Yes, I’m wearing a hat inside my house at 5 am.

Last month, the Director of Program Ministries at my church invited me to give talk about eating disorders. It’s scheduled for the end of this month. I am honored to have the opportunity to share my story and spread awareness about eating disorders.

I’ve been working on it a lot lately.

While I was working on it the other day something felt familiar, kinda like déjà vu but less intense. Then it hit me. My life looks a lot like the life I wrote about in Writing Assignment #4: A Day In my Life When I Am Recovered (if you click on the blue it should take you to the post).

Back in November 2015, I imagined what a day in my Recovered life would look like. I remember writing it. I tried to write it months earlier but anxiety took over so I gave myself permission to step away. A few months later, Recovered seemed less intimidating. My anxiety was definitely still there, slowing building below the surface, but I kept reminding myself, “Recovered isn’t a fairytale.”

As I wrote, the anxiety melted away and I enjoyed dreaming about what a day in my Recovered might look like. Rather than create an elaborate fantasy (which I’d done in the past) I worked hard to keep my expectations high, but realistic.

Back in November 2015, I was nine months into my intense recovery work. Most of my eating disorder behaviors were gone but I was still dealing with lingering eating disorder thoughts. So when I thought about a day in my Recovered life, I focused in on what my life would look like without eating disorder thoughts. A life where I could be fully present and show up and be seen and fight for a cause that I believe in.

It all felt aspirational, yet within reach. Not necessarily within my grasp, but close enough that it didn’t paralyze me with fear and self-doubt.

A little over a year later, I get to be fully present in my life. Everyday I challenge myself to show up and be seen in an effort to fight for a cause I believe in.

Keep dreaming friends. Keep moving. I know the road is long and the journey slow, but you will get there. Where ever “there” is for you. You may move backwards, sideways, up or down. But if you keep moving, if you keep getting up, you will move forward.

 

 

 

 

I was really intimidated by this writing assignment when I first read 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder in March. At the time, I had no idea what a Recovered life might look like, let alone what my Recovered life might look like. The idea that I could even be Recovered seemed foreign and too far out of reach. I was also dealing with over thirty years of self-hatred, so I didn’t feel worthy enough to even fantasize about it. When I read through Key 1 again a few months later for the support group I was in, I still had trouble sitting down and doing this assignment.

Even now, dreaming about what I want my Recovered life to look like feels vulnerable and scary. What if people think it’s stupid? or too ambitious?  What if I don’t get to Recovered? What if I can’t do it? Is my dream too far out of reach? What if I fail?

But something is different now, I like myself. I believe in who I am and what I can do. I know that whether my fantasized “Day in the life of Recovered Ali” happens, I will still be okay. My life will have meaning and purpose because I will continue to show up and allow myself to be seen, regardless of the outcome. (Anyone notice the heavy Brené Brown influence? I love that woman.)

What I know right now is that I want to help people. Specifically, I want to help women extricate themselves from the “weight-loss as a lifestyle” quagmire. When I say “weight-loss as a lifestyle” I am talking about people, like myself, who have spent most of our lives in a constant state of trying to lose weight. However, it is important to note that you do not have to self identify as having an eating disorder to be living “weight-loss as a lifestyle.”

The fact is there is “no one size fits all” method to get to Recovered. And Recovered means different things to different people. There are so many different methodologies and stories out there and they are all important.  The more people “show their work” on their recovery and talk about their stories, the more powerful this revolution becomes because, hopefully, people will see that they are not alone and that they don’t have to live a life beholden to a number on a scale.

I felt alone for a very long time and I’m sure it played a role in why I was sick for so long. I discovered Glennon Melton’s blog, Momastery (www.momastery.com), a few years ago and though I didn’t realize it at the time, something inside me changed. Her bravery, courage and honesty about her life as a Mom and someone dealing with eating disorder issues, resonated deeply with me because I saw parts of myself in her. So I didn’t feel alone anymore. Now that feeling wasn’t a magical pill that instantly changed everything for me, but I believe it shifted my mindset enough that I was able to get where I am today.

Okay, now the fun part….

