Life After Residential – 6 months out (!?!?!?)

Holy cow. 6 whole months since I signed papers, hugged the staff and friends, and stepped on a plane to enter back into the real world. It feels like just yesterday and a million years ago. There isn’t a moment where I’m not thankful for all I learned during my time at CFD, because I wouldn’t be where I am today without it. Realizations in the past sis months:

Motivation for recovery lessens when things start to get hard after the “honeymoon phase.” Much like the spiritual high you receive coming back from church camp, the recovery high after residential fades away. Real life doesn’t come with 24/7 support, a ban on any diet/food/calories/exercise talk, distracting table games, lack of mirrors, others who 100% understand you, and therapy every single day. Without the extra push to recover it has been hard to keep at it. I start shifting toward using exercise to cope and believing a little restriction is okay. Thankfully I’ve now learned to keep motivation up by focusing on my goals and doing recovery for me.

I can get out of a relapse. I feel stronger than ever since beating my first relapse. Seeing my weight was a huge trigger, one that could have sent me into a deep pit I couldn’t get out of. Fortunately, I found my strength in myself through Him. I deserve recovery and I have so much life ahead of me. I don’t need to turn to my eating disorder to deal with things. I can fight urges. In previous relapses, I never wanted to or thought I would be able to fight. There was an entire year spent on the edge of being forced into treatment, FV round 2, and residential. I was sick and couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. A huge factor now is knowing what recovery is like: freedom, joy, truly living, despite struggles.

I am capable on my own. I have relied on therapists, dietitians, friends and mentors, the entirety of treatment staff. While that was absolutely needed during residential and as I transitioned back to life on the outside, it isn’t at all realistic or healthy long-term. At some point I had to take control and responsibility for myself. I can’t have therapy everyday. Sometimes I have gone two weeks. Sure I have had days where I needed someone to rescue me, and then I did get support from others. As time has gone on that hasn’t been the case. I journal, manage my emotions in a healthy way, fight urges, talk to friends about anything but my eating disorder. Heck, today in therapy we didn’t focus solely on the ED and I was able to work through anxieties and other things. I really can’t explain how amazing and empowering it feels being able to stay healthy mostly on my own.

I can share about my eating disorder in a way that isn’t a sad story that I feel is burdening others. Before, I told others about my ED and MH issues out of necessity. I needed support and for people to avoid diet talk. Some relationships were built and consumed by my sickness. I felt guilty for sharing my story because I was broken. I haven’t actually told anyone new in person about this yet, but I am planning that very soon. I’ve prayed about it, and I am going to tell my favorite from work. She has noticed the difference in me now and I want to let her in. I feel such joy about all I have accomplished. Why wouldn’t I want to share openly how I have become resilient through God’s strength? Instead of “look what I am going through” it is “look at what I’ve conquered that’s made me into the person I am today.” I am blessed by this change.

There is no perfection in recovery; I am a work in progress. This is kind of cliché but also true. I have had countless slip ups, even in the past two months coming back from my relapse. Just like my self harm recovery, I have days where I follow urges and compulsively exercise/restrict. These things are normal. I can’t expect myself to be completely recovery-minded 110% of the time nor allow others expectations to affect me negatively. I have learned to forgive and accept my failures in the same way I celebrate my successes. It isn’t a linear process in the slightest.

I am different from the girl who left treatment 6 months ago. (Not talking about my body here). My dreams have multiplied as I realize how much more I am capable of now. I am working very hard to not let food be the main focus in my life. Sure, I probably think about it more often than the average person, but it in’t anywhere near when I first left treatment. Until a month or so ago I was still counting exchanges and being rigid in my diet.I have conquered many fears since coming home. Some examples: being able to eat a healthy amount around basically everyone without struggling (much), trying former fear foods, openness about my story, looking at my body in the mirror. I feel so much joy. I never expected or dreamed of this. I wake up happy, enjoy my job, talk with people, find happiness everyday. I definitely had more a more positive mood coming out of resi but not like this. I have grown in self-love exponentially. Overall, I have been able to discover who I really am along this journey (not what the ED made me).

He makes recovery possible. I have struggled in my relationship with God, especially during my darkest points in my eating disorder. I felt abandoned and unworthy of His love. I am just now seeing how wrong I was. He has been there since Day 1. My faith and relationship with the Father is my number one now, not my ED. It is such a blessing.

