Thursday, May 30, 2013

Goodbye Beauty Limitations


"You are the only person who is in charge of how you feel about yourself. 
 Nobody else can possibly do that. 
You get to decide if you believe you are beautiful or not, 
and nobody can take it away from you. 
If someone suggests that you aren’t beautiful, 
you can consider how sad it is that they have such a limited view of beauty. 

You can consider how unfortunate it is that they have 
such an exaggerated sense of self-importance 
that they think you should care about what they think. 
You can also choose to realize that it has nothing at all to do with your beauty 
and everything to do with their limitations."
 -Ragen Chastain




 A friend of mine sent me this quote yesterday and I am still grinning from ear to ear. I love it that much. Way too much of my life has been spent worrying about what others think of me and now that I have finally let go of those thoughts, life is pretty awesome. Just because we live in a society that puts so-called limitations on beauty does not mean we need to abide by them.

Most of you have probably seen this video already, but it needs to be shown again. It makes me smile every single time. 





 "Beauty isn’t between a size 0 and 8. It’s not a number at all. It’s not physical."

Progress.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Trusting the Process


When I first entered treatment I spent a good 8-10 weeks stuck in the "these people can't make me gain THAT much weight" mindset. During those first few weeks, I tried to cheat the weight gain process any way I could. Treatment centers often deal with patients hiding food, purging in secrecy, abusing laxatives, or over exercising regardless of the rules set by the treatment team.

As much as I hate to admit it, I embarrassingly attempted (and failed) one or more of the symptoms listed above multiple times. It was infuriating because I knew if I ever wanted to recover, it was absolutely necessary to STOP those behaviors and give up all means of control. The eating disorder voices in my head were telling me to continue having symptoms and keep my weight under control, and although my healthy brain was always fighting, it never seemed to beat out those ED voices.  

One of my recovery buddies is currently on the verge of trusting the process, but every time she tries to act in healthy manner those eating disorder voices take over. Yesterday she said this to me in regards to her current struggle to quit over exercising,  

"It was hard, because initially it was really nice to be outside and getting fresh air and walking (all of which I love) but then when she (her dog) started to turn back, my ED started to stress... "we'd only JUST got out here, we'd barely walked at all... it wasn't even HALF of what I'd normally do in the morning walk to school and it was a snail pace instead of a power-march."

Although she really, really wants to cut back on the exercise, every time she attempts to do so, those eating disorder voices tell her she's a lazy failure. Her best intentions to begin trusting the recovery process are not given the credit they deserve. More often than not, a few failed attempts are mandatory before a healthy behavior begins to emerge.

In order to fully trust, one must walk blindly into a situation. Trust is not something that can be developed overnight. Years of self-destructive thoughts have a sneaky way of over staying their welcome. Slowly as I began to let go of my eating disordered behaviors, one by one, I began to build that trust a little higher.

Another huge component of trusting the process was learning to let go of my eating disorder identity. And I mean really let go. I had to stomp on it, run it over with my car, throw it in the trash, and smash it with a hammer every opportunity I had. A past therapist of mine always told me to get angry at my ED and talk back to it. Having a few "I'm not listening to you today, eating disorder" phrases prepared ahead of time helped me fight off those voices. In fact, I still have to use some of those phrases on a daily basis.

Recovery is a long, exhausting process. Mistakes are inevitable. Sometimes I really have had to take two (or three or four) steps backwards in order to take one measly step forward. There are many days when I am pissed off at the recovery process and would much rather stay in bed for the rest of my life. Perfection does not and never will exist. Trust is huge leap of faith.

No wonder trusting the process takes so much time. Once I was able to achieve that trust, however, I finally realized there was no turning back.

Progress.

Monday, May 27, 2013

What is Normal Eating Anyway?

Yesterday I spent a good chunk of my day in our garden putting my green thumb to work. I've never been much of an outdoorsy girl or been able to keep plants alive, but for some reason I felt the need to give it a try. Surprisingly, my little outdoor adventure turned into a bit of a triggering situation as planting a bunch of vegetables brought back memories of my old, disordered diet.

To say my diet had become unreasonably rigid before I entered treatment would be an understatement. As I ironically began culinary school, one of the many ways I began to cut out food groups was to become a vegetarian. After learning about the appalling farming monopolies our country is currently practicing - thank you, Monsanto - I also began a local-foods-only diet. The local food movement is trendy in the culinary world right now after all, so it only made sense for me to jump on the bandwagon. Now add in my excuses to avoid anything containing high fructose corn syrup, food dyes, or any other ingredient I didn't recognize, and you can begin to understand the strict guidelines of my diet.

In my mind, surrounding myself with culinary geniuses gave me the perfect excuse to become a "food snob," even though it was literally killing me.

The treatment center I spent six months in, however, was on the complete opposite end of the food spectrum. Because they believed in the calorie counting meal planning strategy, every food I ate during my stay was packaged (as a way to easily count calories). Fresh fruits and veggies were off limits because they did not have an exact calorie count. Every time I go back to my treatment center to guest speak, we always have a good laugh as we think back to my first day and the impressive temper tantrum I threw after learning what I would be expected to eat. There was no way in hell those people were going to force me to consume those packaged products. I didn't even consider that to be "real food" at the time.

