then at the invitation

of any desire.

. . . . . . . . .

 

We are a society that values the instant and immediate.  I think of the phone I grew up with—a rotary dial, no call waiting, no caller ID, no voice mail.  Just a phone.  Then I look at the phone I have now: I’m in the middle of several scrabble games with friends, I can send and receive text messages, take calls, see who’s calling, access the internet, listen to music, and take pictures.  To name a few things.  All with a nice little tap of my finger on a screen.

Recovery isn’t like our phones, although we want it to be.  Snap our fingers and be done with it all.  It’s a process, much like the opening to Louise Glück’s poem, “Immortal Love.”  First, we look at the pool, the water shimmering in the sun.  We look out and contemplate recovery.  An important first step since no one can make us recover.  Then we dip our toes in the pool, testing the temperature. We enter treatment, talk to someone, seek help.  Eventually we confront our fears and jump in.  It’s terrifying at first, feeling like you can’t breathe and wondering if you’ll reach the surface in time.

Then the shift begins.  We gain power from confronting our fears.  And we gain courage to continue facing them.  Eventually, we learn we have enough power to face our biggest fear: the world.  What we were trying to escape with our addictions of various types.  The power and courage and strength we gained in taking tiny steps helps us when we make the move into the world.

There will come a point when the world will call you, and you will desire it, and you will venture out into it.  You will be ready.  And you will be able.  It doesn’t matter how long it takes, and never compare yourself to someone else’s journey.  We each have our own journey, regardless of the destination.

 

July 9, 2011 Posted by | Eating Disorders, 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

Missing the Illness, Part One

One of the topic suggestions was how to deal with missing being sick or deathly thin.  At first I didn’t think that I could write on this topic, because I had no idea what the person was talking about.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I did know what the person was talking about and just didn’t want to admit it.

I don’t miss being sick, and I honestly don’t miss being deathly thin.  But I do miss the results of me being sick and deathly thin.  I don’t miss the tiredness, the constant cold, the feeling like crap, the inability to attend all my classes or do all my work, and I certainly don’t miss the fact that when I was sick the papers I wrote made absolutely no sense (even though I thought they were brilliant at the time).  I like being a competent adult.

Here’s what I miss that I was ashamed to admit: I miss being sick because when I was sick, other people took care of me and checked in on me more often.  People called me to see how I was doing.  People offered their support on a regular basis.  Friends offered to eat with me or cook for me or sit with me or talk to me.  When I was in treatment, I had a whole treatment team taking care of things and I could finally let go, give up some of the control, and let someone else call the shots.  I “just” had to sit back and accept the help offered.

I was ashamed to admit this because I’m thirty-some years old and an adult and shouldn’t need other people to take care of me, right?  But life has been rather stressful lately, and I’ve found myself wanting to throw up my hands and let someone else step in and be the adult.  I don’t want this responsibility, and I find myself wanting to retreat.

But here’s the thing–There’s no magic age we reach when we stop needing other people.  No magic number when we stop needing someone else’s care.  No turning point where we’re supposed to be able to do everything on our own.  This has been an exceptionally difficult lesson for me to learn: that it is okay to need someone else.  I may not need them in the same way I did before, but you know that quote “No man is an island”?–it’s true.  I am not this self-sufficient island, capable to taking care of every small little thing, one-hundred percent of the time.  I need other people in my life.  I still need other people to call me and say, “how are you doing?”  I still need a shoulder to cry on.

There’s a significant difference between when I was deathly thin and now, however: Now, I use my voice to meet those needs rather than my body.  And that, as most of us know, can be terrifying.  A lot of us developed our eating disorders in part because we didn’t know how to use our voices.  But I do know one thing: my friends appreciate me using my voice and find me easier to relate to now than when I used my body to speak for me.  And I’ve found that they are more able to meet my needs now that I use my voice and not my body.  But yes, this way is, initially, harder and scarier.  As you keep using your voice, however, it gets easier.  It may take a long time for it to feel natural, but it will get easier.  And you will find the people around you more open and honest.  And they will be more willing and able to be close to you.

So I challenge you–if you are missing being sick, what, exactly, are you missing?  And what have you gained that you would lose if you become sick again?  Do you really miss all the physical complications of an eating disorder?  Are you willing to give up the freedom you have gained?  And once you identify what you are really missing, can you write down ways to meet those needs?

