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I started the Food: Friend or Frenemy series almost nine months ago. At the time, my relationship with food was tricky and I wasn’t entirely sure it could get any better. After all, in our culture, an unhealthy, or complicated, relationship with food tends to be the rule, not the exception. I figured food and I were frenemies for life.

I was wrong.

It turns out food isn’t my friend or my frenemy. Food is fuel. Food fuels my body so I can do all the things I want to do. Follow my passions, be in the moment, connect with family and friends. My body is a vehicle that enables me to do absolutely amazing things and have soul enriching experiences.

Deconstructing my relationship with food, realizing my body was in the best position to determine what it should use for fuel, then learning to not only listen to, but trust, my body and let it make food related decisions took a lot of time, patience, vulnerability, and an incredible amount of trial and error.

I would love to give you a step-by-step guide on how I found peace with food. But the truth is, much like eating disorder recovery, finding peace with food isn’t a step-by-step process. It’s an expedition. A quest, if you will.

A quest that involves a lot of work. Challenging thoughts and behaviors. Challenging how we speak to and relate to friends and loved ones. Challenging the messages we see and hear everyday.

While I can’t do a step-by-step guide, I’d like to share a few things I learned, and resources I found helpful on my quest.

Mental Health Management Must be a Top Priority

I am a highly sensitive person living with anxiety and depression. Which means I am very easily triggered. For decades, my emotional fragility led me to seek refuge in an insidious eating disorder. I was so desperate to escape the chaos of emotions, I failed to notice the eating disorder was killing me.

Through recovery I started to experience feelings and realize they are the life blood of connection.  Feelings are incredibly powerful and can bring people together or tear them apart. Feelings are the essence of life.

Hi! I am a highly sensitive person stopped at a stoplight!

Hi! I am a highly sensitive person stopped at a stoplight 🙂

Now that I am eating disorder free, I feel life. All of it. Good and bad. Life can get pretty overwhelming at times, so I have to take affirmative steps to maintain my baseline. To me, baseline is feeling centered, connected and able to be in the moment.

Baseline doesn’t come naturally so I have to work at it. For me that means, writing (journaling), moving my body, connecting with friends, and meditation (yoga or holding space to breathe). If I do those things regularly, I am able to maintain baseline pretty effectively. I can even handle minor triggers here and there.

However, anxiety or depression still have the power to blind side me. Sometimes by a massive trigger (an election maybe), other times it might be nothing.

When my anxiety and/or depression flare up things start to spiral. I feel bad, sad, stressed and uncomfortable in my own skin. Suddenly daily tasks like taking the boys to school  (which requires me to get dressed and leave the house), cleaning the house, making dinner or just interacting with people seem like monumental tasks.

My self-esteem plummets and all I can see or recognize are my faults which fuels both the depression and anxiety. When I am in it, it feels like I’m trapped in a pitch black closet with only fear and shame as companions. It is incredibly isolating and frightening.

With practice and patience. I’m training myself to stop, breathe and feel my way through the feelings. Even the scary ones. I know if I feel the feelings, they will pass. Even the sad, scary, stressful ones. But if I don’t allow myself to feel, or I try to hide from the feelings, they get trapped inside. My trapped feelings tend to manifest outwardly as negativity, lack of patience, anger, frustration, isolation and self-hatred.

Sometimes I can’t handle the feelings right away. Sometimes I need a distraction first. A breather. And that is okay too. But I always try to come back to the feelings as soon as I can. I know if I don’t they will only get worse.

This is still a work in progress and one I am committed to. I know if I take care of my mental health first, my life and relationships are far more rich and rewarding.

Resources: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Melton. Joy on Demand by Chade-Meng Tan. Magic Lessons Podcast Ep. 209 Glennon Melton.

Radical Self-Love

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Preach it, Stuart Smalley! PREACH!!

Learning about, accepting and loving my body for all the amazing things it enables me to do (as opposed to focusing on what my body looks like) was transformative. And hard AF (Mom and Dad: AF means “as fuck”).

I learned to love who I am and what my body can do, but man oh man, is it hard AF to always love the way my body looks. Especially in pictures or on film.  I don’t normally swear in posts but trying to accept and love the way my body looks in a culture that idolizes thinness, feels like swimming upstream at Niagra Falls.

But I’m getting there. Please understand this is not an invitation for comments on my appearance (in fact, please don’t). I’m just being honest about how hard it is to love my body when I am surrounded, and often bombarded, with images that promote “thinness” as the ideal standard for beauty and body type.

These images and the “thinness is ideal” narrative, saturate our culture. And it goes deep. Think about the lack of size diversity in books, film, television, the media and on the internet. Look at children’s toys. Dolls, Barbie, GI Joe, Star Wars figures, princesses. Look at children’s television and movies. They primarily represent one body type. I can think of one size diverse princess, Princess Fiona. And she’s a green ogre.

My kinda Princess!

My kinda Princess!

We are indoctrinated into this “thinness is ideal” culture before we can even consent to it. We grow up playing with toys, reading books and seeing films that represent one body type. And as we get older our bodies change, but theirs don’t.

I internalized this as there being something wrong with me. My body never looked like the bodies I saw on tv, in books or magazines. My body never looked like the Barbies or dolls I played with. The only time I really saw a size diverse kid, she/he was a sidekick or a villain. And he/she was usually made fun of or defined by his/her large body.

I wanted to be Stacy from The Babysitters Club. I wanted to be Jessica from Sweet Valley High. I wanted to be Stephanie Zinone from Grease 2. Oh and I REALLY wanted to be Laura Holt from Remington Steele.

But I didn’t look like them. I thought if I was thin then I would look like them. And if I looked like them, then I would be accepted and belong. I would matter.

I didn’t trust my own opinion, so I depended on peers and adults to validate my appearance and tell me I belonged. Yet, no matter what people said, I never felt good enough.

The pursuit of positive body comments from others felt like chasing a high. “Next time so and so sees me, he/she is going to be totally FLOORED! I’m going to look so thin and gorgeous!”

I spent most of my life chasing that high.

Women are groomed to believe that our bodies are our voice. If we are thin and beautiful we will be heard. We will be respected. Yet, even when I was thinner I still felt voiceless. The mantra that everything in my life would fall into place and I would live my best life if my body was smaller, thinner, prettier was ingrained so deep in my subconscious it had become one of my core values.

As I started looking deeper into my relationship with food and becoming more open to a relationship with my body, I started focusing more and more on self-love and unconditional body acceptance. As I learned to love and accept my body, I started to see the deeply systemic nature of the “thinness is ideal” mentally.

And say a heartfelt, “FU!”

Radical self-love means no matter how or what I think about myself and/or my body in any given moment, I tell myself (over and over if necessary) that I am enough and I matter. As is, no buts.

At first, it felt completely unnatural, counterintuitive (I thought we were supposed to focus on what we needed to improve about ourselves), and incredibly selfish. Learning to love and accept myself and my body for what it is in any given moment (even in the face of negative body comments) took a tremendous amount of patience, journaling, positive affirmations, breathing, boundary setting, therapy, and girl time.

I love my body exactly as it is right now. And if it’s a little different tomorrow, I’ll love it just the same. Because I love myself and my body, I take care of it, I listen to it, I nurture it. My body thanks me by enabling me to do all the things I love to do.

My body gave me some incredible moments this year. Here are a few:

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Resources: Big Girl: How I Gave up Dieting and Got a Life by Kelsey Miller. Meret Boxler’s Life Unrestricted Podcast, episode 9: Linda Bacon. Am I against weight loss as a body positive activist? by Sarah Vance.

Seeing diet and intentional weight loss culture for what it is – An obscenely profitable scam at best or, at worst, a mechanism to perpetuate systemic patriarchy and misogyny.

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The diet and intentional weight-loss industry is the monetization of the “thinness is ideal” mentality. It espouses health and happiness while belittling and shaming its customers. Diets thrive on the fallacy of long term weight-loss. They promise to fulfill one’s unrelenting desire to fit into the “thinness is ideal” standard.

“Lose weight, feel great!”

“Lose weight, get healthy!”

“Lose weight to live your best life!”

