Stop treating calories like currency.

Your body is not a bank.

Stop treating calories like currency.

You do not need earn them.

You do not need to save them.

You do not need to swap them.

You do not need to count them.

Just stop

The above post, which I first shared on tumblr, was inspired by all of the talk of calorie counts, fear of liquid calories, “saving all of my calories for tonight”, etc.

There is so much more to life than counting calories, reading labels, measuring food, and making calculations, and it makes me sad when I see someone’s entire social media page revolving around the unit of energy that is nourishing your body.

I understand that there can be a time and a place for calorie counting, but even then, it never needs to take over your life.

You are so much more than the number of calories you eat, or the number of pounds you lose in a week.

It’s hard to break out of that habit, I know, but it is possible, and let me tell you it is so worth it.

Food is meant to nourish your body, but it’s also supposed to be enjoyable.

Be aware of what you’re eating, but do not let it consume you.

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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 takes effort, until it doesn’t

Since I’ve been home and interacting with people who I haven’t seen in quite some time, I’ve been asked all sorts of questions ranging from “Where have you been the last three years?” to “You’ve gained so much weight! How did that happen?” (Talk about tactless and triggering, much? No gracias.)

The question that I’ve been asked most often in conversations where the topic of my recovery comes up is, “Do you believe you can fully recover or is this something you’re going to have to manage forever?”

In the recovery community, it sometimes feels like there are two camps when it comes to the answer to this question. There are those who are fully convinced and have seen evidence that full recovery is, indeed, a very attainable possibility, and then there are those who believe that while symptoms may be eliminated or highly reduced, there will always be little bit of the eating disorder just waiting for you to slip and fall into it’s waiting arms.

(Source: healthyplace.com)

(Source: healthyplace.com)

As for me, I ascribe to the ideology of camp number one. My response is a resounding yes. Yes, I absolutely believe that full recovery is possible. I have met too many recovered individuals to believe that they are the exception to the rule. For me, the notion of continual management of symptoms and hyper-vigilance of watching and preparing for the next relapse fills me with such a deep sense of hopelessness. I don’t want to think that all of my efforts have been for naught – all the meals that I’ve fought through and all the urges I’ve surfed (Sun wave, anyone? Shout out to Ali and Rachael at IOP if you see this.); the endless therapy sessions and the pain of buying clothes to fit my new body that I’m working hard to accept. I need to have an end in sight, and for me, that end is “recovered”.

One huge component to this discussion is the definition of recovery and recovered. Everyone has their own unique definition of recovery. I have thought about this long and hard. I have participated in plenty of group therapy sessions based around this topic. It’s very difficult to fight for something that you cannot even imagine.

When I say that I believe in being fully recovered, I think of life without an eating disorder. What does that mean though? In my mind, it is so much more than weight restoration and the cessation of behaviours. It’s choosing to reach out instead of reaching in. It is to eat more one day and less the next; to have a big brunch without worrying about how it fits in your meal plan. Self-compassion is no longer a treatment buzzword, rather it’s a reality that is lived out on a daily basis. It’s saying no to things that don’t satisfy you, and creating space for things that make you come alive. It’s establishing and maintaining real world relationships that are not wrapped up in the treatment and recovery circles. It is affording yourself the opportunity to make mistakes. I think it means embracing your inherent character traits and using your strengths to your benefit, rather than aiding in your self-destruction. It is living in the space between black and white. It is seeing yourself as a worthy human being, no questions asked. It is having healthy coping mechanisms that have simply turned into ways of life. It is structure and routine in combination with flexibility and relaxation.

Something that we talked a lot about in treatment was how both the eating disorder self and the healthy self come from within each of us, and the process of recovery means that we develop our healthy self so that it’s strong enough to absorb the eating disorder self back into us and take all the energy we spent waging war with our bodies and begin to fight together. What once was fragmented becomes whole.

From everyone I’ve talked to, I’ve learned that there’s no single moment where you realize you’re recovered. Eventually, the day will come when you realize that you’ve been so busy living that you haven’t thought about engaging in behaviours for over a year. There will be moments where you remember…maybe a familiar taste triggers something deep within the recesses of your memory and you thank God that you are no longer that person.

To get there takes work; it takes effort and energy.

Until it doesn’t. 

My pant size is not who I am

Today, I cried in a fitting room for the first time in my entire life.

I cried because the shorts that I tried on didn’t fit me. I cried because my pant size has increased significantly since January. I cried because I was standing in front of the mirror and all I could see was fat – everywhere. I cried because I was allowing that pant size to define who I am as a person. I cried because I felt disgusting, shameful, and ugly.

I bought a few pairs of capris in a size I am still very uncomfortable with and left the store feeling defeated.

The only thing I could think to do was to retreat into my eating disorder. “Once I get smaller again, I’ll feel a bit better. I won’t go too far this time…I’ll still be healthy,” I told myself. Rather than allowing those thoughts to take root, I chose to reach out to my dietitian, Anna, for support. The conversation that ensued allowed me the opportunity to slow down, challenge my distorted thoughts, and reassess my values.