It’s crazy to think of all the progress these 6 months have brought. I learned how to deal with everything in a healthy way and without relying on the ED in residential; however, this time has been applying those things. Each day I continue on my recovery journey which all began at a house in San Diego.

Advertisement

My body

I still wake up, some mornings, surprised by the size of my body. I look in the mirror, expecting to see less than what’s really there. I notice what I’ve lost: muscle, protruding bones, the extra space that is now filled. I’ve gained so much more.

This body doesn’t struggle through hours on the treadmill. It is not wasting away. My hip bones no longer scare my mom. It doesn’t ache constantly. I can sit and lie down without feeling pain.

My body is soft. It supports me as I go about my day. It is growing stronger. It allows me to do yoga each day simply to enjoy. It has stretch marks to remind me where I’ve been and that I have fought hard to come here. It is well-nourished and healthy. It isn’t perfect, and that’s okay. It deserves my love.

It is exactly what I feared for so many years. It is different than I expected. It is more than what I was okay with. It is more than I could ask for. It is different, but that is a good thing. It is exactly the way its supposed to be.

My body is more beautiful than ever before and I am beginning to see it.

Honesty time: coming back from a relapse

nhh

When these words popped up on my Instagram feed this morning (via @beatingeatingdisorders) I knew I had to finally talk about what’s been going on with me lately. I hope that by sharing my story I can give hope to others finding themselves in a slump like this.

Probably around 6 weeks ago now I was struggling heavily with body image and had basically no hunger. This led to guilt and plenty of crying before/after/during meals. I felt defeated and lacked much motivation to finish everything I needed for the day. I skipped out on snacks altogether, then restricted meals. To top it all off, I saw my weight after a doctor’s appointment (here). Then I wrote about not doing so hot two weeks ago (here) but I haven’t mentioned it since.

As I’m pulling myself out of this, I realized that this most definitely was a relapse. I ran full-force back to my eating disorder and went from engaging in some restriction but not a ton  to extreme restriction and compulsive exercise. I also isolated, hid everything from my mom, felt very depressed, slept a lot, and was plain miserable. My dietitian appointment last week Tuesday, I was doing so badly that she set my minimum meal plan at around 1/3 of what I left residential with. The next day I went into therapy and just cried. I felt extremely hopeless and I didn’t know how I was supposed to do this all. I was struggling, my dietitian and therapist were worried, and I had little motivation to change.

Last Thursday came news that has created a complete change in mindset for me. I will talk more about this soon (its very, very exciting I promise!). Suddenly, I had something to look forward to in the near future, as opposed to becoming a nurse years from now. I could never do this thing if I’m still sick. My motivation for a new shorter-term goal has grown to cover my entire life. Living with anorexia is not living at all. If I’m stuck in this place forever I will miss so much. I could die or at least feel like dying every second. My eating disorder is not worth having to give up all of my goals and hope for the future. I need to recover for me, simply so I can have everything I deserve.

I’ve made a promise to myself that I am going to fight with everything to stay in recovery. My whole life is ahead of me and for the first time in years I am genuinely excited and thankful for that. Anorexia is NOT holding me back!

Yesterday I was able to go into therapy as a completely different person than I was the week before. I left the session feeling proud of myself, thankful for her support, and in awe of my own power/motivation. I met with my dietitian today and that appointment also went so differently than either of us had expected the week before. We found a meal plan that will be so much more nutritious and talked about making sure I honor my hunger. My progress between this week and last is probably the largest positive change I’ve seen in myself. It is so much more than just eating again.

Going back to the words above, the eating disorder really does have a way of pulling you in with temptations of relapse. Since leaving residential I’ve somewhat been waiting for it to happen in a way. After coming out of this now, I never want to go through this again. The memories of your time in the ED is so different than reality. The misery comes right back and takes over as relapse begins. It hurts so much.

If you end up beginning to slip back into your old ways, take a moment to pause and think about where this could end up. You follow the eating disorder that either leads you to death or feeling like you’d rather be dead. You fight, which is much harder, and have the rest of your life, full of possibilities. You are worth recovery. Find some things to live for, create future goals, follow your dreams, but most importantly choose recovery for YOU.

