Category Archives: Identity
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 was messing around on Youtube today and ended up watching videos of Rich Mullins. Rich Mullins was a christian singer in the 90s who is famous for writing the song “Awesome God” and writing many other poetic songs. As a child and young teenager I often listened to his music to calm myself and find comfort. Anyways, I was watching videos of him today which I enjoy doing because he often ends up saying some pretty profound things before he sings and this one really hit home for me.
Sometimes even if you aren’t going to sin, it’s nice to be tempted.
This simple sentence describes why I torture myself by still immersing myself in the eating disorder world. I still check tumblrs of girls active in their eating disorder, read eating disorder books and just generally keep all of my ties to that world. It had previously made no sense why I had done so. I want to be done with my eating disorder. I am in recovery. I’m moving forward. I have better things to do that sit and wallow in that former life. But yet, even if I’m not going to relapse it is nice to be tempted too.
And why is that? Well, a part of me still finds that world familiar and comforting. I go there when I am afraid or think I need structure in life. If I still feel tempted to engage in symptoms it reassures me that I haven’t lost the power to return completely to the disorder. I may choose not to engage but it is somewhat reassuring that the urges are still there. That I’m not recovered because that terrifies me.
But is it right that I like to do that? Is it healthy? No. And it is something I need to work to give up to get to that place where I am fully and firmly planted in recovery. But Rich Mulllin’s simple sentence made sense to me and it was nice to put some words to those feelings I have when I visit those dark corners of the internet or fiction shelves. It’s very human and very normal to struggle to give up those last remnants of addictions or disorders and this was also a nice reminder to me. So I have identified another area of recovery in which to work. I have put some words to my feelings now which for me is always a start. The next step is working through them.
There is a movement going around mainly on twitter with the hashtag #whyistayed. This is referring to women who stayed in abusive relationships. The movement started after Ray Rice, a NFL football player was caught on tape beating his wife. The media began criticizing and shaming the woman for not leaving him. And so they hashtag #whyistayed was born and thousands of women joined in by sharing the reasons why they stayed in an abusive relationship. And so here is Why I Stayed…
#whyistayed: because he threatened to commit suicide if I left him.
#whyistayed: because he told me and I believed him that no one else would ever love me like he did.
#whyistayed: because I felt like the only way to atone for my “sins” (they were his but he made them mine) was to marry him one day.
#whyistayed: because I was alone on a college campus where I knew no one and had no support for the first part of our relationship and then it was too late.
#whyistayed: because I had been taught my by male peers in high school that this was what I was to expect out of men.
#whyistayed: because I didn’t know if I could handle how I would feel leaving him.
#whyistayed: because my world was about his world. I had no true identity.
#whyistayed: I was scared.
And this is why I left…
#whyileft: I had wonderful roommates who encouraged me to do so.
#whyileft: He took things one step too far and I was finally able to see something wasn’t right.
#whyileft: I found some courage I didn’t know I had.
#whyileft: I was exhausted.
#whyileft: I didn’t want his version of the future anymore
#whyileft: I finally was able to see past the deception, the lies and tight control he had threaded around me for just long enough to make the decision to break up with him and then have friends hold me accountable.
People tell me I’m a smart person. Yet, I fell prey to an abuser. One who charmed most people he met and had no idea what went on in our relationship. And couldn’t believe it even when they heard bits and pieces of it. And I couldn’t leave. It’s not so simple as breaking up with a person or packing your bags and moving out. There is so much more to an abusive relationship than that. Remember it is a relationship. A malfunctioning one but one. And there are good moments as well as bad. And sometimes it’s easy to tell yourself the good outweighs the bad. It also takes time and sometimes outside support to find the courage to leave.
So don’t judge. Unless you have been in a toxic relationship you cannot understand. You can try, you can listen, you can emphasize but do not judge those women and men who did not leave after the first blow was thrown or the first signs of abuse. It is not that simple.
I recently read this blog from momastery.com. I haven’t talked much in detail about my brief college years on here and I will one day but for now I wanted to share this blog because in many, many ways it sums up what I felt during that time and what I feel now looking back. There are some distinct differences (I had a net – a net that ultimately saved me) but also many frightening similarities. So please take a look at:
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.
I’ve gotten some questions/suggestions lately that perhaps I should pursue therapy. I’m not offended in the slightest. I think most of the comments came from a fairly good place and therapy ceased to embarrass me a long time ago. Because the truth is that I do see a therapist. Twice a week right now but this is actually the least amount of treatment I’ve had in four years.