And it’s all bullshit. Diets and intentional weight loss programs have a ninety-five percent failure rate. That’s not rhetoric, that’s science. Intentional weight loss programs make money because they are designed to fail. You don’t fail a diet. The diet was created to fail you.

That ninety-five percent failure rate built a sixty billion dollar industry.

And we still so desperately want it all to work, but it doesn’t. Eating disorders are more prevalent than ever. Girls as young as seven or eight start dieting, comparing and criticizing their bodies. Too many women spend precious mental energy obsessing about what they’re going to eat and what their body looks like. Too many women hate themselves because they don’t feel like they are pretty or thin enough. They feel like failures because they don’t fit into the incredibly narrow “thinness is ideal” standard.

No thanks.

I’ve learned weight loss doesn’t define happiness or health. I do. What I do with my body, how I move it and how I take care of it, have much more of an impact on my health and happiness than what my body weighs.

Resources: Health at Every Size and Body Respect by Linda Bacon. Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor. The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolff

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

livelovelearn.comI have tried to write the final post in my Food: Friend or Frenemy series for over two months (it took a solid four months to de-weaponize food and come to peace with it). I lost count of how many times I sat in front of my computer, put my hands on the keys, then got up and walked away.

Anxiety is like a pesky fly in the house. At first, it’s annoying but you can deal with it. Then the noisy little sucker starts dive bombing and doing loud flybys and you can’t focus on anything other than getting rid of that damn fly.

I gave myself permission to focus on defusing the anxiety. I knew I wouldn’t be able to figure out the trigger until I got rid of the anxiety.  And sure enough, after two months, and a lot of defusing, I figured out the trigger. It’s a trigger I’ve known about for well over a year but failed to recognize despite it’s familiarity.

Perfectionism.

Brené Brown described perfectionism in Daring Greatly asthe belief that if we do things perfectly and look perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.” Sister Brené continued, “Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around, thinking it will protect us, when in fact it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from being seen.”

In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert added more nuance to Brené’s definition. Gilbert wrote about a novelist named Robert Stone who “joked that he possessed the two worst qualities imaginable in a writer: He was lazy, and he was a perfectionist.” She continued, “Perfectionism stops people from completing their work, yes- but even worse, it often stops people from beginning their work. Perfectionists often decide in advance that the end product is never going to be satisfactory, so they don’t even bother trying to be creative in the first place.”

Liz’s Gilbert’s definition of a lazy perfectionist fits me to a “T.” I know what I write won’t be perfect and may open me up to blame, judgment and shame. So when I sit down to write for the blog my inner lazy perfectionist starts poking my anxiety.

However, the great thing about identifying the trigger is I can develop tools to manage it. One tool I use to deal with my lazy perfectionist tendencies, is an affirmation from Brené Brown.

Unsued creativity is not benign It metastasizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgment, sorrow, shame.

This quote is so important I made it the wallpaper on my phone.  It serves as a daily (hourly or minute by minute) reminder that expressing my creativity has to be a top priority. Writing is my primary creative outlet. I need it, I crave it. This mantra reminds me that if I don’t express my creativity, it will manifest negatively inside my body. So I have to write. I have to create. What I write may not be perfect or right or even good. But it’s me. And I’m trying.

 

 

 

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In Part 2 of my Food: Friend or Frenemy? series, I am going to explore my relationship with food. But before I do I need to come clean. This post has taken awhile to write. I’m new to Recovered (four months!). Newly Recovered is a somewhat precarious position. It’s new and unfamiliar. I am feeling all the feelings and doing things I’ve never done before. Putting myself out there in ways I have never done before. Showing up and allowing myself to be seen for who I really am and not who I think other people want me to be. It is fun and exciting but it is also terrifying. Maybe even mostly terrifying.

I want to stay Recovered. And some days I really have to fight for it. The early stages of Recovered are tough. It’s not like the constant torment of being mentally and physically ravaged by an insidious eating disorder. I assure you, that comparatively, where I am now feels like a pleasure cruise verses where I was. But the truth is that being Newly Recovered and fully feeling all of life for the first time can be overwhelming. Add in the unpredictable variables of anxiety and depression, and life can sometimes feel like balancing the middle of a teeter-totter while two little kids throw soccer balls at you.