Acceptance

For a long time I grappled with my mental health issues. Some were easier to deal with than others, but I still couldn’t stomach it all. I truly believed that somehow, somewhere I had just screwed up or thought too much about different things and that one day, it would be gone. I was embarrassed that I needed to see a therapist, start medication, and later enter into treatment. I’ve felt so many things regarding my diagnoses and tendencies: disgust, shame, disbelief. I’ve wanted them all to go away. In the past month or two that’s all changed.

I no longer wake up and hope or wish to be “normal.” My mental illnesses will always play a part in my life, whether that be big or small. They have shaped my past and will affect my future. I see them as a part of who I am. I can genuinely say that I am okay with all of this.

Now that I have come to full acceptance, I want to be clear on what this doesn’t mean:

  1. I am giving up hope of a better future. I know my mental health will always be clouded with irrational thoughts and behaviors. This does not make me hopeless, but realistic. I do have hope that things will get easier with time and hard work. I so desire that for myself and will do everything I can to get there.
  2. I define myself by my mental health. I am not the anorexic, depressed girl, anxious freak, compulsive exerciser, perfectionist, or self-harmer. I struggle with all of these with varying degrees of severity. They shape my actions and thoughts each day, but I will not be victim bound by labels. I am so much more than my diagnoses. I am Emily the college student, photography lover, girl in recovery, future nurse, etc.
  3. I am helplessly controlled by my disorders. Acknowledging the impact these have on me and that they won’t go away in no way leads to this belief. I have the power to recover and work towards quieting the bad thoughts. At times this may seem grueling and near-impossible, but I am never powerless.
  4. This is all the only/most important part of my story. Of course everything related to my mental health have significantly impacted my life. How could it not when I’ve spent the majority of my days battling irrational thoughts? Significance, however, does not mean governance. Playing soccer, attending the school system I went to, early college, and my faith are just a few influences unrelated to any of my MH struggles. They are important too.
  5. I will let any of this hold me back from my dreams. I will become a mother. I will work as a nurse. I will help support others who have the same struggles I do. I will move away from my family and other physical support one day. I will travel the world. I will create and keep meaningful relationships. I will have a better relationship with food and exercise. I will own prairie dogs, a papillon, an emotional support animal, and whatever other pets to make my heart content (not all at the same time aha). I will grow my faith. I will write a book or two or three. I will earn at least my master’s degree. I will love life. No mental illness, negative thinking patterns, or self-doubt is going to stop me.

Acceptance feels good. Its a starting point of understanding how I can manage all of this for the rest of my life. I feel so much better now. The weight of denial, uncertainty, despair, and shame have lifted. Yes, I struggle with mental health issues. Yes, I am going need constant self-monitoring and then working through each dark time I experience. Yes, I accept myself and how my mental health struggles have shaped me. I am okay with it all.

With my back to the wall.

IMG_20160216_172108542

One of the ED’s rules since the very beginning is that I have to eat where I can’t see other people watching me. I was so consumed with the thought that other people were judging me solely on what I ate or didn’t eat. Before I knew I had an eating disorder and prior to even some of the restriction I was already living by it. I was constantly eating facing walls whenever I was alone. When with others I would sit where the least number of people possible could watch me eat, but in general eating with people tends to distract me enough to calm the fear some.

Last year, not getting to sit in one of my preferred spots for lunch meant either skipping it all-together or eating in the bathroom stall. My fear was that real. This fall, I completely freaked out in the dining halls. I had to eat alone every lunch and if I couldn’t sit where I wouldn’t see people watching me, eating was exponentially harder. I sometimes didn’t take more than a bite. My fear of being watched grew so severe during that first semester.

At CFD, I came to sit down at snack one night and was blindsided by this fear once again. We had a table where one side faced a wall and the other the foyer. Either way I was facing the same amount of people, but when I was switched to face the foyer it sent me almost into a panic attack. It was like I was back in that dining hall with everyone staring at me. It was similar to some other flashback-like experiences I’ve had and I just froze. That was one of the only times I broke down so much at the table.

I’ve really tried to challenge myself since being back at school in so many ways. I hadn’t even thought of breaking this rule until today. There have been days where I moved a tiny bit out of my comfort zone and forced myself to sit facing a few people, but other than that its strictly facing a wall or empty section.

