National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2016

Today marks the 6th day of NEDAW this year, and I’ve been silently watching all of the posts of Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. Thankfully, I have seen this link about how low weight pictures don’t help to raise awareness for eating disorders going around more than I have seen any “before and after” pictures.

Most years, I’ve been right in the thick of it too, changing my profile picture of Facebook, tweeting statistics about how eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and how research and treatment for eating disorders are severely underfunded. This year, however, I’ve kept quiet.

I have been afraid to say what I want to say, but right now, seeing as I have the worst case of laryngitis that I’ve had in a long time and feel very silenced, it feels appropriate (and necessary) for me to share this.

In the Fall, my health got pretty bad. I was finally diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, the autoimmune form of hypothyroidism, and I was referred to a gastoenterologist to deal with the gastro symptoms. I was gaining weight and having migraines all the time. My class attendance was pitiful, and I nearly failed a class because of it. My depression came back and hit me like a freight train, and I was very isolated. I wasn’t eating much – primarily because I didn’t feel good and before my Hashimoto’s diagnosis, I would often get physically sick when I would eat. As the semester progressed, my health started to improve little by little, but my eating stayed the same. I started using being sick as an excuse for restricting, and I didn’t even realize that’s what I was doing until I went home for Christmas break and my eating got even worse. I convinced myself that I still just wasn’t feeling very good, and once I got back for my last semester of classes, things would be much better.

Shortly after I got back, I realized that I was fooling myself, and that I was trapped in a downward spiral and I needed more help than I was getting. I found myself sitting back in the living room of Monte Nido at Laurel Hill admitting that I had been out of residential for almost two years, and I was struggling. It was an incredibly humbling experience, because the last time I had sat in that room, I’d announced that I thought I could safely call myself Recovered. As I looked around the room, I saw the faces of girls who’s worlds had shrunk so small, and I remembered that’s where I was two years ago too.

I thought to myself, “I might be struggling right now, but it’s so much different than this.” I realized that I was living into a pattern that had been developed over the years. Every two years for the past decade of my life, I would end up in treatment of some sort.

2006 was the year of experimental medications, crisis counseling, and Children’s Aid referrals.

2008 was the year I was referred to the Eating Disorders Program at my local hospital.

2010 was Mercy Ministries.

2012 was Credit Valley Hospital Day Program.

2014 was Monte Nido, Cambridge Eating Disorder Center, and Eating Disorder Center of Andover.

2016…is the year I’m graduating from college with my Bachelor’s in Social Work.

So…after I realized this, I realized I had to reach out for more support. I had to use my voice and actively choose to break that pattern. I spoke with my wonderful dietitian with whom I had broken up last May, and I’ve now been seeing her again for a short time. She’s providing me with just a little bit of external accountability and a lot of ass-kicking. She downright refuses to call my slip a relapse. According to her, I stubbed my toe and I just have to remember that I can walk again without it hurting.

And I remember now. I remember why I am doing this. I remember why I chose to fight so hard two years ago.

I’ve got a life to live. On behalf of the (probably more than) 7% of eating disorder sufferers who die from their illnesses, of the families who lose loved ones, of the 60% of people with eating disorders who don’t have access to treatment.

I’ve got a life to live. Because of Kelly, and Amanda, and Rachel, and Moriah, and Alyson, and Sandra, and Karl, and all of the other friends and family members I’ve lost to their mental illnesses.

I’ve got a life to live. For my future clients, for the people who will hear my story and find hope.

I’ve got a life to live. For all the people who love me and have supported me all the way through this process. For all the people I’ve hurt along the way, and all the ones who gave up on me and told me I’d never make it out alive.

Most importantly, I’ve got a life to live. For me. Because I deserve to live. I deserve a life filled with joy, freedom, laughter, and hope. I deserve to live to feel the pain of heartbreak and to put the pieces back together again. I deserve love and be loved, and to one day, hold my children in my arms and rock them to sleep.

