Candid Recovery

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Cheers.

Marie Mtz

 

IT’S ALL WORTH IT. October 19, 2012

Filed under: Recovery — Marie M. @ 06:38
Tags: , , , , , ,

 

Last weekend, my fiance and I were going through our closets, replacing colorful summer clothes with chunky, cozy winter sweaters. After all, none of my sun dresses and breezy tops are going to be of much service during the cold, Iowa winter. About 30 minutes or so into the project, our bedroom looked like a textile war zone. Clothes to be hung were scattered all over the bed, and those to be stored were completely covering the floor. I seriously started questioning whether we were going to be able to sleep in our room that night! I should have taken a picture to show you all, but alas, such a picture fails to exist.

Anyway, over our “lunch break,” Jesús (my fiance) said, “Marie…I don’t think we are ever going to finish this mess!! It looks awful in that room right now.” In response I told him, “Don’t worry. Things like these always look much worse before they begin to look better.” I have found this truth to hold in practically all cleaning projects, but the more I thought about it, I realized it applied to my recovery, too. Like my closet before the rearranging, my eating disorder didn’t seem too terribly problematic before I attempted recovery. I mean, sure… it wasn’t going to sustain me over time, but the “harsh winter” hadn’t yet arrived entirely, and I always felt I had time to keep doing the same thing until that time came. No need to change anything up.

Well, the winter did arrive, and when it did, it was a harsh one! When I finally convinced myself that I did, indeed, have a serious problem and should probably do something about it, the task of recovery was completely overwhelming. Once I started (little by little) replacing negative behaviors and thoughts with positive ones, it was hard to see the progress I was actually making. The anxiety these changes provoked, combined with the physical changes that quickly followed, freaked me the hell out. I felt like I was losing my mind. Though my life was actually getting better as I progressed in my recovery, it genuinely looked much worse in my mind than it did before I attempted to make any changes.

Eating disorders, as I’m sure you know,  aren’t simply about the food. Sure, I obsessed about food… Constantly planning what I was going to eat, how much I would eat, when I would do it, and how I would be able to “undo” it if I felt the need. Hours spent browsing decadent recipes that I knew I’d never attempt. Keeping meticulous lists of every ounce that touched my lips (hell, on bad days I wrote down items I looked out if I was scared I “breathed” the calories… yeah, not possible, I know…). My daily life revolved around what I was [not] eating. Sounds like a fun existence, huh?! …Not.

Behind the facade of my food obsession lay the true roots of my disorder. Growing up, my household was not an emotional one. There were not daily hugs before leaving for school, conversations about how my day went over dinner, or bedtime tucking-in ceremonies to be enjoyed before resting each night. It was very much a schedule-oriented, stoic existence (at least the version that I vividly recall), and emotions were seen as weaknesses… feelings that accomplished nothing of importance and essentially just got in the way of success. Combine that with the fact that I was constantly passed around from parent to parent, as my parents divorced when I was incredibly young, and you have yourself a scrumptious recipe for Disaster a la famille.

As I grew older, the depression with which I struggled since elementary school was a constant source of anguish for my family. None of the doctors to whom my parents sent me were able to fix me overnight, and any time I showed a sign of depression or insecurity, those feelings were promptly met with fervent, negative reactions from the home front. As a result, my eating disorder eventually developed into a coping mechanism. It was an outlet. I was able to focus astoundingly intently on something basic: food. In return, I was able to ignore the feelings and emotions that I was constantly forced to supress. I didn’t feel. From the age or 11 or 12 years old, up until my early twenties, I did not feel. It was insane, yet seemingly effective. And if an emotion somehow managed to squeeze itself into my mind, my eating disorder retaliated with a vengeance and silenced it.

The point of this narrative is the following: when I replaced the negative behaviors with positive ones and began to silence the negative self-talk that was perpetually filling my mind, those suppressed emotions and feelings had nowhere else to hide. So, even though I was making a lot of progress in my fight against my disorder, it didn’t feel that way to me. To everyone on the outside, things were looking promising. I just wanted to die, to be quite frank. Of course when I finally stuck with recovery (it took many many many attempts before I was able to stick with it for a decent amount of time), I was able to deal with my emotions productively and in healthy ways (i.e., without using my disorder). Things really did get better, and I did eventually enjoy the recovery journey. Just like in anyone’s life, recovery brings good days as well as bad ones. Thankfully, if you stick with the process, the good days begin to greatly outweight the not-so-great ones. And though it won’t seem possible at first, please trust me… it get’s better!