Occasionally I would have the option to plan frozen vegetables and dried fruits into my meal plan as long as they were perfectly measured. At one point, we all joked that planning anything healthy into our daily regimen was pointless because those low calorie foods took up too much room in our already bulging stomachs. After a few months, not only did I finally give into eating poptarts and little debbies on a daily basis, but I actually began to (I can't believe I'm saying this...) enjoy it.

(Let me just say that eating this way is definitely NOT recommended for healthy individuals. For eating disorder patients, however, it does not matter where the calories are coming from as long as the number being consumed is enough. Also, by constantly facing my fear foods, I was able to learn that I can eat "unhealthy" foods (in moderation) without gaining weight.)

Although I have been home for quite a few months now, I still struggle with estimating calories sometimes. Fruits and vegetables have made their way back into my diet, but I still get a little weird about having to ballpark those calories. The calorie counting meal panning strategy definitely works during the refeeding process, but its inflexibility makes it difficult to move away from after leaving treatment.

Like many things in life, I am currently searching for a place of balance with my food choices. Spending time in the garden yesterday did make me crave those super clean meals and even made me feel a little guilty for my recent "unhealthy" food choices. Those "I just want to eat like a normal person" thoughts were relentless as I angrily dug a hole for each plant. Maybe being alone in a garden with my thoughts wasn't the best idea I have ever had. 

 The optimist in me, on the other hand, is searching for the benefits of my current meal planning state. Most importantly, I have maintained my current weight since the day I left treatment, so that proves to me that meal planning actually does work. Also, I finally believe there is no such thing as a good food or a bad food. As long as I stay within my calorie limits I can eat whatever I want.

Sometimes I forget that my dietary needs are different than the "normal" person at this stage in my recovery. Every time I turn on the TV or listen to the radio I am bombarded with weight loss ads. Living in a society that places such a huge emphasis on being fit is aggravating. Eating disorder or not, the simple task of fueling our body has turned into something much more complex.

Yes, gardening was a little triggering yesterday, but it might actually be exactly what I need to break my strict meal plan. Growing a few of my own plants will allow me to enjoy a bit of moderation in my diet. I never thought I'd be trying to ADD fruits and veggies to my diet, but here we are.

My eating habits might never be completely normal, but who can honestly say they have a perfect relationship with food? Does normal eating even exist anymore? Maybe I'm not so weird after all.

Progress.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

If Tomorrow Never Comes...


"Maybe you can afford to wait. 
Maybe for you there’s a tomorrow. 
Maybe for you there’s one thousand tomorrows, 
or three thousand, or ten, 
so much time you can bathe in it, 
roll around it, 
let it slide like coins through your fingers. 
So much time you can waste it. 

But for some of us there’s only today. 
And the truth is, 
you never really know."
-Lauren Oliver

One of the most common regrets among those of us in recovery takes place when we realize just how much time we wasted engaging in disordered behaviors. Looking back on the past 10 years of my life, I often kick myself for not enjoying the so-called "best years of my life," also known as my early 20s

The late teen and early 20 years are supposedly filled with a new sense of freedom after moving out of mom and dad's place and finally having the opportunity to chase your dreams. That was not the case for me, at all - eating disorder or not. At eighteen years old our society expects us to know exactly what we want to do for the rest of our lives without any real world experience. I have spent a lot of my life trying to conform into a specific group of people instead of figuring out what I want to get out of life. Trapped and inferior are the first words that come to mind when I look back at that time in my life.

 During that time I always told myself that tomorrow would be better. Tomorrow I will figure out my future plans and beat my eating disorder. Tomorrow everything would be different. 

Last night as I was sitting around a bonfire with a few of my favorite people, I began to feel that sense of regret for wasting so much time wrapped up in the hellpit that was my eating disorder. Those years were spent counting on a better tomorrow instead of living for the moment. Although I do still have a tiny bit of regret, I can finally see that without those not-so-good days, I would not have been able to sit around a bonfire last night and live in that moment.

Maybe the best years of our lives don't have to be what society says they should be. Maybe the best years of lives can be right now; no matter what age we are. Tomorrow might come and it might not, so why not make the most of today? A part of me wishes I would have learned this lesson years ago, but it's always better to be late than never get there at all.

Progress.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Borderline Personality Disorder & Eating Disorders

 
One of my favorite people recently asked if I had ever written anything on the correlation between borderline personality disorder (BPD) and eating disorders. I told her I have not, but was also curious myself and quickly began doing a little research. Before I began reading up on it, I wasn't exactly sure what BPD was, but the more I read, the more I started to wonder whether or not I should have been diagnosed with BPD.

Borderline personality disorder, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, can be defined as, "a condition in which people have long-term patterns of unstable or turbulent emotions, such as feelings about themselves and others." Those suffering from BPD might feel uncertain about their identity; therefore, interests and values can sporadically change. They also view things as black or white; always in extremes. The views and opinions of BPD patients typically change quickly.



Other symptoms of BPD include:
-Intense fear of being abandoned
-Cannot tolerate being alone
-Frequent feelings of emptiness and boredom
-Frequent displays of inappropriate anger
-Impulsiveness, such as with substance abuse or sexual relationships
-Repeated crises and acts of self-injury, such as wrist cutting or overdosing

Eating disorders often become extremely difficult to treat due to the co-occurring disorders potentially involved. Treatment facilities specialize in the food and emotional related symptoms, but often lack the knowledge to also deal with other symptoms listed above. Eating disorders and BPD frequently do occur together, making it crucial to understand the relationship between the two.

