On this day, Thanksgiving, in recovery

You know that “On This Day” thing on Facebook where they send you the posts you made in years prior? You know, the memories that inspire you to either nostalgically repost, note how far you’ve come, or crawl into a ball for a few hours wondering where your “best laid plans” have gone, what the hell you’ve been doing with your life, and when the hell you became someone approaching 40 with wrinkles, a spare tire, who still rents an urban apartment full of mismatched Ikea furniture?

While my reactions to “On This Day” have run the gamut from “AWWWW” to “SHITTTT” depending on the memory, this year, one of the memories included in my feed was a video from Thanksgiving that my stepfather took four years ago that really hit me hard.

It was, at first glance, a pretty happy video. My stepfather filmed the family taking a musical break from preparing our meal. My mom, brother, and I stood at the kitchen island, various kitchen implements in hand (me with two carrots over the cutting board), banging and dancing to the Irish celtic music playing in the background.

Four years ago I remember seeing that video when my brother posted it on Facebook and thinking “Holy Lord, take this down. I am so large. This is ridiculous.”

This year, I saw it and thought, “Holy Lord, I was absolutely wasting away into nothing.”

I wore a shirt and jeans I stopped fitting into a long time ago. My face was drawn, caked in makeup to hide my exaggerated under-eye circles and pale complexion. My clothes swum on me.

And this year I noticed, after we danced (a dance which was not, by any stretch of the imagination, overly physically taxing) I said “Okay, enough,” put my carrots down, stood back from the cutting board, and bent over noticeably out of breath.

I remembered it was because I hadn’t eaten in 24 hours in preparation for the meal.

I remembered the meal, almost to the T: a small slice of turkey, a medium pile of salad, and some brussels sprouts.

I also remembered what happened after the meal. I was horrified by the “grotesque quantity” I had eaten (as my diet at the time consisted of a steamed vegetable here and there). I was also used to purging said steamed vegetables after eating them, and so was hankering to run to the bathroom.

My brother recognized my distress after eating that year, gave me a larger-than-usual dose of Ativan for the panic attack I was having, and was kind enough to take me for a long, brisk walk so that I would not throw up in my mother’s house — something I was horribly loathe to do. At that point in my disorder, I had limited my purging to my own bathroom.

I obsessed over that meal for days afterward, and compensated by restricting my food with renewed gusto. I continued to lose weight.

A year later, I was in residential treatment at Oliver-Pyatt Centers, trying to remember what the sensation of chewing felt like, unable to see forward, hating and judging myself as a failure in a way that I could never possibly explain to this day and that makes me cry when I think too long about it.

I consider myself 99% recovered now as I come upon my three year anniversary since I self-admitted to Oliver-Pyatt Centers and then served my PHP/IOP time at Monte Nido EDTNY in NYC. I am 100% physically recovered, but there are still stubborn thoughts that persist, which I still fight every day of my life.

Because I am a violent perfectionist — the sort that causes one to starve and throw up and abjectly hate oneself — I sometimes forget just how far I’ve come.

My experience this Thanksgiving has reminded me.

I was feeling pudgy (thanks to PMS, being a woman, and a stint of sickness that kept me in bed for over a week and inactive) but I ate before I went to my grandmother’s house. This is something that I could not do even two years ago, and that I could never even consider during the 21 years my eating disorder controlled my life.

People without eating disorders like mine do this regularly, and laud it, actually — it’s called “compensation” and it is, I know now, neither healthy nor necessary.

I went to my 95-year-old grandmother’s and there was a highly stressful episode I won’t get into for privacy reasons, but one that is common to a family caring for an elderly relative.

Normally, this kind of stressful episode would have sent me into a tailspin. Heck, given the nature of the episode, many without eating disorders would have lost their appetites. And for a good half hour, I did.

But I rallied. I took some time away to breathe, and came to the Thanksgiving table, and ate a normal portion of food, and didn’t really think twice about it (in fact, I wished there were mashed potatoes I could have eaten). I even took a gander at dessert even though I’m not a sweets person because my mother and cousin made it, and because that’s what you do.

Then today, I met with my family again for lunch, and I ate a pile of french fries and a club sandwich with them, and I enjoyed it.

This year, I ate what I wanted, in a normal amount, didn’t restrict before, and didn’t restrict after. Sure, the thought crossed my mind as I stared at the menu that I should eat salad, but I didn’t want salad.

I mean, I did, but I wanted a Cobb salad (which is essentially meat and olives and cheese over some pieces of lettuce) and the only reason I didn’t get it was because it wasn’t on the menu anymore.

I ate what I wanted.

And it was okay. Sure, I had thoughts about what I ate. 24 years of a certain thought pattern is hard to break so soon. But I let them go, and I moved on.

I talked a little with my mother about that. She is good and doesn’t bring it up, because that is how it should be — what I do now is normal and not something that warrants conversation or comment. And I’m not quite out of the woods to the extent where comments are not triggering. She is respectful.

But I brought it up and we both thought about how incredible these seemingly small triumphs are for me.

The me in the video from four years ago was such a radically different person. She was in pain, removed from life, from joy, from self-forgiveness.

The me now is willing to try, and takes the leap of faith required to not be the way I was most of the time, and even though I still can’t really look at myself in photos and not be frightened, or put on the jeans three sizes bigger than I was before treatment without a mini perseveration, I am eons beyond where I used to be.

I am thankful for where I am, and I am proud. And I hope it continues.

 

 

“Hey, what if I have to go?”

So you think an eating disorder is glamorous. So you think willful self-hatred and self-destruction is a part of you — something you choose to do. So you think 21-plus years of living uncomfortably and jamming food obsessions into your head and becoming your own prisoner to the point where you almost kill yourself is cool. So you think you’ll be “saved” one day — if only you get ‘bad’ enough, if only you get ‘thin’ enough. One day, someone will take over and make you eat and it will all be okay.

I wish I could tell you otherwise, but I am here to tell you that you are grossly mistaken.

Let’s pick this apart.

Willful self-hatred is TAUGHT. Self-destruction is absolutely TAUGHT. This is not something you are born with; take it from me. It’s something I’ve exhibited since I was about 8, and it is NOT natural. It is a way to COPE with TRAUMA. It is a way to LIVE past the “This is NOT RIGHT” and into the “I guess I need to carry on anyhow” so that you don’t “Well, nothing is worth it” right into oblivion.

