Category Archives: body image
I celebrated my five year anniversary in recovery last week. Five years home from The Center for Change. I left that day thinking I could never maintain recovery and now five years later, I wouldn’t say I’m recovered but I would say I’m definantly in solid recovery. CFC has a tradition of having clients write a letter of hope when they leave to read to the current clients. I thought I would share a new letter of hope for anyone that needs it now five years later.
I am writing this letter now after five years in recovery. It doesn’t make me an expert by any means on what it means to be in recovery nor does it mean I can offer advice that you absolutely must follow to get well but I can tell you what has worked for me. As I learned five years ago listening to other women talk about their lives I learned that as much as we like to believe we are unique individuals there are certain things that we all have in common. And I hope what I share hits on those commonalities.
Hope. You must live and breathe hope. If you become hopeless you have given up and you will relapse. You must believe that you can recover. You must believe that you will beat the odds and be one of the ones who lives in full recovery. When you are lying in bed awake in the middle of the night and the hopeless feelings creep in, get out of bed and pull out whatever it is that makes you feel hopeful. Maybe it’s a picture album, maybe it’s a book of quotes, perhaps it’s your goodbye book, maybe it’s the Bible or maybe it’s watching your children sleep or holding your dog. Whatever it is allow it to remind you that there is hope in this world – your job is to hold onto it.
Know that recovery is a choice. You did not choose to get sick but you absolutely 100% can choose to get better. What this looks like may look different depending on where you are in recovery. Choosing wellness in the beginning of recovery simply means showing up to meals and eating what is placed in front of you. In five years the choices may be choosing to continue to eat intuitively when you’ve gained 10 pounds on a medication or making the decision that it’s time to tell the secrets you’ve kept hidden for almost ten years. The bottom line is, is that you must choose recovery each and every day.
Sometimes it is tempting to sub out the eating disorder for another self destructive behavior. You must learn that all things that harm you must go. The suicide attempts must go and so must the cutting. Holding onto remnants of self-destructive behaviors does not mean you are in recovery even if your eating is perfect. You cannot be in recovery until you give up everything that you do to harm yourself. Recovery requires that you to take care of your body.
I firmly believe that recovery does not require you to love your body. It requires you to care for it and to tolerate it but you do not have to LOVE all parts of it. If you are waiting to recover until you love your body or even like it you may wait forever. They say body image is the last piece of the puzzle to fall into place and for me I’m not sure I’ll ever even like what I look like. But I can take care of myself anyways. I can even dress as I want and take time to style my hair. Accepting your body must be the goal. It’s a bonus if you end up liking it or even loving it.
Recovery is a long and winding road. No two people’s journey’s are the same. If you are still struggling don’t despair. There is hope. There is always hope. And if you are in the tedious stages of beginning recovery. It gets better. It gets easier. And if you are like me – feeling lost in sort of a middle ground, stick it out. I have to believe that I’ll feel like I have more solid footing eventually. But overall, I must remember and so must everyone reading this that recovery is worth it. It’s always worth it.
I’ve been struggling with my eating disorder. I’m ashamed to say that but it’s time to be honest. Not to be taken care of, not to be attention seeking but because lying and hiding does me no good. Also, it’s past time to get on track and in my case transparency has been the best motivator for that.
I’ve been in recovery from my eating disorder for almost three full years. I’ve been extremely proud of that. Extremely. In fact, out of everything I’ve done in my life I can say that this was the one thing I have been proudest of because it is the thing I have had to work the hardest for. And now? Well I can see it slowly slipping through my fingers. It’s a scary feeling for me and I know it’s a scary feeling for those around me.
What happened? I don’t exactly know. I suppose it’s been a combination of factors. Med adjustments, depression which caused loss of appetite, stressors, a lingering dissatisfaction with my body which never really went away, change and the biggest one of all – a significant trauma anniversary (which at one point I plan to write about). All of that collided and I let down my guard and the disorder slipped in.
I owe some apologies. At this point in my recovery I can’t slide back into my disorder without some awareness of my actions. There was some familiarity in the behaviors and feelings. They brought relief I was seeking but even that is no excuse. I owe apologies to my friends who fight everyday for stepping away from the battle and for leaving you to fight alone. It invalidates your struggle and for that I am sorry. And it goes without saying that I owe many apologies to those who love me.