According to a study done by Mary Zanarini at McLean Hospital located in Belmont, Massachusetts, approximately, "53% of patients with BPD also met criteria for an eating disorder (compared to 24% of patients with other personality disorders). In this study, 21% of patients with BPD met criteria for anorexia nervosa and 24% for bulimia nervosa." Patients diagnosed with bulimic tendencies are also at a higher risk of showing symptoms of BPD than patients diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.  It is important to note, however, that not all eating disorder patients suffer from BPD.

Eating disorders are not the only comorbid disorder associated with BPD and there is also a major difference between genders when it comes to which impulsive behavior they "specialize" in. More specifically, "substance use disorders were found to be significantly more common in the histories of male than female borderline patients. In contrast, eating disorders, particularly eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS), were found to be significantly more common in the histories of female than male borderline patients (Zanarini, 1998)." This is not to say that this is true for each patient though; studies have also found that about 50% of females diagnosed with BPD abuse substances at some point in their lives and about 20% of males with BPD are diagnosed with a serious eating disorder.

So what exactly is the relationship between BPD and eating disorders? 

Studies show two major factors relating the two: (1) history of childhood trauma and (2) a main symptom of BPD, chronic impulsiveness, may lead to disordered eating habits. If a patient grew up in a broken home or was abused (physically, emotionally, or sexually) there is a much greater risk of developing BPD. These patients have difficulty expressing emotions and trusting others, which can cause fear of abandonment and feelings of emptiness, often leading to anorexia. For those patients who show highly impulsive tendencies, self harm and displays of inappropriate anger, bulimia is typically (but not always) developed as a result. The symptoms are all intertwined in their own complex way.

As far as treatment for both eating disorders and BPD, it is important to take the individual patient's needs into consideration. Some patients do well in eating disorder treatment facilities and show improvement in their BPD symptoms, while others do not. There is also the question of which disorder should be treated first - eating disorder or BPD? Again, this should be answered on a case-by-case basis. Some eating disordered patients might be so severely underweight that they require immediate treatment for those ED symptoms. Some patients, on the other hand, find that if they work on the BPD symptoms, the eating disordered symptoms decrease. 

The truth is, mental health and eating disorders often go hand-in-hand. There are very few eating disorder patients who only show ED related symptoms. Knowing your own individual symptoms and needs is the best way to receive the treatment needed. Also, it is perfectly acceptable to try multiple treatment methods before finding the one that works best for you. Treatment facilities need to be more aware of the individual component of eating disorders before prescribing a treatment plan.

After reading up on BPD, thankfully, I do not think I would self-diagnose myself with this disorder at this point in my recovery. That is not to say I did not show BPD symptoms during different stages of my eating disorder. By taking control of my eating disordered symptoms, I have been able to unconsciously improve my overall mental health - funny how that works.

Progress.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Addiction

Yesterday I received an email that pretty much changed my entire outlook on life, recovery, and most importantly addictions. The email opened with this statement:
 
"I have come to believe that no one passes through our society unscathed, and virtually everyone has (extremely few can honestly say "had") their addictions-which they commonly pass off as just "habits", or if they're really brave (read that with compassionate sarcasm) they might admit that they have a few "bad habits". We mistakenly tend to reserve the word "addiction" to stigmatize those who turn and run to substances instead of turning and running to the TV, dependent romantic relationships, shopping, sex, work, cleaning, exercise, food, facebook... you name it. 

  But I think we're all somewhere on the same spectrum, and we just differ in 
 (1) the specific coping/escaping mechanisms we happened to choose; 
(2) in our levels and thresholds of suffering/guilt/stress/anxiety/boredom; and 
(3) in our levels of honesty and openness (with ourselves and others) about growing up as a human being in very lost cultures (and for many growing up in very broken families and communities)." 

A few weeks ago when I guest spoke at my old treatment center one of the patients asked if I considered myself an alcoholic. Although I often speak of my alcohol abuse, I still could not answer yes to this question out of shame or fear, maybe both. When the Libero Network editor asked me to join their team, she gave me the title of "Eating Disorder and Addiction Writer," but I still could not admit to myself that I was an addict. 

Addiction has become this awful, shameful thing in today's society; like the quote says above, "we mistakenly tend to reserve the word "addiction" to stigmatize those who turn and run to substances." There was no way I was going to allow myself to fall victim to that stereotype. I was never a drunk living on the streets or drinking out of a brown paper bag, so I must not really be an alcoholic - or at least that's what I told myself.  

The second part of the quote talks about the different levels of the addiction spectrum. I had never thought of addictions in this manor, but it makes perfect sense. Over the course of my life my addictions have changed - from different eating disordered behaviors to dependent relationships to drinking - but they have all served the same purpose. Depending on what negative emotion I was feeling, my addiction of choice would be there to help me avoid or numb out the pain. Only by facing my fears and anxieties through recovery, I have finally begun to tear down some of those walls. 

So maybe I am an addict, but that does not mean those addictions need to run my life anymore. 
Maybe I am an alcoholic, but I am also 381 days sober. 

We live in a society that teaches us to be ashamed of our mistakes and puts us down for our faults, but honestly, I'm getting pretty sick of it. I'm sick of the stigma. The stigma keeps many of us stuck in our illnesses and addictions. 
Receiving this email has been a turning point in my recovery. I can finally admit to myself that, "I am an alcoholic," and not feel like the most horrible person on earth. This person also shared some of their own personal addictions with me in this email and expressed their own embarrassment regarding these issues, but I do not think there is anything for this individual to be embarrassed about. At all.
 
