forestforthetree

Last week a friend showed me some pictures from his vacation to San Diego. The above picture immediately grabbed my attention. I loved it because the way the light shines through the trees reminded me how important it is to see the forest for the trees. Sometimes, especially during recovery, I get so wrapped up in the details that I miss the big picture. I miss the forest. For me, the forest is Recovered. So I made a mental note to print off the picture and keep it on my desk as a reminder. Then Harrison started screaming because Wyatt looked at him funny and I forgot all about the picture and over the next three days I proceeded to completely lose my mind in all the damn trees.

It began soon after I hit “Publish” on The Dialogue. I thought I could get the final two writing assignments for Key 2 written and posted on the blog by Wednesday. One was about positive self statements and the other a goodbye letter to my eating disorder self. I have a ton of positive self statements at the ready and I felt pretty good about saying goodbye to ED Ali, so I started writing. But nothing happened. No matter what I wrote, nothing felt right.  I’d write and write then delete and delete.

I was also in a horrible mood. I felt off. Uncomfortable, unfocused, untethered. ANXIOUS. I had no patience with boys, I was short with Steve, I couldn’t get the laundry done, I couldn’t keep the house clean, I couldn’t make a decision on our Christmas cards, I couldn’t decide who to invite to Wyatt’s birthday party (I am marginally embarrassed to admit how stressed I got over a 5 year old’s birthday party), I didn’t have time to read, I didn’t have enough time to write. It felt like I was doing a lot but accomplishing nothing.

As the days passed my anxiety meter kept rising and my go-to anxiety diffusers were not working. I knew I needed uninterrupted time to process what I was feeling but I never seemed to get enough time. By Thursday, something had to give because I was seriously about to lose my mind. After three full days at DEFCON 1, I needed a release.

Then I got one. The picture. I couldn’t believe I had forgotten about it (I never printed it off). There it was on my phone. The light, the branches, the leaves, the colors, the forest…. As I focused on the beauty of the forest, I realized that I had gotten so swept up in the minutia of all the anxiety that I had missed the big picture. And once I stopped to take a look at my big picture, I noticed something was missing.

At no time during those three days at DEFCON 1 did I ever think eating disorder thoughts or use ED behaviors to relieve my anxiety. In addition, rather than berate myself for not being good enough to handle the anxiety, I was upset because I wasn’t getting the time I knew I needed to process my feelings.

It hit me. She was gone. For the first time in over thirty years, ED Ali was gone. I wrote our goodbye in The Dialogue but it never dawned on me that she might actually leave. But she did. Unfortunately, I was too distracted by the aftershocks of her absence to even notice. I wish I could say that when I finally realized she was gone it felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders and suddenly everything was sunshine and rainbows. But it didn’t and it wasn’t. ED Ali had been an anchor so when she left I felt untethered and uncertain.

However, now that I had the big picture in focus, I knew adjusting to her departure was a necessary step to get me closer to Recovered. So I started talking about it. To my Dad, who was supportive and encouraged me to keep writing. To my Mom, who wisely recommended that instead of focusing on the goodbye letter, I focus on writing about what happened when I realized that ED Ali was gone. To Steve, who took the boys for the whole weekend so I had the time and space I needed to process my feelings. To Jamie, who made me feel needed and appreciated. To Liz, who listened and helped me see how far I’ve come. And to Abbie, who listened and shared and helped me discover new things about myself. I also shared more of my story with friends and that felt wonderful. After sharing and showing up with all those wonderful people, I started writing and was able to find my voice again. And to me, that feels like sunshine and rainbows.

Recovery is a work in progress and I just took a big step forward. I am trying to be as honest and transparent as I can and it’s hard because I am still actively working through it. Recovery is messy and it hurts but as long as I focus on working towards Recovered, I know I will get there.

I should also probably print off a copy of that picture….

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continuing with the car analogy I used in last Wednesday’s post, we find Healthy Ali driving on the road to Recovered and Eating Disorder Ali tucked away in the trunk (I’m picturing a white sedan with tan leather interior-a car I drove for most of my thirties).

INT. ALI’S CAR – DAY

Healthy Ali (HA): Looking in the rearview mirror. Hey, how ya doin’ back there?

Eating Disorder Ali (EDA): A bit muffled but intelligible. Oh, so now you talk to me? Why do I have to be in the trunk? You know, it’s not super comfortable back here and I was a way better driver. A pause. Don’t you still need me? I think you still need me.  Can I at least get in the backseat?

