Thursday, July 7, 2016

Boating, BBQ, and Beer

Back to reality this week after a long holiday weekend. For many of you, getting up early and getting back into the routine is the last thing you want to do after a weekend of boating, BBQ, and beer. For me, however, I could not be more thrilled to finally be done with this weekend of boating, BBQ, and beer. Holiday weekends in recovery, especially early recovery, can be brutal. Mind you, this is the first major holiday I have been home, and out of treatment for, since 4th of July 2015. You would think that would mean I would have the best time ever and be nothing but grateful; sadly however, that wasn't the case. At all.

Every time I logged onto social media I saw posts like this:


For someone who is in the early stages of both eating disorder recovery and sobriety, this holiday feels like a constant reminder of all the things I can no longer do. To be brutally honest, I missed drinking all weekend long. My mom and I went kayaking on the river behind our house and during the 90 minute float, we came across three other groups of people; they all had some form of alcohol in their boats. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with people enjoying an adult beverage; I'm just saying I was green with envy.

It's difficult for me to understand how I can spend nine months in treatment, lose almost everything, and logically know alcohol leads me down a black hole of shame and self-hatred, yet I still long for that temporary fix drinking provides. I crave doing what everyone else is doing. I crave that good time. I crave that (false) sense of belonging and fitting in. I think back to fourth of July's past, and wish I could relive them. It was so much easier to eat BBQ, drink, and be merry, than to feel completely alone with these persistent messages showing me what I can no longer have. This weekend was a constant battle inside my head, rather than a celebration.

Last Thursday, before the big holiday weekend, I sat down with my therapist and discussed the potential challenges ahead of me. She told me if the only two things I do are follow my meal plan and remain sober, then it would be considered a raging success. So I guess in her eyes, today, now that the weekend is over, I should be looking in the mirror and feel nothing but pride; nothing but that raging success she talked about. How do I actually feel? I feel like sleeping the day away because my mind is so exhausted. I feel guilty for not feeling gratitude for my sobriety. I feel like I missed out on all the boating, BBQ, and beer the weekend had to offer.

My therapist and I also came up with a list of all the things I COULD do over the weekend to help cheer me up. The list included things like follow social media accounts celebrating sobriety and eating disorder recovery, find fun activities to look forward to (kayaking), work on my tan, read a book, challenge those negative cognitive distortions, and take a moment each morning over coffee to acknowledge how good it feels to wake up without a hangover or regrets. Again, if we are being completely honest, I didn't follow all of these suggestions. It felt easier to to throw my own pity party and wallow in my envious fit of anger than to seek out reasons to be grateful. At this point, all I can do is learn from it and better prepare myself for the next big holiday centered around food and alcohol.

In the midst of my mini tantrum, I did come across some great pro-recovery social media sites that are worth sharing. My favorite is the #AerieREAL campaign. It is a swimwear line that celebrates women of all shapes and sizes. They are all about promoting healthy body image and have even done some work with NEDA in the eating disorder world creating the Strong, Beautiful, ME Project. Aerie's instagram page includes messages like this:

In order to help with my sobriety and those pesky "I miss drinking" thoughts, I found a blog called Hip Recovery. It's my new favorite place to spend time when I am feeling the anxiety, stress, depression, and shame involved with relentless alcohol cravings. The writer struggled with both alcohol and bingeing/purging tendencies. The website includes her blog, a weekly newsletter, and a podcast. I'm obsessed. Also, there are social media sites out there posting about sobriety and they include messages like this:




















Another important thing for me to remember is, holidays might be tough for awhile and that's OKAY. In fact, that is part of the process and it cannot be avoided. Struggling through weekends filled with triggers is nothing to beat myself up over or be ashamed of. I can see where it would be more worrisome if I went through the weekend feeling 100% confident in myself and not acknowledging my feelings, because chances are I would be putting on a happy face mask and bottling up (ready to burst at any moment) those negative emotions.

Maybe my therapist was right, after all. Maybe simply getting through the weekend is something to be proud of. Being my first holiday out of treatment, I knew I would have to begin facing this stuff eventually. Hopefully each holiday after this will get a tiny bit easier as I continue to grieve my go-to coping mechanisms and learn to take credit for my successes.

Progress.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Don't Shrink


 "We need people who don’t ask us to become different for their own acceptance and terms of approval. We need people, and we need to be the people who give others the permission to sit in their own skins and not be afraid. That’s the best gift you are ever going to give someone— 
the permission to feel safe in their own skin.
To feel worthy.
To feel like they are enough."
-Hannah Brencher


Recently I had a situation that pushed my buttons a little (or a lot), and wasn't sure if I should share it until now. 

The past few weeks I have spent most of my time job hunting. During one particular phone interview, a potential employer asked me if there was anything in my past he should be aware of before hiring me. Without much hesitation I told him there is a DUI on my record and I have struggled with an eating disorder. To which he respond with, "I know. I looked you up online and see that you do some recovery writing." At first I responded with pride and a little excitement, until he said, "the eating disorder is one thing and not that big of a deal, but if you ever want to be employed in the future you should remove any public knowledge regarding your struggle with alcohol." He continued to say it made him a little uncomfortable and it isn't something to be proud of.

Completely taken off guard, I simply agreed with him and awkwardly carried on with the conversation. After the phone call was over, however, I found myself humiliated and crying on my bedroom floor. Deep down, I know there is some truth in what was said. A struggle with addiction of any kind does make employment more difficult in certain fields. Writing about my past and sharing it with the internet world may not appeal to everyone. I am able to take what he said as constructive criticism and realize he might not be the only one who feels that way.

However, and more importantly, I refuse to shrink parts of myself and hide the details of my past in order to make others feel more comfortable. My writing might not please everyone or be the safe route, but it does start a conversation. This man's words made me feel like it was okay to publicly talk about my history with an eating disorder, but being an alcoholic is something to be ashamed of and needed to be kept hidden away. It made me feel like he was already judging me and placing me into the unworthy box without ever meeting me.

 
I have reached my breaking point.
I am tired.
My story matters.
My voice matters.
I am sick of living in a society that punishes,
and continues to push me down,
for having the disease of addiction.
It is not my job to change who I am
in order to make someone else feel better. 


Sadly, without question, this happens all the time. Even my parents agreed it's more socially acceptable to be open about a struggle with an eating disorder than it is with addiction. But here's the thing - I have spent most of my life attempting to keep this part of me a secret, hoping to remain small in order to avoid conflict or pain. At this time in my life, I have reached a point where it is not only important, it is also detrimental, for me to speak my truth in order to heal.

Progress.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Judgments

Thinking back as far as I can remember, dating back to my early childhood sitting in church with my super cool older cousins, I have placed judgments on people based on nothing but their appearance. Not that there is anything wrong with it, but I grew up in a family that placed an emphasis on being somewhat clean-cut and that first impression. Or at least that's the conclusion I came to believe. I can remember bragging to my middle school friends that I had clothes from American Eagle and had blonde highlights in my hair just like my older cousins. First impressions and appearance have been a big deal for as long as I can remember.

Here I am, 28 years old, and still find myself subconscioulsy placing those first impression judgments on the people around me.

What are you wearing?
How does your hair look?
What kind of shoes are you wearing?
Are they brand name?
Did you get off public transportation?
Or did you drive to work in your Audi?
Do you have tattoos or piercings?
How much do you weigh?
Do you appear to be in shape?
Are you alone or with people?
Are you good looking?
Are you smoking? (Heaven forbid)
Does your style match mine?
Or appear to be different?
Why is your hair blue or purple?

There are a million questions that run through my head when I first meet someone. And, thanks to my upbringing, it can be difficult to interact with people. Not only do I develop a fear of those who look different than I do, I also develop a fear that I didn't measure up and people around me will instantly be judgmental of me, too. Exactly the way I do to them in return.

Being a person in recovery, as you can imagine, this has made my life unnecessarily difficult. Not only do I place judgments on the people around me, I also find myself judging myself and the person I have become. Without fault, the questions begin -

Is what I'm wearing too preppy?
Do the people around me relate to me based on their first impression of me?
Am I too shy to interact?
Will they think I'm stuck up because I'm shy 
and afraid of what they might think of me?
Do I relate to you?
Are you safe?
Do you understand me?
Am I good enough to be your friend and fit in with you?
Do you like what I am wearing?
Do I look like someone who could be your friend?

If you couldn't tell already, my mind races like this 24/7.
It is exhausting.
It keeps me sick.

Over the past 9 months I have lived in six different recovery environments and here's what I learned - 

Addiction does not discriminate.
Eating disorders come in all different shapes and sizes.
The label on my t-shirt means nothing.
How much money I make is irrelevant.
The family I grew up in,
no matter how perfect they might be,
can't fix my issues.
Alcoholics don't always live on the streets.
Or drink out of a brown paper bag.
Heroine addicts are some of the most beautiful people I will ever meet.
Criminals deserve love and belonging.
Age is just a number.
Felons are just like me;
trying to find their place in this world.
Trauma and abuse during childhood often leads to addiction;
But not always.
I am living proof and evidence of this.
I am a child of privilege and I'm still a person in recovery.

Every single day, multiple times a day, judgments happen. Let's be real. When was the last time you walked into a public environment or looked yourself in the mirror and didn't place a judgment? It's a difficult pill to swallow. 

Subconsciously, throughout my life and recovery I have been placing these judgments. The reality is, however, they have gotten me nowhere. Here's a challenge -

Try to relate to the next person you meet without that first impression. 
Try to look at yourself in the mirror tomorrow when you get ready for work 
or the day and not judge your waistline in those pants. 
If you are my family, try not to judge that kid based on his baseball knowledge. 



After a simple conversation with my favorite dad today, I realized just how much I placed those judgments. This morning at an AA meeting I had a girl sit next to me who could have easily placed judgments on me, but decided to be welcoming instead. People are people. Not everyday is a good hair day or a best first impression. Sometimes stepping back and removing myself from judgments is hard work. But, sometimes, it is beyond worth it and I am surprised beyond belief.



Let's take a moment to really go beyond that judgment
and see people for who they are.
Let's take a moment to step outside ourselves
and understand not everyone has the same upbringing.
Let's be okay in our own skin
and be the person who we are meant to be,
addiction/eating disorder and all.


Progress.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Self-Sabotage


self  [self]

noun
1.  a person or thing referred to with respect to complete individuality: one's own self.

sab·o·tage  [sab-uh-tahzh, sab-uh-tahzh]

 noun
1.  the act of destroying or damaging something deliberately so that it does not work correctly.


One of the most difficult themes to tackle in my recovery has been this idea of self-sabotage. On a daily basis, and sometimes multiple times throughout the day, I find myself stuck in patterns and behaviors that are not beneficial to my overall well-being. Most of the time I am not even conscious of what I am doing. Some of the more obvious self-sabotaging behaviors I act on include restricting calories and drinking; however, there is an endless list of not-so-obvious behaviors I will be working on for most of my life.
 
About two months ago I wrote this as a part of an e-journal to my therapist:

"My list of self-sabotaging behaviors include -
Social media distractions
Ditching calories
Procrastination
Being passive
Avoidance
Unhealthy relationships/boys
Judgments 
Picking out the differences rather than the similarities
Not reaching out when I need help
Drinking, obviously
Changing up my meal plan
Overspending
Trying on clothing that no longer fits
Setting super high expectations for myself 
Comparing myself to others
Reliance on external items for self-worth
Minimization, denial, justification 
Wearing a mask
Poor sleep habits - NAPS
People pleasing
Not making friends
Isolation
Dwelling on the past and things I can't change
Sneaky behaviors 
Obsessive thinking
Indecisiveness
Attempting to control the future 
Playing the victim
Relying on my parents for money
Making assumptions and not looking at the facts

What do I do in my life that isn't self sabotaging? I'm all about instant gratification and distractions. This list makes me feel overwhelmed. Some things have gotten better. It's definitely a start. Self-sabotage is a defense mechanism for me. It keeps me sick and I'm afraid of what it means for me to be healthy. Yuck. And it's scary that there are so many different ways for me to get away with it. Basically if I'm not being 100% transparent then I'm engaging in self sabotaging behaviors."

That's some deep stuff for a week night e-journal entry.  