Maybe I don't need to feel embarrassed about my addictions either.

Progress.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Closing the ED Door

 
The theme of my therapy sessions over the past several weeks has been pretty consistent: "When one door closes, another door opens." No matter how many times my therapist repeats this, I still remain hung up on certain things. When it comes to my eating disorder, I have found that I can almost completely close that door, but there are few other things in my life that I am unable to shut out for some reason. I found this quote yesterday and it reminded me of my most recent therapy sessions.


"That is why it is so important to let certain things go. 
To release them. 
To cut loose. 

People need to understand that no one 
is playing with marked cards; 
sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. 

Don’t expect to get anything back, 
don’t expect recognition for your efforts, 
don’t expect your genius to be discovered 
or your love to be understood. 

Complete the circle. 
Not out of pride, 
inability or arrogance, 
but simply because whatever it is no longer fits in your life. 

Close the door, 
change the record, 
clean the house, 
get rid of the dust. 

Stop being who you were and become who you are."
 

A part of me thinks I could write a million posts on letting go and closing doors, yet I would still find myself unable to practice what I preach. Some doors are just more difficult to close than others. Like many things in my life, I tend to focus on the big, scary doors that seem impossible to close, rather than the smaller doors that I have already closed and locked behind me.

Recovery means constantly closing small doors so other doors can open up. That's what progress is. Some doors are huge and some doors are barely visible, but they all hold an equal level of importance. My eating disorder no longer fits into the life I am striving to live. That door has closed.

Recovery has meant closing doors on certain relationships, as well. Learning the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships is still a work in progress for me, but it is much better than when  I started this journey. As the quote says, it's really important to simply let things go that no longer fit into our lives. Somehow, however, I need to learn to stop feeling guilty for doing so. That door has yet to be closed.
 
Recovery also means letting go of who I was to become who I am. Currently, I have yet to figure out exactly who I am without my eating disorder, but I know I am getting closer everyday. The doors of my past eating disordered identity are slowly closing and those new, exciting doors of my true self are finally opening.
 
Progress. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Finding Your Body's Natural Weight

Recently I have been getting a ton of questions about how to find the body's natural or set point weight. This is a topic that usually generates a lot of anxiety and resistance, so bare with me.

A few days ago I started reading (yes, another recovery book), "8 Keys to Recovery From an Eating Disorder" written by Gwen Schubert. In chapter five there is a very helpful section about learning how to accept your body's natural weight. One of the keys of this chapter is the idea that in order to reach a place where one feels fully recovered, weight loss can no longer be a goal. Period. Schubert explains;

"Just as you are learning that your body can be trusted to give you accurate signals about hunger and fullness, you must also learn to trust that your natural weight is predetermined by your genetics and not your desire. Many of our clients have a hard time accepting their weight, not because they are overweight, but because they are not the weight they would like to be. If you are engaging in eating disordered behaviors to maintain your weight, you really can't know your natural weight (p. 113)."

Schubert then lists a few indicators of natural weight physically, psychologically, and socially, which I thought would be helpful for many of you.

"Physical Indicators of a Natural Weight Range:
-Weight range is maintained without engaging in eating disordered behaviors (for example, restricting, binging, purging, or compulsive exercise).
-Having regular menstruation every month and normal hormone levels (as age appropriate).
-Normal blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature.
-Normal blood chemistry values such as electrolytes, white and red blood counts, ext.
-Normal bone density for age.
-Normal levels of energy (not exhausted, shaky, or agitated all day).
-Normal or at least some sex drive.

 
Psychological and Social Indicators of a Natural Weight Range:
-Ability to concentrate and focus (reading, movies, work, school).
-Normal social life with authentic, in-person relationships.
-Decrease in or cessation of obsessive thoughts or food cravings or urges to binge.
-Can choose freely what to eat both when alone and with others.
-Can eat at restaurants, at friend's houses, at parties, and on vacations. 
-Do not have to eat according to certain rituals.
-No erratic mood swings (p. 114)."


Of course, however, it is important to keep in mind that there are different degrees and levels associated with each of these factors. Also, I hate the word "normal" because what is normal for me is often completely different from what is normal for another person. Maybe we should switch out the word "normal" for the word "healthy" on the list of indicators. When we reach our body's natural weight, we find a HEALTHY blood pressure, blood chemistry, bone density, energy levels, ext., rather than NORMAL

With the social and psychological factors, recovery brings different stages of each of the highlighted points. Just because I might not be completely comfortable eating in restaurants, at a friends house, or at parties, for example, does not mean my body is not at it's natural weight. With time and lots of practice I will eventually drop my fears surrounding those situations, but it's a process. 

Take what you want from the list of indicators above, but the bottom line according to Schubert is:

"Our bodies react negatively to being under or over our natural weight in spite of what we want or how we feel about it. It might be hard to believe, but even a few pounds below (or above) normal can cause abnormal physical and psychological changes (p. 116)."

Sure, letting go of my desired weight is still something I struggle with occasionally, but in my mind it sure beats hanging on to unhealthy physical and social side effects. This is such a complex topic not only because eating disorder patients are typically scared to death of their natural weight, but also because finding one's natural weight can feel like an impossible equation. Each of us has a completely different body type and therefore, different natural or set point weights. 