And it’s not your fault.

Living uncomfortably is, well, life. So are, I’d admit, food obsessions. Certain ones. But not the ones like I had where I was totally overcome by my thousands of food rules: like what is “good” and what is “bad;” what it takes to “earn” my food (which was NEVER enough), and then what it takes to “compensate” for the few stalks of celery or low-fat yogurt you had the DISGUSTING LACK OF WILLPOWER to NOT forgo; and so then you watched it swirl into the toilet.

And when you’re like this, you admittedly have no idea! I mean, you have some idea. You have some clue that your constant self-hated and punishment and love-hate obsession with the food you can’t let yourself have even when you are 45 pounds underweight might — just MIGHT — be a sort of problem, but you can’t really get behind it.

Because you’re too FAT.

Size zero is an indication that you’re slovenly. And you’re 34 years old, running a mayor’s office, fighting for women’s right to be human. And yet, for yourself, this is still what you believe.

So one of the eating disorder videos I used to obsessively watch while I was obsessively struggling with my eating disorder (not too relatively long ago, to be frank) was “For the Love of Nancy.”

For whatever reason, I was reflecting on just how far I’ve come tonight.

Just how long it’s been since I’ve thought about these videos — the ones I used to watch obsessively while I was in the thick of my eating disorder.

Someone said to me, casually, the other day, how “young” people with anorexia are — how “frivolous” they seem to be. I am used to this, so I refrained from comment. I was in treatment (inpatient, residential, et al) with this “sort” and so I know very well, at my age (37), how different one can feel from the teen-something stereotypical patient found in residential facilities.

And they said “That must have been rough.”

So I thought about it.

Yes, that was “rough,” but not entirely. I mean, sure, not having people my own age at 34 when I went into treatment was difficult, but when it came down to it, regardless of age, we all had much in common.

Not also to mention, when I REALLY think about treatment, I pretty much freak the HELL out.

Why?

I mean, I’ve been through a lot of so-called “Capital T-type-Traumas” in my life. I remember being in treatment, actually, and being told that I was “lucky” because I could “point a definitive finger as to why I had an eating disorder.”

Yeah, not so much, Pal, since I was the only one in the room who’d had it for 21 years — and if I had been able to “point a definitive finger” at it, I wouldn’t have been in that room.

But that’s sort of beside the point.

So any who, treatment.

I quote “Hey, what if I have to go?” from “For the Love of Nancy” because it really captures the HELL of treatment. Unless you’ve been there, you really don’t know. You can assume, but you just don’t.

And even moreso, at my age when I went: 34. Intent on being independent and not needing anyone. In denial of my eating disorder, basically, for 21 years. And suddenly, the first second I’m in treatment, I’m required to eat cream shrimp pasta for lunch and pee in front of a millennial.

WHAT???

Maybe you’re one of those folks who doesn’t understand eating disorders, and how they can (and usually do) affect perfectly functional, overly perfectionistic, obsessively individualistic folk.

So there I was, terrified at my lack of independence, so alone in this weirdo millennial-infused and “fuck you and your control” world, and being made to be watched as I peed.

“Hey, what if I have to go?”

So, this bit in “For the Love of Nancy” both rung true to me and made me think, “This is inaccurate, because if this is the first time she’s wondering whether or not she can go potty without supervision, well, then, the hospital staff has been lax.”

It’s all relative.

I am over-the-moon thrilled that I don’t have to deal with that sort of absolutely degrading, horrifying, PTSD-provoking (which I deal with every day) treatment today.

Today, I am EONS beyond where I was nearly three years ago. I do not regret a second of it. I just am TOTALLY HUMBLED AND FLOORED by the recollection.

I will never, ever get to that point again. I will never, ever put myself in that position again. And I will try my damnedest to forgive myself for finding myself there — which is the most important part.

I consider myself, for the most part, for the first public time, “recovered.” Do I still struggle with body issues? Sure. Do I still think winsomely about my ED past? Sure.

Is it sad to say a final goodbye? Absolutely. But am I thrilled as hell to never have to be afraid to find myself asking “Hey, what if I have to go?”

Damned straight.

 

 

Every body is bathing suit ready

Just put on a bathing suit for the first time this summer and had six simultaneous panic attacks. Not only am I bigger than I was this time last year, but one of my more modest bathing suits no longer fits, so I’m relegated to the more revealing one, which is still very tight.

Normally I would cancel plans, panic the hell out, restrict food for a long time, and wear pants and a long sleeve shirt in 86 degree weather.

But not today.

I’ve spent so many many years at much much lower weights doing this, missing out, obsessively following the bullshit societal judgment of what women’s bodies should look like in bathing suits like a twisted bible, that I’m tired.

I’m too tired to panic so hard over something so relatively irrelevant. I’m too tired to not practice what I preach, and what I believe: that ALL bodies are bathing suit ready, and that what you look like is the LAST (and dare I say most useless) way human beings should be judged or valued.

I have some great friends who are about to cook some great food at a great pool on a holiday weekend. I haven’t eaten poolside in over two decades.

Today it’s time to break the cycle with a big “FUCK YOU” to impossible societal standards, to the endless cycle of self-hatred corporate America (and other countries) drills into women’s (and men’s) heads, to the years and years spent enduring this eating disorder voice that’s taken so many potentially enjoyable experiences from me, and to sit by a pool in my shorts and tank top with my 37 year old belly out and proud and eat a bunch of food with my friends.

I hope ya’ll join me.

“Moder-aysh:”OR, HOW THE MENTION OF A JUICE CLEANSE NO LONGER MAKES ME DISSOLVE IN GUILT

(Read the motivation for this blog here.)

I know, I know. I was Miss Juice Cleanse USA three years ago. I should have made t-shirts. But now I know better (five months of intensive eating disorder treatment and two years later plus many doctor’s check ups and blood work and a healed cervix from a cancer scare and all that).

This is not to say a juice now and then isn’t a good thing — there are still vital nutrients in it that typical American diets lack. But eating whole fruits and vegetables alongside a healthy, non-fast-food, whole grain diet which includes, yes (who am I?) fats and meats and breads with fewer than a thousand unpronounceable ingredients and all the things society tells us are evil is always better. (Unless you’re vegan or vegetarian; same fast food rule still stands — this is just my particular take).

Like my great-grandfather Dominic always said (who lived to 98), “Everything in moder-aysh” (that’s “moderation” in Italian speak).