Day in the Life of Recovered Ali

My day starts early. I wake up at 5 am, right before my alarm goes off.  I climb out of bed and head downstairs to get my first cup of coffee.  I am excited to get downstairs and write.  My body feels a little sore from a tough Gold’s Fit workout the day before.  I smile.  The coffee smells fantastic.  I love this time in the morning when everything is quiet and new.  Anything can happen and the sky is the limit.

Today I am working on a presentation for a conference.  My presentation is about mainstreaming eating disorder recovery. My work is influenced by the amazing and inspirational work of Carolyn Costin, Gwen Schubert Grabb, Brené Brown, Glennon Melton and Elizabeth Gilbert. As well as my conversations with my therapist, Liz, and dear friends, Abbie and Jamie.   I admire these women so much and have learned so much from all of them. I continue to learn from all the wonderful, courageous people who come into my life.

Before I work on the presentation, I email my Dad. I let him know that I am working hard and the presentation is coming together.  I talk about where I am on the book I’ve been writing and how much I enjoy the support groups I’m working with. I facilitate support groups (like Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In groups, maybe?). The group supports one another and works together to hold each other accountable.  I also like the sense of community a group provides. Recovery takes a community. The focus of the group is to start healing from the inside which will then take care of external appearance issues.

Then I do some journaling to check in with myself.  I know how important it is to check in with myself to see how I’m feeling.  I feel good today.  I feel worthy and like I belong to the amazing group of woman and men that are in my life.  I work on my gratitude practice and am so grateful to have a strong purpose of what I believe in and want to do.  I have two wonderful boys that I love spending time with, I have Steve, who I love more everyday, I am healthy and love myself and who I am becoming.

The boys wake up.  I am a little bothered to cut short my writing time, but I know I’ll have plenty of writing time once the boys are in school so the feeling passes quickly. Plus their smiles light up my life.  I fix them breakfast and we talk about what we want to do today. We connect by reading books, playing games and rough housing.

I get them off to school and I head to the gym for Gold’s Fit.  I’m still a little sore from yesterday but I am excited to see my friends and I have already told myself that I can do anything for an hour.  Doing Gold’s Fit isn’t about losing weight or even getting fit.  Working out is about managing my anxiety.  It feels good to release the energy, work hard and sweat.  Plus the friends I’ve made are awesome.  We hang out and talk for a bit after class and then I head home.  Feeling good and ready to get to work.

I give myself 30 minutes to clean when I get home.  Then I take a shower and sit down at my computer.  I am working to join a revolution.  Helping women change their lives. Eating disorder recovery gone mainstream.  One woman at a time. I love this work.  It gives me purpose and empowers me.  I want to help women break free from the chains of constantly living the “weight-loss as a goal” lifestyle.  One person at a time.

I finish working and pick up the boys.  We go to a park and play for an hour or so before dinner.  I let them watch tv so I can get dinner started.  I still hate making dinner but it is a way that I can show my affection for Steve.  As Brené Brown says, I can “practice” loving him rather than just saying that I love him.  We have dinner at the table as a family and each talk about what we are grateful for that day.  5 positive things and one thing that we would like to work on.

Steve plays with the boys after dinner and I clean up the kitchen.  Steve gets the boys ready for bed and I come up for hugs and kisses.  I spend 5 minutes with Wyatt and 5 minutes with Harrison. I love “5 minutes” because I get to cuddle with each boy and hear more about their favorite part of the day.

Once the boys are in bed Steve and I spend an hour or so together.  I call it connection time, which can mean different things on different days.  Sometimes it means talking, sometimes it means sex, sometimes we watch tv and sometimes we sit next to each other while we play on our phones (ah love in the Twenty-First Century). Then I go upstairs and get ready for bed.  Today I was enough.  I watch a show or two and fall asleep.  Steve comes up an hour or two later and I am already asleep. I love having him next to me when I sleep.

*Trigger Warning: I talk candidly about eating disorder thoughts and behaviors in this post.

This is an interesting exercise that narrows in on the mechanics of my motivation to be Recovered. This exercise forced me to stop and think about my main eating disorder trigger (spoiler alert: it’s anxiety), what exacerbates that trigger and how I can defuse the anxiety without reverting back to unhealthy thoughts or behaviors. I have made several changes in an effort to manage my anxiety and my goal is to maintain those positive changes.