Learning to trust your body again after years of neglect is a long, tedious process. The best advice I can give about how to find the body's natural weight is to give up weight loss as a goal, find out what is considered healthy (physically and psychologically) for your body, and learn to trust the process. 

Progress.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Bridge to Recovery Walk 2013


#PowerfulBeyondMeasure




I can feel myself starting to get emotional before I even finish this sentence.

Yesterday was the annual Bridge to Recovery Walk at my old treatment center. It is an event held to raise eating disorder awareness and support loved ones in recovery. For the past couple of months I have actually been debating whether or not it was a good idea for me to even go. Honestly, being back in that environment is pretty nerve racking and after working so hard to separate myself from the safe environment treatment provided me, I wasn't sure if it was worth making the trip.

At the last minute I decided to invite my best friend, Kaila, for moral support and we made the trip down together. As we drove into the town where my old treatment center is located, I began to realize how strange it was to have an outsider enter that part of my world. The other patients are the only people who truly understand the memories associated with driving down Monroe Street in Sylvania, Ohio. Besides my parents, no one else in my life has made that trip with me; however, I could not have done it without her.

As Kaila and I made our way to the event, my anticipatory anxiety started to get the best of me. All of my fears were erased, however, once I saw the smiling faces of those amazing people who got me through the toughest summer of my life.

The event started with a one mile walk, followed by a raffle drawing, a scale smashing, and finally a cookout. Not only did my anxieties disappear, but I felt an incredible boost of positivity. For the first time being back in that environment didn't bring talk of calories and weight gain. We were simply there to enjoy each others company, reflect on how far we have come, and celebrate everyone's success. I was reminded of what a strong and courageous group of women I was surrounded by last summer. These women understand me on a level that no one else can and I truly believe they saved my life.

One of the former patients spoke and said, "This event is a better booster than any two or three week stay at the treatment center," and I could not agree more. (If a patient begins to slip a little they are often sent back to treatment for a two or three week booster to help them get back on track.) Sometimes the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives can get in the way of the self care and the hard work involved in recovery, but being in the presence of such wonderful people can quickly change that.

Scale Smashing!! :)
 

Today I am still on a high from the Bridge to Recovery Walk 2013. That was one of the best days I have had in a long, long time. Not only was my recovery motivation renewed, but more importantly, I got the spend time with some pretty incredible people. It's hard to imagine where my life would be without the River Centre Clinic.

"Powerful Beyond Measure" was the theme of the walk this year and that is exactly how I feel after attending.

Progress.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Unexpected Triggers (Part 2)

 This week was the start of my summer semester. With the start of any new situation, we are faced with new people, new expectations, and potentially new triggers. Like many of my posts, I was not sure if I should write about this, however, it has been almost 24 hours since I was in class and this situation is still on my mind.

I will just be blunt about it - There is an individual in my class, who of course decided to sit directly in front of me, that is clearly emaciated. Over the past year or so, I have become aware that people do have different body types and some people are lucky enough to be naturally thin. This person, on the other hand, looks sick. Whether this person has an eating disorder or not is none of my business, but it definitely does distract me from listening to the professor's lecture.

For the most part, I am heartbroken at the sight of this and hoping my assumptions are dead wrong. A very small part of me, however, is jealous enough to feel triggered. I realize that feeling the slightest bit of envy towards this person is silly. A good chunk of my life was spent in that living hell, so why would I feel this way? 

As I was laying in bad last night, I realized that I am not necessarily envious of this person's weight, but more so of the control she has over her life; even if it is a false sense of control. In the twisted mindset that comes with an eating disorder, I find myself longing for that feeling of numbness. Rather than feeling disappointment, heartbreak, loneliness, or anger, this person keeps her emotions in check at all times. A part of me is also reminded of the high my eating disorder gave me. For once in my life, I felt worthy because I could control my weight and now that is gone. The "who am I without my eating disorder?" thoughts have returned.

Thankfully after a good nights rest, I woke up this morning with a different perspective on the situation. Although it would be nice to avoid uncomfortable emotions, that would also mean I would not know how to experience the good emotions. During my eating disorder I was so detached from my emotions that as I began recovery, experiencing joy and happiness felt extremely foreign. Somehow I felt like I was doing something wrong by actually feeling my feelings. Now, a year into my recovery, I often feel obnoxiously happy. Without years of pain, I would not be able to take advantage of all of the beauty left in my life.

Although it also felt nice to have some control over my weight and other situations in my life, I have finally reached a point where I can see the opposite was true - my eating disorder was controlling me. Eating disorder patients often refer to that high they get from feeling "empty" or binging and purging, but I can finally see that those supposed highs don't compare to the joyful highs I now feel in my everyday life.

Next Tuesday when I have this class again, I know the individual who sits in front of me will be somewhat of a distraction. Luckily for me, however, I can choose to view the situation however I want. This will not be the last time I will encounter someone who physically appears to have an eating disorder, but that does not mean I need to let it affect me. Once again, I will emphasize that I am making assumptions and I could be completely wrong about this person's heath; that doesn't make it any less triggering though.


Like I have said a million times before, triggers will always be there, it's how we choose to deal with them that pushes us further into recovery.

Progress.