The last two months have been exhausting and finding the time and emotional strength to write for the blog have been tough (especially because my relationship with food is complicated and full of triggers). In addition, two months ago depression snuck up and engulfed me before I even knew what hit me. My anxiety management tools weren’t as effective and I couldn’t escape the feeling of being trapped underneath a down comforter filled with melancholy infused feathers.

Throughout most of my recovery, anxiety was my constant companion. I encountered depression as well, but anxiety often overshadowed everything. Consequently, my tool box was full of anxiety management tools and low on depression management tools. It took me almost a week to even realize that I was dealing with depression. Plus the depression felt different. When I had an eating disorder, depression felt like that down comforter filled with melancholy but with heaping amounts of hopelessness, unworthiness and crippling self-hatred thrown in as well (ED Ali was likely the source of the hopelessness, unworthiness and crippling self-hatred).

While I felt the heaviness of depression, I was grateful to not have to manage the hopelessness, unworthiness and crippling self-hatred. Still, being in the midst of depression and tackling a big issue like my relationship with food was complicated. I questioned whether I was really Recovered and whether I could ever heal my relationship with food. I also combated quite a bit of guilt and shame. Rather than let it all consume me and potentially lead me into a relapse, I focused on taking care of myself.

I didn’t beat myself up. There were days when all I could do was focus on meeting the needs of the boys. There were days when I snacked all afternoon. There were days I didn’t write at all because I couldn’t deal with what might come out. There were days when I needed an escape so I watched Netflix, listened to a podcast, picked up a book or listened to the Hamilton soundtrack for the hundredth time (btw, I memorized the Hercules Mulligan parts, should that ever become important).

It took me over three weeks to sit down and write this post. Despite my inner critic’s instinct to belittle and punish myself for not doing what “I should” be doing (i.e. writing), I decided to be kind myself. I reminded myself that I am enough just as I am. I am worth the time and effort it takes to stay Recovered. I also reached out and shared what I was experiencing with trusted family and friends, which helped to take a lot of the shame away. And in those moments when I struggled to be kind to myself, my family and friends stepped in.

Taking that time was so important. I am now in a better place physically and emotionally. I am ready to dive into my relationship with food. This may get uncomfortable and take some odd turns, but I know the only way to heal this relationship is to start working through it.

So here it goes …

Food. I hate food. I love food. Food comforts me. Food punishes me. Food nourishes me. Food poisons me. Food relaxes me. Food stresses me. Food makes me feel successful. Food makes me feel like a failure. Food hates me. Food loves me. Despite all the work I have done in recovery, food still has tremendous amount power over me. It pains me to admit it.

That power feels like a remnant of ED Ali. ED Ali used food as a weapon to manipulate and control me. I may have gotten rid of ED Ali, but I still have to deal with her mechanism of control and punishment everyday day. Food.

ED Ali was clever. She knew that even if I eventually got rid of her, I would never be able to get rid of food. Food would serve as a constant reminder of our toxic and abusive relationship. She knew she could use food to taunt me even after she was gone. And how hard it would be for me look past those taunts and move on.

I. Want. To. Move. On. I want to trust food (or myself around food, I’m not sure which it is right now) but I have trouble seeing it as anything other than ED Ali’s weapon of choice or even a potential gateway back to ED Ali.

I started turning to food for comfort as a little kid. I often felt awkward and out-of-place, so I turned to food. It started as young as 7 or 8. Food was my comfort. It grounded me. It made me feel less alone. As I began to suffer the side effects of turning to food for comfort (i.e. weight gain), I started to obsess about how to counteract those side effects. Enter ED Ali.

Food was the gateway to ED Ali. Then food became ED Ali’s weapon against me. I know I have to find a way to get along with food but I am scared that it’s going to lead me back to ED Ali.