Remember that you deserve to have those needs met in healthy ways.  You do not deserve what the eating disorder does to your body and your life.

Use your voice, not your body.  Your body will thank you.

April 30, 2011 Posted by | Communication, Eating Disorders, identity, recovery, relationships | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

we’re allowed to be human?

Bad Day

I’ve gotten a couple of messages recently from people who are either fully recovered or have been almost fully recovered for some time or who have been doing extraordinarily well for sometimes . . . and the fact that they’ve been doing well has been no secret.  Friends congratulate them, offer encouragement to “keep moving forward” and the like.  And they think they’re through with the eating disorder.  They like their new, free life and have things to live for that they couldn’t have imagined before.

And then, out of the blue, a weekend comes along triggered by stress, memories, poor body image, fear, and a whole lot of other things.  And they find themselves engaging in old eating disordered behaviors.  And, in general, two things happen in each case (other things happen but aren’t as predictable) : A) they feel crappy about themselves, or ashamed, or afraid this means a total relapse; and B) someone else will say, “But you were doing so well.”

Let’s look at B first.  How do you think it feels to hear someone say, “But you were doing so well.”  Sure, it may be true, but what do those actual words imply?  A) That you should have continued so well; B) this is definitely not good; C) You’re certainly not doing well now; and D) All of that progress just went down the drain.  So what kind of feelings do these linguistic interpretations stir up?  A whole crapload of shame and embarrassment.  And the feeling of letting someone else down in the process.  A lot of us have this perfectionistic background and grew up with the need to please others no matter what, so hearing that we’ve let someone down, well, all the old issues just come roaring up to the service.

What’s wrong with saying, “Sorry you had a rough weekend, but I know you can get back on track like you did last time.”?  What’s wrong with saying, “Is there anything you want to talk about?”?  What’s wrong with “I’m here if you need anything.”?  Knowing someone is there, beside you, willing to sit with you, is tremendously better than hearing that, “But you were doing so well” and all of that statement’s implication.

Now let’s look at A.  Is this a reason to feel shame?  No.  We expect people new in recovery to have lapses and bad days.  Well, guess what?  Years of self-harming behavior don’t disappear in a month.  Those tendencies may be at the back of your head for some time.  And what’s important is not the two days you slipped back into old habits but afterwards when you realize what’s going on and work on turning things back around and getting back on track.  That’s what the comments should be about: the strength and determination it takes not to let one off weekend pull you back into the eating disorder.

I keep this blog. I encourage people through snail mail and through facebook.  I’ve lobbied for the Eating Disorders Coalition.  I’ve given talks during NEDA Awareness Week.  I’ve helped friends find treatment.

I’m supposed to be better, right?  I mean, I call myself recovered.  Fully recovered.  And yet, this past month has been difficult.  Change and loss have always difficult for me, and when my life seems to be made up of changes and loss?  And I’m still struggling with depression and receiving ECT each week, soon to be every-other week.  And I’ve found this fully recovered self struggling with restricting.  I’m still not over my desire to disappear when things in my life well, to put it plainly, suck.  (And yes, I know I can’t disappear.)

Here’s what’s making this not a relapse: I started talking to my therapist after I noticed I wasn’t eating as much after only four days.  There is no hiding it from my treatment team; they all know.  There is no trying to get away with something.  There is no desire to keep going, only a desire to get back on solid ground rather than stay in this muddy terrain.  And there have been steps taken to get back to that purely solid ground.  And there has been pride for everyone one of those steps taken.  I won’t let myself get to a dangerous point, but I don’t even want to be below an ideal point.

What does this make me?  Human. I’m not perfect.  My recovery was never perfect.  I’m not perfect.  I never will be.  But just because I’m having a hard time does not mean I’m no longer in recovery.  I care too much about the life I gained to give that up.  But it will take some work on my part to get back to that fully recovered self again.

I am not ashamed of where I am.  I am damn fucking proud of myself for bringing it up with my therapist before he noticed anything.  I never would have been able to do that in the past.  There’s a lot of things I’m doing now that I never would have been able to do in the past.  And that’s what I’m choosing to focus on.  As i said in a recent post: The past is in the past.  The future has yet to happen.  But I live in the now.  What I choose to do now, not what I chose to do last week, is what is important.

April 27, 2011 Posted by | Body Image, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, feelings, recovery, therapy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment