I was really intimidated by this writing assignment when I first read 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder in March. At the time, I had no idea what a Recovered life might look like, let alone what my Recovered life might look like. The idea that I could even be Recovered seemed foreign and too far out of reach. I was also dealing with over thirty years of self-hatred, so I didn’t feel worthy enough to even fantasize about it. When I read through Key 1 again a few months later for the support group I was in, I still had trouble sitting down and doing this assignment.

Even now, dreaming about what I want my Recovered life to look like feels vulnerable and scary. What if people think it’s stupid? or too ambitious?  What if I don’t get to Recovered? What if I can’t do it? Is my dream too far out of reach? What if I fail?

But something is different now, I like myself. I believe in who I am and what I can do. I know that whether my fantasized “Day in the life of Recovered Ali” happens, I will still be okay. My life will have meaning and purpose because I will continue to show up and allow myself to be seen, regardless of the outcome. (Anyone notice the heavy Brené Brown influence? I love that woman.)

What I know right now is that I want to help people. Specifically, I want to help women extricate themselves from the “weight-loss as a lifestyle” quagmire. When I say “weight-loss as a lifestyle” I am talking about people, like myself, who have spent most of our lives in a constant state of trying to lose weight. However, it is important to note that you do not have to self identify as having an eating disorder to be living “weight-loss as a lifestyle.”

The fact is there is “no one size fits all” method to get to Recovered. And Recovered means different things to different people. There are so many different methodologies and stories out there and they are all important.  The more people “show their work” on their recovery and talk about their stories, the more powerful this revolution becomes because, hopefully, people will see that they are not alone and that they don’t have to live a life beholden to a number on a scale.

I felt alone for a very long time and I’m sure it played a role in why I was sick for so long. I discovered Glennon Melton’s blog, Momastery (www.momastery.com), a few years ago and though I didn’t realize it at the time, something inside me changed. Her bravery, courage and honesty about her life as a Mom and someone dealing with eating disorder issues, resonated deeply with me because I saw parts of myself in her. So I didn’t feel alone anymore. Now that feeling wasn’t a magical pill that instantly changed everything for me, but I believe it shifted my mindset enough that I was able to get where I am today.

Okay, now the fun part….

Day in the Life of Recovered Ali

My day starts early. I wake up at 5 am, right before my alarm goes off.  I climb out of bed and head downstairs to get my first cup of coffee.  I am excited to get downstairs and write.  My body feels a little sore from a tough Gold’s Fit workout the day before.  I smile.  The coffee smells fantastic.  I love this time in the morning when everything is quiet and new.  Anything can happen and the sky is the limit.

Today I am working on a presentation for a conference.  My presentation is about mainstreaming eating disorder recovery. My work is influenced by the amazing and inspirational work of Carolyn Costin, Gwen Schubert Grabb, Brené Brown, Glennon Melton and Elizabeth Gilbert. As well as my conversations with my therapist, Liz, and dear friends, Abbie and Jamie.   I admire these women so much and have learned so much from all of them. I continue to learn from all the wonderful, courageous people who come into my life.

Before I work on the presentation, I email my Dad. I let him know that I am working hard and the presentation is coming together.  I talk about where I am on the book I’ve been writing and how much I enjoy the support groups I’m working with. I facilitate support groups (like Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In groups, maybe?). The group supports one another and works together to hold each other accountable.  I also like the sense of community a group provides. Recovery takes a community. The focus of the group is to start healing from the inside which will then take care of external appearance issues.

Then I do some journaling to check in with myself.  I know how important it is to check in with myself to see how I’m feeling.  I feel good today.  I feel worthy and like I belong to the amazing group of woman and men that are in my life.  I work on my gratitude practice and am so grateful to have a strong purpose of what I believe in and want to do.  I have two wonderful boys that I love spending time with, I have Steve, who I love more everyday, I am healthy and love myself and who I am becoming.

The boys wake up.  I am a little bothered to cut short my writing time, but I know I’ll have plenty of writing time once the boys are in school so the feeling passes quickly. Plus their smiles light up my life.  I fix them breakfast and we talk about what we want to do today. We connect by reading books, playing games and rough housing.

I get them off to school and I head to the gym for Gold’s Fit.  I’m still a little sore from yesterday but I am excited to see my friends and I have already told myself that I can do anything for an hour.  Doing Gold’s Fit isn’t about losing weight or even getting fit.  Working out is about managing my anxiety.  It feels good to release the energy, work hard and sweat.  Plus the friends I’ve made are awesome.  We hang out and talk for a bit after class and then I head home.  Feeling good and ready to get to work.

I give myself 30 minutes to clean when I get home.  Then I take a shower and sit down at my computer.  I am working to join a revolution.  Helping women change their lives. Eating disorder recovery gone mainstream.  One woman at a time. I love this work.  It gives me purpose and empowers me.  I want to help women break free from the chains of constantly living the “weight-loss as a goal” lifestyle.  One person at a time.

I finish working and pick up the boys.  We go to a park and play for an hour or so before dinner.  I let them watch tv so I can get dinner started.  I still hate making dinner but it is a way that I can show my affection for Steve.  As Brené Brown says, I can “practice” loving him rather than just saying that I love him.  We have dinner at the table as a family and each talk about what we are grateful for that day.  5 positive things and one thing that we would like to work on.

Steve plays with the boys after dinner and I clean up the kitchen.  Steve gets the boys ready for bed and I come up for hugs and kisses.  I spend 5 minutes with Wyatt and 5 minutes with Harrison. I love “5 minutes” because I get to cuddle with each boy and hear more about their favorite part of the day.

Once the boys are in bed Steve and I spend an hour or so together.  I call it connection time, which can mean different things on different days.  Sometimes it means talking, sometimes it means sex, sometimes we watch tv and sometimes we sit next to each other while we play on our phones (ah love in the Twenty-First Century). Then I go upstairs and get ready for bed.  Today I was enough.  I watch a show or two and fall asleep.  Steve comes up an hour or two later and I am already asleep. I love having him next to me when I sleep.

*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.