Recovery, 70 days in.

78 days

It has been 78 days since I have written on my blog. I have missed it and I have missed the support. I am disappointed that I have let a semester of school draw me away from consistent posts. I am in my final semester before graduating with my Bachelors, prepping for the GRE, and headlong in the application process for graduate school. Academically, I have been very busy. Recovery wise, I have made more success than I ever have. January 13th, 2014 would be the day that I fully committed to recovering from anorexia. It took a medical scare that I should have rushed to the ER for and noticing an incredible level of helplessness exhibited in my husband’s face for me to finally, and genuinely take that step.

Now, 70 days in full recovery, every day, meal and snack is a feat. The first three weeks—put lightly—were miserable, but I knew…I knew that I couldn’t keep living my life for my eating disorder. I never wanted to see my husband look so helpless again, not if I can help it. I knew, the one thing I could do to bring him some relief was to truly do what he has been wanting so badly for me to do for 2 years, recover. And on January 13th, that is just what I began to do.

I honestly never thought I could ever complete 100% of my meal plan for one day—let alone every day. 1) I didn’t think I (or anyone) could possibly ever need THAT much food. 2) I still was choosing my eating disorder over recovery (despite denying this all through my Intensive Outpatient therapy). 3) I couldn’t imagine eating over 300 calories unless I was able to purge it in secret. I hit rock bottom last December, I wasn’t me anymore. I was a walking eating disorder. My life revolved around pleasing it and finding new ways to hide it in order to maintain it. My will was not my own anymore—and anyone who has battled an aggressive eating disorder knows what I mean by that. January 13th, I no longer decided to choose my eating disorder over recovery when it came to food. It was—and is—NOT easy and it seemed that everything was (and is) working against my ability to keep deciding recovery every time. It reminds me of quote I read during a day in treatment:

“Commitment in the face of conflict produces character.”

Now, my treatment team is slightly in disbelief (for the good). As my condition and health worsened despite being in an IOP program most days of the week, they began to doubt my ability to recover without hospitalization and expressed that they didn’t know how to help me. I, essentially, was told that unless I started choosing recovery, steps immediate hospitalization would be taken. They were given one more shot for me to do what I told them I would do well over a year and a half ago: That I would the exception to the statistical improbability that an individual as low of a weight as I was could recover outside of an inpatient care facility.

There is so much I want to share with you guys about the past 70 days. The good, the bad, and everything in between. I figure if my blog posts bring any level of support or relief to one person, then I accomplishing what I hope to accomplish with my graduate degree in counseling: Help others struggling with eating disorders to overcome them and find a better quality of life.

 

Body Image Affirmations

Several posts ago, I wrote about self-affirmations, both positive and negative, and how they can be helpful (or harmful) in recovery. Replacing negative self-affirmations with the positive ones take a conscious effort, especially at the start. They may sound strange at first and you may not even believe any of the positive affirmations you find and repeat for a little while. However, just like how the bad affirmations didn’t become an ingrained in your personal belief system over night, the positive ones will too take time.

Earlier this week, I decided to ‘branch-off’ with my affirmation formations with dedicating more of a focus on Body image affirmations. It’s no shocker that people with eating disorders exhibit many signs of embracing a very negative body image similar to exhibiting signs of severe negative self-image. Self-affirmations help us to feel better about ourselves; body image affirmations help us to feel better about our bodies. The list below are the body image affirmations I have formed thus far. I challenge and encourage you to try and come up with your own.

Body Image Affirmations

  • I will avoid being self-critical when looking in the mirror
  • I will celebrate a positive body feature daily
  • I will compliment myself on clothing that fits me well and not what size they are
  • I will celebrate three positive qualities about myself daily and repeat them three times each.
  • I will nurture my body with good nutrition, relaxation, and stress reduction.
  • I will develop coping strategies when I feel susceptible to negative body image thoughts.
  • I will develop critical thinking skills toward media messages
  • I will practice experiencing people for who they are and not what they look like.

And I will reiterate, jotting down and brainstorming a handful of affirmations is only part of the process; in order for them to have a positive, long-lasting effect, you need to revisit, repeat, and think about them often. Also, substituting the bad ones for the good ones when you become aware that you are replaying the negative is something that further the success they can have.

And yes, at times I feel these types of exercises are corny, perhaps you might think they are corny as well. I also sometimes think that doing these things feels unnatural and strange. Though I’ll admit, they gradually have helped through some tougher days. Sometimes you just have to trust that something might work and see where it takes you (much like many areas of recovery). All I can do is share my experiences and hope that sharing a simple exercise helps at least one other individual out there.

Recovery Stoplight: a Tool for Relapse Prevention

Every human has four endowments: self-awareness, conscience, independent will, and creative imagination; these give us the ultimate human freedom…the power to choose, to respond, and to change– Stephen R. Covey

I think it is amazing on just how quickly someone struggling with an eating disorder can find themselves in the middle of a relapse without knowing exactly how they got there. Eating disorders are tricky; they do a pretty sufficient job at making sure you believe you are okay and have the upper hand—when in fact—they have totally taken the reigns. After my relapse earlier this year, I wanted to find a way to better track my behaviors and organize them in such a way so that if I was observing those behaviors or thoughts, I would know where I was and where I was headed if I continued my actions. It led to create what I call a ‘recovery stoplight’

stoplight

Green: Under the green category, I listed all the behaviors that I would be engaging in and observing in myself if I was participating in progressing in my recovery. Some of the behaviors I listed were:

  • Using coping skills instead of eating-disorder behaviors to manage emotions
  • Reaching out to and communicating with the people in my support network
  • Facing challenges
  • Being completely honest consistently about anything pertaining to recovery
  • Consistently following a meal plan
  • Attending all appointments and listening to professional guidance and suggestions
  • Labeling my feelings and processing them (through journaling or other means) instead of pushing them away with restriction or other unhealthy behaviors