Throughout recovery and the early stages of Recovered, I bypassed (or avoided/ignored) this issue by dealing with a bigger issue, letting go of weight loss as a goal. In letting go of weight loss as a goal I gave myself permission to eat. More specifically, I gave myself permission to eat and not feel shame or guilt afterwards. This took a lot of time and energy but I did it. I knew there was a chance I could gain weight but I also knew that if I ate regular meals and snacks there was a high likelihood that I would stop binging, so my weight would probably balance out. And, that’s pretty much what happened. (NOTE: I haven’t weighed myself in well over a year. I know my weight has stabilized because my clothes fit the same way they did last year.)

Except, now that I think about it, I didn’t bypass or avoid my relationship with food during recovery. I just found a way to use food as a weapon against ED Ali. When I let go of weight loss as a goal, I found that if I ate until I was full (or a little over full) she didn’t have much to say. It was only when I felt hungry or my pants started to feel a little looser that she’d chime in:

Those loose pants feel good don’t they? Doesn’t it feel good ride that hunger wave? To have so much control. You want to lose weight don’t you? Be in control. Have more confidence. Feel beautiful. I can do that for you. You just need to listen to me.

But if I stayed full, ED Ali had little to zero interest in what I was doing. It was so much easier to strengthen my healthy self when she stayed quiet. So I used food to stay full all the time. Not satiated, not stuffed, full. Meaning I often ate just a little more necessary. And I eventually got strong enough to ask her to leave. And she left. Even though she’s been gone for over four months I continue to use food to stay full because it feels safe. And I suppose there is a fear that if I stop using food against ED Ali, she’ll start using it against me again.

But she is gone. She’s been gone. It is time to move on and stop living in fear that she might sneak back in. I am stronger now than she ever was. Honestly, I’m not sure if food is a friend or a frenemy or just food. But I do know that food does not have to be a weapon anymore.

In Part 3, I am going to de-weaponize food.

 

 

 

 

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Confession: I Recovered from my eating disorder without ever really examining my relationship with food. I recognize how strange that sounds. However, most of my recovery focused on examining and processing the thoughts and feelings that drove me to use food to numb and punish myself. Then, along with my support team, I developed healthier coping strategies to deal with those thoughts and feelings.

Knowing that I did not have to dive deep into my relationship with food to recover from my eating disorder was comforting. I remember being in group and someone saying that she found hope in the fact that she could recover from her eating disorder by healing her relationship with food rather than addressing all of the emotional baggage that drove her to use food as a coping mechanism. I found hope in the exact opposite (a true testament that hope and recovery can look different for everyone.) I’d rather confront the emotional stuff than take a magnified glass to my relationship with food. Plus I figured if I handled the emotional stuff then the rest (i.e. my relationship with food) would simply fall into place. And to a certain extent, it did.

My relationship with food is better now than it was five years ago or even six months ago. I don’t look at food as either “good” or “bad” and I am not trying to lose weight anymore. However, food and I still have issues and I suppose now is as good a time as any to finish healing our relationship.

That sounds convincing, right? Like I just made a really healthy decision to dive into an issue as soon as it came up. Yeah, that’s not exactly what happened. This issue with food popped up about a week and a half ago when I read the next writing assignment in 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder. The task was to compare my relationship with food to my relationship with people. My initial reaction was anger. “How dare they put a food related question in the “It’s Not About the Food” chapter!” Then I dismissed it, “I’m Recovered, so I don’t need to address my relationship with food. I’m already fixed.” (No, denial here…). Then I started feeling guilty because I committed to at least drawing inspiration from every writing assignment in the book.

So, with anxiety and dread, I started thinking about my relationship with food. I got as far as identifying trust as an issue when my anxiety flared up, along with some uncomfortable feelings.  So, when I wasn’t spending time with the boys, I turned to every avoidance tactic in my arsenal. Netflix, podcasts, scroll therapy (ie. social media), books, going to bed early, snacking, working out.

Until last Friday around 4:00 pm. The boys and I were in the car headed home after school. I was tired and in full “uncomfortable feelings and anxiety avoidance” mode. As the boys argued in the backseat about who was or was not touching who, I started to think about what avoidance tactic I was going to use after the boys went to bed that night (Steve was out-of-town). And there it was…an eating disorder thought. For a second, the thought didn’t seem odd or out-of-place. For a second, it belonged. Then, as quickly as the thought arrived, it was gone. Destroyed. My defenses against ED Ali and ED thoughts are heavily fortified so any ED thought that enters my consciousness is systematically neutralized with relative ease.