P.S. Last January I wrote a post called Unexpected Triggers, which is why this is Part 2. After rereading the original post this morning, it's exciting to see the change in myself after a few short months. I think that deserves another... Progress. :)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Food-Related Baggage



"It would be awesome if all of our
unique food-related baggage were something
we could eventually abandon
like so much unclaimed luggage at an airport
in some distant city.

Unfortunately it tends to find us wherever we go,
no matter how many times we assert
that we’ll never put on that
stupid ugly self-hating dress ever again.

Backsliding is inevitable
and it is okay when it happens;
disordered eating patterns don’t evolve
because a person is unintelligent or lazy,
they evolve as coping mechanisms
and even survival tactics.

We can’t expect ourselves to just forget the means
by which we’ve managed to get through the hard stuff,
because in most of our lives the hard stuff doesn’t stop coming
just because we’ve made efforts to address
an eating disorder or any other addictive behavior."


I stumbled across this quote sometime last fall (and I honestly don't know the source), but it seems to hold a much stronger meaning with me now than it did back then.

Recovery is difficult for many of us because we are forced to unlearn our old coping mechanisms and then slowly learn new, healthy coping mechanisms. Anytime a person practices something for an extended period of time, such as an eating disorder, it simply becomes second nature.

During the time of my eating disorder, I often felt that others saw me as unintelligent or lazy because I remained stuck in a self-destructive cycle. Why couldn't I just STOP?!

Life never stops and it is constantly changing. Although many of us with eating disorders do our best to avoid change, it is impossible to do so without consequences. So, even though food-related baggage isn't something we can necessarily abandon, through recovery, however, we are given daily opportunities to deal with it in a much healthier manner.

Progress.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Happy 50th Birthday, Dad


Today is my dad's 50th birthday, so I thought I would do a post in honor of him and his love for the game of baseball.

For those of you who know my family, you understand the baseball obsessed house house that I grew up in. For those of you, who don't know my family, let me explain...

Although I grew up in Michigan, I was born in Sarasota, Florida because my dad was down south at the time for baseball spring training. My first outing as a new born was to a baseball game. My grandma has a baseball field in her backyard, which is typically the center of entertainment during family gatherings.  Most importantly, of course, heaven forbid you play ball like a girl.



Over the past year or so, during my recovery, I have grown to dislike baseball in a way that feels unacceptable to my dad and the rest of my family. It is difficult for me to pinpoint exactly why that is, but I think it has something to do with the rebellious side of me finally coming to life. Maybe my "I'm not good enough" thoughts started as a result of never living up to my dad's athletic status. Baseball has been pounded into my brain since the moment I was born and now that I am finding myself through recovery, I don't feel like my life should have to revolve around the game anymore.

A part of me knows that I will never be completely free from the game of baseball, it's in my blood for goodness sakes, but maybe that isn't such a bad thing after all. As much as I hate to admit it, my old man has taught me some pretty important life lessons on the baseball/softball field.

Even while I was in treatment, my dad tried to relate my situation to baseball. He needed to put my eating disorder into baseball language in order to gain a better understanding. Bless his heart. So, I am going to do my best to relate some my dad's favorite baseball sayings to my recovery... Wish me luck.

"Keep You Eye on the Ball"
Of course, this is the most used and well known baseball saying there is. On both offense and defense it is crucial to keep you eye on the ball at all times. If you get distracted for one second it can throw your entire game off, which is a lot like recovery. Every single choice I make throughout the day can impact my recovery and if I don't "keep my eye on the ball," it becomes very easy to get off track.

 
"Wait For It..."
Back in my softball playing days, as a hitter I was always way out in front of the pitch. I inherited my dad's quick hands and usually swung way before the pitch even reached the plate. Whenever I was facing a pitcher that had a killer change up or simply didn't throw as hard, I could always hear my dad in the stands yelling, "Wait for it!" Patience is something I have always struggled with. Just like my need for the ball to reach the plate faster, I have always lacked patience in real life situations. One of the biggest components of recovery is patience. Change takes time. Every time I find myself getting frustrated with the recovery process, I can hear my dad in the back of my mind reminding me to "wait for it."


"Good Game, Good Game."
No matter what the outcome of a game is, the players are still expected to line up, shake hands, and tell their opponents they played a good game. After a loss this ritual can be slightly aggravating, but after a win, however, it can be quite thrilling. Recovery is actually very similar to this "good game, good game" tradition. After everyday of recovery, good or bad, I do my best to pat myself on the back and remind myself of the job well done. Again, it can be aggravating on my bad days, but losing 'games' is the only way to learn.

 
"See the Ball, Be the Ball"
Honestly, I never really understood this one until recently even though my dad has been saying it for years. Basically what it means is it is important not to get caught up in the speed or status of the pitcher. Even if you are facing a big, scary pitcher it doesn't matter as long as you see the ball and be the ball. Keep it simple. Don't allow yourself to get too worked up. In recovery there are endless situations that seem too big and scary to face, but as long as I keep it simple and take it one day at a time it doesn't feel so bad. Just like the various speeds of a pitch, people go through recovery at different rates. If I believe it is possible to recovery, then it is. Simple. "See Recovery, Be Recovery." Sorry, that's really cheesy, but it's definitely something my dad would say.