The theme for this NEDA Week is  “3 Minutes Can Save A Life”, and it’s true. The first step to getting to where I am today is recognizing the issue and reaching out for help. No one deserves to live through the hell that I did before I finally got adequate treatment. So if you think you, or anyone you know, is suffering from an eating disorder, click here. Get screened. It’s worth 3 minutes of your time.

Choosing recovery was the hardest choice I ever had to make, and sometimes I still need small reminders of why I chose it in the first place, but I am here to say that my life is so much bigger than I ever could have imagined.

I am living the future that I dreamed of for my whole life, but never believed I would actually attain.

And if I can do it, so can you.

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At the Ice Castle in Lincoln, NH yesterday afternoon! So much fun!

**Feel free to contact me if you would like additional resources or just a listening ear. I would love to hear from you!**

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Dear Brave One.

Dear Brave One,

It’s been a year since you left treatment, and I know it’s hard to wrap your head around, but you are doing so well. It’s been a year of incredible highs, and very distressing lows, but you made it. Every single day, you are making it.

I know that you sometimes doubt yourself. You doubt the soldity of your recovery. You doubt your motivation, your intuition, your relationships. You doubt your very worth. You question your identity over and over again. Any time something good comes into your life, you have to question it. Do I deserve this? No? Maybe. Yes, yes I do. But why? The cycle can be maddening if you let it go on for too long, but you already know that.

Despite all the doubt and insecurity you face on a regular basis, I’ve noticed that there is this confidence – this unshakeable, firmly rooted confidence – that has begun to grow inside of you. Over the past year, I have seen you persevere through many trials. I have seen your determination and strong-will carry you through situations that, from all angles, appeared insurmountable. I have seen you truly blossom into such a powerful, thoughtful, compassionate young woman.

I know that you’ve faced so much loss this year. Far too much. But, you know what? You have finally given yourself permission to grieve. You’ve created space to feel those gutwrenching feelings, and you’ve allowed the process to transform you. Losing so many people that you love has been hard on you, but instead of shrinking away inside yourself, or diving headfirst into your eating disorder, you have continued to reach out. You have maintained your connection with the outside world, even though your heart was breaking.

For the first time in your life, I think that you can finally say that your actions match your values. There is a congruence between your words and your actions that has never been there before. That did not come without a fight. I know that it’s safer to say that everything’s fine when it’s not. Presenting your authentic self to the world on a daily basis is not easy. You’ve learned how to do it though, and I’m so proud.

I really am so proud of you. I know I don’t say it enough, but the work that you have done this year is truly awespiring. You’ve blown me away time and time again, even in the smallest things. I am so grateful that you’ve given yourself the opportunity to thrive, and that you’ve chosen to do the harder thing again and again. Those choices have led you to a place that you thought you’d never be.

You are nourished, healthy, whole. Your eyes shine when you talk about the things that you love. You are full of passion and energy. You laugh…a lot. You are full of grace, wisdom, and empathy. You create a safe space for people to feel heard. You use your voice when necessary, and you listen closely to everything around you. You are one of the most observant people I’ve ever met, with such a keen memory. You have learned how to maintain healthy boundaries in your relationships. You have taken those personality traits that used to keep you sick and transformed them into traits that will carry you forward.

You’ve come so, so far, but you’re not done yet. I want you to keep rolling with the momentum. Keep fighting. Keep doing the work. Keep showing up with your authentic self.

You are a kickass human. Screw anyone who says otherwise.

Love,

Me

Sometimes you look back, and everything is different.

I’ve been trying for a week now to reflect on the school year through the lens of eating disorder recovery, and I haven’t been able to write anything cohesive. At first, I got so frustrated by that, but I just realized that is actually huge progress.

I have no desire to associate myself, my life, or my current experiences with an eating disorder. It actually makes me really sad, and sometimes angry, to hear people talk about their eating disorders. In the thick of it, I didn’t realize how small my world was, and to have to shrink my experiences this year down to the size of an eating disorder feels excrutiating.

