Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

what do we do with this?

My general policy has always been one of honesty.  And I’m not about to change that policy just because my mind resembles the mess of tangled yarn in the picture.  That mess will, at one point, become a rather neat and unique scarf.  So I’m hoping my mind will disentangle and become something spectacular as well.

I haven’t known how to bring this subject up without getting a whole bunch of “But I thought you were recovvvvveered?” type of comments.  I still don’t really know how to do so, so I’m just going to take my chances and lay it all out there.  In my “How I Did It” post, I described how recovery was a long process; it wasn’t just some place I woke up one morning to find I had arrived at.  It took time.  There were relapses, there were doubts, there were slips, and there were times when I didn’t think I would make it.  There were times no one else thought I’d make it, either.  But I did.  And there’s no going back.  I used to have a written out list of all the things I would lose if I relapsed.  I don’t need those things written out anymore–I know them and feel them in my gut.  Life has a hold of me, and it’s not going to let go.  I’m not going to let go.

So my mind right now is something I just don’t understand.  I find myself thinking about size and weight.  I find myself wishing I could be smaller. But the thought of returning to the eating disorder?  There’s a list of reasons why that’s not an option.  I know part of this is tied very tightly to the major depressive episode I’m currently entrenched in.  When these episodes happen, my logical thinking is severely impaired.  And if you spend enough time curled up in a tight little ball on your bed, you start wishing you really were that size even when you decided to move off the bed.

But then I went to therapy this week.  And in the middle of session, I looked up from the floor where I was gazing, and suddenly exclaimed, “I hate change!”  How this did not hit me before, I have no idea.  Maybe the depression is slowing my thinking down a bit, too.  For the first time in my life I am not a student, nor is there a plan for me to return to student status.  I’ve had jobs before, but now we’re using that word career.  Suddenly I’m thrown into the big adult world with no classroom to retreat to, except the one I’m teaching in, which is quite a bit different.   I’ll spare you all the self-deprecating thoughts and the questions I have about my abilities and will just sum it up rather bluntly: this scares the shit out of me.

No wonder I want to retreat.  No wonder I want to shrink from the world.  No wonder I want to disappear.  I know better than to fall back on those old coping skills, for I know that instead of saving me from the scary world, they only make things worse.  Much worse.  But I do take comfort in knowing why these thoughts suddenly popped into my head after years of absence.  My past is my past, but I now have the knowledge that I no longer have to let my past determine my present or my future.

Instead, I’m taking a lesson from my recent adventures in mindfulness:  I see the thoughts, acknowledge their presence, and let them be.  I am not judging myself for having them.  They are only thoughts.  If I attach any emotion or thought to these thoughts at all, it is to give myself credit and take pride in how far I’ve come that I can notice the thoughts and not let them define me or control me.  I determine what defines me, which has nothing to do with a set of habitual responses to massive change.  I am in control, not habits from another time.  

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June 10, 2011 Posted by | Body Image, depression, Eating Disorders, mindfulness | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

The Trance of Unworthiness

my meditation beads

I thought I had escaped from the trance of unworthiness when I recovered from my eating disorder, but a certain event on Thursday reawakened all those issues of “not good enough” that I’ve been plagued with my entire remembered life.

A good friend recommended that I read the book Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach (Copyright 2004), from which the following guided reflection comes:

Do I accept my body as it is? / Do I blame myself when I get sick? / Do I feel I am not attractive enough? / Am I dissatisfied with how my hair looks? / Am I embarrassed about how my face and body are aging?  / Do I judge myself for being too heavy? Underweight? Not physically fit?

Do I accept my mind as it is? / Do I judge myself for not being intelligent enough? Humorous? Interesting? / Am I critical of myself for having obsessive thoughts? For having a repetitive, boring mind? / Am I ashamed of myself for having bad thoughts–mean, judgmental or lusty thoughts? / Do I consider myself a bad meditator because my mind is so busy?

Do I accept my emotions and moods as they are? / Is it okay for me to cry? To feel insecure and vulnerable? / Do I condemn myself for getting depressed? / Am I ashamed of feeling jealous? / Am I critical of myself for being impatient? Irritable? Intolerant? / Do I feel that my anger or anxiety is a sign that I am not progressing on the spiritual path?