Today I chose a booth towards the back. I like the booths because I easily can calm my fear and face away from everyone. At the last second, I realized that I wanted to break out of my comfort zone. I had to sit facing everyone on that side of the dining room. It brought back all of the anxiety and negative thoughts about people watching me eat, but I was able to push past them. It slowed my eating some without actually stopping me from getting the nourishment I needed. I even had some ice cream which could never happen before. Yes, it was scary and challenging and uncomfortable, but I got through it. Now, the “you must eat facing away from other people” rule has a little less hold on me.

Another day, another little step against the ED!

I am doing the best I can

This slipped out yesterday when I was talking with my RA. We hadn’t really spoken about my recovery and how I’m doing for a few weeks and she wanted to check in. To be quite honest, recovery has not been all rainbows and butterflies so I told her that. I explained my wins but also struggles. The thing is, she sees me so much clearer than I can see myself. I am misguided by perfectionism. If I can’t do recovery, or anything, perfect then it isn’t good. My RA isn’t bound by this at all. What she sees is someone who is not at all the girl she met last fall. This one laughs and probably doesn’t stress her out so much and can eat what she’s supposed to without being told. This new girl is someone she’s proud of.

“I am doing the best I can.” I said it. She affirmed it. Most importantly though, I do believe that. I am happy believing that.

I’m not perfect and my recovery process is far from it. I have bad days. Sometimes it’s a whole week feeling less than great and falling into negative thinking. That doesn’t take away from my progress. Despite it all I continue to push forward and do the best I am able with where I am at.

Today in group we had an open art session. I struggled with what I wanted to do but ultimately decided to write “I am doing the best I can” over and over. I so need that right now. There are so many circumstances and responsibilities. Its not limited to just recovery. I can’t do it all and I can’t put that kind of pressure on myself. I will instead press on, meditating and living out this statement.
image

Life After Residential – 1 month out

Well at this point I can definitely say it feels simultaneously like I was in treatment an hour ago and also that its been years. Today I will be sharing my accomplishments, set-backs, and what I’ve learned.

Accomplishments:

  • Followed 99% of meal plan
  • Use skills at least once a day
  • Attending social events at college
  • Finished interim and did well
  • Handling all of the change (dietitian, school, coming out of resi, therapist)
  • Using exercise in a good way
  • Surviving first sickness in recovery
  • Working on asking my needs to be met
  • Haven’t died of hypothermia yet in the not-California temps 🙂

Set-backs

  • Home life = meh
  • Not sleeping well
  • Finding it hard to get out stress
  • Body image making it hard to eat
  • Not good with boundaries

Life is full of surprises. Cliche, I know. This month of my life has been so messy. There have been lots and lots of blows. I was shielded from it in treatment. At the same time, the little unexpected joys make this worth it.

I have to put ME first. Okay so this one I’ve learned but have not put into practice. I realized that doing things for others and putting my own safety or recovery at risk never should happen. I deserve to say no.

College doesn’t have to be the same as last fall. God was I worried about this. Entering into the same place where I was on the path to dying is hard. Being in hose dining halls, with complete exercise access, and without supervision can be tempting. I don’t want that life back. I look at pictures and I see an already dead girl. I am worth more.

Not all ED effects will go away. My cognitive function, my brain, the reason I was so good in school, even following a conversation, they’re all difficult now. I’m not starving! This should be going away. I have to prepare for the worst thought and right now its where I’m at.

Its less shameful not hiding it. I am always worried how someone will react when I tell them about my ED. I’ve gotten a range of responses, mostly good, but the anxiety is usually most overwhelming. Since posting on FB and talking openly if need I feel so much better. I tell the parts of my story and move on. I try not to care what they may think.

I need to share my story. I am so itching to speak about it! I feel like I could help other while also giving me a reason to keep going. No one should have to feel alone in this. I also really want to lead a group or something like that soon.

Today is going to be a great day! Today I will focus and think clearly because I will nourish my mind. Today, I will remember that I am stronger and smarter than I think. I am not my eating disorder. Today I will flourish.

Mirrors, shaving, and dresses, oh my!

Well you might be wondering what these three things have in common and the answer is creating a terrible body image for me.