It amazes me exactly how much can change in a single year when you finally commit to doing the real work. A year ago, I was basing my identity in my eating disorder, in the amount of days insurance approved me for in treatment each time, in how many people checked up on how I was doing or if I was struggling with any disordered thoughts or behaviours. Now, none of that matters to me. Today, what matters is the quality of the relationships that I am choosing to maintain, my physical health, how actively I am practicing self-care, my education, snuggly babies and puppies, and whether the choices I am making are alligning myself with my future goals.

I still remember, of course. I remember life with my eating disorder, and I will admit that I sometimes romanticize it a bit. I sometimes get urges, but I never consider actually acting on them. I don’t know that I could ever forget, and even if I could, I wouldn’t want to.

This Monday marks the beginning of finals week at my school. This is a significant milestone for me, because for the first time in my Gordon College career, I am completing a full school year, and I am not taking incompletes for the first semester ever. I am two presentations and two exams away from my first completed school year. I used to believe that I couldn’t succeed in school unless I was sick, and this disproves that belief. I am well, and I am doing well.

I hesitate to call myself recovered because I haven’t even been out of treatment for a full year, but I cannot fathom ever returning to the depths of chaos and despair that is an eating disorder. I’m too busy living my life now. I don’t have time for that.

Now, I’m going to go grocery shopping for a picnic at the beach tomorrow. That, my friends, is how I know that I am well.

Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester, MA (where I’ll be spending the day tomorrow! Heck yes!) (photo credit: pinterest.com)

It’s A New Year

2014 was a messy year for me.

It was one of the most difficult years of my life, and I don’t say that lightly.

Be Brave was my mantra through the year. It might me through many seemingly impossible situations.

Be Brave was my mantra through the year. It got me through many seemingly impossible situations.

I rang in 2014 by binging and purging as soon as Demi Lovato got off stage on the E Canada NYE special. Shortly followed by a week of hell trying to get myself to treatment thanks to a polar vortex that was sweeping the continent. Once I finally got there, I spent the next six months of my life in various levels of care at multiple treatment facilities. My life consisted of three meals and three snacks a day, hours and hours of group therapy, weight gain, new diagnoses, family work, insurance woes, and a crapload of radical acceptance.

I experienced profound loss – with thirteen people whom I cared about at one point or another in my life passing away over the course of the year. Grief takes a lot out of a person. Just when you think it’s passed, another wave hits. Sometimes I still read a post or see a picture and burst into tears. For years, I had put all my grief in a box on a shelf and kept it there. That box was blown to shreds and I felt like I was drowning. I’m just starting to feel okay again. The waves of grief come, and then they go, and that’s okay. But…it’s messy.

2014 was a year of identity issues. By that, I mean that everything I thought was true about myself and my future has shifted and for a very long time, I felt cracked, broken. I felt like trying to get better just made everything worse. I was in constant pain, and utterly confused about who I was and what certain things meant about me. I was wrong in every way possible. Just when I began to maybe possibly kinda like myself again, the bandaid was ripped off and the wound was ripped open again. I hated myself more than ever. To be honest, I still sometimes do.

The funny thing is, I think it’s the messiness of it all that made 2014 the best year of my life as well. 

Love that I have a healthy relationship with my family right now. It's taken a lot of work, but I love them so much!

Love that I have a healthy relationship with my family right now. It’s taken a lot of work, but I love them so much!

Despite the chaos and the grief and the shame, I accomplished so much. I completed a full step-down in treatment, which made all the difference in the world. I turned home into a safe place. I repaired old relationships and built new ones. I feel things now. I have realized that people love me not because I’m sick and broken, but because I’m simply worth loving. I’m well enough to volunteer in the nursery at my incredible church. I’ve learned what it means to be loved in a way that I least expected.