Anxiety is one doozy of a trigger. I am an anxious person by nature so sometimes I feel anxious and I don’t even know why. Other times my anxiety meter rises for reasons like: feeling like a bad Mom (big anxiety source), not connecting with Steve, the witching hours (between 2pm-4pm, my nemesis!), fear of not being able to get enough stuff done, body weight variations, feeling left out, feeling old, feeling ugly, feeling stupid, past trauma, feeling like a failure for not pursuing a career, and too much truth-telling (ie. a vulnerability hangover).

The overwhelming theme behind most of my anxiety triggers is shame. Shame makes me feel unworthy of love, belonging and connection which then triggers anxiety. As the anxiety intensifies I start searching for ways to release or relieve the pain. For a very long time, I used my eating disorder for this purpose because I thought it relieved the pain. Boy, was I wrong.

Several months ago I had a breakthrough. I discovered my anxiety cycle. I realized that I used my eating disorder to both fuel and cope with anxiety. The cycle started at baseline the day after a binge/purge episode.  By baseline, I mean zero to minimal anxiety because, let’s face it, the purging left me numb and exhausted. The numbness and exhaustion started to wear off around day three or four. I’d hate myself and feel like a failure because I’d sabotaged myself again, but, at that point, the hope that “things would be different this time” was stronger than the anxiety.

I used behaviors like restricting, counting calories and over-exercising to manage the daily anxiety.  I thought that if I just “lost the weight” everything would be better. What I failed to realize was that those thoughts and behaviors magnified the anxiety and made it worse.  So week after week the anxiety would continue to build and build until finally, it became too much and I would binge. I might binge once or twice a day for a few days. Then the shame of having binged would shoot my anxiety meter off the charts and I would turn to purging. I hated myself for doing it and I hated the fact that it was my “go to” anxiety release.

After I deconstructed my anxiety cycle, I started to look at my anxiety triggers and how I could defuse them before they got too intense.  I figured that if I could keep my anxiety low then maybe I wouldn’t be tempted to revert to eating disordered thoughts and behaviors.

I talked about it with my husband, friends, in group and with my therapist. I started to notice that anytime I said the word “defusing” I would make a motion with my hand, that to me, symbolized defusing anxiety. I do it all the time now and, for whatever reason, it helps me get centered and focus on finding a positive way to defuse anxiety.

So, in addition to a super sweet hand gesture, I figured out that working out (limited to a one hour class, three to four times a week), reading, writing, reaching out to Steve or a friend, positive affirmations, laughing with the boys, sharing my story with others and getting lost in a television show or movie help with my anxiety management.  So now, I turn to one or some of those coping mechanisms when I start feeling anxious. It wasn’t easy at first but the more I used the tools, the more I realized that they worked better than my eating disorder.

Yesterday morning is actually a good example of how I use several of the aforementioned coping strategies to keep my anxiety in check. I usually get up around 5 or 5:15 am. Harrison doesn’t get up until 6:30/6:45am and Wyatt graciously sleeps in until 7:30am. So I typically get at least an hour to an hour and a half all to myself. During that time I employ two anxiety management tools: writing and reaching out to a friend (I talk to my friend while she drives to work – she’s on the east coast).  These two tools help me start my day at a baseline level of zero to minimal anxiety. Needless to say, this time is sacred.

So yesterday, like most days, I was up at 5:15 am and ready to write before my friend Jamie called. It was a lovely morning, I took the dogs out, got my coffee and at approximately 5:25 am, I sat down at my computer and started to write…and then I heard it. A door opened, the little patter of a 3 year old’s footsteps and a then a little hand shaking the upstairs gate. Super. Harrison was up (curse you Daylight Savings Time!).

So my darling Harrison, whom I love so much, was up which meant no writing time. I did get my friend time which was nice but I was already starting to worry that I might not have enough time to write.  That, coupled with some “I’m a bad mom” shame for wishing Harrison would stay in his room (and leave me alone!) until 6:30 am, got my anxiety brewing.

As the morning progressed I started worrying about not being able to get everything done. I wanted to workout, clean the house, finish the laundry, write (this blog post and get it posted plus do some emails), read, play with the boys and then be a taxi service for their activities. Around 7:00am the anxiety started to intensify, “Would I have time to write while the boys are in school this morning?” “I really need to clean the house.” “What if I can’t think of anything to write about?” “Why are the boys constantly screaming at each other, is that normal?”