In January 2009, after ending an abusive relationship I began seeing a therapist (a really crappy one but that’s another story). I was humiliated and embarrassed that my anxiety had become such that I couldn’t function in everyday life and that I had to seek professional help. The whole idea that I was seeing a “shrink” embarrassed me beyond belief to the point I went at great lengths to hide the fact from my college classmates that I was driving an hour once a week to seek help. I truly believed that it was “just anxiety” that was causing my obvious decline in my mental health but instead of getting better from treatment I felt downhill. Fast.
In September of 2009 I entered treatment for anorexia at Laureate’s eating disorder program. I stayed for ten months going through inpatient, residential, transitional living and back to inpatient for another short stint. I left OK (where Laureate is located). This was in July 2010. By September 2010 I was hospitalized again this time at The Center for Change in Orem Utah. This treatment stay was focused on my eating disorder and my PTSD. I left in February 2011 (after five and a half months) in a much better place, stable mentally for the first time in many years and armed with coping skills.
The next two years were rough. I was in and out of the psychiatric hospital. For a stretch of time I was in every month. In December of 2011 I went to Washington DC to The Psychiatric Institute of Washington’s Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I learned a lot here but it also opened a lot of wounds and closed memories and so my cycle in and out of the hospital continued until July of 2012. This is when my service dog Ben entered my life.
Since Ben arrived I have been stable. I have not had to be hospitalized for my eating disorder, self-harm, depression, anxiety or PTSD. I receive the least treatment I have in four years, simply seeing my wonderful therapist twice a week.
I tell you all of this because like I mentioned at one time I was so filled with shame that I was in therapy. I saw it as a weakness, an embarrassment, a sign of failure and something that made me somehow “less than” everyone else in my life. I went so far as to tell professors when leaving college to go to treatment that it was due to heart problems (not a lie at that point my heart was severely compromised due to my eating disorder) instead of due to my anorexia (however they probably guessed anyways).
Therapy is so stigmatized. Especially by young people. I believe that this is due to a number of factors but a primarily one being the lack of information regarding mental health. This not only harms those who struggle with diagnosed mental illnesses but also those who need help but refuse to seek it out of shame. The media does not help. Crimes (such as the recent Naval Yard shooting) are blamed on mental illness. Yes, this may be the cause however the media fails to mention that the majority of people who suffer from mental illness are in no ways violent or dangerous. How can someone feel unashamed of their mental struggles when they unintentionally compare themselves to a deranged man who killed many people?
The reality is that seeking help is a sign of strength. I never would have believed this four years ago but working through treatment and recovery has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Much harder than making straight A’s in high-school, much harder than transitioning to college and much much harder than staying stuck in my illnesses.
So yes, I see a therapist and no I am not ashamed. Not anymore and I can say this:
I am Kate. I have PTSD, depression, anxiety and an eating disorder. I see a therapist. I have been hospitalized for my mental illness. I have a psychiatric service dog who without I would not be able to function. But I am no less a person because of these things.
Dear Unnamed Abuser,
I know you read my blog. I also know you read my tumblr so you are now reading this. Someday I will speak out about what you did to me. This is not a threat. It is a promise to myself and to all the other survivors of sexual abuse, assault and rape. I won’t mention you by name for many reasons one of which is that your name itself deserves no time on my lips.
I know you have not forgotten me. I don’t know if I haunt your nightmares or your dreams or am just a fleeting thought but your presence on my blog and tumblr proves that you have not let me go. Good.
Think of me when you read about women raped, beaten and abused.
Think of me when you see women and men give impassioned speeches about how the young men in this country must change, must own up to their actions and above all must never hurt a woman.
Think of me when you visit my tumblr and see the quotes I post there about letting go of my past and know that it is you I am freeing myself from and I have never felt more empowered than I am right now as I go through this process.
Think of me as you go to church and present a sparkling clean image to everyone around you. Know that unless you tell the truth that image will forever be tarnished by acts you can never undo and only ask for forgiveness for.
Think of me when you return to where we spent the majority of our time. Look around and remember how that time is darkened by the acts you committed. Know that for you that place will never be the pure mecca you thought you created.
Think of me if you have a daughter. Look at her and wonder how you could have committed those acts against a woman. Look at that tiny beautiful face and pledge never to hurt another woman (or person) so long as you live.
Think of me when you read of women who have moved mountains, and who have beaten unspeakable odds.
Think of me when you read of women of strength, of power, of influence.
Think of me when you hear the word survivor and especially when you hear the word warrior.