"Fail 7 out of 10 Times... You're Still A Hall of Famer"
With a batting average of .300, a hitter is considered highly successful. This means that if a hitter only hits the ball 3 out of 10 times then they are doing a great job and can possibly become part of the Hall of Fame. In my own recovery it often feels like I am also "getting a hit" thirty percent of the time. Sometimes recovery means failing more times than you succeed, but just like in baseball, not only is that okay, it also means you're doing a great job; maybe even hall-of-fame worthy. 

 
Even though baseball might not be my favorite sport anymore, thanks to my dad, it will always be a part of my life. It may have taken me 25 years and a recovery journey to notice all of the life lessons my dad has taught me through baseball over the years, but better late than never.

 I never thought I would see the day when I would relate my recovery to baseball, but here we are. Thanks, dad. Happy 50th Birthday!

Progress.

Monday, May 13, 2013

One Year Ago Today...

One year ago today my life began. 

At the time, however, I didn't exactly see it as a new beginning. One year ago today my parents drove me to an intensive inpatient eating disorder treatment facility in Grand Rapids, which is where I spent the following four weeks (before my 6 month stay at another facility in Toledo). 

That first day is somewhat of a blur in my memory. As I hugged and kissed my parents goodbye the reality of my situation finally hit me. Yes, I knew I was sick, but I did not think I was that bad. Through the admission process I quickly learned that the number of personal items I was allowed to keep with me would be severely limited. During those four weeks I went without internet, a cell phone, bobby pins, make up, coffee, my sock monkeys, and any form of privacy. The only form of contact we had with the outside world was a 10 minute phone call each day in the common area. Our time outside was also limited and we were not allowed outside of a caged-in area.

Because this was an intensive facility that also dealt with other mental health patients, we were placed on twenty-four hour watch. Every fifteen minutes someone with a clip board was spotted walking around checking us off on their list if all appeared to be going well - even while we slept. If we wanted to shave, we had to have one of the workers stand outside the shower and watch us to be sure we did not self harm with the razor. Worst of all, we were not allowed to use the rest room until two hours after we finished a meal and even then we had to have someone flush for us to make sure we weren't purging.


Talk about humiliation. It felt like I as in a madhouse. I was stripped of everything that made me feel like myself. I felt like an animal. I was completely exposed without an escape. Never in my life have I been so afraid.


My first meal was an open-faced turkey sandwich with lettuce, a slice of tomato, and no condiments. On the side there was a pile of mushy, greenish-brown green beans that smelled awful. New patients start out with a small amount of food and gradually work their way up to higher calorie meals. It may not seem like much food to an outsider, but between the chaos of that first day, being stripped of my identity, strange people constantly staring at me, and then being forced to eat, I completely lost it. As I took my first bite with tear soaked cheeks and trembling hands, I knew this was just the beginning of many difficult meals to come.

Thankfully my second meal of the day was consumed with the rest of the eating disorder patients. Even though it was still beyond overwhelming to eat for a second time that day, being surrounded by others in the same horrific situation eased my pain a little bit.

Without the other patients I would not have survived those four weeks. One of the first girls I met coincidentally lives in the next town over and we have remained really good friends ever since. She was admitted just a few days before me, so she is also currently experiencing her one year anniversary. I know the one year anniversary might just seem like another day, but it's actually a pretty overwhelming time. All day long today and for the next four weeks, I will be reminded of the traumatic things that took place one year ago. 

Kenzie and me happily celebrating our big anniversary :)
Yesterday my friend, Kenzie, and I had a lunch date to celebrate our big one year anniversary. As we talked over foods that we would have never dreamed of eating a year ago, I realized something for the first time - without going through those terrifying first four weeks, I would have never been given the opportunity to begin my life again. Sometimes those moments of weakness are actually the beginning of something magical.

Today and the next few weeks will be filled with a wide range of emotions, but I am lucky to have my dear friend Kenzie to share this time with. We are both living proof that one year can change everything and that life really can begin again.

Progress.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

This One is for You, Mom

For some reason I am having a really hard time coming up with the right words to share in this Mother's Day post. I feel my brain putting pressure on me to come up with perfect words to describe this wonderful woman. She deserves it. After all of the pain and suffering my eating disorder has put her through, I feel the need to repay her to make up for the years of hurt.

A few days ago my mom and I took a road trip down state to watch my brother play baseball. On the way down we somehow began a conversation about the different foods she used to serve my brother and I as kids. We couldn't help but laugh when we thought of the fish sticks, sloppy joes, and Kraft macaroni and cheese that were once staples in our house. Another favorite was a Mexican burrito type dish that she creatively named "dog do-do" so my brother and I would eat it. Somehow my mom found a way to make dog poop appealing because it was always our number one request as kids.

As we reminisced on those carefree eating days, I couldn't help but think of how much times have changed since then. Somewhere along the way I began learning about healthy vs. unhealthy foods and the number of acceptable dinners became limited. Food became the source of arguments and far too many hurt feelings.

Although my mom is petite, she has always had a very healthy appetite. If she wants to eat blue moon ice cream every single night of the week then she will. Before I knew it, not only was I taller than my mom, but (in my mind) also heavier than her and it didn't seem fair to me. In my mind, girls were not supposed to be heavier than their mom. She could eat whatever she wanted and then some, but still remain this teeny, tiny little thing.

Now that I am in a much healthier state of mind, however, I realize that my mom and I have different body types. Recovery has taught me that what is considered a healthy weight for one person might be completely different for someone else. Also, I might wear the same or a bigger dress size than my mom, but that does not define me as a person. For such a long time I believed that I would be more lovable if I had my weight under control, but recovery and my mom have proved me wrong once again.