I continue to engage in these behaviors because they act as a distraction from my reality. In a moment of discomfort, taking a good look at myself and becoming vulnerable is much less appealing than avoidance, people pleasing, and engaging in my old, sneaky, and comfortable nature. I am a huge fan of instant gratification; therefore, self-sabotage usually feels right and holds a significant purpose in my daily life, making it feel impossible to completely remove it forever.

I like to think of self-sabotage as the conflict between my healthy mind and my addictive/sick/disordered mind. Most of the time I like to think of myself as an intelligent young woman, even though I participate in these not-so-helpful behaviors. For me recovery is much deeper than following my meal plan and remaining sober. Recovery is about doing something that makes me incredibly uncomfortable on a daily basis because self-sabotage begs me to remain stuck, but comfortable.

  Addicts, myself included, are people who, at some point, lost a part of themselves, and now have a hole they have to fill with anything that eases the constant feeling of emptiness.

This is where self-sabotage swoops in to save the day.

Learning to step outside of my comfort zone and act against destructive patterns can feel overwhelming at times. However, I like to think of it as a new beginning; a new shot at finding joy. Letting go of self-sabotage means not being afraid to embrace new surroundings, new energy, new people, new opportunities. It means accepting my body the way it is and being gentle with myself during this process. It means filling that void with self-compassion, rather than self-sabotage.


Progress.



Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Relapse Part II

A little over three years ago I wrote a post on relapse. At the time, it was difficult for me to accept the common phrase, "relapse is a part of recovery." By thinking I was allowed to relapse, that meant I was setting myself up for failure. Now that I am a few years down the road I feel a little silly and naive thinking I would never relapse. It was a good thought at the time, but sadly, the majority of us are unable to flawlessly make our way through our first attempt at recovery. My younger self was expecting and hoping for perfection; yet I am human and the furthest thing from perfect. 

To pinpoint an exact moment when my relapse began is impossible. However, there were several red flags that I chose to ignore. Looking back, the list of relapse red flags is quite extensive:

I stopped seeing my therapist.
I bought a bathroom scale and was weighing myself regularly.
I began drinking regularly and in secret.
I became codependent in a relationship.
I was constantly wearing a happy-face mask while longing for true connection on the inside.
I was comparing myself to my peers.
Sneaky, manipulative, and perfectionistic behaviors returned.
I began relying on external things for self-acceptance.
I became numb to my emotions.

The list goes on and on.

Before I knew it I was slightly below my weight range and was either drunk or hung over every single day. Although my weight was not drastically below where it needed to be, I began relying on calories from alcohol rather than food to maintain my weight. I thought if I painted a perfectly put together picture on the outside, nobody would catch onto my inner demons. It worked for a short period of time and honestly, I never thought I would fall back into old habits. However, not only did I fall back, I fell into a deeper hole than ever before. I had completely lost myself.

Relapse became a part of my recovery.

Luckily, however, I can now view relapse as the biggest teacher in my recovery. I like to think of relapse as a seed; it has planted a lesson within me and I can use that lesson to grow greater than ever before. The truth is, sometimes we lose battles as often as we succeed. The key though, win or lose, is to never stop fighting. 

Usually if something hurts, it is a teacher. Pain has been a consistent trend during the past twelve months of my life. But I think I have finally reached a point where I can use those feelings of sorrow, fear, shame, regret, and anxiety as fuel. If I allow myself to be teachable, these past twelve months could easily transform from the most agonizing to the most significant and empowering months of my life.


Relapse can be a part of recovery.
And today I am learning to not only to be okay with it, but more importantly, use it to come back stronger than ever. 

Progress.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Everything But My Name


During the past eight months I have...
Called 4 different treatment facilities home.
Shared a room with 17 other women.
Lived with approximately 65 other people.
Lost and regained almost 50 pounds.
Spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, and my birthday in treatment.

If you would have told me eight months ago this is what I traded my senior year field work in for I probably would have bought a plane ticket and left the country. At the time, I thought my first 21 day treatment stay was the end of the world. I remember begging the program director to let me leave early because I didn't think I needed to be there (haha).