Just like cleaning my closet last week, my recovery journey was not always pretty. When I first undertook the task of recovery, it looked so much worse (in my mind particularly) before it began to look better. If Jesús and I would have freaked out in the ohmygodthisisadisaster phase of our cleaning project and would have abandoned it without giving it some time to work itself out, I’d be freezing my ass of this week in my summer clothes, and we’d be sleeping on the couch. Clearly, not cool. Recovery deserves the same fair shot. Yes, at the beginning you will likely feel completely overwhelmed. It will look like your life is far worse off without your disorder than it is with it. BUT, if you stick it out and trust the process, you will see positive change. Just as I look at my closet today and subtly smile at the organization scheme and its cozy contents, you, too, will look back at your journey through recovery and appreciate (and be proud of!) all the progress you will have made.

Trust the process, and trust yourself. You are more than enough! And as the photo above says: IT WILL BE WORTH IT. (I promise!)

Happy Friday!

-Marie

 

 

Recovery Warriors Part 7: Nicole October 16, 2012

 This Tuesday morning, we get to hear the story of one of my favorite people in the   universe: Nicole. Nicole and I were brought together at our college by our mutual hatred of eating disorders and our desire to do something about it! What I like about Nicole’s story, as you will soon see, is that it is not the typical “path” to an eating disorder. She did not spend her teen years in and out of treatment, forced into therapy by her parents or school. Her disorder began after her third pregnancy. I hope that Nicole’s story will help shed light on an already growing trend in the world of eating disorders: adult-onset eating disorders.

 

When did you first begin struggling with an eating disorder?

Sometime after my third child turned one year old (2002?) I experienced an upsetting moment and for some reason decided to go on a diet. I know it sounds like I must have lived under a rock, but I had never heard of eating disorders before. I also can’t say that I grew up with a chronically dieting friend or parent.

Which disorder (anorexia, bulimia, EDNOS, compulsive overeating, etc.) affected you initially? Did that change over time in any way?

I went on my first diet ever, and very quickly developed anorexia nervosa. After a few months I began purging regularly. My diagnosis was Anorexia Nervosa, Type 2 (with purging). After a while I was also binge-eating and purging.
What are some of the factors that you feel may have contributed to the disorder?

Aside from being an overly sensitive child, I was in a difficult marriage to someone I had been with since I was 14. He wasn’t supportive of me having friends, and I have never been emotionally close to my parents, so I guess I felt alone. Having three very young children so close in age-two of whom had special needs-was probably more than I was ready to deal with at that time.
Did/do you battle other emotional struggles (anxiety, depression, self-harm, low self-esteem, extreme perfectionism, etc.)?

I’ve always struggled with all of the above, in addition to not really feeling like I have a firm place in the world.  I think that the self-harm began because after a while, the eating disorder wasn’t effective enough as a coping mechanism.
How long after the onset of your disorder did you pursue recovery?

I think it took me about two years to reach out for help. My dad staged some ridiculous one-on-one “intervention,” which amounted to a pep talk about pulling myself up by my boot straps because I’m “strong” and being sinful :/ I had to find someone who had experience working with people who have eating disorders and a good track record.
What is your motivation to recover? What has Ed (your eating disorder) taken from you? What does recovery give back to you?

I wish I could say that I initially did it just for myself, but I honestly felt that my kids deserved better.  The eating disorder took away my will to live. There are some things that will never be fixable, like digestive, heart, kidney, and bone problems. I think some of the neurological consequences are improving, though, so I’m grateful for that. I never felt like I was really present when I was with people, even with my kids. I was constantly in the gym or at the track when my husband was home to watch the kids. I couldn’t enjoy a meal with my family or with friends, so I pushed away my best friend and my extended family. During the past few years, I have made a lot of changes that wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t made a rigorous effort to change. My moods are usually pretty stable, I don’t feel like a victim to some mysterious force that took away any pleasure. I can think better, sleep, eat, feel peaceful when I choose to, do things with my kids, be fully present when I’m with another person, stay conscious (heh)… so many simple things that I couldn’t do before!
During your recovery journey, have you encountered setbacks (relapse, change of disorder, addiction, etc.)?