Let me assure you he never ate MacDonald’s or Olive Garden or Domino’s. He grew a veggie garden in the back yard of his Bronx apartment. He ate more bread and cheese and pasta and meat than anyone I’ve ever known, but the bread and pasta and meat were from Arthur Avenue, and the veggies were home grown, and the sweets were in “moder-ache.”

Sure, in comparison to SAD (Standard American Diet), a juice supplement is a huge vitamin-infused change. I was a giant fan of “Sick, Fat, and Nearly Dead” for years until I realized what his before diet looked like.

(Nearly) anyone who goes from fast food and excess to “juice cleanse” is going to experience alleviation of certain processed-food, over-sugared, under-exercised symptoms. (Including, in my experience with people I’ve encouraged, diarrhea, nausea, headache, bad moods — all symptoms of people those are not used to ingesting roughage and nutrients to the degree that veggies provide — especially when unmitigated by the fiber and sugar-control bits found in whole veggie and fruit consumption. Juicing takes all that away. )

People like me with a history of an eating disorder who ate pretty much like he did (minus the bread and cheese and pasta and for many years meat [not to disrespect non-meat eaters — you do your thing; this is just my own stance coming to terms with the reasons I didn’t eat meat before] because I’d been told they were “evil” foods) can be overly susceptible to this myth of the cleanse.

Eat food that makes you feel good, that you want, that tastes good, that has historical meaning, that brings people together, that is made from recognizable parts of animals and plants and doesn’t come from middle aisles and that doesn’t come in frozen bulk boxes of 15 or 25 or 40.

Not only will it feel better, but it will TASTE better, and you’ll find yourself wanting to eat LESS of it because it actually satisfies your body’s taste, love, soul, and nutritional cravings.

Like the cheeseburger and fries I ate the other day from the place that made the cheeseburger and fries from actual meat and potatoes and local cheese that was phenomenal.

Thanks, Great-Grandpa (and his relatives like my grandma and my mom, Rosemary Pope-Wallin; especially to Rosemary Pope-Wallin for always teaching me body-positivity even before it was a “thing” and for never standing behind fast or diet foods, whose lessons were, for me, a little too late learned but learned nonetheless).

“MODER-AYSH!”

“Moder-Aysh:” Or, how the mention of a juice cleanse no longer makes me dissolve in guilt

(Read the motivation for this blog here.)

I know, I know. I was Miss Juice Cleanse USA three years ago. I should have made t-shirts. But now I know better (five months of intensive eating disorder treatment and two years later plus many doctor’s check ups and blood work and a healed cervix from a cancer scare and all that).

This is not to say a juice now and then isn’t a good thing — there are still vital nutrients in it that typical American diets lack. But eating whole fruits and vegetables alongside a healthy, non-fast-food, whole grain diet which includes, yes (who am I?) fats and meats and breads with fewer than a thousand unpronounceable ingredients and all the things society tells us are evil is always better. (Unless you’re vegan or vegetarian; same fast food rule still stands — this is just my particular take).

Like my great-grandfather Dominic always said (who lived to 98), “Everything in moder-aysh” (that’s “moderation” in Italian speak).

Let me assure you he never ate MacDonald’s or Olive Garden or Domino’s. He grew a veggie garden in the back yard of his Bronx apartment. He ate more bread and cheese and pasta and meat than anyone I’ve ever known, but the bread and pasta and meat were from Arthur Avenue, and the veggies were home grown, and the sweets were in “moder-ache.”

Sure, in comparison to SAD (Standard American Diet), a juice supplement is a huge vitamin-infused change. I was a giant fan of “Sick, Fat, and Nearly Dead” for years until I realized what his before diet looked like.

(Nearly) anyone who goes from fast food and excess to “juice cleanse” is going to experience alleviation of certain processed-food, over-sugared, under-exercised symptoms. (Including, in my experience with people I’ve encouraged, diarrhea, nausea, headache, bad moods — all symptoms of people those are not used to ingesting roughage and nutrients to the degree that veggies provide — especially when unmitigated by the fiber and sugar-control bits found in whole veggie and fruit consumption. Juicing takes all that away. )

People like me with a history of an eating disorder who ate pretty much like he did (minus the bread and cheese and pasta and for many years meat [not to disrespect non-meat eaters — you do your thing; this is just my own stance coming to terms with the reasons I didn’t eat meat before] because I’d been told they were “evil” foods) can be overly susceptible to this myth of the cleanse.

Eat food that makes you feel good, that you want, that tastes good, that has historical meaning, that brings people together, that is made from recognizable parts of animals and plants and doesn’t come from middle aisles and that doesn’t come in frozen bulk boxes of 15 or 25 or 40.

Not only will it feel better, but it will TASTE better, and you’ll find yourself wanting to eat LESS of it because it actually satisfies your body’s taste, love, soul, and nutritional cravings.

Like the cheeseburger and fries I ate the other day from the place that made the cheeseburger and fries from actual meat and potatoes and local cheese that was phenomenal.

Thanks, Great-Grandpa (and his relatives like my grandma and my mom, Rosemary Pope-Wallin; especially to Rosemary Pope-Wallin for always teaching me body-positivity even before it was a “thing” and for never standing behind fast or diet foods, whose lessons were, for me, a little too late learned but learned nonetheless).

“MODER-AYSH!”

How the “morality” of “holistic eating” led to residential treatment

There was an eight-month period of time when I truly believed an organic, vegan, whole foods diet would save me from cancer, from depression, from my eating disorder — from all the things I’d feared in my life, basically, according to all the “blog people” I fell prey to.

I didn’t really know what “recovery” looked like, nor did anyone have the audacity to show me at that time what it looked like: I remember having relapsed for two years — the worst of my life, with anorexia plus the wonders of purging — and then having a cancer scare and so launching into what I thought was the self-healing regiment of beating cancer (with a super restrictive, vegan, organic, mostly-juice way of being) that ended up being right up my restrictive anorexic alley but that was lauded by the millions of self-help websites that exist applauding juice diets as almost holy ways of overcoming fat, exile, and disease.

Turns out, not so much.

Not that I totally refuse the motivation behind my switching to a Gerson Therapy sort of approach to life or the value it had for me, because for the first time, I found I was actually putting effort into my own preservation — my own worth. I had so hard-core denied my own worth, had spent so much of my life (21 years) believing the only way I could go on was to hate and punish myself, that I had finally, for many reasons I still cannot explain to this day (but that I have thoughts about) come to a place where there was SOMETHING to what I was doing and how I was living that was kind to me as a human being.