I was reminded that to have a body is a common experience. It is something that every human being can relate to. I was reminded that being in my body as it is now does not have to be an isolating experience. In fact, it is only when I am fully present in my body that I am able to connect deeply with others.

I decided to shift my attitude from one of hatred, to that of gratitude. I made a conscious choice to think of all the amazing things that my body, as it is now – increased pant size and all, has allowed me to do. For example,

  • I have been able to climb the stairs up to where my church meets without feeling tired.
  • I have been able to walk around the pond at school and have a conversation with someone I care for deeply.
  • I have been able to play Dance Dance Revolution in a very old arcade with a dear friend.
  • I have gone on a hike to watch the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen.
  • I swung on the swings with my brother.
  • I held a gigantic eight month old baby for hours.
  • I shot hoops with my friend and sucked at it but had a lot of fun.
  • I went canoeing with that same friend and was able to lift the canoe onto the roof of my car.

Being in this body is less about the body itself, and more about what I am able to accomplish through it. If I were not healthy, I wouldn’t have been able to do some of those things, and if I were able, I wouldn’t have been present to enjoy them.

This canoe was so heavy. Sarah and I took a while to lift it up there, but we did it and it would have been impossible for both of us 6 months ago. Nourishment is a miraculous thing indeed.

This canoe was so heavy. Sarah and I took a while to lift it up there, but we did it and it would have been impossible for both of us 6 months ago. Nourishment is a miraculous thing indeed.

She also shared the following quote with me:

“If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself.

If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself.

Truly, the greatest gift that you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.”

~ Lao Tzu

This quote speaks directly to the things that I value most of all. It reminded me of why I’m fighting for recovery in the first place. It is why I had to get rid of my old clothes and shop for new ones. It is why I am learning to move into uncharted territory and explore what it means to be healthy and present in the world. It is why I said, “This is the end.”

As I wrote a few weeks ago, I want to leave behind my footprints everywhere I go. I want my life to have meaning, to make an impact. I want to be a person who challenges others to think differently, who speaks light into dark places, gives hope to those who feel that they are too far gone. I see injustice and I want to stand against it. I want to be not only a lifelong learner, but I want to give myself space to put my learning into action. I want to not only speak MY truth, but I want to be a platform for others. I want to amplify their voices so that they are heard loud and clear. I want to love boldly and passionately. I want to live a life full of compassion, bravery, vulnerability, flexibility, and sincerity.

If I allow myself to shrink my own world down to the size of an article of clothing, I am doing myself an incredible disservice. I may wear a larger size than I did, but I’m able to accomplish more too. I am full of life now – in a way that I never was before. I have so much to offer this world, and I am not about to throw that all away. (Thank heavens I’ve got so many amazing, supportive people in my life who remind me of this regularly. I don’t know where I’d be without y’all. You know who you are.)

So, today I cried in a fitting room for the first time in my life. I cried out of fear, self-hatred, and disgust. Next time, I won’t cry. I don’t have to like that my clothing size is larger, but I am choosing to accept it. Acceptance has nothing to do with enjoyment.

I commit to actively choosing to carry my values into the fitting room with me along with the clothes, because ultimately those are infinitely more important.

Why does it even matter?

Confession: I’m terrified of what people who only know me on a surface level, or who used to know me but haven’t watched this process of illness and recovery would think of me if they found out I am in recovery from an eating disorder.

Now, I don’t think it’s necessarily something to go around proclaiming to the world. “Look at me! I just got out of treatment for an eating disorder and I’m actually sustaining my recovery (even though i just got out a week ago)!!” There’s a time and a place, and there is wisdom in being cautious, especially with something as personal as this.

However, I also don’t think it’s appropriate that I’m feeling shame about my recovery.

When I was sick, I had less of a problem telling people that I was struggling with an eating disorder. It was more obvious, and it made me feel strong and empowered…as twisted as that is. In recovery, I feel strong and empowered sometimes, but at least right now, I feel physically and emotionally drained. I don’t feel like this is something to be proud of, even though I know it is.

The shame might come from my body. Being home has made my body image so much worse. I look in my bathroom mirror and I see my body as it is, but I remember what it was. It might come from the fact that I miss being sick. I know it’s a common feeling, but who in their right mind would miss that hell? It might come from the knowledge that people won’t see me as someone who needs help. I’m capable of caring for myself now, but I always go back to wanting people to take care of me.

Another part of me feels that if people see me in recovery, but they didn’t know me before, all of the valient effort that I put forth will go to waste. I want people to be proud of my recovery, but I feel like I’ll just be “that girl”.

I don’t really know. It could be a combination of all of those things. The biggest question that I have to ask myself is, “why does it even matter?”

Why does it matter of people don’t see the sickness. Why does it matter if people who don’t know me judge me? Why does it matter if people didn’t see me throughout the treatment process?

What matters now is that I’m here. Using my voice. Speaking my truth. Hoping that one day I’ll stop looking back and romanticizing the illness. I’m in recovery, and I’m really, really proud of myself for that.