Good God I hate mirrors. I didn’t realize how little I missed having having them available until I came home from residential. There were no mirrors at CFD except in the bathrooms you only get to use in morning and night. It’s a blessing I’m telling you!!! No room to compare or obsess or body check. It makes me wish my parents would do a bit of redecorating without them. I’ve begun closing my eyes now and it definitely helps.

Until today, I’d avoided shaving since before I left. I had the opportunity to do so in treatment but didn’t because a) laziness and b) I didn’t want to look at my huge (in EDs mind) legs. Let’s just say it didn’t go so well. I began crying and checking and scrutinizing how much they’ve changed since I’ve eaten more. It sucks getting used to my new body but at the same time I know I needed to gain.

My second challenge today has been finding a dress to wear. I put on a few options and none fit the way the way I hoped. Most were bought during my sickest moments, so this makes sense. Even so, the ED has grown loud. If I’m not as thin that means I’m unacceptable and fat.

The ED is a liar. It’s using these situations to hurt me. I’m going to accept the bad body image but I can’t let it affect my recovery. I’m still going to follow my meal plan, use skills, and challenge behaviors because I deserve it. My body needs to heal.

9 months out: what Forest View has taught and continues to teach me

Going into treatment, I naively assumed I would get everything I needed to recover right away, then go home and apply it. Treatment is supposed to heal you, right? I can laugh at my false expectations now. A huge chunk of all I’ve taken away from my experience never came to me for days, weeks, and even months. I am continually learning more than I could have ever imagined. Although it feels like it sometimes, treatment doesn’t exist in a vacuum. 9 months out, here are some new takeaways from my experience at Forest View:

The goddess game. I was the only one who didn’t absolutely hate this activity. Maybe it was because I alone got my wishes granted, or that I knew/thought it had nothing to do with real life. The game went like this: Hannah, Liz, and Karen were the goddesses. We each got 5 wishes and had to rank them in order of importance. Next we took turns reading them off and the goddesses would determine if our wish would be granted. If yes, we kept the wish and otherwise would have to crumple it up.The first few girls had theirs denied, and then it was my turn. I still don’t know exactly why I chose it, but “recover from my eating disorder” was my first choice. They quickly accepted and granted my wish. As we continued through rounds, every single one of my wishes were granted while others were rejected. They seemed hurt because so many of theirs were beautiful dreams: start a large foster home, find a love like my sister’s, finally be content with life, move to the Florida Keys. Afterwards, Hannah explained the point of the activity. You have to choose to recover first or nothing else you dream of will ever happen. Just in this past week I’ve thought about what the game truly meant in regards to recovery and life. I found the meaning cheesy and not helpful at first. I can see now that isn’t the case. I’ve tried to go on living without putting my all into recovery. Sure, I finished this year of college and had some good accomplishments, but was I happy, healthy, at peace, faithful? Not at all. God isn’t exactly like the goddesses were. He doesn’t choose not to bless me because I am in Satan’s grasp with this eating disorder. However, every day I stay here being sick I am consequently choosing to miss out on whatever other blessings God has for me. I can still do my best to honor God and be his servant, but I can’t give Him my all. Until I put recovery first and push Satan away I’ll never be able to live the full life God has for me. I will instead be stuck, surviving but not at all thriving. I don’t want that fate. Instead I will choose recovery and reap the blessings.

Recover now, not later. Nearly every woman I met spent longer times being sick with their EDs, 5, 15, even 30 years. They all gave me the same advice: work towards recovery NOW so that I can be free in the future, not in and out of treatment for the rest of my would-be miserable life. I didn’t believe them. I felt I could gain some weight, enough to get out of treatment, then go and continue to be in quasi-recovery indefinitely. The past 9 months I have spent a majority of my time in this “recovered” state, a few months in relapse, and very little time in true recovery. I’ve found that every time I go back to disordered thoughts and behaviors it becomes easier to fall back into the ED ways and harder to bring myself out. Its like having a sort of disordered muscle memory. I constantly find new ways to sneak and prove to others I’m doing great when the opposite is true. In my moments of clarity, this is what scares me the most. I could very easily end up a repeat offender, spending my whole life in and out of treatment. I could be like the other women and put school, love, dreams, happiness, faith, and hope in order to pursue my eating disorder. I could lose everything. I could even die. I no longer see these warnings as misplaced or unnecessary. I need to remember that every day I don’t put my all into recovery I am digging myself a deeper hole that I may not get out of.