When I went into residential treatment, I had no idea I needed it, and I had no idea the severity of the commitment to my “healthy ‘orthorexia;” these things evade you when you’re sick.

When I was diagnosed with “aggressive” CIN III “precancer,” and “To do this next surgery we save your life, though you probably won’t be able to have children” (according to my OBGYN who had previously been super cold and then suddenly cried and wept on my behalf), I had been deep in my eating disorder. I was throwing up every day after eating less than I needed to survive (sometimes even after a bite) and was consuming, at most, a granola bar a day before perhaps the steamed veggies I was eating at night once home that I’d almost always get rid of.

So, something in me — be it the scare or the question “Now you could die, what is your stance?” — chose to fight. And I’d recently learned from Facebook friends of mine that the benefit and perceived “holiness” of clean eating and juice cleanses was saving people from cancer.

That’s when I found Jess Ainscough. She was a young 20-something woman who had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer but who had chosen to fight it with diet. Pureness. Pureness of eating. Pureness of being. Just pure.

I latched onto that purpose like a starving pup onto its long lost mother.

And, funny thing is, when I latched on to the Gerson diet, I was floored at JUST HOW MUCH I WAS ALLOWED TO EAT.

People would ask me, “How can you stand the limitations? The restriction?” And I thought to myself, “Oh my god, what? This is so much MORE than I ever allowed myself; what are you talking about?”

This should have been a warning to me.

But of course, it wasn’t. I began, after all, to finally FEED myself; to concentrate all of my OCD/eating disordered frenzy into a diet that was lauded by society, that was admired and almost worshipped by those around me, and suddenly my life was even more simplified: I could eat, but only a small repertoire of probably 25 foods.

And beyond my eating disorder voice (which usually allowed me fewer foods), now the attached impetus was, “If you eat ‘such and such,’ you will die.”

Enter newfound determination. But it was veiled as me taking care of myself. People were in awe. For most, wheedling your acceptable food intake to a list of organic, expensive 25 was admirable. What society seconded. And for me, it was far more than I had allowed myself before.

All seemed well in the world.

Especially when, after my initial diagnosis, after months of severe restriction in the name of “healing,” I had my second surgery and the results were, according to my doctor, “Remarkable. You are 100% free. This is unusual. You should go celebrate with some wine.”

“Wine? WHAT?” That had been forbidden in my previous understanding of what it took for me to be alive, but as a rule, I like my wine, and so I listened to my doctor.

But I didn’t trust her.

If there was wine, there were double the coffee enemas (see “Gerson Therapy Protocol” as part of the regiment I followed — sure, I am not hugely proud, but also on the fence about it), and there was certainly no food intake to go with it, because of the calories. The guilt. I’d only allowed myself organic wine in limited amounts, but then I’d get hungry, and one night, I was so “loosened” by said wine, I lost it.

I ordered a mozzarella, basil, tomato sandwich on whole wheat baguette (I hadn’t eaten actual bread in almost a year; organic pumpernickel slabs aside) because I was. Damned. Hungry. Wanted. Sandwich.

It’s not like I ran straight from Gerson to MacDonalds — something I haven’t eaten in over 15 years — aside from (which is something I still regret) when I was forced to consume a quarter of a St. Patrick’s day MacDonald’s Shamrock  Shake in treatment and I only slammed it down after hours of deliberation with therapists.

I threw up the sandwich, much to my horror. Couldn’t help it.

I am morally opposed to MacDonalds for a thousand reasons; eating disorder aside. My decision to never consume fast food since I was about 17 had, I’ve found, little to do with my eating disorder, and all to do with my ability to overcome my eating disorder and rise above and find a spiritual, fundamental reason to eat beyond what I’d learned as a kid. It had everything to do with my belief in food as something deeper and more fundamental than calories and restriction of calories and weight gain and weight loss.

However, at Oliver-Pyatt Centers (OPC), you can’t pick and choose what you want out of the offered meal (which is totally understandable). You either eat the given meal (all of which were prepared lovingly and healthfully, I will say, which is not always the case with ED treatment centers) — which in my case was a leafy green wrap with tofu of the like I hadn’t seen since I’d arrived (minus the addition of the damned Shamrock Shake!), which I was psyched about — or you forfeit all aspects of the meal and eat the alternative, which was Stouffer’s microwave fettucini alfredo or lasagna.

I never, ever took the Stouffer’s option. And, funny thing is, which is a fact I never knew because I never had these microwave dinners, the Stouffer’s options (though made up of the scariest possible foods an anorexic could bear) ended up being fewer calories than the actual meal you were given in most cases. I found this out one day while in cooking class grabbing food from the freezer where all the “alternative meals” were kept.

Irony.

Still, I couldn’t do it! I would have rather eaten a billion calories of greens.

Eventually, while at OPC, I came to dread “salad days” because it turned out the amount of bulk you have to consume to meet your caloric needs with a salad without creamy dressing (one of things on the list of three things you are allowed — within reason, without excluding entire categories of food — to exclude from your meal plan) was ridiculous. They give you 45 minutes to eat dinner, 30 to eat lunch and breakfast.

Eating your caloric needs of salad in 45 minutes is a damn challenge, turns out. You may cry into your nutritionally useless, cheese-filled, carb-filled quesadilla for lunch, but it takes a lot quicker to eat than a salad.

And boy, the salad makes you FULL AS HELL.

These are things you learn while being forced to eat outside your comfort zone, outside society’s comfort zone, outside of any zone you’ve ever known.

But in the end, it’s, I  believe, all worth it.

It was very, very hard for me to let go of the Super Food Cancer Healing mentality I’d gone into treatment with. In fact, the house residential supervisor Karin Lawson (whose understanding and caringness I attribute my ability to move on to the next stage of PHP recovery to), said to me at the end of my time there, “We honestly didn’t think you’d be treatable with the Gerson protocol and your age and how you came in.”

But I was. I bought into it. It was horrifying, but I did, because I was done with all the voices in my head that left me with no means to nurture myself.

They all told me that my decision to eat again saved my life, not the Gerson therapy. I didn’t believe them at first.