I started to think about skipping the gym so I could use the time the boys were in school to write. But then I got nervous that I wouldn’t write during that time. I might get writer’s block and then focus on cleaning the house and doing the laundry.  The anxiety was starting to snowball and manifest physically (dry mouth, sweaty palms, uneasy stomach, nerves on high alert). So I stopped. I took a moment, did my “diffusing” hand gesture, and focused on my next step.

Instead of letting the anxiety get worse, I decided to get to the gym. Physical exertion is a great anxiety diffuser, especially if you don’t give a rats ass about weight loss or what you look like and are only in it for the anxiety release. I did a Gold’s Fit class (kinda like crossfit) and, by the end of the class, my anxiety had dissipated.

Since I wasn’t on high alert anymore I was able to come home, clean for 10 minutes, take a shower and sit down and start writing. I had two hours of (almost) uninterrupted writing time. I didn’t get all the writing done that I wanted too (note: this blog post didn’t go up until the next day) but it felt great to have some time to explore and process my feelings.

Throughout the rest of the day I found time to read, play with the boys, write, and watch The Flash with Steve. At the end of the day I reminded myself that, regardless of what got done, today I was enough. Then I feel asleep.

I deal with anxiety everyday and some days I have to employ more tools than others. But by focusing on positive anxiety management I have been able to start living my life without using eating disorder thoughts or behaviors.

 

*Trigger Warning: I talk candidly about eating disorder thoughts and behaviors in this post.

 

I like this writing exercise because I get to focus on the positive progress I have made over the last eight months :-). Although, it is so important to do writing assignments like the one I posted yesterday. Opening up and sharing my story helps me take the power away from shame.  In, Daring Greatly , Brené Brown describes shame as the fear of disconnection. Daring Greatly, pg. 68. This resonates deeply with me because for so long I hid how sick I was and how much I hated myself because I thought people would think I wasn’t worthy of their friendship. I am not hiding anymore and I can’t even begin to describe how liberating it is!

When I started this journey eight months ago I was at Phase 5. “[P]hase 5. I tried to change but I couldn’t. I told myself that I would not (fill in the blank) but I found myself doing it again. I don’t feel like I can really ever (change) get well, so why keep trying?” 8 Keys, pg. 15. At the time, I had binged and purged and felt hopeless that I would never be able to stop. At 39, I had tried, and tried, and tried to stop the binge/purge cycle, but it always came back.  I figured there must be something inherently wrong with me. I wasn’t binging and purging as often as I had in the past so I justified that at least I was a lot better. But the fact was that I wanted to get rid of it!  I wanted to be Recovered.

So I started working. First, I started reading 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder by Carolyn Costin and Gwen Schubert Grabb, then I found an individual therapist to work with every week and then I joined a weekly support group that focused on the 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder. During the course of the group I got to Phase 6. “[P]hase 6. I can stop some of the behaviors but not all of them.” Id. For me this meant that I could stop purging but I couldn’t stop emotional eating (i.e. binging) and obsessing about trying to lose weightAt this phase it dawned on me that I wasn’t just dealing with eating disorder behaviors, I was also dealing with eating disorder thoughts (ie constantly trying to lose weight). And boy, oh boy, those thoughts were powerful.

That took me to Phase 7. “[P]hase 7. I can stop the behaviors, but not my thoughts… I keep counting calories over and over in my head and still want to lose weight.” Id.  Thoughts are so powerful. This was the phase where I realized that I had to let go of “weight-loss as a lifestyle.” I had been in a constant state of trying to lose weight for years (over thirty if we’re counting). It was time to let it go.

As a visual person, I pictured myself adrift in an ocean holding tightly to a lifesaver that read “WEIGHT LOSS AS A GOAL.”  For whatever reason, I had been clinging to that lifesaver my whole life. Holding on for dear life. So I started letting go. It was scary, no terrifying, but little by little I began to realize that I didn’t need that lifesaver anymore. It turned out it wasn’t a lifesaver at all, it was an anchor.