After a year and a half of therapy and very little progress, my therapist fired himself. Yep! But somehow that put the responsibility for myself squarely on my shoulders, and I had to Choose. All of those tools I was given were tucked away in my mind, waiting for me to be willing to use them.  I guess the pain of going on as I was became worse than the difficulty of changing. There have been setbacks and near-setbacks, like when re-starting college, moving away from familiar faces, a couple of traumatic car accidents, a couple of big bouts of depression/anxiety, and going through a divorce.


What are some coping skills that have helped your recovery?

The most difficult thing for me to do is paradoxically the most beneficial: talking about what chaos is going on between my ears J. Dialectical behavioral therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy have been invaluable.  Remembering to have fun, even silly things like getting down on the floor with my dog, relieves stress and makes me smile.
What does recovery mean to you?

The best way I can summarize recovery from the eating disorder specifically is this:  stopping unhealthy crash/obsessive dieting, not exercising without proper intake (and not pushing through injuries) , and not engaging in self-harm behaviors. I like to include other peripheral things, like developing interests, resolving the causes that started the behaviors, resting the mind and body, and finding purpose.
What does healthy mean to you? Has that changed throughout your recovery?

For me, healthy means fueling my body according to what I need for the day and also taking care of my emotional health with frequent, brief meditative moments throughout the day.
In your recovery, what issues are currently affecting you the most? In other words, what are you currently working on?

Family stuff really gets to me. It seems there is no shortage of stress in mine (teenagers!!), but it is what it is. Right now I am facing my last full semester of school, uncertainties about finding work and/or graduate school. Every day I struggle with taking care of myself in addition to everyone else.
If you could offer a bit of advice to others going through the same struggle, what would you say to them?

I would say that you don’t have to make some huge decision to change everything right now.  Just start small by talking to a local counselor or searching the internet for resources ( like NEDA). You have everything within you to change. Sometimes it just takes a little outside help to find the strength.
Have any resources (books, songs, activities, etc.) been particularly helpful for you?

Gurze Books has some great resources. This Mean Disease. Growing Up in the Shadow of My Mother’s Anorexia by Daniel Becker was a wake-up call. I enjoy playing Scrabble, exploring new cities, checking off little things on my “bucket list”-things that I wouldn’t be able to do if I was still sick, things that force me to face my fears.
What have you done, or what do you currently do, in terms of treatment (therapy, nutritional counseling, support groups, etc.)?

I have a couple of trusted people in my life who are great sources of support. As far as professional help, I spent so much time in therapy that I have the tools-I just have to remember to use them on a daily basis. 🙂 I have periodically gone for short term therapy to get an independent perspective and trouble-shooting help.

I absolutely adore this story! Nicole’s strength and self-awareness are so strong and evident as she speaks (..uhh…types?!) about her story. I particularly enjoyed her definition of recovery: it encompasses, of course, refraining from ED behaviors, but it also includes cultivating other habits and hobbies that bring you pleasure, big and small. This story also illustrates, as have previous RW (Recovery Warrior) stories as well, that even if you are initially unable to recover for yourself, it’s ok! Whether you decide to recover for yourself or for your pet rabbit, the important thing is that you decide to recover. Over time, once your body and mind have had time to heal, your though process will change and you will be able to make healthy decisions for yourself. But until you reach that point, look around you for inspiration and motivation if you need to do so. No worries!

Well, I hope you have enjoyed the RW story. Try not to simply read the stories and move on with your life; try to make connections with your own story and see if there is anything you can take from the stories shared that could perhaps help you along your journey as well!

Have an awesome Tuesday, everyone. And don’t hesitate to reach out for support if/when you need it!

-Marie

 

Recovery Warriors Part 6: Katherine October 15, 2012

Filed under: Recovery,Self-Discovery — Marie M. @ 06:14
Tags: , , ,

This lovely Monday morning, we have the chance to get a bit of a behind-the-scene look into the recovery journey of Katherine, a fabulously vivacious and determined woman who I met by having attended the same treatment center (though albeit at different times). I’m thrilled to share her story with you all, and I hope that you will find it just as helpful as I did.