 Looking sick. I remember the first day T switched to PHP. As she came that morning, the first words she heard were “You look so much better now.” A man who had been inpatient with her but switched out a week earlier said them, meaning it as a compliment.That comment was extremely triggering for her and I couldn’t exactly grasp why. Having now had those same words spoken to me I completely get it. People think they’re helping, and I get where they could assume that but it does the opposite. We arent healthy the second our bodies begin to look “normal.” You cannot tell if someone’s doing better/worse mentally because of weight lost or gained in recovery. The first time i heard the “you look healthy now” spiel I wanted to scream.  I remained cool and collected on the outside but internally I was a mess. It ended up leading to my first lapse in recovery. I couldn’t  comprehend the word healthy. Certainly what they really meant was fat. That’s what the ED took it as so it let to obsessive and self-depreciating thoughts of how huge I’d gotten and how terrible I looked. Luckily, I haven’t had to deal with these comments as often anymore, since I haven’t been “sick” looking in a long time. I still do get it sometimes though, and it tends to send me backwards and ignite the ED thoughts. I could go on and on about how important it is to NOT mention body size, shape, how sick someone looks, etc to someone who’s recovering from an eating disorder. Whether you mean it in the nicest way possible or not, it is most-likely going to hurt them in some way. Also, a reminder: just because someone with cancer grows back their hair doesn’t mean the disease isn’t wreaking havoc on their body anymore. Same goes for ED sufferers.

Resilience. My second day at Forest View Jared gave us a lesson on resilience. I was still in complete shock of even being there. It was afternoon group and I was mostly just happy I wouldn’t be asked to eat anything or talk about my feelings. I had so many thoughts racing through my head that I didn’t really listen to him. He handed out a thick packet of papers. I don’t know that I opened it while there, but the quote I wrote down, “Resilience doesn’t always mean you get back up and back to normal, it can mean keep being here during hard times,” and picture on the packet of a small plant growing through a crack in cement both made an impact on me. The image has become a symbol of resilience for me. Against all odds, even with a huge block of cement in its way the plant still managed to grow. I’ve learned so much more about resilience since FV, including much from the packet Jared made. Above all, I constantly remind myself to get back up and grow out of whatever situation I’m in, just as the plant did. (Fun fact: a few weeks after this I ended up photographing a very similar scene which remains my personal symbol of resiliency to this day)

I can get through hard things. I remember the wonderful sense of triumph after finishing the hardest meal I had at Forest View. I finally believed that maybe, just maybe, I could do this. I didn’t think anything could get much worse than that lunch. I was so very wrong. I have faced incredibly worse situations than that meal. I’ve fallen into relapse more than once, cried my eyes out over meals or how huge I’d gotten, dealt with refeeding symptoms (as if side effects of recovery wasn’t already enough), had suicidal thoughts and plans, felt like my whole world was being turned upside down, battled anxiety that kept me up for over 24 hours, felt emotional pain far worse than any physical. It hasn’t been an easy road at all. Doing these last 9 months with only outpatient therapy and the love of my support and savior and without dropping out of school or putting my life on hold has made me STRONG. I am strong. I wouldnt be here right now if I wasn’t. Going to FV in the first place was scary, hard, bold, but continuing to fight every single day is so much more than that. I may not have the greatest attitude or drive for recovery all the time but I am giving it one hell of a fight regardless.

Sometimes being close to someone who’s struggling is more harmful than good. The staff at Forest View always discouraged patients making contact out of treatment. I thought they were just being mean back then, but now I see why. Being close to someone who’s in a bad place with their eating disorder is draining, triggering, and detrimental. Its so hard to recover when the other person keeps you in that disordered place. The disorders tend to feed off each other, making both parties worse. Personally, I’ve found that there’s a very thin line between helpful and harmful when it comes to these relationships. I’ve had experience with both and I’ve learned I need to set boundaries and take it slow. I have never had an issue with the three women i still am friends with on Facebook. We message each other about once a month but never get into our struggles other than to ask for prayers. Its very healthy and nice. I had a completely different story dealing with my other friend who also had an eating disorder so I know I have to be careful if I meet another sufferer in the future.