This year, I learned that it’s better to be known as the girl who loves brave purple chevron penguins than the one who’s too wrapped up inside her own head to pay attention to other things. This year, I found myself working in an office at my school where I feel appreciated, but I also feel competent and I’ve been able to actually see events that I’ve helped to plan run smoothly and effectively. This year, I stopped introducing myself as the girl with the eating disorder and started entering into new situations as Alexis – plain and simple.

I’m proud of myself for the way that I’ve risen up to each and every challenge that I’ve come up against this past year. I am proud of myself for letting myself not be okay. I’m proud of myself for allowing myself to be okay. For allowing myself to love and be loved. For allowing myself to feel a wide spectrum of emotions. For creating new patterns. For honesty and resilience. For learning to internalize an attitude of celebration and gratitude. I’m proud of myself for getting to the point where I can be proud of myself.

Spent Christmas at Disney! Hollywood Studios was awesome!

Spent Christmas at Disney! Hollywood Studios was awesome!

I rang in 2015 on a family vacation to Florida (two of which I missed out on last year because I was stuck in residential). I went swimming in the ocean on New Years Eve, ate dinner with my grandparents, aunt, parents, and brother, played cards, and watched the ball drop on TV. It was a drastically different day than last year, and for that I am grateful.

I would say that I hope 2015 is a better year – but honestly, I think my biggest hope would be that I continue to embrace the mess that is life. After all, that is when the most growth occurs.

Six months later…

I was trying so hard to hold it together that day.

I was trying so hard to hold it together that day.

Six months ago today, I cried my way out the doors of my treatment program wearing my flower crown and clinging to that heart shaped stone. I had been there for 32 short days. To this day, I can still feel the sheer terror that coursed through my veins as sobs wracked my not-as-fragile frame. I was not at all confident in my ability to maintain recovery outside the safety and security of that House on the Hill.

I have fought like hell to get to the place I’m at today, and I am proud of the woman I am becoming. The thing is, I still feel that fear sometimes. It takes different forms, but I still feel it. More often than not, it shows itself in my fear of letting go of the little things. Those fears of being alone, of not having a plan B, of not acheiving academic success now that I’m no longer sick. The tangible realities of recovery – giving up important relationships, being just a person without the clause of an eating disorder.  As I wrote a couple of months ago, the fear that shows itself time and time again is the fear of my own ability to get better.

In all honesty, this week has not been an easy one. I was making poor choices with little regard to the consequences, but I also knew there was a line that I could not cross. I made the conscious choice not to cross it, even though I had multiple opportunities to choose otherwise. When I found out that yet another person that I cared about once upon a time passed away today, I began the swift downward spiral in my head. It happened last time too, but within an hour, I had managed to talk myself off the metaphorical ledge and turn my week around. I realized that if I didn’t choose differently, I stood to lose some of the most important people in my life, and this time…it would be on me.

I’m doing really well, and I know that I am because of weeks like this. Everything went wrong, I fell apart, and then I pulled myself together and kept putting one foot in front of the other. That’s what this is about. I have chosen to keep stepping further into the unknown, simply because it is my only option. For me, there is no other way. I am certain that as long as I continue on this trajectory, I am going to live a “recovered” life.


Regardless of how long a woman stays in the program, she is given a graduation ceremony on the day of, or in certain circumstances the day before, her departure from the home. This ceremony includes reading an Eater’s Agreement aloud, recieving words of encouragement and affirmations from the clients and staff alike, and blowing out a symbolic candle.

The Eater’s Agreement was one of the most significant assignments I was given during my time. My perfectionism kicked into overdrive when I sat down to write it, and I re-wrote it three times before I was finally satisfied that I wasn’t doing it wrong (i thought i was doing everything wrong while i was there. it was a thing.), but more so that I was saying everything I felt needed to be said.

The Eater’s Agreement is a tangible reminder of the critical recovery work that was started in the program, and it speaks to what your healthy self desires for your life. I wholeheartedly support the concept and think that it would be a valuable addition to any longer term residential program. Since I left the program six months ago, I have gone through multiple seasons where I read my Eater’s Agreement out loud every morning before I even put my feet on the ground. It served as a daily recommitment to the long-term life that I wanted, and a motivation to complete the everyday tasks necessary to acheive those long term life plans.