Then, a month after leaving treatment, convinced because I’d eaten cheese and bread, that I’d re-contract cervical cancer, I came out 100% clear. That’s not even something that happens for everyone who has surgery because the surgery kicks back an abnormal pap.

But mine had not. I had been wrong about everything.

Not also to mention, a few months after treatment, my role model Jessica Ainscough died of cancer.

She was the one who made me believe the diet could cure everything, and that straying from that diet would kill you, and she never did, and yet, there she was. Dead.

It was horrifying and earth shattering.

I had a new life, new perspective to cling to. Everything they’d told me in treatment that I’d doubted was coming true. My life was getting better, in fact, because of my decision to live fully. It was harder than anything I’d ever had to do, but it was happening.

And it had NOTHING to do with my eating habits. In fact, the more I ate meat and fries and eschewed greens (which had NEVER been a part of my existence before), the better my physicals seemed to get!

And so I still cling to this hope, that I was wrong all along, that society taught me to hate myself for no reason. It is a shot in the dark. It is a struggle and a mind-meld all the time. But, small victories DO happen every day that never in my whole life happened before.

And here I am, clinging to it, still.

 

 

You’ve come a long way baby: My two-year ED treatment anniversary

So a few days out from my two-year graduation anniversary from EDTNY (Eating Disorder Treatment of New York, Monte Nido) post-Oliver-Pyatt Centers (OPC), I have spent a bit of time reflecting on what it was about treatment that worked for me, and what it was that did not.

Here’s an undeniable fact: Finally, at 34, eating disorders had begun to be recognized as an illness deserving of medical treatment that insurance covered (though trust me; it was a huge shit show to get coverage– for so many reasons, many of which I could discuss better in another blog).

When I officially developed anorexia at 14, there were NO treatment programs in place to help me. In fact, I’d been brewing the signs of an eating disorder before then and the best way to combat my symptoms (according to my stepmom and therefore, other people in my life) was to pretend it was a “phase” — to pretend the symptoms simply were not there.

I remember one rare weekend I stayed over at my dad’s (they were few and far between, and my ex-stepmom was there — the one who basically taught me everything I know about my eating disorder; and also, ironically, the one who told my parents at every step that I really didn’t have an eating disorder; that I was faking it) and I hadn’t really eaten in about two weeks.

After having been accused by said stepmother that I was a terrible human being, and a terrible sister to my half sister (whom I adored implicitly), and also that I had no such eating disorder to speak of, I tried to believe her. Trust me; I wanted to have no disorder. It was hard enough in all senses to have one. So that night, we ordered food from a pizza joint.

I ordered a chicken parmigiana sandwich. Because that’s what I used to order before I stopped eating. And I wanted, also, to pretend nothing was wrong.

Well, apparently, when you’ve been starving for months and months, and haven’t eaten nary a thing for two weeks, when you try to eat a chicken parmigiana sandwich, it hits you HARD.

I tried to be the best sister and daughter I could be, and after a few bites of the sandwich, the room started spinning, my stomach started yelling at me, and I passed out.

I woke up in the bed at my dad’s, and my family was around me. My dad held up a Renfrew brochure that my therapist had apparently given him. (Renfrew was relatively new at the time). He called my therapist, and she was put on speaker.

“Well, her electrolytes are out of balance. She needs to be fed.”

I saw the brochure, and in it I saw the end of my life. I remember — even though I felt so weak I was in and out of things — saying “Hey, I promise I will eat. I do not have to go into treatment. This is ridiculous.”

I remember my ex-stepmother saying to me in my ear (out of reach of my dad), “You’ve won. You beat me. Now stop this nonsense, because your father thinks I caused it.”

I remember, also, vaguely, the sound of my therapist insisting I needed treatment. I remember, also, my insistence that I did not.

“I’m fine. I’ll eat tomorrow. I was just tired. You cannot send me there; I don’t really have an eating disorder–” I said, playing into what they had already been insisting for a while. And because it was so hard for those around me to believe I had an eating disorder, and because I was so damn stalwart in insisting I was fine, they let it go.

I remember that night with both appreciation and deep, deep sadness. Had things been different then — had there been more acknowledgement of eating disorders and more health insurance available to treat them — and had my family been less convinced by my insistence that I was TOTALLY FINE, I could probably have gotten help then.

But knowing Renfrew as I have come to know it through word of mouth (from women I’ve been in treatment with) and from Intensive Outpatient (IOP) experience, I am glad I didn’t. Part of me, sure, wonders what my life could have been like had I gotten the help I most definitely needed back then, but part of me knows that the kind of help I needed didn’t exist.

All of me, now, knows these two things after having been through two sorts of treatment at the age of 34: The first, residential, at OPC, was what I needed to get physically healthy again and to be able to accept that I actually did have an eating disorder that needed treatment. It was what I had to face to be shaken out of my many-decade-long self hatred.

The second, PHP/IOP at EDTNY Monte Nido, was the treatment that SAVED MY LIFE. Monte Nido shook me out of my 34-year cycle of self-loathing, of delusion, of hopelessness. The therapists there were almost all recovered themselves, and for the first time in my LIFE, I was told that full recovery was possible.

My whole life, especially at my age and given my duration of illness (21 years), I had been told that anorexia and eating disorders, etc., were something I’d have to maintain and that I could never recover from. They were something I’d have to deal with my whole life.

In my head, when they told me that, it looked like this: You have this very painful, difficult illness. You won’t ever get over it, and you will feel continual pain. You have to stop the symptoms — the ones that have comforted you all along, but you will never be able to use these symptoms to cope again, and yet you will always, always want to. You will never have relief.

WHO THE HELL WANTS THAT? Suddenly, it’s not so shocking that so many women have continued with their eating disorders with this sort of “encouragement.”

This is not to say I am angry with OPC. Was it what I needed at the time? Yes. Was it perfect? Absolutely not.

My primary therapist left a LOT to be desired, and when I insisted on leaving AMA a month and three weeks after my arrival (Against Medical Advice — even though my insurance company had technically kicked me out THREE WEEKS PRIOR AND NO ONE HAD TOLD ME ABOUT IT), they gave me practically NO help setting up continued care.

I asked for it. I knew it would be a problem leaving. I was given a LOT of shit by those who did not know me. I will say that those who DID know me at OPC did support me. But they did not include my therapist nor the “Continued Care” specialist; both of whom left me totally alone to find my own way.