You have to save yourself first. This goes along with not allowing unhealthy relationships to last. Hannah had the most perfect analogy for it. In an airplane, they always announce to put your own oxygen on first and THEN help your neighbor. Recovery and life in general are so like that too. You have to take care of yourself. If you don’t, you’ll go down. I’ve learned how true this is. I tried to deliver my friend and fellow ED sufferer from her demons for months. I was more invested in her recovery than my own and I began to spiral. I ended up being led back to those words Hannah spoke at FV. It was painful and one of the hardest decisions to make, given my tendency to fix people, but I ultimately had to sever the relationship. I can’t be a good friend if I’m not here because I let this disorder kill me. Instead of always serving others first, I have begun to heal my own wounds. (Note: I feel my relationships with people who may struggle now are not in any way inhibiting my recovery. They both push me to do better as I push them. It’s perfectly balanced and healthy! 🙂 )

You can’t choose recovery (long term) for anyone else. One of my first days I was asked why I had come. It was a valid question and one I couldn’t fully answer. My mom was the one who called and set everything up, so she was a good excuse even if I technically could have refused. Honestly at that point it was probably for my family and a few friends. I even stretched it to say I did it for Paul. I used basically any reason other than “for me” because it wasn’t for myself. I was in such a dark place that I would have been okay with dying a slow and miserable death from anorexia. Right away, Hannah called me out on my justification for being there. She was happy I came to treatment at all, but she warned me that doing this for others would quickly wear thin. That it did. Not at Forest View or even weeks after, but eventually I wanted to give up. I didn’t want to recover. I could care less about myself. I had so many other people and outside reasons that were completely valid but it still wasn’t enough. I didn’t want recovery for myself one bit. I hated myself. This threw me into relapse where I finally saw truth in Hannah’s warning. Even if I still have my bad days or weeks, I choose recovery each day because I want to get better. I have a thousand other reasons as well but my main propellant is recovering so God can use me in the future and so that I’ll be here for it. I have worth and I deserve to live. I may get discouraged but the only way to make it through is by saving myself.

Positive spin. Hannah was a stickler on this. My second day was preceded by a very hard night. I couldn’t come close to my meal plan and I thought I was a failure for that. During check-in for ED group I mentioned how I could only manage ¼ of my dinner. She immediately told me to stop and not say another word until I put a positive spin on it. I changed it to “I tried my best and had ¼ of my dinner.” I was annoyed and very skeptical. My dad already gave me the “think positive” speech about 2314 times so I had extreme doubt this could work. How would switching around a few words change a thing? Regardless of how I felt, I quickly learned to say the positive side of things, no matter how bad it was. I dropped this habit after FV, only picking it back up after my most recent relapse. I’ve realized how a small positive spin can change my thinking and ultimately the outcome of my day. If I’m stuck in the “I’m a failure” mindset I often give up on recovery. Believing I’ve done my best and that I’m a work in progress leads to more success and energy to fight. It sounds silly but it helps me!

No “good” or “bad” foods. ALL foods fit into a healthy meal plan. I was so angry at Ludie when she explained this concept. Not only did I not believe her, but I was truly upset by it. How could pizza or ice cream or white bread be HEALTHY?!?!?!?! My eating disorder convinced me she was a liar. I completely agree with her now though. The best days I’ve experienced are not where I only have fruits and vegetables. I enjoy life so much more when I venture into the forbidden food options. I remind myself often that plenty of healthy, balanced people have a cookie every once in a while and aren’t focused on eating “clean.” It’s still hard on most days but I am beginning to see past the eating disorder’s lies in this area. I never would have gotten here without all of the unwanted “there are no bad foods” talks at Forest View.

Refeeding. I’ve mentioned refeeding and my experience with it some, but I don’t believe I ever spoke of what I was warned of at FV. Everyone there, most specifically Ludie and the doctors, warned us of refeeding. I watched T go through various symptoms like bloating and edema. II even had a little phosphorus scare my first week. You’d think I would have listened and prepared myself for the refeeding that was sure to come. Instead I lived in denial for months. I truly wanted to die the first time I experienced it. I felt I was being punished for choosing recovery and became discouraged. Ludie’s words rang through and were the only thing that helped: be gentle, keep eating, don’t be discouraged, treat yourself with love. Refeeding is not a myth. Don’t ever believe you’re invincible to it as I did.

