What do you value? Does your eating disorder or body image struggle align with or contradict your values?
Tips to survive the holidays. December 11, 2014
Sorry, folks. It’s been a while.
Last month, I celebrated what I consider to be my first year in solid recovery. Having been in and out of treatment for years, my recovery journey has been in the making for quite some time, but this past year is the first year I can say I was in solid, sustained recovery. I’m so proud that within the past year I was able to restore weight to where my doctors suggested and that I have since maintained that weight consistently. Has the past year been perfect? Nope. Far from it. However, when I look back at my life this time last year, I cannot believe how far I have come. BEST.FEELING.EVER.
That said, we’ve entered a time of the year that has always proven to be problematic for me: fall/winter. I don’t know what it is exactly about this time of the year, but my battle with the ED voice is always a bit more fervent when this season rolls around. I have ideas about what causes the rekindling of the hellish, ED fire in my brain. Perhaps it’s food-centered festivities and the focus our society has on combatting the holiday weight gain. Perchance it’s the New Year’s resolutions promising a new year filled with exercise and weight loss. Perhaps it’s the freezing temperatures and the normal tendency to gravitate toward warm, comforting foods, many of which used to be off limits in my former ED-obsessed life. Maybe being able to wear fluffy sweaters, long scarves, heavy jackets and lots of layers reminds me of how easy it’d be to hide weight loss… at least for a while. Despite the reason, or combination thereof, I know I have to be more self-aware at this time of the year, and I have to be careful to make conscious decisions that reinforce my recovery. Since the holiday season is often tough for many people battling eating disorders (past or present), I figured I’d share a short, simple list of random things I do to keep my ED out of my holiday season.
- Think of your inner child. I have a picture of myself as a young child that I keep with me in my wallet at all times. In the photo I’m probably about 5 years old, and I’m with my grandmother (the most important woman in my life, hands down). Each summer her hometown (Eatonton, GA) hosts a festival to celebrate the town native Joel Chandler Harris, a writer known for the Uncle Remus stories, a compilation of African-American folktales that he published in 1881. In any case, I am wearing that year’s festival t-shirt and enjoying a red snow cone. My artificially red lips are forming the biggest smile possible for a small child’s face, and l can clearly see how much joy I felt that day. I wasn’t thinking about calories. I wasn’t bothered about how loose or tight the waist band felt on my Umbro shorts (gotta love the early 90’s). I wasn’t worried about the photo being flattering or not. I was happy. Carefree. When I look at that little girl, I see her innocence. I see her value and worth. I see her potential. When I’m tempted to act out in my disorder, I pull out that picture and remind myself that by engaging in my ED behaviors, I’m hurting that little girl. To this day, this trick has always helped me stay on track.
- When you’re having overwhelming ED thoughts, keep your mind busy with something totally unrelated. My current activities of choice have been crocheting, playing Bananagrams, and cleaning. Crocheting has a lovely way of calming my mind. I find that when I crochet, I’m almost meditating in a sense. I’m calm. I’m not thinking about anything in particular. And as an added bonus (especially in the winter), I have lots of warm, fluffy scarves to show for it! It’s pretty easy to learn, so don’t be intimidated to try if you’ve never done it before. More than likely you know several people who crochet or knit and who would be happy to teach you. Otherwise, there are some great YouTube instructional videos. Bananagrams is another go-to activity of mine. Ideally there’d be someone else around so that you could actually play a real round, but I’ve certainly pulled out the tiles on my own and tried to use them all myself on a huge, mega grid of words. It’s actually kind of nice to play alone; there is no time crunch and no competition (which is awesome for the perfectionist I have within!). I don’t know about you, but I can’t focus on ED thoughts and create a puzzle of words. I’m sure other games or perhaps a jigsaw puzzle could have the same effect. Work with what you have! Finally, and perhaps least glamorously, there is always cleaning to be done. Put on some music, wear comfy clothes and clean away! After a few minutes, you’ll be thinking about the task at hand and not the silly ED thoughts. And your home will look great, thus alleviating the stress caused by clutter. Win-win.