Do I feel I’m a bad person because of ways I behave? / Do I hate myself when I act in a self-centered or hurtful way? / Am I ashamed of my outbursts of anger? / Do I feel disgusted with  myself when I eat compulsively? When I smoke cigarettes or drink too much alcohol? / Do I feel that because I am selfish and often do not put others first, I am not spiritually evolved? / Do I feel as if I am always falling short in how I relate to my family and friends? / Do I feel something is wrong with me because I am not capable of intimacy? / Am I down on myself for not accomplishing enough–for not standing out or being special in my work?”

When I read this this morning, all I had to say was, “Wow.” I admit I am embarrassed to claim how many “yeses” I answered to these questions.  And I thought, “well, some of these things I should feel bad about.” But Tara had an answer to that as well: The point is not to work on changing ourselves, but to accept ourselves in the present moment. We are doing the best we can right now.  Tomorrow, that’s another story.  But right now–we can’t change the present moment.  So why drag ourselves down with blame and guilt and shame?  Try to do better tomorrow, or the next moment, but remember that we are who we are right now.  And we can’t change what happened one second ago.  So accept it, learn from it and take what self-knowledge we can from it, and, ultimately, accept ourselves.  As is.  Right now.  Not how we could be.  But how we are.

I know I get caught up in how I could be.  What I should have done.  What I will do next time.  I need to learn how to be content with where I am in the present moment and not judge myself for the right now.  I need to learn from the right now, but not get so caught up in it that I can’t appreciate the present moment as it is.

The picture above is of my meditation beads.  I have a very eclectic spirituality.  I am Christian, but I also find value in other spiritual disciplines because they lead me closer to God.  And myself, a lot of times.  My meditation beads are made of Rose Quartz, a gemstone that is said to open the heart’s center and aid in healing emotions as well as the physical heart itself.  Rose Quartz represent unconditional self-love and self-forgiveness.

My therapist taught me a meditation that I have found to be extremely useful, and after reading the section of Radical Acceptance this morning, I find it all the more relevant.  It’s a meditation that exists out there in variations.  But this is the one I learned:

“Breathing in, I calm my body (breathe in) / Breathing out, I smile. (breathe out) / Dwelling in the present moment (breathe in) / I know it is the only moment. (breathe out)”

I had already decided my Easter Sunday would contain no work, but be a time of knitting, artwork, relaxation, maybe a nap.  Now, after reading this section of the book, I’ve decided today is the perfect day to use the meditation my teacher taught me.

The present moment is what we have.  The past is in the past.  The future has yet to happen.  We dwell in the present moment, a perfect time for acceptance.

April 24, 2011 Posted by | Body Image, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, feelings, mindfulness | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

IN/OUT/IN/OUT…

serenity bracelet I made as a reminder

So I’ve been exploring mindfulness as of late, both because of the therapist I work with and because of a professor I’ve had the pleasure to work with.  I always thought mindfulness and meditation were these complicated things that took ages to perfect and I just didn’t feel as if I had the patience to undertake such a difficult, involved task such as learning to calm my mind.  I have no idea where I got these ideas.  Perhaps it was simply my stubbornness making these lies up so I’d have an excuse not to try something new and different.

For lies they are.  Through reading the book Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh, I am learning that mindfulness is anything but complicated and I should throw the idea of “perfection” out the window.  Yup, that’s right: you don’t have to be perfect to benefit from mindfulness.  For those of us used to trying to be perfect in everything we do, this can be a difficult concept to grasp, but it is also very freeing and it’s like a huge sigh of relief: “Finally, I can just be.”

And being is all I have to, well, be.  I don’t have to sit in some pre-ordained pose.  I don’t have to listen to special music.  I don’t have to chant special words or read a special text.  I just have to be. No more.  No less.  Do you know how wonderful that alone feels?

The book is a collection of ways to practice mindfulness in your everyday life, hence the title.  One of the very first practices is called Conscious Breathing.  How often do you pay attention to your breath?  Sure, we notice our breath when we get panicky and start to hyperventilate, but what about right now?  What about when you’re walking in the grocery store?  What about when you’re playing with your cat?

Here’s the basic gist of conscious breathing: As you inhale, think “In.”  As you exhale, think “Out.”

Yup.  That’s it.  When I first read this, I laughed.  (I told you I’m a bit stubborn and this just seemed too simple and I thought, “Why bother wasting my time trying it.”)  Then I tried it.  Whenever my mind wandered, I gently reminded myself to go back to the “In/Out” thoughts.  No reprimands or scoldings, just a gentle redirection.  I paid attention to the rising and falling of my ribcage, the tightening of my bra strap on the inhale, the sensation of air moving through my nostrils.  And I discovered that after just a few minutes, I was focused and calm and relaxed.  And all I did was label my breaths.  Nothing fancy.  No special equipment.  I was sitting on my sofa in my regular clothes and I didn’t even bother turning off my music.

Since then, I have practiced Conscious Breathing as I’m walking somewhere, as I’m lying in my bed with thoughts going a zillion miles a minute before I’m trying to fall asleep, while I’m knitting, and while I’m having my morning cup of caffeinated coffee and my bedtime cup of decaffeinated coffee.  Yes, my mind wanders.  But guess what?  I’m human and it’s going to wander.  But as I said earlier, I don’t yell at myself or scold myself or feel bad when my mind wanders; I simple remind myself to go back to In and Out.

For those of you with anxiety or panic disorders or for those of you who worry a lot or for those of you who think about a million things at once and want to clear your mind, I challenge you to try this.  And I challenge you to be gentle with yourself and throw perfection out the window and allow yourself to wander.  And then allow yourself to return to your breath.  Gently.

April 4, 2011 Posted by | coping, mindfulness, therapy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Lent and Mindfulness

the beginning of Spring

The beginning of Spring is creeping up on us–in fact, it will be here in just a couple of days (the 20th).  Finally.  Winter is over. 🙂

Arriving around the same time as Spring is Lent, which began on the 9th.  I know the tradition is to give something up for Lent, to sacrifice something.  But how many of us pick something that is an important part of our lives that we enjoy–and, of course, we do view it as a sacrifice.  But once Lent ends, that sacrifice is over.  Honestly, I’ve never really seen the point of that.  Shouldn’t we give something up that we need to give up–and then continue to give it up after Lent ends?

I’m going with a different approach to Lent this year.  This year, I decided to add something into my life, something that will help me become a better person, a healthier person.  I first encountered mindfulness when I was in a DBT program back in 1999.  And I wasn’t exactly receptive to it, to put it politely.  Since then, various people have continued to encourage me to give mindfulness another try.  And I have always brushed those encouragements aside.  But this previous year has shown me one thing: a formal mindfulness practice could be extremely beneficial and helpful in my life.

So I have this book: The Mindfulness Workbook: A Beginner’s Guide to Overcoming Fear & Embracing Compassion by Thomas Roberts, LCSW, LMFT.  I also have the classic, Wherever You Go, There You Are, on my Kindle, so I can pick it up and read on of its short chapters as I’m waiting in line or in a waiting room or *gasp* even in my own home.  I am committing myself to practicing mindfulness each and every day.  (My therapist is going to be overjoyed that I finally caved.)  I have a journal set aside to record my reflections from each day’s practice.

I have no idea what I’m going to find.  I’m trying not to go into it with too many expectations or requirements.  I’m trying to just let what happens happen.  This is a decidedly difficult stance for me, someone who likes to know exactly what is going to happen when and likes to be in control of that happening whenever possible.  So I’ve decided to slow down and be present in my world, fully present.  Not worrying about what I’m doing in an hour or the next day or the next week.  But right now.  That’s it: this current moment.

Voices inside of me are screaming in protest–that this current moment has nothing to offer, that I’m going to miss things, that I’m not going to be able to do it, that it’s all overrated and over-hyped and isn’t worth my effort.  But I think of the people I know who do practice mindfulness and they are people I admire for various reasons.  I know their lives aren’t perfect, but I respect how they handle what comes their way.  They don’t carry around a huge sign that proclaims, “I AM AT PEACE!” but if I’m honest, it’s quite obvious they experience more peace than I do, and it’s certainly not because their lives are “easier” or “less complicated” or “less busy” than mine.  Usually they have fairly busy lives that are anything but “easy” or “uncomplicated.”

My goal for all of this?  To learn how to be present in the current moment, unencumbered by my worries about what I’m doing in an hour or in a week or in a month.  To accept Right Now with acceptance, patience, and perseverance.  What will I find?  I have no idea.  And part of me is saying that setting goals of what I want to find kind of goes against the whole idea of mindfulness and accepting what is.  My only concrete goal for this is to develop a habit that I can continue long past this season of Lent.

Some people have asked what mindfulness, an Eastern philosophy, has to do with Lent.  You know what?  I have no idea, and I don’t really care.  I have no problems adding something of another philosophy into my daily life as long as it continues to bring me closer to God.  And I truly believe that learning how to be present in the current moment will help me be present with God.  Why?  Where else is God but the here and now?

I realize I have an eclectic faith: I read my Bible and I use a devotional every evening, I’ve studied yoga since I was 18 and taught yoga for a number of those years, and now I’m adding in mindfulness to the mix.  It fits me. And if you don’t find a faith practice that fits you, how do expect to strengthen your own personal faith?

So here’s to the present moment.  I have no idea what I’m going to find.  A deeper understanding of myself?  A deeper understanding of God?  Of my faith?  Of the world around me?  All of these things?

March 17, 2011 Posted by | faith, health, identity, mindfulness | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Full Catastrophe Living

Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D.

In 1999, I was a patient at New York Hospital’s Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) Program.  DBT, developed by Marsha Linehan, Ph.D., for people with Borderline Personality Disorder and problems with self-harm, has four components: Emotion Regulation, Distress Tolerance, Mindfulness, and Interpersonal Effectiveness.  It was a three-month program that, literally, changed my life.  I fully embraced the Emotion Regulation, Distress Tolerance, and Interpersonal Effectiveness modules.  I did the homework for the Mindfulness component, but really didn’t believe in it and had absolutely no intention of continuing it after I left the program.  This is  called willfulness.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., is the author of Wherever You Go, There You Are, Full Catastrophe Living, and other books.  Mindfulness is an important part of Buddhist philosophy.  Kabat-Zinn adapted mindfulness in his stress reduction program and Linehan adapted mindfulness for her work with Borderline patients.  Anything that involved sitting still, staying in the moment, being aware of your thoughts and emotions–without trying to change them–all of that rubbed me the wrong way.  It sounded well and good, but it didn’t come naturally for me.  And if it didn’t come naturally for me at the time, I rejected it.

Well, the time is twelve years later.  And, lo and behold, I am working with another DBT therapist.  Except this time, I will grudgingly admit that mindfulness could be quite beneficial for me.  It still doesn’t come easily.  I still fight it.  But if you look at my Kindle, you’ll see Wherever You Go, There You Are as one of my books, there for anytime I feel like taking a few moments and, well, appreciating the moment.  Or learning to appreciate the moment.  And I also own Full Catastrophe Living, a book my therapist recommended to help me manage everything that comes along with this wonderful cardiac diagnosis of mine and all the lifestyle changes I have had to make.

Here are some words from Kabat-Zinn about “catastrophe” (and they might  not be what you expect.  at least they surprised me):  . . . ever since I first heard it, I have felt the phrase “the full catastrophe” captures something positive (?!?!?!?!?!?!) about the human spirit’s ability to come to grips with what is most difficult in life and to find within it the room to grow in strength and wisdom.  For me, facing the full catastrophe means finding and coming to terms with what is most human in ourselves.  /   “Catastrophe” here does not mean disaster. (?!?!?!?!?!?!) Rather it means the poignant enormity of our life experience.  It includes crises and disasters but also all the little things that go wrong and that add up.  The phrase reminds us that life is always in flux, that everything we think is permanent is actually only temporary and constantly changing.