So where do I go from here? Well, I try. I try to get back on track. I pray that I haven’t gone too far down the rabbit hole and that I can still yet pull myself out. I try with every fiber of my being even with my brain screams that this is wrong. I fight the biology of the disorder with everything I have and everything I have learned. And believe that I can regain the reground I have lost and come the end of February I can celebrate my third year in recovery.
It’s been a little hard lately. I discovered that I’d gained quite a bit of weight. I say discovered although I knew this was happening but I’d deliberately avoided stepping on the scale and bringing it up in therapy to have it confirmed. At first I thought it was my very warped view of myself but then my pants started to not fit and picture after picture seemed to be more unpleasant looking than it used to and well I knew it was bad. I languished in my misery but also the knowledge that knowing my weight wouldn’t help nor would restricting or using other behaviors until I couldn’t take it anymore and asked my therapist to weigh me. She confirmed my weight (which ironically was to the pound the number I anticipated and one I was NOT happy about) but knowing your weight and then knowing it are two very different things.
Where the hell had this weight come from? I was pissed, panicked, terrified, furious, ashamed, embarrassed and a thousand other emotions all at once. I had been doing what I had been SUPPOSED to do. I was following the rules. I was eating when I was hungry, stopping when I was full, eating what I wanted when I wanted in moderate quanities. No restricting. No overeating. Simple intuitive eating. And I still gained weight. WTF was going? This was not what they had told me was going to happen. When I left treatment the team had led me to believe that as long as I did all those things my weight would still in this nice little weight range. And I had learned to accept that weight range. Even like my body there. And now? Well, I had gained xxxxxx pounds. How could I ever trust any of my treatment professionals again? Again, why the hell had this happened?
Well as my therapist and I discussed (okay that’s probably too nice of a word) a lot of it probably came from a medication I have been on for quite awhile and the increases to my weight were probably related directly to increases in that medication (it increased my body’s tendency to retain water and also my hunger cues). Also, some of that weight gain was probably normal. I’m 25. I first developed an eating disorder most likely in my early teens, gained a ‘healthy’ weight for the first time at 21′, promptly lost that weight at 22, and then regained it at 23. So my body really did need some time to figure out where it’s new normal was.
But that didn’t really reassure me (besides tell me that I was getting off my medication pronto – I didn’t care what anyone thought) in fact it just made me madder. Why hadn’t anyone told me these things? Why hadn’t someone thought to mention to me that this five pound weight range might not stay there? Why hadn’t they told me I could gain? Why hadn’t they told me my pants size might not be a perfect size ____? No one had that I could remember. All I was told was that eat intuitively and your weight will take care of yourself. Well, yeah it had and it had f’ed me over. And in the process in my mind so had the treatment professionals.
So where to go from there? Well the place not to go is straight back into behaviors. That doesn’t really help with metabolism and loosing weight. Not really. In the short run – maybe but in the long term it really just teaches my body to hold onto fat and food while it can. It’s hard to believe that and yeah I struggled a bit with restricting my food intake at first but I’m back on track now. I’m off of the weight gain medication. I just couldn’t continue taking it. Maybe not the best or most rational choice but for me right now I just couldn’t do it. And I’ve seen the effects. My thinking is “looser” as my therapist likes to say, I’m having trouble sleeping and my anxiety is higher but I’m not retaining the water and I feel better physically. That’s nice. I’ve added more exercise into my routine. Both to make myself feel better and I suppose somewhat disorderedly as well. Not the amount – but the rigidity is probably a little too much. My hunger cues are a little different I think. I don’t know. I struggle with that right now because I’m struggling to “do the right thing”.
But mostly, I’m struggling with my anger towards my team. How I feel like they’ve betrayed me by “letting” me get fat, by not telling me that my weight will change and by making me believe that if I only followed intuitive eating I would stay at the same weight. Maybe they messed up, maybe I didn’t hear. I don’t know but whatever happened I didn’t understand the fact that weight is not static and I thought for some bizarre reason that my not using behaviors I would be “rewarded” by having my weight stay the same. But recovery is not so linear and weight is not predictable. My challenge now is working through this period of time without resorting to behaviors and managing my anger at my treatment team. I’m doing okay but it’s a struggle but I’ll get there. How can I not? I have this girl taking care of me.