One of the women I lived with in my second treatment facility said, "Recovery means changing everything but your name." She was right. Sometimes I get impatient with myself thinking I should have this figured out by now; that one treatment center should've been enough. However, when I allow myself to think about it, changing everything but my name is a process and would take any normal person an extended period of time. Not to mention, I was super resistant to any kind of change during the first four or five months (and still am at times). Looking back, when I first began this process last September, I honestly didn't think I had a problem or needed treatment. That statement is comical now. As my cognitive and emotional health slowly returned, I was able to see the seriousness and life-threatening consequences my actions could have easily caused. Not an easy thing to face. Staying in denial was easier than facing my truth, which is why I remained in a state of oblivion for so long.

This morning I spent a couple hours reading through old journal entries from the past eight months. I think it's safe to say I went a little crazy at times. It hasn't been an easy road. Some of the journal entries gave me a good laugh. Some of them had me reaching for a box of tissues. I found this quote in one of my journals...

"The length of your recovery is determined by the extent of your injuries.
And it’s not always successful.
No matter how hard we work at it, some wounds might never fully heal.
You might have to adjust to a whole new way of living.
Things may have changed too radically to ever go back to what they were.
You might not even recognize yourself.
It’s like you haven’t recovered anything at all.
You’re a whole new person with a whole new life."
-Erin Brown

These past eight months have had their ups and downs. My recovery has been far from perfect and I've had to learn a few lessons the hard way. Sometimes I get so angry and impatient with myself because I have this disease. Sometimes it feels easier to crawl back into bed rather than face the day. Sometimes I curse normal people out for a walk with their loved ones because there were times when I couldn't even go outside without permission. 

But sometimes, I feel grateful for all of the people I have met along the way and people who can relate to my daily struggle. Sometimes I realize how important it has been for me to heal in a safe environment. Sometimes I look back and think of the lifelong friends I have made. It's horrifying to think about where I might be without this experience. I know I have a long road ahead of me and I am far from where I would like to be, but I am no longer in treatment. Today I have the opportunity to make decisions for myself and to practice what I have learned from four different treatment centers. Today is the next step toward changing everything but my name. Today I can say I survived the hardest part.

Progress.



Saturday, February 20, 2016

I Have a Choice...


 


Five out of the past six months of my life have been spent in three different treatment facilities and I'm still not done. More than likely there will be another treatment stay in six weeks when I finish my current program. That is my reality right now. This process is overwhelming because I am both terrified of losing this battle and I am terrified of fighting it.

Luckily, I have learned several new tools along the way that have helped keep me safe. The first time I was in treatment for an eating disorder four years ago, I gained the weight but I barely scratched the emotional surface. I did the best I could at the time, but didn't dig as deeply as I needed to for life long recovery. Here are a few things I am focusing on this time around in order in order to fully engage myself in the process:

Emotional Honesty

I have spent my entire life wearing a mask in order to achieve a false sense of belonging. Depending on the situation and group of people I was around, I wore a mask to adapt to that situation and fit in with that group of people. I have been doing it for so long that I lost track of who I really was and what I wanted out of life. I felt like if I was making those around me happy then I would be happy. Emotional honesty has forced me to take off that mask. It has been incredibly difficult work, and more often than not, it isn't pleasant for the people around me. However, slowly, I have begun to see the benefits of having my inside emotions match my outside actions. Struggling my way through this part of my life and being real about it makes me human, not crazy or a bad person.


Similarities vs. Differences
A huge part of the reason I have been in multiple treatment centers is because I get caught up in picking out the differences between myself and the other patients. While I was in substance abuse treatment I told myself I didn't look like an addict so I didn't need to be there. Many of the patients there had come from jail or were homeless, but I was still functioning in my daily life, so I clearly wasn't that bad. I had a loving family and didn't experience trauma as a child, so I couldn't relate. I picked out the differences and effectively justified why I didn't belong there. Sure, it was effective, but more importantly, it also kept me in denial about how serious my addiction and eating disorder had become. Over the past several weeks, I have been working extremely hard to become aware of when I pick out those differences and put up that wall. It feels overwhelming at times because I do it so often; however, the more I share those moments with my therapist the more we are able to process it and dig a little deeper. It's not easy to admit I have put myself on that pedestal for so long, but facing it and picking out the similarities rather than the differences will be crucial moving forward.