But I haven’t had an eating disorder thought in months, so this got my attention. I couldn’t ignore the, now flaming, red flag in front of me.  Recovery taught me that the only way out is through, so it was time to stop avoiding and start working through my relationship with food.

I started by talking with friends, family and Liz (my amazing therapist) and being open about what I was feeling (and trying to avoid feeling). It was helpful to share and hear things like “me too” and “I am so glad you told me” and “no, you’re not crazy.” I also started writing, which was incredibly helpful because I was able to start processing my feelings and see where they were coming from. Processing this issue led to a couple of breakthroughs so I am going to break this down in a couple separate posts.

My next post will dive into my relationship with food. The following post will focus on some of the surprising body image issues I uncovered while processing my relationship with food. The last post in this series will address the action steps I’ve taken to heal my relationship with food and move forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last November, I started this blog because I wanted an outlet to share my story. It seems like no one ever talks about eating disorders, yet so many people have them or know someone who does. There is so much shame and hiding and I got tired of hiding. I was also really proud of how far I’d come  in my recovery. When I started the blog, I was so close to Recovered I could almost touch it. Writing and sharing my story played a large role in getting me across the Recovered finish line.

Except Recovered isn’t a finish line. In fact, in so many ways my journey has just begun.  So, I’m changing things up a bit. Being Recovered is new and I am still finding my footing. There is so much self-discovery and boundary testing. It’s exciting, terrifying, exhilarating and disconcerting. My hope is that by doing more writing exercises from the book (8 Keys), I can work through this discomfort and continue evolving as a Recovered person. I also want to write about some of the other books I have been reading as well.

So, I am going to try to post more often which means that I won’t be able to put as much time and care into each post. This is really scary because almost everything I have put up on the blog, I have worked really, really, really hard on (that may seem surprising). I know nothing is perfect but I do try to make things as perfect as I can so as to protect myself from shame, blame and judgment (hello defense mechanisms!) I recognize protecting myself from shame, blame and judgment is an impossible endeavor, so I’m summoning my courage to post more and edit less.

The response I’ve gotten from the blog thus far has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive which helps me find the courage to dare greatly. I am so blessed to have such a wonderful community with such wonderful and supportive friends. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read my story. And a huge hug to those who have reached out to me. You have had a huge impact on my life and recovery and I am forever grateful.

On to writing exercise #11…

Examining Some of My Personality Traits

Self-Centered. In learning to love myself, I have gotten to a place where I tend to put myself and my needs first* (*as a Mom it is impossible to put myself completely first. While I do spend a lot more time on myself than I use to, my “me time” is often interrupted by my boys and their “immediate” needs (which can include (but are not limited to): food, potty help, kissing an boo-boo, breaking up a fight, fixing a cape, reading a book, playing a game, playing pretend, pressing the “continue watching” button on Netflix – I feel your judgment Netflix). The pendulum has maybe swung a wee bit far towards me and I’m still working to figure out the balance.

On the positive side, I’ve discovered that if I focus on self-care and meeting my needs, I am much more available for my boys. Connection is one of my core values. Brené Brown defines connection as, “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” Connection is so important to me. Without it I start to feel unhinged and anxious. When I take care of myself and pay attention to what I need I am much more able to be present and connect with others.

Perfectionist. I still struggle with this. All. The. Time. Especially with the blog. Sometimes it is really hard to write something and get it posted because I feel like it must be perfect. I have to summon a LOT of courage to hit that “publish” button. For years, I rarely wrote anything, even in a journal, because I knew whatever I wrote wouldn’t be perfect. I thought I was the opposite of a perfectionist because I never did anything. I thought I was just lazy. Until I got to the root of why I was afraid to do anything, because I knew I couldn’t make it perfect. Boom. The lazy perfectionist.