Now I am at Phase 8. “[P]hase 8. I am often free from behaviors and thoughts, but not all the time. I feel fine all day, but under stress I revert back to my unhealthy behaviors.” For me, this means that most days I am free from behaviors and thoughts but when anxiety starts to build or I get stressed, my default is still to revert back to ED behaviors.  Specifically, my instinct is to turn to food when I feel stressed or anxious.  Especially during the witching hours between 2pm and 4 pm.

Recovery is exhausting because there are SO MANY FEELINGS!! Sometimes I just want to escape the intensity of my feelings for a few minutes. Which is okay and can be done in healthy ways, like watching tv, calling or emailing a friend, working out, etc. But sometimes it can get a little hairy and feel like teetering on a balance beam. Especially if I’m hungry.  So I’m hungry and I know it is okay to eat but, whether I admit it or not, I am also looking for a brief respite from feeling the feelings.  So one side leans towards hunger and the other pulls me down towards comfort.

During the witching hours a couple weeks ago, I was on that balance beam and I gave into the comfort. In the moment, I knew something might be up but I was able to just eat the food I wanted and move on. The next day didn’t go as smoothly. I did the same thing, but this time I kept eating. Not a lot, not binge worthy, but I knew I was still eating even though I wasn’t hungry anymore. I felt anxious because of some unresolved feelings and I was trying to use food to give myself a break from feeling them.

I stopped eating (that wasn’t easy) and sat down and wrote an email to my friend Abbie about what was happening and what I was feeling.  It was a watershed moment for me.  The anxiety dissipated the moment I pressed “send.” Since that day I have focused on what I can do to make the witching hours (2pm – 4pm) more manageable. Writing is a wonderful resource. It grounds me and doing the writing assignments in the book (8 Keys) gives me the structure I need to feel comfortable (ie. I’m not stressing about what to write). I also try to make sure that I am not hungry during the witching hours (no more balance beam).

My hope is to continue on this path to Phase 9 and then to Phase 10, Recovered.  I am proud of how I have handled the ED thoughts and behaviors that have crept in over the last several months.  I feel like each time I address the negative thoughts and behaviors my healthy self gets stronger and my eating disorder self gets smaller. Since I made my first commitment to recovery in my early twenties, this is the furthest I have ever gotten in recovery and I am very proud. For me, hope, commitment and purpose have been instrumental in getting me to where I am now.  I have hope that I will be Recovered, I am committed to doing what it takes to get to Recovered, and my purpose is that I love myself, my children and my Steve.

Trigger Warning: I talk candidly about eating disorder behaviors in this post.

I wish there was an easier writing assignment to start with, although I really like how Carolyn tells us that we don’t need to get caught up in trying to figure out which day was the worst.  That was exactly what I started doing when I read the title of the assignment.  I was stressing, stressing, stressing trying to think of my worst ED day until she let me off the hook.  This is still a really hard one to write because I am having a good day today. It is hard to sit down and focus on the bad times. I know it is necessary but it is really hard because it brings up a lot of stuff that I am not proud of.

My worst day in the last five years looks a lot different from my worst day ten or even twenty years ago. Twenty years ago my worst day involved a significant amount of binging and purging and most days were a worst day. Ten years ago my worst day involved some binging and purging and some days were a worst day. In the last 5 years, my worst days involved very little binging and purging but a lot of the peripheral eating disordered thoughts and behaviors that I use to think were “normal.” Behaviors like emotional eating, counting calories, over exercising, comparing myself to others, distorted body image, fat talk (“I feel fat today”), body checking and measuring, cleanses and detox diets (i.e. obsessing about some new diet that was going to “fix” everything).  Honestly, these worst days have been very difficult to face because they directly affected my husband and children.  When I was sick in my teens and twenties, I knew, intellectually, that I hurt my parents and my brother, but it felt like the only person I was really hurting was me.

Anyway, a worst day. It feels like forever ago but it was actually earlier this year. March 15, 2015.  I woke up feeling tired, even though I had gotten no fewer than eight hours of sleep. Like most days, I just wanted to stay in bed.  I felt fat, ugly and embarrassed of my body.  I hated myself.  I felt like a failure professionally and as a Mom because I had no patience and I longed for any moment that I could have a break from my kids.