PS I still advocate intuitive eating, listening to your treatment team and following their advice. This is just a “bump”. A natural bump that in my phase of recovery it’s natural that I could experience.
I’m turning 25 next Monday (the 28th). I’ve always loved my birthday. I love gifts. I love ripping open presents and finding out what’s inside. I don’t really care if it’s something from the dollar bin at target or something expensive from my Amazon wishlist I just love the feeling of tearing back the paper and seeing something I know I’ll cherish. I’m a stuff girl. I like my things and you can say that my apartment (soon to be house!) is more than a little cluttered. I keep what people give me.
Having said that – this birthday is not one I’m particularly looking forward to. Twenty-five sounds old to me. A quarter of a decade. An age where it is assumed most people are through college, moving through graduate school, married, looking towards children, working on a career or doing a dozen other “adult’ like things. And me? I’m just not there yet.
Perhaps more unsettling is that I just can’t seem to add up the number of birthdays to 25. There was 16 spent on the field at Thursday band practice where the entire band sang to me, there was 17 at the Neeowallh marching band competition where my cousin tried hard to make it special but let’s be honest that whole school year just totally sucked, 18 was pretty lame also lost among band things but I did buy a lottery ticket, 19 was spent at college with the JACKASS, 20 was spent at college as well on a pretty sad day (but I wore a nice outfit I remember) and oh yeah 21 and 22. Those were the treatment birthdays.
Those are the two years I get hung up on. Where I loose the two years. Honestly, it seems to me like I should be turning 23 instead of 25. It’s not that those two birthday’s weren’t special. They were oh so special. My friends and family ensure that they were. My 21st birthday at Laureate was so unlike any other 21st birthday but was what I needed then. I spent it in a safe environment making flubber with other treatment friends, visiting with family who made a special trip to see me and even included a beautiful “cake” (see picture below – the nurse about had a heart-attack). I was very ill but I was happy. Happier than I had been for the past several birthdays. I had nutrition in my body, I felt safe and I had a future to look forward to. But the fact of the matter was – I was locked away from the world. Literally.
And then 22. That was at The Center for Change. Again, this birthday was special and unique. A memory I’ll probably cherish forever. I started the day on caution (basically isolation) but the girls made signs and hung them everywhere, sang “My Favorite Things” to me and passed me secret message throughout the day. My family left phone messages and I got off isolation late in the day and opened tons of well thought out perfect presents.
So the birthdays? They were great but nothing can erase the fact of the matter that I wasn’t living. I was existing and somedays fighting with the very people who were trying to keep me alive. And more days than not of those two years I either wanted to be dead or were making choices that were getting me one step closer to death. So you see I feel like I lost two years. I had two great birthdays but I really didn’t get to live into 21 and 22. And so when people ask me my age I often forget and do have to pause and think “oh yeah…I’m 24 almost 25”.
I could say that I’ll pretend that this is my 23rd birthday and forget that I’m turning 25 but I don’t think I’ll do that. I think it dishonors my past but more importantly I think it forces me to minimize the deadly consequences of my eating disorder. I’ve been too close to stepping back over that ledge into anorexia lately and I need to remember that the reality is that an eating disorder takes away life. Years of life because it wasn’t only those two years I lost. I really lost all the way from 16 on up. I just was coexisting with an eating disorder and the world instead of being hospitalized.
So I’ll blow out my candles and remember that I’m 25. I’m 25 not 23 because I lost some years to an eating disorder. But I’m also 25 because I survived. Because I found my way OUT of an eating disorder. Otherwise I wouldn’t be celebrating this birthday at all. I wouldn’t be celebrating any birthday. So there is a two edged sword to this birthday – both a celebration of life and a stark reminder of time lost. And I need both.