At first I wondered if I was really so wrong to intuitively feel it was time to leave OPC as I’d been told — if I was running from the care I needed (they wanted me to stay at LEAST three months; but, come ON; I was not one of the teens there who had no established life thus far and I needed to learn how to exist in my own world!) — and then I came to realize I was not.

Ironically, while at OPC, I learned how to trust my instincts, and to trust my voice, and to trust my “truth” (the word that was on the bracelet they gave me when I left). And even though I was told horrendous things about my leaving (which I can get into some other day), I deep down KNEW it was right. As did the people at OPC who truly took the time to know me beyond the teenage stereotype.

In fact, EDTNY stepped me down from PHP to IOP and then chose my graduation date without my ever having to say anything at all. This is how I know they KNEW me. Because it was the right time.

Have I struggled since then? ABSOLUTELY. Has it been tough? Oh my gosh, yes, yes, yes. May 25 was my two-year anniversary since EDTNY and only now have I really felt like I’ve been able to taste recovery (pun intended).

I had many brushes with relapse since. It took me ages to find a therapist after treatment, and to go to her, and she helped me make the most important progress of my life. Unfortunately for me (but amazingly for the many women to whom I know she will be an absolute GIFT), she moved on to Monte Nido Oregon this past week and it’s been a huge challenge for me.

It’s felt like a death, for sure.

Normally, I’d have lost my shit, relapsed, etc. But to honor her, and the progress we’d made, I’ve managed to do the total opposite: to stand up for myself. To honor myself. To do the things I need to do to respect the work she prompted me to do.

What’s the takeaway from all of this? Well, I suppose, I don’t really give myself enough credit, which is so de rigueur for me. I tend to make crazy strides in the right direction and forget where I’ve come from: in other words, the hopeless, dying kid who fell into residential at OPC over two years ago.

I remember, now, in glimpses, just how far I’ve come. I also can’t blame myself for forgetting, because I’ve come so far beyond that hopeless kid at OPC, there are times — thankfully — when I can hardly remember what that felt like.

I have a job I love; a life I’m working on; real friendships and relationships I’ve built; I can finally admit to my social anxiety, depression, general anxiety, PTSD, OCD, and other understandable coping mechanisms and genetic predispositions that I’d previously denied; and I finally realize that all the things I used to blame myself for previously are not, in fact, my fault.

Sure, as hard as it has been to accept that, I still do it. But being aware of that is also so important.

The most amazing therapist I’ve ever known has moved away, and still I made sure I tested out a woman she recommended for me RIGHT before she left, and even though her style is not what I’m used to, I’m giving it a chance.

I wrote to my former therapist what the outcome of our last session was, and here it is:

“I am glad to hear about what is happening in your life.

And yes, I am also glad to know that you are not punishing yourself. It means the work we did was meaningful and that you have internalized it.
While it may be that I was a positive voice in your head, I was also just reflecting back what I saw: a talented, bright, beautiful and deeply unique individual who received the message from early on that she was none of these things.
I hope that things work out with [new therapist]. Her energy is very different than mine, but she is excellent at what she does. But keep in mind that even if she is an excellent therapist generally, if she is not an excellent therapist for YOU, you can try elsewhere.”
So here I am. For the first time, I am not beating myself up for external circumstances I cannot control, and I am still in recovery despite the odds.
I often doubt the degree of my recovery, but lately I’ve been able to see just how far I have come. My reactions are so vastly different. My self-confidence is so distinctly evident. If I could just learn to trust myself more, to relax into my intuition, I believe things will, in fact, continue to get better, despite what I’ve always believed before.

Life is a box of crap

(Warning, brutally honest and skeptical and downer-ish blog to ensue.)

Life is just crappy lately.

There, I said it. Damn crappy. I have no motivation to do much but drag my ass out of bed to my job that is all wonky (and even that’s a fight), I have a few social engagements here and there but they are painful to get to and keep, I’m feeling bloated and out of control and I just don’t seem to give a crap.

After coming home from Vietnam and Thailand there are few things to look forward to, and the things I have are uncertain. Being there was incredible but also a heavy dose of reality and a firming of my identity as a self-hating American. Spring is upon us and everyone is wearing the new ass-bearing clothing that I hate, that I am loathe to wear, and the sun depresses me and makes it hard to pull the covers off my face to see.

“Oh, you should get out of bed and be in the world. You’ll feel better.”

Well, you see, lovingly advisory person who knows nothing about me, I have been in the world way, way more than you have. My whole life has been lived outside of the proverbial “comfort zone.” Trump will probably be the Republican candidate and New York City smells like urine and is too expensive for me to spend much time in and other heavier things are going on that I don’t care to reveal here, and well, shit is, like I said, crappy.

I also have extreme social anxiety. And anxiety in general. And all the things I used my eating disorder to mask are keeping me in bed. And the medication I’m taking to ease that anxiety has taken the edge off just enough for me to not give a shit.

You know, that guilt that used to drive me to do a billion things in light speed and to make me feel the need to do everything harder, faster, better than everyone else because I had this deep belief I was that much worse than everyone else and had to do so in order to not get hurt or fired or judged or hated is now gone.

So I don’t give a crap about keeping up my blog(s), or painting things, or singing, or being “the best little girl in the world,” or talking to people, because all of it hurts.

The irony of letting go of your deep belief that you’re not good enough is that in my case it leads to the belief that no one is, that there is no “good enough,” people die every day for no reason, people in my line of work are shit on and fail all the time despite all the shiniest, bestest ducks lined in a goddamned row. And so this “gift” treatment has given me is now biting me in the ass.

Or has it?

Pull the curtain of bullshit back and what you see is a different kind of bullshit. The misogynist, racist, classist, non-meritocratic culture that ensnared me and made me sick has now made me “healthy” while at the same time totally alienating me from it.

My reality now is that I’m too large to be considered acceptable, I’m depressed, I’m skeptical, I have no drive (except to keep a roof over my head; hence, work), and I have very little motivation to do anything about anything; not that I actually believe there’s anything I can actually do.

So there it is, folks. The darker moments of a life lived in recovery from a 21 year eating disorder that masked anxiety, depression, social anxiety, OCD, severe insecurity, and PTSD.

I have no apologies. If there’s one thing I can’t seem to part from, it is telling the truth.

Happy two-year anniversary since your admission to residential eating disorder treatment!

“I’m sorry. I sound like a petulant four year old.”