- Spend time with an animal! I cannot begin to tell you how much my dog Sheldon has helped me through this past year. He’s such a goofball and can always manage to put a smile on my face. Even when I’m crying or having a freak out moment, he just gently comes to me and curls up on the sofa next to my lap. It’s like he’s saying, “Go ahead and let it all out. I’m here for you when you need me or when you want to cuddle/play/give me a treat.” I love him! If you don’t have a pet, visit your local animal shelter. There are always cats and dogs (and at times other animals) at the shelters who would adore some TLC. No need to adopt an animal if it’s not good timing to you (pet are a huge responsibility); you can certainly just stop by to show love to the animals. Also, shelters are often looking for volunteers to help play with, feed and clean up after the animals. Maybe you can think about scheduling puppy/cat-love time into your life! Plus, it has been shown in clinical studies that when humans pet animals, both the person and the animal release oxytocin, a hormone that evokes feelings of contentment, reductions in anxiety, and feelings of calmness and security. Who wouldn’t want that?! Sounds pretty awesome to me.
- Last but not least, when you’re in a good mood write a letter to your eating disorder and list all the negatives you have experienced. Think of all the social activities you either missed entirely or that were at least extremely uncomfortable because your mind was consumed by your disorder. Maybe you’ve been dishonest to people who are genuinely important to you in an effort to hide your disorder. Have you wasted money on food that was either not eaten or that was purged? In what ways has your physical and/or mental health suffered? How much money have you had to spend with doctors/therapists/dietitians/etc. because of your disorder? What activities did you once enjoy that are no longer in your life because of your ED? How has your personality changed since the onset of your disorder? Spend a while jotting down ideas. This letter isn’t necessarily something you’re going to finish in one sitting. And even after you do “finish” it, you can always add to it. When you’re struggling with a particular behavior or thought, read the letter to yourself. I find it particularly helpful to read it out loud to myself in front of a mirror. Better yet, pull out the picture of your younger self and look at it while you read the letter.
Hopefully some of these tips will help you get through the holiday season a best more peacefully. This list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope that it can at least get you started on the right track. If you have another trick that seems to work for you, please feel free to share! As always, I’m here for you. Let me know if I can be of any help or support you in any way.
Releasing Negative Energy March 13, 2014
It’s pretty much inevitable that at some point in everyone’s life, there is going to be interpersonal conflict. Whether it’s simply because of personality differences or someone just being a jerk, the tension gets tucked away and stored in our bodies until we finally release it.
A few days ago, I had a not-so-pleasant situation arise, and I didn’t let it go as quickly as I would have liked now that I’m looking back on it. You all know what they say about hindsight…. (Lame.). Anyway, in this situation I can honestly say that personality differences had little, if anything, to do with it. I was dealing with a professional jerk. A professional, passive aggressive jerk (hereafter referred to as Jerk Face). Not fun.
Well, instead of reminding myself that I am in no way responsible for other people’s irritability, I responded in internal anger. And lots of it. Now, I’m pretty much stereotypical when it comes to people dealing with eating disorders in the sense that I absolutely, 100% abhor conflict. I actually try to avoid it at all costs, usually only hurting myself in the process. So all of this anger that was building up inside of my body as negative energy was not being released and, instead, was manifesting itself in the old, familiar ED urges and thoughts. All I had to do was to accept the situation as it was and MOVE ON. But I couldn’t! I felt that it was Jerk Face vs. Marie, 1 – 0. And I wanted to even the score.
Long story short, I didn’t even the score. I didn’t act upon my ED thoughts. I didn’t scream and shout and cause a big show with Jerk Face. I simply began to move on. What has been said can’t be taken back, not even with a hypothetical apology from Jerk Face (<–not gonna happen), so why even bother? Why waste more of my personal time by over-analyzing and fretting over something that should be done and over with? After all, I am fairly confident that Jerk Face hasn’t given her malicious deed a second thought.
What I’m trying to say goes far beyond simply dealing with a cranky person. I’m trying to remind myself (and to share with you all) is that our bodies are freaking ingenious. Our daily interactions, our thoughts, our emotions…everything gets stored in our bodies as energy…either negative or positive, whether we realize it or not. When something isn’t serving you, i.e. being stored as negative energy, LET GO OF IT! It will only continue to build more and more until it is released… like a bottle of pop that you just keep shaking and shaking and shaking. Unscrew the top and let it out or wait until it explodes. On the other hand, HOLD ON to the things that are stored as positive energy in your body. And listen to your body to know the difference. 🙂 The difference becomes quite obvious when you pause long enough to notice. In the long run, you’re either helping or hurting yourself…no one else.
