This October marked my third year of treatment for eating disorder recovery.
Although I now work primarily on an outpatient basis, it has still been a seriously long process of meeting with doctors, therapists, a nutritionist, time spent in hospitals, at residential facilities, and a physical/emotional rollercoaster that I would prefer to disembark sooner rather than later.
But I have to be realistic here. I have been battling disordered eating and unhealthy behaviors since I was seven years old. My journey is not and will not be over any time soon, but for the first time my path is positive. I have made great strides in accepting my changing body. My relationship with exercise has improved immensely, and I no longer run from the feelings that come up since I no longer use restriction and excessive running to escape. As my blog name insinuates, I am truly on my way to become “healthy, happy, and whole.”
As you can probably imagine, or know from experience, overcoming addiction is hard work. It is not a lovely walk in the park filled with sunshine and roses. Instead it is messy, and changing, filled with highs and lows, and although this can be VERY frustrating, it also presents an opportunity to grow, and learn. I can honestly say I would not be where I am in my recovery, a pretty darn positive place, without the many dark periods I have had. Without my past failures, I wouldn’t have been able to learn a ton of new skills that are super helpful in a life moving toward health.
So not that I am an expert or anything, because I still gain new information and insight every single day, I thought it might be helpful to share a few of my downfalls that kept me stuck resorting to destructive habits…
You may be more familiar with this as black and white thoughts….
I still struggle with not categorizing things as good and bad, especially food and exercise;
“Running for 60 minutes is good…if it’s not the full hour it’s bad.”
“Vegetables are good for your body, fats are not…”
Obviously from these two sample statements, you can see that my thinking was (and still sometimes is) flawed. Excessive exercise is not always healthy, and if there happens to be a day when you only get to take a brief walk outside, you should still celebrate the fact that you are moving!
Vegetables are awesome, and taste delicious, but you still need to incorporate lipid sources into your diet in order to have everything function properly!
In life there are shades of gray, because not everything fits into two neatly organized categories. Shocker, right?!
My mom used to say, “Oh CJ, stop making a mountain out of a molehill,” meaning I would typically exaggerate negative outcomes of sometimes pretty minimal situations.
I did this a lot in my recovery….
“Oh my gosh, I will follow my meal plan, not run, gain all this weight, get fat and hate myself forever.”
Hmm…sounds pretty extreme right?
Logically I knew my meal plan barely made me gain half a pound a week, I shouldn’t be running because I was in major danger of cardiac arrest, and in my adult life had never been near obese, so I shouldn’t be too worried my body would just skyrocket out of control all of a sudden. Not to mention I already did hate myself so what could be worse than how I felt when I was very sick?
Basically, I was making excuses because I was scared. I feared creating a new healthy life that I no longer knew, mainly because I didn’t like who I was inside, as a human-being. And in all honesty, I would probably ALWAYS view myself as fat, as long as I felt ugly on the inside…
For physical health I knew I had a long way to go, but as far as the mental component, I unfortunately had even farther. This meant I had to let go of the notion that everyone was going to be staring at me like I was a wide-load and just follow my food plan, freeing up my mind a bit to work on what was really important.
Newsflash! Most people are concerned with themselves, their own lives, and are not looking at the bloated belly I was imagining in my mind.
Most people actually wanted to see me get better, and they knew that meant my physical shape would have to change.
I have actually gotten more positive attention now that my body is a bit larger than when I walked around in an emaciated form. And overall I am not as unhappy with my body as I imagined. I wouldn’t go as far to say I like it, because that would be a lie, but I am accepting and ok with the changes.
More importantly than the changes to my body, my quality of life is much better; my relationships are improving, my activity level is able to increase, and I am not a moody beotch because I am starving.
Tons of good things I never even considered are all coming as a result of a few numbers higher on the scale. My world didn’t end because I started eating…in fact, it actually restarted.
3. Linear Thinking
When I first started recovery I thought it would be easy. At that point my feelings were still pretty numb so I wasn’t facing any of the tough emotions that I shoved in the back of my mind for far too many years.
I was also on a pretty low meal plan so I wasn’t gaining anything at all (it could also have been because I never followed the plan anyway) and I wasn’t working, since I was on medical leave, I was making friends, and life seemed ok.
And then it happened…My first therapy sessions where the counselor actually extracted some pretty painful memories from my head and I panicked. This is not what I had signed up for! What happened to smoothe-sailing and getting my life back (minus the weight gain, of course).
Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. And since I got mad at myself for the tears, and having to eat tuna fish sandwiches with actual mayo, I rebelled and just gave up. I stopped seeing my outpatient therapist, half-assed my way through groups, and threw the meal plan out the window.
Recovery to me was over. I tried and failed.
A few months later my family pestered me enough and I tried again; the cycle would persist and I would give up, which continued for another two years.
I never considered that recovery did not work in a straight line.
Why the heck would anyone want to do something with so many highs and lows?! But the more I got angry with myself for having the lows, the worse my recovery would get and I would just stop the process entirely. You have to allow yourself, be patient with the journey, and accept that it might be one of the hardest things you will do in your life….but at least you will have a life, and from what I hear, when you reach a point without so many lows, its pretty darn awesome.
4. Only looking at the numbers.
I always complained that I hated how my team only relied on numerical values to tell them how I was doing.
“DON’T YOU SEE I AM CRYING?! I am letting myself feel! I am trying a dessert! I went out this weekend…don’t you see I am doing better?”
None of those things seemed to matter to anyone, so I stopped letting them matter to me. The scale was the doctor’s way of measuring my progress, so it became mine as well.
…Except higher integers are only ok for so long. Then the games of restriction, corner-cutting and exercise abuse begin again.
Numbers are a major part of my disorder, and something I hope to get away from as I move on in my recovery. I would love if I didn’t feel compelled to weigh myself, count calories, use a Garmin every time I wanted too take a walk or run. How freeing that would feel!
Because everyone else looked past the other milestones in recovery…for example my first Dairy Queen Blizzard since I was in elementary school…I decided they didn’t count and stopped trying to achieve them.
Well you know how some specialists say, “It’s not about the food, weight and calories…“
It really isn’t. I am here to confirm that, because if you ONLY focus on the scale going up, your meal plan increasing, the binge you had last night, the lack of exercise you are allowed to do, you will go nowhere. Your numbers might go somewhere, but YOU, as a person will stay stuck, and that is not the idea behind gaining back your health and your life.
So now that you know all the things that kept me unfortunately trapped in my old habits, I want to share with you some things I changed to move forward…
But for that, you will have to come back tomorrow!
I hope you all have a fabulous monday and come visit me again to see part II 🙂