He goes on to explain that “the full catastrophe” includes what we term “positive” and “thrilling.”  Full Catastrophe Living developed from his eight-week long Stress Reduction & Relaxation Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.  They believe that mental and emotional factors have a great deal to do with your physical health and ask their participants to practice mindfulness every day, six days a week for eight weeks.  The testimonials from some of the patients are amazing.

I admit I need this.  I also realize that I am now at a stage where I am willing to welcome this practice into my life.  Hence reading the book.  Hence taking a class called “mindful writing” even though I am withdrawing from the PhD program.  Hence me making a commitment to myself —and not any program or professional–to bring mindfulness practice into my life.  I have no idea what this is going to look like yet.  But I do know that I admire the people I know who do make it a part of their lives.

I’m not saying that I’m going to celebrate having a heart that is, literally, slowing dying.  That would, I believe, qualify me as insane.  But I do want to learn to be aware of what is going on in the moment, and to appreciate what is going on in the moment.  To not try to force things to go differently (that gets quite tiring, by the way).

A reporter once remarked to Kabat-Zinn in trying to understand mindfulness: “Oh, you mean to live for the moment.” His response was, “No, it isn’t that. That has a hedonistic ring to it.  I mean to live in the moment.”

This is quite a challenge.  There are a lot of moments I’d like to do away with.  And I spend a lot of time thinking about future moments, moments that must be better than the current one.  But guess what?  I can’t do away with the current moment.  It’s here.  Whether or not I like it.  Whether or not I like it is totally irrelevant.  And all that time spent thinking about the future?  That gets exhausting.  And, really, I have no idea what the future is going to bring.

So I’m giving this mindfulness program a shot.  I know I will complain.  I know there will be resistance.  I know it will be difficult.  But I’m hoping that when I’m done, I’ll be able to write a testimonial like the ones I read in the introduction and first chapter of this book.  So here’s to a couple of months of doing something I never thought I’d be willing to do.  Without anyone forcing me to do so.  See–miracles can happen.

March 2, 2011 Posted by | bipolar disorder, coping, death, depression, Eating Disorders, mindfulness | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

1.1.11=looking back

2010

In my previous post, I mentioned that I don’t make resolutions.  I’m not going to wait until one day each year to make positive changes in my life.

But I can’t help but look back at the previous year on this day.  And this year, I have a lot of “shoulds” in my reflection.  I feel as if I should be further ahead–in my personal life, in my academic life.  I should have made more progress.  I shouldn’t be stuck in a depression that was here last year at this time.  And I shouldn’t be needing ECT again.  And I should just get with the program and be happy.

I keep having “should” running through my head.  Almost every sentence begins with that word.  I have this tendency to be hard on myself.  I have a feeling I’m not the only one reading these words who is hard on themselves, either.  People who suffer from all types of addictions and mental illnesses have a tendency to be hard on themselves.

So I am practicing a couple of DBT skills.  The idea of being gentle with myself.  Maybe a lot of those “shoulds” really are true.  But even though they’re true, they don’t take away from the progress I’ve made this year and they don’t negate my accomplishments.  And there’s this idea of emotional mind versus rational mind.  A lot of my “shoulds” fall into the emotion mind side of things.  I’m trying to look at things from a more rational point of view and talking back to those “shoulds” with more realistic statements.  This moves me into a more wise mind state of being.

Most of all, it’s a matter of acceptance.  A skill I’m not all good at.  But I can’t change anything that happened.  I can learn from what happened, but I can’t change anything.  I could sit here and play over all of my regrets, but that wouldn’t really do me any good.  In fact, it would make me feel a hell of a lot worse about myself.  But if I look at the year as a learning experience and take that knowledge with me into 2011, I can grow as a person and live more fully and more freely.

Out with the “shoulds” and on to what may come.

January 1, 2011 Posted by | mindfulness, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Triggers

trigger

Yet another post generated by my earlier Black Swan post.  One person commented about triggers.  I had written that “some people look for triggers, and when they choose to do so, they will find them in any situation.”  I do believe this is true.  There is a stage of this illness where many of us purposefully surround ourselves with images or quotes that “help” us with the eating disorder (meaning, they help us stay sick).