I don’t read it every day anymore, but every so often, I’ll go back and read it. The thing I love about it is that it speaks both to my past and my future. It’s a reflection and a road map simultaneously.

Given that I read this aloud six months ago today, I feel it is appropriate to share it once more.

Without further adieu….my eater’s agreement.

Until this point, I have spent my whole life running from emotion, shielding myself from vulnerability with my intellect. I have existed in a fragmented, broken manner for years. The time for that has come and gone.

 From this day forward, I hereby agree to live wholeheartedly. I accept that in order to do that, I must allow myself to sit with intense emotion. I must be honest, and speak my truth even when it hurts.  I agree to nourish my body, soul, and spirit on a consistent basis.

 Through the years, I’ve fought so hard to maintain an image of strength that people look at and admire. Over the last four weeks, I have learned that true strength is not found in hiding my emotions. In fact, it’s entirely the opposite. True strength is found in vulnerability. It is found in the willingness to look at circumstances that are so overwhelming, and feel seemingly impossible and decide that I am going to do it anyways.

 I agree to find my strength in vulnerability. I agree to stand firm in my recovery, not by fighting my way through every meal and pushing hard against every obstacle, but rather by acknowledging my weaknesses and surrounding myself with people who will build me up and fight alongside of me. I agree to ask for help when I need it, instead of trying to tough it out on my own.

 I agree to turn my back on isolation. My eating disorder has convinced me that it has been my only companion for far too long.  I am reclaiming my relationships. I agree to reach out when I feel alone, but more than that, I agree to invest my full self in each relationship that I choose to enter into. I acknowledge that I was created for community, and that people are an important part of my life.

 I agree to accept that I have needs. I will voice them, and actively seek to have them met. I understand that to have needs is not a bad thing. To have needs is to be fully human. I agree to let go of my own judgment of myself for having needs, and instead radically accept that I am a worthy human.

 I acknowledge that I have played the role of the victim in the past, but that role is no longer mine. I declare that I am taking back the power from my eating disorder, but also from everyone who’s ever tried to tell me that I can’t do this.

 I’m walking out the doors of this house on the hill with knees knocking and hands shaking and my head held high. I am choosing to be proud of the work that I’ve done here, and I agree to continue the work that I have begun here. I agree to feel the fear and do it anyways.

 This is not the end of my story. I will overcome. 

**Even if you are not in recovery from an eating disorder, I think that writing something like an Eater’s Agreement could be beneficial. It’s sort of a declaration or decree of the things that you are comitting to work on in yourself, and it’s a great thing to reflect back on when you lose sight of who you really are and what you stand for. If you choose to write something like this, it’s not mandatory to share with another person. However, I strongly encourage you to take a risk and share it with at least one other person. I say that partially because it’s a great source of accountability – having someone who checks in on you from time to time to see how you’re doing with the things you wrote can be very beneficial. As well, the risk involved in sharing something so personal with a person has the potential to strengthen that relationship and even prove to yourself that allowing yourself to be vulnerable with another person may actually be worth it after all. So, think about it.**

Time to Tell Myself a Different Story

“There are times in our lives when we have to realize our past is precisely what it is, and we cannot change it. But we can change the story we tell ourselves about it, and by doing that, we can change the future.”

~ Eleanor Brown

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write this blog and say what I want to say, but I feel like that quote captures it so well.

I’m going home in 1 week and 1 day. I’ve convinced myself that going home this time is going to be the exact same as every time I’ve gone home in the past.

I keep looking back and telling myself that it’s impossible for anything to be different. It doesn’t matter that I’m going home in a much different state of mind than every other time. It doesn’t matter that physically, I’m healthier than I’ve ever been. I’ve never been healthy at home, so I can never be healthy at home. End of story. I’m going to relapse anyways, so why not start now?