Life’s Punctuation

Tonight is my last night of treatment.

Every time I’ve left treatment in the past, there’s been an ellipses at the end…

I’ve been waiting for the, “what next?” – the inevitable relapse that comes once I finish treatment. Sometimes I’ve waited longer than others, but it always comes eventually.

This time there is a period. I don’t feel like I’m waiting anymore.

Today, June 16, 2014, is closure. It is the end of a chapter. It is fear, hope, peace, anxiety, and cautious optimism.

Tomorrow, June 17, 2014, I turn the page and begin to write the rest of the story. I don’t have a full map of what that’s going to look like, but I know that this chapter will transform tragedy into triumph. This chapter will be the launching pad for the rest of the story that is my life.

As with any good story, I hope to carry forward certain themes. I want people to look at my life and see hope. To look at my footsteps and see the power of choice. To hear the sound of my voice and know that their words, too, are valuable. To look at my imperfections and see the reflection of grace.

Tonight is my last night of treatment. I’m scared and I don’t feel ready, but I have been equipped with all the right tools to embark on this next chapter.

This is the end.

My own ability to recover might be what terrifies me more than anything else.

 Yes, I’m absolutely terrified of losing relationships. That’s what I go back to time and time again. My eating disorder says that if I get better, I’ll lose my friends, my team, everyone who’s ever loved me. I’ll be alone in the world, and why would I want to get better only the end up in the same place that I started? I’ve had this discussion so many times. The people who love me want to see me well. There will be a shift, a necessary shift, but I will not lose them entirely. People will show up for me as I show up for myself. I say, “This is the end.”

 Then I think of my educational and professional capabilities. I’m able to do better work when I’m not eating. Food is not a distraction because I can pretend it doesn’t exist for an eight hour work day and get so much accomplished. Food doesn’t exist while I’m writing a paper, or I’ll use it as a reward for finishing. When I enter into a period of recovery – even thinking about recovery – my focus shifts. It appears I am not capable of holding both recovery and school/work at the same time. At least, not to the standard I’m used to holding myself to while I’m slowly digging my own grave. I say that I need my eating disorder to succeed in school, and I’ll get better once I’m done and my grades are good enough for grad school. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way because I don’t have the luxury of getting sick to the point of needing treatment again, not really. I’ve never not had an eating disorder and been a student. I don’t know what that’s like. I’m terrified that I’m going to fail. I would rather fail school and be recovered, than be sick and have my PhD though. I know that for sure. I say, “This is the end.”

 I think of my life and all that has happened until this point. I think of the trauma, the lies, the lack of resources. I think of the emotions that I don’t want to feel and the work that I don’t want to do. I think of how overwhelming it is. That’s why I’m scared of getting better. Yes, partly true. But is it really? Am I really afraid of staring my demons in the face and addressing them? I’ve been living with them my whole life…it might be nice to not have them clawing at my back constantly. But, it’s impossible for me to get rid of my eating disorder because how else would I cope with the work that I will have to do? I use the eating disorder to block the pain of the trauma, and I use it to cope with the pain from the recovery. There’s really no winning here. The eating disorder is not an effective method of managing my emotions. I say, “This is the end.”

 I think of my eating disorder as my identity. Of course I’m terrified to give this up. It’s been fourteen years. I don’t know who I am without it. Bull. Shit. I have a pretty solid idea of who I am without the eating disorder…and I actually kind of like the idea of being that person. I am an incredible friend. I am compassionate, intelligent, creative, and loving. I am dedicated, strong willed, and hardworking. I am a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a student. I am human, and I am vulnerable. I’m learning to live authentically, and the eating disorder gets in the way of that. Why would I want to keep something that steals the light from my eyes and the warmth from my heart? I say, “This is the end.”

 And then I think of me. I think of all those things. I think of how much I want to be well, and how hard I’ve fought to get to this place. I think of how I literally feel the eating disorder slipping further and further away…and yet I find myself lunging for its coattails. I need to hold on, even if just a little bit. I need to hold on because I’m afraid to stop fighting against myself. I’m afraid to take all of the effort that I’ve spent to make myself small, unseen and unheard, and instead, make myself known. I’m afraid to walk into a room and make a noise that announces my presence. I say that I want to leave a legacy – to leave behind my footprints everywhere I go – but it’s impossible for me to leave my footprints if I tread so lightly that I don’t make a sound. I’m afraid because I know I can do this. I know that I have this untapped power source in the depths of my being that’s just waiting for me to say, “Yes. This is it. This is the time.” I’m afraid because once I do that, there is no going back. There is no holding on to just a little bit of illness. There is no, “You can be sick at home and healthy at school”. The seductive nature of the eating disorder, the allure of being sick…this is the great illusion. The feelings of safety and security, while once true, are now masks for destruction and defeat. The gentle whispers turned into deafening roars. What a tragedy I couldn’t hear my own self think. The illusion is destroyed when I say, “This is the end.”

Isn’t it funny that the one thing that we spend our whole life running from – the one thing of which we are most afraid – can also be the only thing that saves us?

This is just the beginning.