Playing the Tape Through
There have been several moments I have wanted to give into cravings or be symptomatic. Sometimes in the moment giving into that craving feels like the only option because fighting it off requires doing the opposite of what I have done for more than a decade. Sitting through cravings and urges feels unbearable in the moment. However, if I allow myself to "play the tape through" and think about the consequences that will follow if I have a drink or engage in eating disorder symptoms, it helps bring me back to reality. At this point in my life the consequences are extremely high, but it's easy to lose sight of that when those cravings hit. Playing the tape through is frightening, yet effective. The consequences simply are not worth risking all of the hard work I have put into my recovery this far.

Reaching Out
This one has always been difficult for me for several reasons. Reaching out to a supportive friend or a therapist means I have to tell the truth. I have been consumed by my lies and sneaky behaviors for so long; being vulnerable and sharing what is actually going on with me exposes me. Often my thoughts feel so absurd and illogical that it feels embarrassing to share them with others. Normal people don't think the way I do, right? Fortunately, I have been proven wrong in regards to the way "normal" people think. By opening up and sharing when I am struggling, I have been given the opportunity to connect with like-minded people. People who can relate. Viewing reaching out as courageous rather than a sign of weakness, has allowed me to feel empowered. Vocalizing my cravings and sneaky behaviors squashes the likelihood of acting on them. As the old saying goes, "You are as sick as your secrets." The more I allow those thoughts to fester and grow, the worse off I am. Reaching out over the past several weeks has changed my entire outlook on recovery.


One of the best gifts I have given myself is to remember when people say "recovery," they typically think of returning to how they were before the addiction or eating disorder. But there is no going back. It is irrational to believe simply gaining the weight or remaining sober is enough. It's about reinventing myself. In order to live a happy, healthy, and addiction or eating disorder free life, I need to become something completely different from what I was before. One of the girls I was in substance abuse treatment with always said, "You have to change everything but your name," and she was right. 

I have a choice.
I can either give into my old ways 
or I can challenge myself daily and rebuild my life.
Today I am grateful to have the skills and the ability
to choose the more challenging road.

Progress.





Friday, October 30, 2015

"Bad Kids"


About two months ago I attended my first ever Narcotics Anonymous meeting. Without ever attending any type of twelve step meeting, I had no idea what to expect. This particular night we attended an open speaker meeting. It was an opportunity for an individual with a substantial amount of recovery time to share their story with the group. Sounded painless enough.

My heart sank when I immediately recognized the speaker from my past. I had gone to grade school with this person and knew he began using at a young age. To be terribly honest, he was one of the kids my goodie-two-shoes gang and I made fun of and looked down upon. I did not grow up with access to drugs or alcohol, and therefore, did not understand why anyone would go down that path. He hung out with the kids my parents told me to stay away from; the "bad kids."

So there I sat fifteen years later listening to the so-called "bad kid" teach me about how to recover from addiction. To say I was humbled is an understatement. Pinpointing a single emotion to that night is impossible. I was dumbfounded, ashamed, nauseous, mortified, confused, and most importantly incredibly proud of this young man's journey. I had been shaken to my very core. Suddenly not only did I have to interact with these "bad kids," but I had to look to them for guidance and support.

As I am writing this, I realize how judgmental it sounds and I apologize for that. At the same time, however, I think it is important to note the way I once thought is not uncommon in today's society. Simply put addicts are wrongfully seen in a negative light.

For those of you who have followed my blog in the past, you know I primarily wrote about my eating disorder recovery journey. Over a short period of time I gained a substantial following and felt a sense of belonging. Although it might have been a bit shocking at times, talking about my eating disorder publicly did not feel socially unacceptable. 

Here I am, however, a few years down the road tackling an equally devastating and challenging form of addiction but feel suffocated by the social stigmas involved. I have been hesitant to post this for awhile now, but this is a disease people die from every single day; not something to be quiet about or shy away from.

As a child I was taught to believe addicts are somehow “bad kids.”
However, now that I am white-knuckling through my own sobriety and recovery,
I am finding these so-called “bad kids” are my soulmates.

Addicts are remarkable people.
Addicts fight a war within themselves every single day.
Addicts are stereotyped and discriminated against.
Addicts are beaten down and made to believe they are weak.
With all odds against them,
addicts do live healthy lives in recovery,
and for that,
I am grateful.


Progress.