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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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.