I mean why write something that isn’t perfect? Why write something that isn’t the next Hollywood blockbuster? Why do it? Because it matters to me. What I write may not mean anything to anyone else, but it means something to me. As much as I hope my writing resonates with others, I write for me. And that is enough.

To be fair, it is still a struggle. And I am really struggling right now. I have so much to say but I can’t seem to get it out because I don’t know how to say it perfectly. I don’t even know exactly what perfect means. Yes I do. Perfect means that everyone will understand exactly what I am saying and I will be immune to blame, shame and judgment. While I know that is unrealistic, I still can’t help it.

I suppose the positive part of being a perfectionist is that I care. I care how my words affect people. I want people to feel like they aren’t alone but I also don’t want to make anyone feel bad. I care. I really care. I hear people talking about not giving a f*@k, I’m not that person. I give a f*@k.

Impulsive– I am impulsive, mostly because if I don’t do something right then and there, I fear I’ll never do it. I’m not a big doer. I like to think I am, but I’m not. I mean, I’m usually in bed by 8:00 pm. On the weekend. On weeknights, I’ve been known to climb into bed by 7:30pm and doze off to Parks and Recreation. (Any “me toos” out there? … … Bueller? … Okay. Fine. Judge me.)

A lot of this stems from having an eating disorder for several decades. Making plans and then cancelling them because of my eating disorder was my default setting for most of my life.

I’ve been getting better about it. Over the past year, during my recovery, I started adding things to my schedule and doing more. I’ve had some super fun adventures with my Gold’s Fit friends and I made more commitments to meet up with friends on a regular basis.

Now, as a Recovered person, I continue to add more events to my calendar and it is freaking me out a little. It is new, it is scary. But I want to go and do and stay out and experience things. For whatever reason I’m always afraid of being tired or getting a cold. Is that weird? That might be weird. I have two small children so I usually end up with a cold anyway. This is something I am working on and am open to any and all advice on how to find the courage to be more of a doer.

Avoidant. Oh man. THIS. For whatever reason, lately I have been finding ways to avoid writing. I am also taking Brené Brown’s Living Brave Semester and I am having trouble sitting down and doing the work. Don’t get me wrong, I’m doing it. But it is scaring me. Last week we had to come up with my two core values. We all have a ton of values but she asked us to narrow those down to the two values, that without which, nothing else matters. That was hard. Really hard. I narrowed it down to connection (which I mentioned earlier) and creativity. Those are the two that seem to have opened my world in the last year and without which no other values matter. I had courage in there but realized that connection and creativity were the foundation for my courage and pretty much everything else I value.

Back to being avoidant, OMG, I “avoid” feelings and doing something by using social media, Netflix and food. I will spend 20 minutes scrolling through social media in search of something to catch my attention. I also use Netflix, I’ll get lost in show and spend hours upon hours “avoiding” my feelings. This doesn’t happen as much as it use to but it still happens.

Now I think that binging on tv and scrolling through social media are better than binging and purging on food but I fear, for me, they have a similar function. To distract, to avoid dealing with something else. After a Netflix binge I’m always a bit depressed and wee resentful of the show that made me sit on my ass and watch it for several hours (part of me blame’s the show for being so damn good.)

The last several days I have tried really hard to avoid writing. And yesterday I noticed that I was using food. As you can imagine, with my history, this was somewhat alarming. I wasn’t binging or even looking to binge. I just got uncomfortable with what I was writing (or not writing) so I got up to find a snack. Then I did it again fifteen minutes later. I wasn’t hungry. I knew I wasn’t hungry. At first I didn’t realize I was doing it. I thought I was actually hungry. Then I began to see the pattern. I was just trying to avoid the computer.

It confused me because the only person who ever directed me to food in times of stress was ED Ali, but she’s not here anymore. I don’t feel her, I don’t hear her, I don’t see her. I don’t have any of the other tell-tale eating disorder thoughts or behaviors. It is just this thought that if I have a snack it can buy me some time. It has nothing to do with hating myself, sabotaging myself, binging, purging or starving myself. I’m just looking to avoid doing something because it makes me uncomfortable.

