*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.