If something in your past is keeping you down, don’t let it in your present. That way, it won’t stand a chance in your future.
I’m breaking free. February 8, 2014
I’ve always actively avoided art therapy because I’ve long been too shy to show my lack of artistic talent. That said, I have recently found that arts and crafts do help me calm my mind and uncover my motivation when it seems to be M.I.A., so why would I deny myself that tool? To me, this sketch symbolizes my effort to break free of my eating disordered past, stripping away the old habits and thoughts, and discovering the soul underneath the chaos that has taken over my body (and, thus, my life) for so long.
One [tiny] step at a time January 30, 2014
It doesn’t matter how slowly you move or how much/little ground you are able to cover. The key to recovery is to keep moving, no matter what. Little by little, you CAN win your life back. Never give up! You are worth the battle.
When the going gets tough January 28, 2014
No matter how enthusiastically you are pursuing recovery or how committed you are to moving on and living your life without your eating disorder, you will have days that test your resolve. Recovery, much like life itself, has its ups and downs; it’s part of the process. The key to being successful is being prepared to navigate the rough days and remaining calm, knowing that smoother waters lie ahead.
Yesterday was one of those days for me. For one reason or another, I woke up with terrible body image and just felt bloated and irritable all day long. When I got dressed in the morning, nothing seemed to fit right. Nothing looked flattering. I was not a happy a camper. In my crazy eating disorder mind, I was scanning through all the meals and snacks I had the day before, trying to pinpoint my “mistake.” (<– E.D. thoughts are insane!)
So, what did I do? Did I give in to the disordered thoughts racing through my mind? Did I somehow compensate for my perceived weight gain? Nope. I thought back to other days in my recovery journey when I felt similarly about myself and my body. Sure, the day was also uncomfortable and insecurities were rampant, but the feelings eventually passed. The next day (or sometimes I couple of days later), I woke up in a different mood. I also recognized the fact that these irrational thoughts were simply manifestations of my eating disorder’s resistance to let go. They were actually signs of my progress, albeit annoying ones. Once I acknowledged my thoughts and feelings and explored why I was thinking/feeling a certain way, I resolved to honor my recovery and to take small steps that helped make my day more pleasant.
First, I wore the clothes that were the most comfortable. Did I feel remarkably stylish or attractive? Not so much. But I was comfortable! Secondly, I made sure I packed my meals and snacks for the work day, despite my lack of desire to eat them. If I would have left food at home, I know I would have found 10 million reasons why I didn’t have time to run out to grab lunch or snacks. Once everyone else at work was settling down for lunch, it was easier for me, too. Think ahead, and honestly examine your weaknesses. Next, I socialized at work and played music in my office. Laughter has the ability to take a tough day and to turn it into an amazing one in the matter of a few seconds. So, I surrounded myself with my coworkers at the start of the day and shared a few laughs. Once I went back to my office and actually sat down to do my job, I played my favorite music in the background to keep my spirits up and, perhaps more importantly, to keep my mind occupied. After work, I called a special family member with whom I had not spoken for quite some time and enjoyed catching up with her. She has been very supportive of my recovery process, and it was incredibly motivating for me to continue to fight by simply telling her how much I appreciate her. As a cumulative result of all of my small efforts throughout the day, my mood was uplifted, my motivation was reignited, and I enjoyed the rest of the evening with my loving husband and spoiled dog.
None of those steps was in itself complicated or revolutionary in nature, but they were effective. Opposite action is powerful, effective and EASY. The next time you wake up and can tell you are going to have a tough day, commit to taking the time to come up with a few ways that you can add bits and pieces of cheer into your day, little by little. And do them! Better yet, go ahead and make that list so you’re prepared for the days when perhaps your motivation is M.I.A. Either way, remember that challenging days are part of the process, so keep up the good fight and never let go of your hope. Recovery IS possible.
Have a great day.
Have a good day! January 22, 2014
Good morning! I hope everyone has an amazing day. I’ll be publishing an actual post later today (late afternoon/early evening). Until then, hang in there, keep fighting, and enjoy the new day! 🙂