I could probably write a Game of Thrones length series of novels with all my eating disorder thoughts over the years.  For a very long time I had no idea they were “eating disorder” thoughts. I just thought they were… thoughts. Through recovery, I learned about my healthy self (aka “Healthy Ali”) and my eating disorder self (aka “Eating Disorder Ali” or “ED Ali”). I realized that those thoughts were actually ED Ali’s thoughts.  She was in the driver’s seat. Healthy Ali wasn’t even in the car. Once Healthy Ali got in the car, I had trouble deciphering who was saying what (ED Ali is deceptive and a master manipulator). However, as Healthy Ali got stronger, it became easier to determine when ED Ali was trying to grab the wheel.

Today, Healthy Ali is driving and ED Ali is in the trunk. ED Ali doesn’t say much anymore because she knows I’m not listening and I don’t put any stock into what she tries to tell me (plus she’s in the trunk so its hard to hear her). It dawned on me while writing this that many of my eating disorder thoughts stemmed from one core belief ED Ali convinced me to be true: You (Healthy Ali) are not enough.

“You are not enough.”

ED Ali had this thought on repeat for most of my life.  She used, and still try’s to use, it to keep me beholden to her. As long as I believed I wasn’t enough, I needed her to help take the pain away of not feeling worthy of connection and belonging.

ED Ali use to tell me that someone else could and should fix me.  There were several times in my life that I was pissed that someone didn’t step in and magically make me Recovered. ED Ali also told me on a daily basis that if I changed the exterior of my body (i.e. if I was thinner) then I would feel like I was enough, and be instantly Recovered. The fact that neither of those things ever happened was just further proof that, indeed, I wasn’t good enough.

For years my loved ones tried different ways to tell me and even show me that I was enough. But the truth was, knowing I was enough had to come from inside me and, frankly, with ED Ali in the driver’s seat that was not going to happen. I had to do a tremendous amount of self-love work to strengthen Healthy Ali. Through self-love, I learned that I am enough. Just as I am. It was a huge turning point on my road to Recovered.

In recovery, you talk a lot about why you want to be Recovered (hello Key 1). What is your purpose for doing the work and getting to Recovered? The answer to that question is really important and also really hard to determine at the beginning of recovery. In 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder, Carolyn and Gwen talk about how your motivation and reasons for recovery will change and evolve throughout the process and that, even at the very beginning, the fact that there is some part of you, however small it might be, that brought you to the book or to a therapist is enough to start the recovery journey. 8 Keys, pgs. 17-18, 35.

When I made my first commitment to recovery in my early twenties, I knew I wanted to stop doing what I was doing because I didn’t want to die. I hated myself and didn’t think I was enough, but I didn’t want to die (ie. ED Ali was behind the wheel, and Healthy Ali trying to get into the car). The part of me that didn’t want to die was Healthy Ali. She was tiny and weak but by banging and kicking on the car door with all her might she got me into a therapists office (and into the car). With a lot of work, and guidance from my therapist, I was able to strengthen Healthy Ali to a point where I didn’t need to binge and purge everyday. To be clear, ED Ali was still driving, but I was able to get Healthy Ali into the car (for some reason I picture Healthy Ali strapped into a rear facing convertible car seat).

That’s how I lived for the next fifteen years. ED Ali drove and Healthy Ali served as a constrained, and somewhat visually impaired, backseat driver. But with Healthy Ali at least in the car, I was able to go to law school, start a career, meet and marry my husband and have two wonderful little boys.

By March 2015, after another bulimia relapse, I was ready to move Healthy Ali to the driver’s seat and get to Recovered.  At almost forty, I was tired of hating myself and letting ED Ali dictate who I was, what I did and how I felt about myself. At that point, my kids and my husband were my primary motivation for recovery.  However, I started to think that there might be an even more compelling reason to be Recovered. Me (aka Healthy Ali).

The first day of our 8 Keys group, Liz asked each of us why we wanted recovery. I remember saying that I wanted to be Recovered for myself, knowing intellectually, that should be my answer, but I didn’t mean it and I felt terribly guilty (it seemed so selfish to say myself). So when Liz asked that question again throughout the course of the group I usually said I wanted to recover for my kids and my husband.

While working through 8 Keys in our support group, I started to have some real breakthroughs which lead to me feel all sorts of feelings I had never felt before. I started opening up and sharing those feelings, instead of turning to ED Ali to make them go away. Around that time, my friend Kathy recommended a book by Brené Brown. In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown defined words like shame, connection and courage that helped me understand what I was feeling.  She enumerated ten guideposts that helped me navigate through those feelings and learn how to love myself. She talked about the importance of learning to love yourself and how loving yourself deepens how you love others. The book changed my perspective and helped me learn that I, Healthy Ali, am enough.

It turns out the strongest, most compelling reason to want to be Recovered is me. It was always me. It just took me almost forty years to realize it. 

 

 

 

 

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