Yellow: For yellow, I jotted behaviors and thoughts that may not be perceived as problematic but usually snowball into unhealthy behaviors and relapse. The yellow area is, ideally, the place where you want to be able to catch yourself because it is going to be easier to get back from yellow to green than from red to green. Typically the behaviors in the yellow are the behaviors we don’t pay any mind to and due to that inattention, we slide into relapse. Some behaviors I listed are as below:

  • Feeling competitive with peers regarding appearance and academic standing
  • A large increase in negative affirmations and negative self talk.
  • Beginning to rationalize ‘just one restriction’ or ‘just one [ insert whatever ED behavior]’
  • An increase in obsessive and intrusive thoughts pertaining to food and weight
  • Thinking—but maybe not necessarily acting—on possible ways to restrict, etc.
  • Small deviances in the meal plan

Red: these are the behaviors that clearly indicate that there is a problem that needs to be addressed. Behaviors that others might usually bring to your attention and of which make you realize you are—again—in the hole and not in recovery. Finding yourself in the red can be very discouraging—especially if you are working hard to defeat you’re eating disorder and to regain your life back. However, the first step is realizing where exactly you are in your journey. You cannot get back to the green if you don’t know you are in the yellow or red. Here are some of my red behaviors:

  • Lying to my treatment team and my supports
  • Failing to follow meal plan
  • Not communicating with supports
  • Lying about having eating
  • Engaging in restrictive and purging (exercise) behaviors
  • Skipping meals

Now granted, my stoplight may not even be close to what a stoplight of someone else’s might look like. An eating disorder presents itself uniquely in each individual which is why it is a good idea to try and make your own. The useful thing about the stoplight is that you can add behaviors as you realize new ones. Since I have created mine, I have stumbled upon several more that I was not aware of when I first made the list. The purpose of making a list like this is to bring more awareness to your behaviors and how to better prevent yourself from falling into another relapse as best as you can.

Also, with each relapse you catch, try to analyze what was different. How did your eating disorder fool you this time? When you think you have an idea of how it might of happened, write it somewhere on the list. If a comment from a friend triggered you to have an increase in obsessive thoughts, or encouraged you to restrict at your next meal, place that event in the yellow (possibly) and devise a plan to cope with that trigger if it happens again. And just like that, you realized yourself experiencing ‘yellow/risky’ behaviors and managed to pinpoint them and pull yourself back into the green. That, is ultimately, what this list should help you do.

 

New Year. New Focus

Redirecting Your Focus

For so long my focus has been food, exercise, weight, and restriction; it hasn’t always been that way. At one point, my focus was my relationship with Scott, my studies, and—more importantly—my guitar playing and my writing. My concentration and energy is now almost completely consumed in eating disorder related behaviors, and because of it, my self-value and personal identity have become enmeshed with my eating disorder instead of the things that made me me. Not only have my passions and interests wilted, my contact with the people I care about has diminished. I don’t visit and maintain contact with my friends like I used to and I haven’t really fostered any new relationships since my eating disorder became my focus. Last year—2013—I gave away to my eating disorder. As for 2014, I intend to reclaim my passion and re-direct it to the following areas: My relationships and my writing.

As we age, making and maintaining relationships becomes considerably more difficult. It is not the same as when you were in school. People have responsibilities, families, jobs, and their own interests that demand much of their time. Just the attempt to coordinate schedules to visit with someone can be tricky in and of itself and usually the time-slots are limited and sparse. The good news is that, despite face-to-face interaction not being as frequent as desired, we have multiple methods of keeping contact such as email, skype, text, phone, and social networks. However, these methods of contact do require a bit of time as well as a conscious effort to remain consistent and to sustain relationships. So do you see how when your focus and energy is almost completely stolen to something else, that things such as the maintenance and preservation of relationships can be neglected? It’s been an unsettling experience accepting the reality of how much I’ve neglected my relationships. Though I intend to utilize this realization as a motivator to change my situation for the better.

I remember when it would be completely normal for me to write a poem I was really proud of—and perhaps more than one—each week. It almost was a part of my nightly routine. If I wasn’t trying to compose a poem or a song, I journaled—which often led to inspiration for more poems. But just like any activity, my writing took concentration, focus and cognitive energy. Now, when I was healthy, I did not have the problems with focus and concentration today that I have been working through now. Restriction of food leads to an increase in obsessive thoughts revolving around food, a decrease in energy, and a dulling of concentration. So is it really any surprise that I have not been writing nearly as much or as often as I used to? I don’t think so.

Now that I have decided how I want to redirect my focus, I feel it would now be wise to develop an action plan in order to for me to be successful. And that action plan is what I have been working on this past week. Goals are only as great as the systems that we follow in order to reach them.

What has you’re eating disorder or addiction stolen your focus away from? What would you rather be pursuing if you weren’t stuck in the demands of whatever you struggle with every minute of every day? What might you want to refocus on? Where might you like to place your energy in? If you are not sure, give it some thought. Self-explore a little bit, what do you love to do? What do you want to improve upon? What skill or hobby might you want to take up? Think about it. I believe that if we can find who we are—or who we used to be in some cases—without our eating disorder that overcoming the maladaptive behaviors and staying in recovery may be a little bit less difficult. Every one of us was meant to accomplish so much more than solely “being a great anorexic/bulimic/orthrexic/etc.”. It’s time to venture out and explore what those accomplishments might be and begin to make are amazing mark in this world. It’s time to start living.

“Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life – think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success that is way great spiritual giants are produced.” -Swami Vivekananda