No matter how sick I became my mom always stood by my side. No questions asked. When I had a nervous break down in Traverse City, I called my mom and she was at my door step no more than two hours later. When I have good news, she is always the first person I call. When I had my heart broken, she soothed me over the phone. Heck, even when I'm bored I often find myself dialing her number.

For quite sometime now I have felt so much guilt for putting this wonderful woman through so much undeserved pain and suffering thanks to my eating disorder. She raised me to the very best of her ability and that's how I repay her?! Heartbreaking.

Even though my mom and I are complete opposites, I still look up to her more than anyone else. Without question she has always given me never ending support and unconditional love. She has always been perfectly content with her life and doesn't seem to constantly long for what she doesn't have. There is no doubt in my mind that my mom is and always will be my biggest fan. I can only hope to be half of the woman she is someday.

Through all of my recent struggles, my mom has been my biggest support. I really don't know what I would do or where I would be without her. When I started writing this, I was worried that I would not be able to find the perfect words, but if there is one thing my mom has taught me, it is that I do not need to be perfect in order to be loved. I need to let that sink in for a moment.

Mom, I will be forever grateful for all that you have done for me, even if you did feed us "dog do-do" as kids. Larsen and I have not exactly made your life easy over the past few years, but you still love us unconditionally. It takes a very special person to have the patience for that. Last Mother's Day was the day before I entered treatment and I felt guilty that my troubles were shadowing your big day. This year, however, I am excited to give you a stress-free day filled with health and happiness.

Happy Mother's Day!

Progress.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

"Failed Anorexic"


Like I mentioned in my previous post, I have developed some strong relationships with others recovering from an eating disorder via email thanks to this blog. This morning I woke up to a message that was so incredibly spot on that I knew it needed to be shared. This person felt like they were writing me an egotistical and horrible message, but I thought it was the exact opposite. It felt as though my own experiences were somehow imported into her brain and put into writing...

"I have been having a hard time with eating and the disordered thoughts about food. In my last couple of messages I started to write about it but then I didn’t because I felt I shouldn’t talk about it. I know that is just a remnant of eating disordered thoughts, but the urge to keep all my disordered behaviour secret is often overwhelming. I still hide food all the time (both food I don’t eat and food to binge on). I think about food all the time. I am haunted by the food I do and do not eat.

I worked so hard to lose weight and now it just feels like I’m wasted all my efforts. In a weird sort of way restriction/purging/ weight loss is a real confidence booster. When the numbers on the scale were lower, I knew for sure I made progress. Now I feel like I’m undoing all my hard work, so it is hard to feel happy about that."

Eating disorders are one of the most secretive and manipulative mental health illnesses in existence. During my eating disorder I also hid excessive amounts of food. There were a few occasions when my mom did find my stash and the amount of humiliation I felt was unbearable. There was also a period during my eating disorder where I gained a little bit of weight (picture below) and people thought that because I was physically healthier, it must mean my eating disorder was under control. Wrong. 

My "failed anorexic" period
"I really feel like people generally are really disgusted by bulimia. And I get it. It disgusts me too. Not many people know the extent of my eating disorder. All my life I have hid my mental illnesses behind all of my pre-occurring physical illnesses…It seems many people think of bulimics as lazy, stupid and “failed anorexics”. The last one always seemed the worse. Because I felt exactly like a “failed anorexic” (though I do hate that term). I felt like I couldn’t even diet right. So with all those negative impressions of bulimia why would I tell anyone? I always consoled myself my saying yes you may be a bulimic but at least you’re an underweight bulimic. What when I’m not underweight anymore?"

 This "failed anorexic" term brought tears to my eyes. I cannot tell you how many times I felt like my inability to constantly restrict made me feel like a failure. The picture of me on the right was taken during my "failed anorexic" period.  My binging and purging was out of control and I began really hating myself because I was not even good enough for my eating disorder. On the outside everything appeared to be fine, but on the inside I was sinking further into my disorder.

The truth is, however, after a period of starvation it is NORMAL to binge. The body becomes so starved that it resorts to binging to compensate. As weight gain begins, those of us with eating disorders do start to wonder if anything in life is worth it.

Hopefully this last quote will shed some light on why it is so hard for some people to recover from an eating disorder...
"I love being sick because it protects me from expectation. It makes me special. And I felt I needed to be thin because it would help me fulfill my potential for greatness (though that sounds nuts)… I feel like healthy me will just be ordinary and that is horrible… Recovery means I have to take responsibility for my behaviour, school results et cetera, good or bad, and that is terrifying."

Taking responsibility for all of my horrendous previous behaviors has been an ongoing battle since day one of my recovery journey. All of the expectations - whether it be school, work, or relationships - in life needed to be faced. All of the things I never felt good enough to do were suddenly brought to the surface. Terrifying is just the beginning of the emotions associated with recovery.

In all of the recovery related books I have read, I have yet to come across something this powerful. My friend's words are raw and perfectly express how many people feel about recovery. I wish I could write like her! :)

It's crazy for me to look back and realize that even during my sickest days, I still thought I was "failing" at my eating disorder. This is just more proof that no matter what my weight is, I will not be happy with myself unless I learn to appreciate all of the beauty still surrounding me in life.

Progress.