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.

 

 

 

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.