Several weeks prior to March 15, 2015, I joined a twelve week challenge at my gym because I was finally (after no less than one thousand attempts) going to lose the baby weight and become my best self (aka another “new diet” that would fix everything). Even before I had the boys, I obsessed about my weight and was confident that everything in my life would magically fall into place if I was thinner and more attractive.   People would like me, I would excel at my dream job, people would be impressed and inspired by me, I would have more patience with the kids and love spending every second with them, I would want sex every day and life would be perfect. In truth, I had no idea what I wanted, but I was one hundred percent certain that being thin would get me there.

So yeah, back to March 15, 2015. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I felt fat and ugly. I cheated on my diet the day before and I knew that I would probably do it again today because I was a failure with no self-control. I was annoyed from the start because Harrison had the audacity to wake up early and make me get out of bed.  Steve pissed me off for not getting up with Harrison and, of course, I blamed Steve for not making it easier for me to lose weight and live my best life (it is so much easier to blame others than accept ownership of your life).  Anyway, I was pissed because I knew I wasn’t losing weight so that meant I would have to restrict at breakfast. I didn’t want to restrict, I wanted a buffet.  I ate something from my “diet” and tried to shake my shitty, shitty mood.  I felt awful.  Everything sucked and I was annoyed and mad at everyone and everything.

I knew I should go to the gym but I was tired and didn’t want to do anything.  I didn’t want anyone to see me.  I was so ashamed of what I looked like and felt like everyone was judging me.  I was so embarrassed because I thought everyone knew I was doing the Twelve-Week Challenge, so I felt their eyes on me trying to assess whether I had lost weight.  I felt like a gigantic failure because I hadn’t lost weight or inches. So I sucked it up, took Wyatt to school and Harrison and I went to the gym. It felt good to get my body moving but I was incredibly self-conscious. I did a one hour class and then got on a treadmill. My gym routine at that time was to do a one hour class and then do more cardio so I could meet my step goal (per my Garmin Vivofit). In truth, I hated doing what felt like extra cardio but I told myself I had to do it if I wanted to lose weight. So I did the extra cardio but couldn’t get past the fact that I was so pissed that I had to do all this extra work that probably wouldn’t make a difference anyway.

Anyway, I felt a little better after working out but I had a sinking feeling it wouldn’t last. My anxiety was too strong and I could feel it…lingering…waiting…  Harrison and I got home, I ate a protein bar (which felt safe and non-triggering) and we played and read books before going to pick up Wyatt from school.  The calm before the storm. Reading and playing with Harrison felt good and for about twenty minutes I felt okay. Then there was a toddler meltdown about having to get a coat on and then there was a toddler meltdown about having to get in the car. All of a sudden I was angry, frustrated and tired.  Anxiety overload. I felt like a horrible Mom because I didn’t have the patience to calm him down and because I let my darling toddler’s tantrum affect me so deeply.

When we got back to the house, I made the boys some lunch. I knew I should eat something on my diet but, damn it, I didn’t want to. So I didn’t, knowing that it could be a trigger. I tried to reason with myself that if I ate a big lunch than maybe I wouldn’t be tempted to binge during the witching hours ( 2pm-4pm).  Let me explain, even though I was “on a diet,” everyday for the last couple weeks I would cave and binge on something between 2pm and 4 pm (probably had something to do with why I hadn’t lost any weight).  I would try to get though the urge to eat, but I would always give in and start eating. This had been going on for the last week or two. I would binge but I wouldn’t purge. On March 15, 2015, however, I binged and then decided I had to purge.  I hadn’t purged since January or early February.

I set the boys up with the tv in the playroom and sat by myself and ate. In the moment, binging felt like relief because it distracted me from hating myself.  It sounds weird, but I hated myself so much that I could physically feel it. It felt like a ton of bricks on my shoulders.  It was like all the anxiety that had built up could finally be ignored and then when I purged, I purged the anxiety as well.  After the purge I felt empty and numb. The physical stress from the anxiety was gone. I hated myself but, for a moment, the crushing anxiety lifted off my shoulders.