This belief has got to change, and the only way for me to change it is to start telling myself a different story. Yes, it is true that I’ve never been healthy at home. However, it’s also true that I’d never been healthy here either, and I’ve managed to come back into environments in which the only association I had was completely taken over by the eating disorder and do well.

Since I went to treatment in January, I have done so, so much work. I’ve done lots of individual work which has been integral to my recovery process, but I also did some family work. I have seen tremendous growth and transformation in the midst of my family relationships. I’ve seen methods of communication develop between all members of my family. I’ve felt more loved, supported, and cared for by my parents in the last few months than I have in my entire life. I’ve never gone home and had a real relationship with my family.

There are so many differences about my time at home this time around, and yet I’m still stuck in this belief that it’s not going to be any different.

I suppose that’s it though. I’m getting stuck in the past, skipping the present, and allowing the past to determine my future. I need to start telling myself a different story. I need to start telling myself that I can use my past experiences to inform me of where I need to be on guard. I can go in with my guard up because I know exactly where the major struggles are.

I am not powerless here. I’ve found my voice here at school. I know how to speak up and get my needs met. But, it’s as if I just surrender all that power willingly as soon as I find out that I’m going home. The choice is mine. Will I continue to stand my ground and fight? Will I prove to myself that I can be at home in a healthy way? Or will I continue to play along with the patterns that have been developed over the last many, many years.

I want to say that I’ve decided to go home and fight because I know that’s the right thing to say. However, I’m still feeling scared. I’m scared of what it would mean for me to do well for two more months and then come back. To me, going home and doing well means that I am even closer to recovered than I had thought possible. Going home and doing well means that I’m getting better once and for all. No more games.

Life is terrifying. Life at home is terrifying. Life without an eating disorder is even more terrifying. Life with an eating disorder forever and ever is the most terrifying thing possible.

I guess I know what that means. I can go home and do exactly what I need to do. I can go home and shock everyone who’s never seen me healthy. I can go home and prove to myself that I can do this.

Every End is a New Beginning

If you’ve known me for a while, you’ll know that I start a new blog with grand intentions of transforming my life through writing. I’ve learned throughout the course of my life that all of the grand intentions and the proclamations that I’m going to to change my life are meaningless unless I commit to following through no matter what obstacles arise. Until this point, I have lacked that follow through entirely. I would cut and run as soon as the going got tough, even if I appeared to still be on track externally.

I’ve announced, “This is it! I’m in recovery and I’m well on my way!” more times than I can count over the last decade, so when some people hear it now, I’m sure that there are doubts about whether or not this will last. I, too, have asked myself that question so often in the last two months. I’m doing well…in a way that I never have before…ever. Every day, I wake up and I encounter the same situations that I used to – and (for the most part) I approach them entirely differently.

I’ve been in intensive treatment for my eating disorder for the last six months, and the process is drawing to a close. For the first time in history, I’m leaving treatment with a desire to be well, once and for all. This is it. I. Am. Done. I’ve spent too much time in treatment centers and emergency rooms. I’ve spent too much time alone – just me and my eating disorder. My future, my aspirations, and my values are far too important to me to compromise any longer.

So, what does that mean for me and for this blog? It means that I’m choosing life. I’m choosing to speak my truth – my wholehearted, vulnerable truth – even when I don’t know how it’s going to be recieved. The truth is that I am a worthy human being, and nothing that I do or that anyone else says will ever change that fact. I can speak my truth and still be loved. I can be well and still be cared for. I can sit with my feelings, even when I feel like I’m drowning, and still live to see another day.

This blog is me showing up as my full self. It’s me learning to use my voice – not to say what I think everyone wants to hear, but to say what I need to say. This blog is the megaphone that I am using to proclaim my truth – “Life is messy and it hurts and it sucks and I am so thankful that I am sharing in the human experience, because the joy, love, connection, and laughter in combination with the pain and heartache is what makes life worth living.”