This commenter pointed out that sometimes we don’t have control over what triggers us.  And, I agree.  I believe that purposefully seeking out triggers is a choice.  But that’s different than just walking about in the world and encountering something and having this thought or feeling pop into our heads.  It’s not like when we started out on the journey of having an eating disorder we were given a list of possible triggers and checked off which ones we would allow to trigger us and which ones we would ignore.  (Can you imagine some scantron sheet that we submit to this otherworldly person in a ticket booth upon entry into the Realm of the Eating Disordered?)  What triggers one person will not trigger someone else.  And our triggers change during the course of illness and recovery.

I re-read my post, and I don’t think I implied that being triggered is a “bad” thing.  It just is.  How we react to those triggers can be healthy or harmful, however.  We can do our best to fight them (and I believe that if you are fighting, no matter the outcome, you are winning).  Or, we can choose to act on symptoms in response to the triggers.  And there’s whole shades of greys in between these two extremes.  The unconscious versus conscious acting on symptoms.  The fact that sometimes we’re not even aware of our triggers at first.  The fact that sometimes all our fighting wears us down and then we’re hit by another trigger and another trigger and things get overwhelming and become too much.

I would love to rid the world of triggers.  That would mean ridding the world of the the world itself.  This is why I said that the focus really should be on helping those who are having difficulty with triggers.  Identifying them, naming them, expressing the feelings behind them, putting words to those feelings, and learning how to cope with the triggers without self-harming behaviors.  There are some triggers you can avoid.  But you can’t avoid all of them.  And that’s why I think there needs to be an open discussion on what do you do when . . . Suggestions that can help other people in similar situations.  So that maybe you can have a list of things to do in certain situations, especially since this time of year is difficult for a lot of people with eating disorders and self-harm issues.

Be a Girl Scout: Be Prepared.  Have your survival kit with you.  Protect your recovery at all costs.

December 19, 2010 Posted by | Body Image, coping, Eating Disorders, feelings, recovery, self harm | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

love and thanks

love and grace and kindness

I was recently inspired by a blog post of a friend of mine from college.  Five simple ways to show your thanks for other people on this holiday–such simple yet meaningful acts like clearing the table or doing dishes.  I know holidays can be a rough time for people with eating disorders and addictions and mental illnesses, but sometimes doing a small act of good for someone else can take the focus off your own anxiety.

Awhile ago, a friend of mine from grad school wrote an entry on her pregnancy blog

Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful (even someone who doesn’t major in english can figure out the correlation between those two words!)–but being thankful for our bodies can be extremely challenging for those of us who have struggled with eating disorders or abuse.  And I admit that I’m not always good at it.  Especially recently.  I have this “I’m thankful for knowing what’s wrong with my heart/I hate my heart” dialectic within me.  And yes, I still do struggle with body image.  But it really is amazing how much one simple act–taking the time to exfoliate and moisturize my skin each night–allows me to marvel at the strength and beauty of my body.  It’s not perfect.  It’s not “what I wanted.”  But it’s mine.  And there are some wonderful aspects about it.

I don’t really believe in New Year’s Resolutions, but I’ve recognized lately that I need to spend more time taking care of me.  I’m giving myself a challenge, similar to my friend’s challenge–to do one thing each day for me.  This may mean a nice bath, a walk, dancing, listening to my favorite cello concerto, using a facial mask, painting my nails, taking more time to write in my own journal rather than for school, stretching, doing a devotional. (For you DBT people, think Self-Sooth, Strong, Improve and Mindfulness).

There are so many ways we can show thanks for our bodies, regardless of where we are in recovery.  I’d love to hear other people’s ideas on possible acts of gratitude or things they are currently doing to honor their bodies.

And if you have ways to show thanks to other people, feel free to throw them in there as well.

Happy Turkey/Tofurkey Day to all of you!

November 25, 2010 Posted by | Body Image, coping, Eating Disorders, health, heart, mindfulness, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

reassigning ice cream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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