“That’s because we’re talking to your eating disorder,” my therapist said. And as she often does, she jarred me back into a reality I realized I’d lately been staunchly unwilling to accept.

The reality is that my eating disorder still lives in me.

I suppose I can take comfort in the fact that my denial surrounding this developed from a firm and stalwart resolve to banish this crap from my life for once and for all, if I want to be particularly optimistic, which today I do.

This week, however, I did not necessarily feel the same way.

Yesterday (February 18th) marked the two year anniversary of my admittance into residential treatment at Oliver-Pyatt Centers (OPC) in Miami. My Facebook “On This Day” post unwittingly cascaded onto me the photos I took while breathless, weak, and all but hopeless on my airplane as it was de-iced by Star Trek-like machines in the middle of an unending and bleak winter that culminated in a snow storm that almost kept me from getting to treatment.

Mine was the last plane out of JFK.

Thank the powers that be, because I swear, if I had been forced back home after a cancelled flight, I am pretty positive I would not have gotten on that plane again.

I am not an anniversary person. I don’t remember dates; I hardly remember my own birthday. If it wasn’t for Google calendar, my family and best friends’ birthdays would slip by unnoticed. I normally do not count celebratory years or days after significant experiences in my life.

This anniversary, however — though I would not consider it “celebratory” — sticks in my mind because of the intensity and sadness of it; particularly because of the sadness, blackness, and emptiness that was my life before I flew the snowy miles to Miami and landed at OPC.

It’s super easy for me to, as a perfectionist, ignore my accomplishments; particularly, as is not surprising for someone who struggled with anorexia nervosa for 21 years, when those accomplishments coincide with significant weight gain.

When I left OPC, I had gained some weight, but just enough to be semi-clear of absolute medical disaster. The majority of my recovery there was consistent eating, restraint from throwing up the nothing I would eat, and the beginnings of the birth of a recollection of who I was and why I should get out of bed in the morning; why I deserved to breathe at all.

I remember the day I returned to my mother’s to collect my cats after being away from my home for 56 of the longest, most terrifying and challenging days of my life in residential at OPC, and I remember wanting to apologize for how fat I’d grown, but having been taught I should not.

I remember the blank stares from my family, which I interpreted as “Gee you’ve grown so fat I can hardly recognize you;” not also to mention I had become newly anxious and obsessed over my dictatorially rigid regular eating schedule that served only to replace the my dictatorially rigid regular not-eating schedule, as well as all my other OCD and anxiety fueled obsessions.

Only later did I realize the stares actually belied the “Hmmm. She hasn’t really gained much weight. Is she really okay?”

This didn’t really hit home until after I got out of partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient at Monte Nido Eating Disorder Treatment of New York (EDTNY), was out from under the consistent weigh-ins which I both dreaded and restricted around, and got a job with “normal eaters.”

That’s when the real weight gain began.

This, woefully, was something no one warned me about, mostly because I am muscular and have large bones. My “normal weight” has NOTHING to do with the weight dictated by my health insurance related BMI (which is a totally false and utterly bullshit measure of health — a topic for another blog).

Let’s just say, looking back, the fact that no one understood that a size zero for such a muscular, large boned, 5’6″ woman was NOT sustainable in true recovery was (and is) a tad disturbing and disappointing.

So, as I began to live out the real life stages of my recovery, my weight slowly crept up. In the past years, I’ve gone up three pants sizes. I hate to mention numbers, and I usually make a point not to, but I also feel the need to in order to make peace with it.

A short while ago, when I purchased my very first size 6 pants and began to freak the fuck out about it, a tall friend of mine, who is a few sizes larger than I am because of her height, looked at me when I admitted to the size I was paralyzed with anxiety about like I had six heads.

“Wait, you are a size what?”

“Four/six. Five, really, if you want to parse it out.”

“So what is the fucking problem?”

I was stopped dead in my tracks. Because the reality of the question, as is usually the reality my pretty smart and pretty rational brain clings to, jarred me out of the horrid, dark, unreasonable recesses of my brain where the eating disorder still dwells even after two years of dedication to recovery.

The reality that in my heart and soul — for anyone but me — that any size is okay jarred me out of the sort of disillusionment that often feels a lot like narcissism and hypocrisy in my overly self-critical head.

Somewhere along the line, thanks to a combination of mental illnesses including OCD, anxiety, and undue influence of the ilk that bordered on (if not exemplified) abuse, I had decided that anything above a size 4 meant I was a horrible person. Totally unacceptable. Completely unworthy, unloveable, and unsafe.

The feeling, of course, as I see it now, is not rational. In fact, it is completely irrational (I know now deep down only after thousands of dollars of therapy and doses of self reflection) for me to be a size zero. Much less a 2. Much less even a 4. And even a 5/6 leaves me some “room to grow,” so I’ve been told.

But the association is all too real to me. In fact, it produces a physiological reaction in me unmatched by any other except when I have found myself the subject of abject danger, abandonment, harm, or abuse.

I start to sweat. I shake uncontrollably. My brain ceases to function. Every single wonderful achievement in my life is rendered useless and meaningless. I don’t want to leave the house because I don’t want anyone to “see me like this.” I look down at myself (because I can’t even begin to stomach mirrors during this time) and honestly see someone who needs to be airlifted out of the top of their house because they are so huge.

I honestly feel 100% unsafe. Imagine your scariest moment. Imagine your body’s reaction, your brain’s blurring, your panic. That’s what I’m talking about.

I used to see myself like this when I was a size zero, too, which is evidence that I have very real and very psychological body dysmorphia. I do NOT, even now, even in this stage of recovery, yet have the ability to see myself objectively as I am. This TOTALLY PERTURBS ME! I am rational! I am smart! I try every trick in the book to see myself in the mirror the way I am, and yet it does not work!

One moment I look and I think “Okay, I can manage this.” Five minutes later, in a storefront window, I see myself and it’s as if I’ve gained 50 pounds in five minutes. Then I see a photo of myself (usually when I see photos of myself I feel this way) and I. Just. Want. To. End it all.

So sad for someone with such fundamental and larger (pun intended) notions of personhood and worth. It’s so sad. And kind of gross. But I can’t friggin’ help it.

Since treatment, I have undeniably had moments of feeling okay. But surrounding this anniversary, I have been sadly unable to recall them. In fact, they have felt an awful lot like an excuse to me — an excuse to be unhealthily overweight and unworthy of praise whatsoever.