HA: No, sorry girl. I know how you operate and I’m not falling for that one again. Look, I appreciate all that you have done over the last three decades but…

EDA: Kicking and screaming. GET ME OUT OF THIS TRUNK!!!!! Seriously! A trunk!! This has to be illegal!!! LET ME OUT!!!!

HA: Do I need to stop the car? EDA is still kicking and screaming. Okay, I’m pulling over. She pulls over to the side of the road and stops the car.

EDA: Suddenly quiet. Hey, did you stop the car? Why did you stop the car? Legally speaking, I don’t think you can keep me in the trunk.

HA: Seeing how you only exist in my subconscious, legally speaking, I think I’m in the clear.

EDA: Softer tone. I just want to help. I can protect you from the hard, scary feelings.  I know you still have them. I know you’re scared. If you let me drive, or at least let me sit in the backseat, I can take some of the fear away.

HA:  I know, but the fear doesn’t scare me like it use to. Fear is part of life and I choose life. Look, thank you for keeping me safe when the feelings became dangerous. Back then I wasn’t equipped to handle those feelings and when they got to be too much you swept in and took care of it.  But because you always took over, I never learned healthier ways to cope.

EDA: No, you have to admit that I made things healthier as time went on.  I mean, you use to binge and purge several times a day.  Your whole life revolved around food, binging and purging.

HA: Yes! Because you wouldn’t even let me in the car!

EDA: And when you refused to stop banging on window, I let you in. I let you convince me to commit to some recovery. Okay? I found healthier ways for you to cope. Constant dieting worked really well. A pause. Justifying. It was way better then bulimia. I also threw in some emotional overeating which then fueled your need to lose weight. I mean, it was a brilliant cycle! You were so focused on eating and then trying to the lose weight that you never had time to deal with anything scary or hard! And, hello! There are a bazillion different diets out there, I seriously could have protected you from feeling anything for eternity.

HA:  Yes, I get that, but I don’t think it was genius or beneficial. By keeping me in a constant state of trying to lose weight, I always felt like a failure. Instead of caring about who I was as a person, I focused solely on what I looked like as a person. And because I never met this ridiculously subjective definition of what I thought other people defined as beautiful and perfect, I never felt like I was good enough. A pause.  Look, while you did make things a bit better, I’d argue that your tactics were still very harmful both physically and mentally.

EDA:  Thanks not fair.  You finished law school, didn’t you?  Passed two bar exams, got three different great jobs, met and married Steve and gave birth to two wonderful boys.  How could I have been so bad if you did all that with me behind the wheel?

HA:  It’s true. Some great stuff happened with you behind the wheel.  But they only happened because I was finally in the car.  And since I’ve been driving, things have gotten even better.  Just imagine…

EDA: Not listening. Look, I have been calling the shots for over three decades and I will admit that it’s not perfect, but I am what you are used to.

HA:  Not anymore. You know I want more and I cannot get there with you.

EDA:  That’s harsh HA. Look, I’ve evolved, I’ve changed.  Who’s to say I’m not worth keeping around.  Need I say canary in a coal mine?

HA: I am a canary too, EDA. You have done so much that I am grateful for but it is time.  This is extremely hard and I wish I knew a better, easier way to let you go.  Saying goodbye to you is a loss.  A very, very big loss, which is why this week has been so hard.

EDA:  I just can’t believe I have to go. I’ve been here your whole life and the last few months I’ve been in the trunk for you! Girl, I got in the trunk! Pause. Realizing that it’s over.  I suppose I don’t know how to say goodbye. I don’t know how to let go. What will become of me?

HA: I don’t know. You’ll be free. I wish this was easier.  It hurts and feels like I am losing a dear friend. If it makes you feel any better, I feel like I’m going to have to mourn the loss of you.

EDA: That does make me feel a little better. Can you say I was your best friend? No, no it’s okay. I get it. But you can mourn me.  I am definitely mourn worthy.

HA: Smiles. Yes you are.

EDA: I suppose it is time for me to make my exit. Is it possible to make a graceful exit from the trunk of a car?

HA:  If anyone can do it, it’s you.

EDA: Could you maybe pop the trunk?

HA laughs and reaches down for the lever at the base of driver’s seat and pulls.

End scene.