This post is a guest post written by one of my best friend’s Pam who blogs over at This Tangible Certainty. I highly recommend you check out her blog. She is a fantastic writer who has some great insights into eating disorder recovery and life in general. She’s blogged for me before which you can read here. I first met Pam at The Center for Change. The funny thing was that at the center we really weren’t that close. We existed each in our own separate dissociated world and really didn’t talk much but sometime after we both discharged we became a huge part of each other’s lives. Today we talk almost every day about everything under the sun including the trials and tribulations of recovery from an eating disorder and trauma. The post that follows is a topic we have discussed many times and I am so glad Pam chose to write on it.
Most of my life I identified myself with trying to be the perfect student, the perfect daughter, the perfect athlete. When I entered treatment at 17, that identity was gone. The only thing I had left was this “eating disorder”.
I was humiliated. I had gone from top of my class and a varsity athlete to sitting in a treatment center where I was not even allowed to walk down a flight of stairs. My eating disorder was suddenly the only thing I had left. Treatment felt safe. There were people who took care of everything for me and I really liked that.
It is an easy trap to fall into. My life outside of treatment was chaotic. I was playing volleyball and tennis year-round, I was taking 3 AP classes, involved in clubs at school, and was on the Board of Education. I have a document on my computer entitled “Checklist for Pam” that was sent to me by my parents during my first treatment stay. Here is a screenshot of the first few lines:
Is it a surprise that I didn’t want to return to this? I didn’t know how to stop. So when I found myself in treatment where it was completely okay to sleep and color all day, I was in complete culture shock. And then I realized that I liked it. It was comforting and easy. It was like I was a baby… all I did was color, nap and eat. Someone even watched me go to the bathroom.
When I got out of treatment, I didn’t know how to slow down. Slowing down was not acceptable and I thought if I admitted that I couldn’t handle the same workload, I would let everyone know that I was weak and incompetent. I didn’t have the voice to say “I need to slow down” and so relapsing became my substitute for words. My therapist likes to remind me of her conversations with my case manager and how they could not get me to calm down. I don’t think I even knew how burnt out I was. Either that or I was desperately trying to convince myself and everyone else that I could still do everything (and probably also convince them that I wasn’t sick).
I tell my experience because I want everyone to know that it is easy to fall into the treatment trap but it is really hard to get out of it. Treatment was safe and comfortable. I was in a world where it was okay to talk about feelings and fears. Outside of treatment walls, I had to invincible. I felt that in order for me to get my needs met, I had to be in crisis.
The thing with being in crisis is that the real work does not get done. Instead everything becomes about managing the moment. I have spent so much time managing a crisis versus getting into the deeper issues. Up until recently, I did not have the words to express the extent that I was hurting emotionally. I thought that if I was hurting inside, the only way to “prove” that was to relapse.
I have been stable for quite some time now. I am not yet recovered, but for once I can truly say that I am in recovery. In a recent session with my therapist she told me that I was being “weirdly quiet”. When I reminded her that I refused to talk for the first two years of therapy she responded; “Yes, but that was before you had a voice.” In thinking about that comment, she is completely right. I never knew how to articulate what I needed or how I felt. I would spend my sessions memorizing the order of the “How Are You Feeling Today?” poster leaned up against the wall (it has now been removed from her office… oops).
There are still some things that I have a hard time saying. The difference between now and two years ago is that now, instead of using my eating disorder to express them, I work through the difficult stuff with my therapist and she is working on learning how to read my mind (just kidding).
Part of being in recovery is giving up the eating disorder identity. It is not defining your days by how well you stuck to your meal plan or how long you stayed on the treadmill. It is reaching out, talking, and not using behaviors to express what is going on. It is okay to be hurting emotionally yet not take it out on your body. The real work does not begin until you stop trying to “prove” that you are sick enough to deserve help.
Being in a treatment center will never teach you how to live a normal life and a treatment center will never help you achieve full recovery. Treatment centers are great for learning skills, getting stabilized, and starting to do really hard work, but they are not a substitute for real life. Real recovery is about going out into the world, making mistakes, working through them, and realizing that it is okay have a full range of emotions and experiences without using your eating disorder to express them.