I recognize that I may not be the best person to determine this, but it doesn’t feel inherently eating disordered. I suppose all thoughts about food are not necessarily eating disorder thoughts.  Granted, looking for a snack when I should be facing an uncomfortable feeling is not a great coping mechanism. Neither is binging on Netflix or scrolling through social media. Not super healthy, but also not necessarily eating disordered. Wow, being a person is hard.

That might be the biggest awakening I’ve had as a Recovered person, that life is just hard. No matter what I do or how I look at it, I will face moments that make me uncomfortable. It is what I do when I am uncomfortable that makes the difference. It is time to stop using Netflix, social media and food to avoid feelings. Or at the very least start using them less.

I’m uncomfortable. My life is changing. I’m feeling things. I’m doing more. I am showing up and letting myself be seen. It is scary. It is vulnerable. And sometimes I want to avoid the discomfort of vulnerability. Rather than avoid those feelings today I decided to workout, write and reach out to a friend. Oh, and it’s 8:20 pm on a Monday night and I’m not in bed yet. I dare say things are looking up…

Flower

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a negative body image. The crippling doubt, loneliness, shame and depression that accompanied my self-hatred started long before eating disordered thoughts and behaviors showed up and remained after the eating disorder thoughts and behaviors disappeared. While I received my fair share of wounds from other people, the most detrimental  wounds to my self-esteem came from the sniper inside the face in the mirror.

I wanted to change. I wanted to love myself or, at the very least, like myself. I thought the only way to change was to change the way my body looked. If other people liked my body, then I would like my body. The only way I thought other people would like my body was if it fit the objective standard of beauty set by our society…Thin.

Consequently, what I weighed and what I looked like became more important than who I was. From the moment I woke up until the moment I went to bed, I focused on losing weight. I was “good” if I ate food and did activities to facilitate weight loss. I was “bad” if I veered even the slightest bit from my weight-loss plan. I was “bad” if I didn’t work out and would beat myself up about it. I was “bad” if I had even a bite of something not on my “good” list. I knew if I had a bite of something “bad” then the day would be ruined and I would continue eating “bad” things the rest of the day. I would go to bed hating myself, thinking I was failure and no wonder I was so fat and miserable. I’d tell myself that tomorrow I would be “good,” but in the back of my head I knew I would fail.

It took me almost three decades, and a significant amount of therapy and hard work, to realize the fundamental flaw in my line of reasoning. I can’t read minds. I can only interpret what I think other people think of my body. And since all my thoughts filtered through my “Ali Sucks” lens, I was locked in a vicious cycle chasing an illusion.

I also operated under the misguided belief that change only mattered if it could be seen, measured and validated by other people. I was wrong. So wrong. Improving my body image was not about changing the way my body looked, it was about changing the way I looked at my body.

Changing the way I looked at my body wasn’t easy. I had to call a cease-fire. Eating Disorder Ali had to stop belittling and demeaning me at every turn (even Healthy Ali has an inner critic that I sometimes need to remind to be kind). Rather than beat myself down when I looked in the mirror or said or did something I thought was stupid, I gave myself a break. I told myself that I was enough. No matter what I did or said or looked like, I was worthy of love and belonging. To be fair, I didn’t believe it at first. But the positive affirmations helped me maintain the cease-fire and without the constant barrage of negative self statements, my self-esteem began to heal.

I also had to stop trying to change the way my body looked. That involved letting go of a decades long obsession with trying to lose weight. Letting go of something that defined my existence for so long seemed impossible. In Writing Assignment #2: Exploring My Phase of Recovery, I wrote:

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.

Letting go of weight-loss as a goal was a monumental step and I will go into much more detail about this step in another post. I have also forsworn the dark side of The Force, or “the scale” as others call it. It is incredible how much power a little inanimate object can hold over a human being. I haven’t stepped on a scale since March 2015 and I have zero intention of ever doing so again.

By changing how I looked at my body, I was able to heal my body image. My body image now hovers at “neutral, with positive tendencies.” I focus on who I am and what I can do as opposed to what I look like. Maintaining and improving my body image is still a work in progress and continues to yield high returns. I am free of eating disorder thoughts and behaviors and, although you may not be able to see it or measure it, I’ve changed. And its changed everything.