I’ve also, as I mentioned earlier, been unable to acknowledge my eating disorder’s persistence in my brain for the most part.

And this is what scares me most: my impulse to deny that voice’s existence, which is, I believe, most harmful to my recovery. This is why I write in this public forum about things that are so damned intimate and personal to me.

I am not one to share these sorts of things on a whim. I question every second the validity and integrity of “airing my dirty laundry” so to speak. I fear judgment, I fear self-judgment, I fear the fear of facing the things I face as I write.

But I have committed tonight to do it anyway.

Because the more invisible a problem is, the more insidious. The more dangerous. This is the case with eating disorders especially, as they thrive on invisibility and secrecy. And to be honest, I have dabbled with behaviors this past month. They have not been consistent, thankfully, but I have dabbled nonetheless.

I always say the one thing that kicks me back on the recovery track is the fear of having to return to treatment, no matter how vital, important, and essential it was for me; no matter how deeply thankful I am to have been able to go.

It both saved my life and instilled the fear of hell into me because it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

So here I am, facing my worst fear once again, looking back on a two year anniversary.

Two years ago tonight I was on my way back to the OPC Miami residences after eating a horrifyingly traumatic dinner in front of 15 girls who scared the crap out of me and spending a half an hour processing and being made to talk about my feelings around the meal which I’d NEVER EVER DONE.

I was driven in a white van by a Recovery Coach 10 years younger than me with a group of girls nearly half my age singing pop songs I hated to an expensive (much more expensive than what I could ever feasibly afford here) apartment in Miami to sit with four strangers for an hour waiting to take my Colace and Ativan so maybe I could poop and sleep sometime in the near future wondering what the fuck I did so wrong in my life that I had to wait for others to pee before I could pee WHILE BEING WATCHED by said Recovery Coach.

Tonight I sit home with my beautiful cats in my bright, warm apartment after having had coworker drinks and having outdone myself in the face of one of the most challenging and meaningful work weeks of my life. I had meant to restrict on my anniversary but somehow I did not. I have a weekend of rest and socialization, and I stare down the barrel of a lifelong bucket list trip to Vietnam next month.

Yes, it has been infinitely challenging to get through this week. No, I was not able to see the positive even six hours ago.

But I am right now. And even though I wasn’t able to see it, I acted as if, and I got through, and my life IS in fact better, as hard as it is to accept.

 

 

 

Two year update letter to my Monte Nido therapist

Hi Sarah.

So, here I am, running my organization’s biggest event of the year, in the hardest month of the year (January, which last year meant relapse, and the year before meant admittance into Oliver-Pyatt Centers in Miami for treatment) and, well, though I’m struggling, I also semi-reluctantly admit that I am KICKING. ASS.

I just got the “Personal Message from Carolyn Costin” in my email inbox about her decision to move on from full time involvement in the miraculous, life-saving empire she created decades ago. And I am sad, but couldn’t have found the timing more, well, timely.

Restriction has entered my mind in the past month. The past year has been even harder than the rest have been for many reasons: mostly because, I think, I’ve had the space and the presence of mind (without the numbing physical symptoms and fogginess of an eating disorder) to actually face the really hard stuff. The underlying cause(s) of my eating disorder. To consciously lift the veil I’ve lived behind for 35 years and to face realistically who my family is, who my friends are (and aren’t), and most importantly, to begin to understand WHO I AM.

And so, without the numbing self-medication of eating disorder symptoms, it’s been tough. So has the weight gain. So has the reimagining of what my “healthy body” looks like, which is exactly two-plus pants sizes more, and two hip bones, collarbones, and many ribs fewer than what I’d ever anticipated to be acceptable.

These are rough times, sure.

But there is a freedom in it. And a clarity of mind. And with the 5 mg of Lexapro I began nearly a year ago, there is a realization that genetics as well as upbringing played a major part in my struggles.

I am able to prompt myself to breathe again in the mornings when I wake and cannot breathe. And once I get going, I can see my strengths, my power, my abilities clearly and begin to ask for respect from those I now choose to keep around me for those, to begin to create healthy boundaries, to own taking up space in the world and to continually let go of the lifelong safety and (FALSE!) “pride” of being smaller. Being quiet. Being without, quite literally, any needs at all — most fundamentally, feeding myself. In all senses.

Carolyn’s resignation prompted me to revisit some of my online eating disorder journal, and I read the entry of my first day at EDTNY when I called you “a little bit magical.”

Well, you, and the entire EDTNY staff, and Carolyn, and Monte Nido as a philosophy (i.e. the very first people in my life to both tell me and prove to me by example that RECOVERY IS POSSIBLE even after 21 years) absolutely saved my life. And if not that dramatic, you all changed my life so drastically for the better that I am basically in tears as I tell you this.

The other day I went out to a restaurant with a friend I went out with the day before entering treatment for the first time two years ago, almost to the day. Not only was the restaurant totally revamped, but so was the menu, and most importantly, so was I.

Two years ago I shivered over two bites of lettuce and regretted it after; only ate them so I’d have the strength to get on a plane the next day to enter treatment in Miami.

The other day, I looked at the menu with my friend, ordered the very first grilled cheese sandwich I’d ever ordered at a restaurant in my life, ordered it without a second thought because I wanted it, and ate it with gusto.

I hadn’t seen my friend in a while, and I recall very vividly the shocked look on his face, and the almost-tears in his eyes.

“I knew you were doing so much better, but I never, ever imagined you were doing this well.”

I sometimes doubt my progress and my decades-imbedded ED habits enter my brain and make me question whether my increased pants size and evermore pervasive and fundamental lack of concern over the way my body looks and how (no longer) small it is is actually progress.

But then I meet with the friend I met with two years ago, live my day-to-day, stand up for myself, forget to worry about food and body for a second or two, revisit my journals, FEEL how much more confident and sure of myself I am, and I have fleeting proud moments.

You were such an integral part in that shift for me, Sarah. I cannot thank you enough. I said you were magical in my first journal, but I also remember you telling me in a session (or five) that you thought I, too had magic in me, and that when I owned it I was very powerful and could help many people.

I can’t tell you how often I think of that when I’m low — particularly in my amazing, amazing current job working for a nonprofit for young NYC people with disabilities — and how it helps me feed myself and my soul, helps me give myself credit, and helps me continue on in this scary, difficult, wonderful, awe-ful road to recovery.

Thank you for all you do.