It is definitely not easy. Everyday I have to go about my day as a regular 22 year old but I also have to fight negative thoughts and behaviors. It is like living two lives at the same time and having equally demanding responsibilities in both. There was a time where I could not promise you that fighting was worth it. Now, even on my hardest days, the alternative is not what I want for my future. The alternative does not even give me the option of a future.
I had a tube.
I was in the ICU.
I was on dialysis.
My weight was (insert two digit number).
I’ve been in 12 treatment centers.
I’ve been diagnosed as chronic.
My heart can hardly function.
My liver is failing.
These are all statements I’ve heard from girls gathered in a circle in a corner quietly talking and periodically glancing up to see if the techs/baby sitters are near. No they aren’t stories to share sorrows or to share scary moments of horror. They are war stories. Stories these girls are proud of and they tell proudly each desiring to one-up the other. Each throwing out a lower and lower weight and a more dangerous story filled with medical equipment, EKG’s, ambulance rides, frantic family members and doctors predicting their death. I’ve heard these stories because I’ve been in on the inside of these war stories. I’m ashamed to say it but in fact I’ve tried to win the game.
It’s a sick, sick twisted component of the eating disorder world. Each girl wanting to prove she is/was sicker than the other. After all, we have to prove to ourselves we deserve help. We have to be the most well liked and admired. We have to show our pain somehow and the only way we knew how was to get the sickest we possibly could. And we have to be the best at something and for many that has been their eating disorder never-mind that being the best of all is being dead.
At my first treatment center I quickly learned the art of telling war stories. And that I had one to contribute. But I also learned it marked you. It marked you as non-recovery orientated, an attention seeker and someone who doen’t want to get well. You may have ‘friends’ but these are the girls who will stab you in the back to prove they were sicker. And you waste your time sitting in the corner telling your story. Everyone at that facility is sick. Really it doesn’t matter one bit what your weight was. What matters is that your life was out of control enough to be sitting after a meal waiting for the 45 minutes to be up so you could make your way to bed where you would be checked on every 15 minutes to make sure you weren’t participating in some ‘ilegal behavior’ such as exercise.
My second treatment stay I went in with the promise no war stories. No telling of how sick I had been in the past. No hints as to my lowest weight or my horror of hospital stays. I was going to be silent on all of that. Take me as I am. I was not going to participate in the sick retelling of ‘whose the sickest one here’. And it aided my recovery in ways that I can’t put into words. I made friends because I wasn’t focused on proving my sick status. I left attention seeking behind and was able to learn that being sick isn’t the way to get the attention and help each person is entitled to.
And now that I’m out of treatment? Now that my body is recovered and I look “normal”. Do I feel a need to tell those war stories? Sometimes yes. Sometimes I get an urge to prove I was one of those sickest girls. But do I? No. Where would it get me? I say I was sick. Does it matter how sick? No. All it matters is that I’m on a path to recovery. I have my ‘sick’ pictures. My pictures that show my bones, my pale face and lifeless eyes. They are in a folder on my computer and someday I’ll be brave enough to delate them but I can tell you now that I will never show them to you. Others make the decision to parade their sick pictures around. Some do so out of a genuine desire to remember where they were and to never return. Other girls? Well, I find it hard to believe that they aren’t simply continuing the war stories of treatment.
But I’ve made my decision. I don’t need to share photos to prove to you I was sick. You can take my word for it and really it’s not that important to this blog anyways. What is important is that I’m in recovery.
The Shadows of the Sea
Do you know what’s it like to be battered by waves so harsh you cannot feel yourself on the floor?
That your feet fly up before you? Leaving your body behind.
To navigate the uncharted waters of a dangerous sea.
Waters that have killed those before and seek to drown you.
And then to sink?….the demons of the sea pulling you into their depths to join their underwater hell.
A hell that does not burn with fire but with shadow.
Shadows that move with faces of the past, flashes of the night and silent fingers that stroke the forbidden places of memory.
A hell that has no end but instead endlessly plays in flashes and nightmares that never ends.
So do you know what it’s like to be battered by waves so harsh you cannot feel yourself on the floor?
And do you know what it is have your feet fly up before you? Leaving your body behind?
Because if you do – then you are like me and you have lived with the shadows of the sea.