I felt numb. Well, tired and numb. Binging and purging takes a lot out of you. And while there was a moment of relief, the relief gradually morphed into shame which then bolstered the “I hate myself” narrative. I continued to ignore the kids (i.e. let them watch tv) and was annoyed every time they asked for something –which felt like every five minutes.  It was almost 4pm and I was already dreading Steve coming home and having to make dinner for him.  I wished I could just cut to bedtime.  But bedtime was still pretty far away and I was left with my thoughts.  I felt like a failure, I felt trapped by my own failings as a person.  I kept thinking: “Why can’t I stop doing this?” “Why do I always sabotage myself?” “Why do I hate myself so much?” “Why am I such a failure?” “Why can’t I just be better!” “Why does this keep happening, over and over!”

I don’t remember much of what else happened that day because I just shut off after I binge and purge. I suppose that was the point. I was physically there but not present and in the moment. I went through the motions for the rest of the day but felt completely disconnected.

Wow, it is really hard to face how much I hated myself and how that affected how I treated Steve and the boys.  I didn’t feel like this every day.  But there were a lot of days that I did. I recognize that there is still a lot of shame in acknowledging and writing about my worst day because I want to find excuses and minimize my behavior. On a positive note, my last worst day on March 15, 2015 lead me to take action and get on the road to Recovered.

Hello, My name is Ali and I am thirty-nine years old. I have had an unhealthy relationship with food and negative body image issues for over thirty years. While nine years old seems young for someone to have eating and body image issues, I can assure you that these types of issues can start a lot younger than age nine.

When people think of eating disorders, they tend to think of the two “big ticket” disorders, anorexia and bulimia. However, disordered eating typically starts with much more subtle behaviors like emotional eating, counting calories, over exercising, comparing yourself to others, distorted body image, fat talk (“I feel fat today”), body checking and measuring, cleanses, detox diets, etc.

That is how it started for me. As early as fourth grade, I started overeating to sooth hurt and painful feelings of not belonging and feeling dumb and out-of-place.  I went through puberty (much) earlier than my peers and had trouble focusing at school, which magnified my feelings of awkwardness and being out-of-place. Food was my comfort and escape.  As I got older, I moved to over-exercising as a way to compensate for the overeating. When I wasn’t overeating (binging) or exercising, I was obsessing about some new diet that was going to “fix” everything.  That was me, Ali, age nine through thirteen. (To be fair, the “new diet” obsession and how it would “fix” everything was my mantra until 6 months ago).

Then when I was fourteen I discovered one of the two big-ticket eating disorders, bulimia. And for the next twenty-five years I never went more than a month without bingeing and purging. Over the years, I made several half-hearted and a couple full-hearted attempts towards being Recovered (I capitalize “Recovered” as a sign of respect). I ebbed and flowed through varying stages of recovery but was never able to get to Recovered. This disorder has had a crippling effect on my life for my whole life and earlier this year I decided it was time to face it.  Head on.

So seven months ago I made, what I hope is, my final attempt towards being Recovered.  The last time I binged and purged was on May 7, 2015.  It is the longest I have ever gone without it. I have done quite a bit of work over the last seven months.  Specifically, I decided to commit to recovery. I also discovered 8 Keys to Recovery From an Eating Disorder by Carolyn Costin and Gwen Schubert Grabb and started reading the book and working through some of the exercises.  Shortly thereafter, I joined a support group that worked through the book and, along with individual therapy, I took some giant leaps through my recovery.

While I have read 8 Keys to Recovery From an Eating Disorder in its entirety, I have not worked through all of the exercises.  My plan is to reread the keys and complete all of the writing exercises and post them here on the blog.  I want to show the work it takes to get to Recovered. I have already come pretty far so I thought I would open up about the rest of my journey.

My goal in doing this project is to foster a safe space to talk about recovery and model what recovery can look like (ie “show my work”).  If I am completely honest, my goal is to also use this project to get me to Recovered.  I have worked extremely hard to get to where I am in recovery.  None of it came easy which is why it has taken me so long to recover.  I am 39 years old and I have lived with an eating disorder for over thirty years. It is hard for me to admit that, but it is my truth.  Through this project, I am going to “go there” and be open and as honest about where I have been and where I want to go. This will be painful but, my hope is that it will bring change.   I hope you’ll join me.

UP NEXT:  Key 1: Motivation, Patience, and Hope