When did you first begin struggling with an eating disorder?

I began struggling at age 14.

Which disorder (anorexia, bulimia, EDNOS, compulsive overeating, etc.) affected you initially? Did that change over time in any way?

I initially struggled with anorexia but later developed bulimia after 2nd hospitalization.

What are some of the factors that you feel may have contributed to the disorder?

Emotionally abusive relationship; socially corrupted school environment; Perfectionism; Emotionally distant family at the time; Bullying; Bad reputation-rumors among peers.

Did/do you battle other emotional struggles (anxiety, depression, self-harm, low self-esteem, extreme perfectionism, etc.)?

Anxiety, depression, perfectionism, mild OCD, low self-esteem (chronically shy as a child, anxiety developed around age 6 [according to mom]).

How long after the onset of your disorder did you pursue recovery?

About a little less than three years or so.

What is your motivation to recover? What has Ed (your eating disorder) taken from you? What does recovery give back to you?

Ed has taken SO much: Loss of my family, loss of trust, loss of my life and identity as a person, etc. I’m just tired of being sick and tired and want to be a different, stronger person.

During your recovery journey, have you encountered setbacks (relapse, change of disorder, addiction, etc.)?

During my recovery thus far, I’ve encountered relapse, lapses, and the binge/purge complex developing.

What are some coping skills that have helped your recovery?

Focusing 100% on myself, blinders up to other people including family, becoming completely honest, recognizing and processing the root causes of emotional distress and the roots of acting out, new outlets, LOTS of recovery quotes, looking to people who had made it through to the other side, and standing up for MYSELF, even if that means being a bitch at times.

What does recovery mean to you?

Recovery means life- I look at recovery, and see the rest of my life as a new, powerful person who can do absolutely anything. Recovery means a healthy body AND a healthy mind.

What does healthy mean to you? Has that changed throughout your recovery?

Healthy means feeling great in both body and mind- it’s when your body is stable and healthy and your mind reflects it as well. My definition of health definitely has changed over time. I used to think that as long as I felt ok or good enough in my mind, my body was fine and vice versa. You must have both body and mind on the same page to be truly healthy though in my opinion.

In your recovery, what issues are currently affecting you the most? In other words, what are you currently working on?

Right now, I am dealing mostly with body image, paranoia of other’s perceptions of me, and emotional struggles in communicating with my family.

If you could offer a bit of advice to others going through the same struggle, what would you say to them?

There is ALWAYS hope. ANYONE can make it through! It was something I’d heard a million times and honestly didn’t believe, but it really is better on the other side. Never give up on yourself: if you can do this you can do ANYTHING.

Have any resources (books, songs, activities, etc.) been particularly helpful for you?

“Biting Anorexia” by Lucy Howard-Taylor, “Life without ED (the song)” by Jenni schaefer, art therapy.

What have you done, or what do you currently do, in terms of treatment (therapy, nutritional counseling, support groups, etc.)?

Treatment at Ridgeview Insitution, regular therapist (specializing in ED), phsychiatrist for medication, family therapist, dietician, support groups (phone based, online).

THANK YOU, Katherine, for sharing your story with us! I really enjoyed reading the definitions of recovery and health. Often in recovery we get so caught up in numbers (changing meals plan exchanges, fluctuating weights, lab results, etc.) that we forget that true recovery can’t be measured by numbers… only certain components can. I used to think that if I reached my goal weight and got my lab results within the normal ranges, I would be able to call myself recovered. But I was SO wrong! The truth is: at my goal weight, my eating disorder behaviors were just as bad (and honestly, perhaps a bit worse) than they had been when I was at my lowest weight. Recovery is not simply the restoration of the physical changes caused by eating disorders; it is a healing of the body, mind and soul. Without that union of healing, we are still falling prey to these vicious disorders. It was not until I stopped kidding myself and admitted that I was not working on the mental aspect of recovery that I was able to make changes in my approach and see real progress in my recovery journey. What do you think? Have you struggled with finding the mind-body-soul connection/balance in your recovery process? How did you change your approach?

Have a fantabulous Monday, everyone! And don’t hesitate to reach out if you need help/support!

-Marie

 

 
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