Get off the scale. The Forest View staff were very adamant in having every patient stay away from numbers, specifically or weights. They weighed us backwards each morning and never gave out numbers (except to S who somehow found out she only gained a pound in her first week). All I knew during my time in treatment is that my weight stabilized after I lost five days in a row. My parents kept me off the scale for about a week after FV, then lost interest in monitoring me. I don’t get how that was ever a good idea, but the second they stopped watching I stepped back on. My addiction to the scale escalated even more after treatment. I went on it first thing each morning and up to 10 times more through the rest of the day. My mood, eating patterns, and self worth all depended on that number. I wouldn’t allow myself to gain more than X pounds during a day. If I didn’t lose weight I felt like a failure. If I gained I would restrict heavily and exercise. I spent a huge majority of the last 9 months being trapped by that scale. In my moments of real recovery I saw how damaging it was. I still didn’t want to give it up, however. Only since I smashed my scale last week have I seen how right everyone at FV was. I no longer have to start my days with that terrible habit. I thought it would be scary not to know what I weigh constantly, but instead I’ve found a freedom that I never want to go away.
Recovery is still so hard a lot of day and I’m nowhere near recovered, but I am finally at a point where I know the truth and see through the lies this disorder has fed me. I thank God for my time at Forest View and all I’ve learned. Recovery is a long road but one I am going to continue on thanks to the staff at FV, Jenny, my support, and mostly, my wonderful Savior, and mostly, my own strength.

Counting, calculating, and ending the addiction.

I’ve been contemplating writing this post for about two weeks. As you’ll soon read, this post also meant deleting another hold anorexia has on me from my life, and that was hard. I honestly wasn’t ready but just now I did it. I am sick and tired of this disorder! 

If ever there was such a thing as Calorie Counters Anonymous, or perhaps Food Trackers Anonymous, this is how I imagine my introduction would go: “My name is Emily and I am addicted negatively attracted to keeping records of meals, calories, and exercise.”

The first time I ever fell into this trap I was 14 and years before I would ever believe I could have an eating disorder. I had just gone through a surgery to reverse my pectus excavatum (still have to write about this one day) and I was gaining weight pretty rapidly. The condition had kept me underweight my entire life and the weight gain ultimately gave much better health, but it was hard on me. I wasn’t allowed to exercise at all  for 6 weeks. Adding to the stress of not being able to “get rid of” any excess calories, my lovely health teacher decided it would be awesome if we could all track our calorie intake for a week. I was absolutely overwhelmed after the first day. I had a huge breakdown and it was bad. So bad, in fact, that I’m honestly surprised I never ended up developing more ED behaviors right then. Anyways, for that week and a little while after I was absorbed by Livestrong’s website. I spent hours comparing different foods and which were healthier. Thankfully my mom shut that one down really quick. She had no idea that I was full of disordered thoughts/patterns that would have turned into an eating disorder right then, and neither did I. Although it didn’t cause my disorder I do believe that project lit up some disordered part of my mind that went into overdrive a few years later.

I got my first smartphone in May 2013. Not even a week into owning it, I turned to two apps that I felt could help me lose weight and keep track of calories, Lose it! and My Fitness Pal (MFP). So many things were going on at that time and leading into summer. I broke up with my long term boyfriend, went to NTS, told the first person ever about self harm, and eventually got to a point where I was forced to give up said self harm. I started using both apps more and more as each of these events happened and by fall it was a religious amount with a huge attempt to lose weight. Seeing my first therapist did help some but until the next spring I couldn’t even think about eating without going into the apps. I restricted more heavily each passing day. I felt immense shame with going even a tiny amount beyond my maximums and joy if I could stay way under. It was pretty innocent starting out with these apps but soon they became one of the many things that lead into my eating disorder.

That April my new therapist immediately had me delete the apps… and start a food journal (my little black book). This worked well for not even a week. I competed with myself each day. I spent a majority of my time wondering how I could possibly fit in more exercise and cut calories. I got a sick satisfaction each time she read it in session and gave me a worried look after. My disorder fed off the concern by trying even harder the next week. To this day, I don’t understand how she never thought to stop the journal or saw how badly it was hurting me. The only difference between this and the apps was that I had to spend extra time calculating calories. My eating disorder LOVED that. Any more time it could have to control me was perfect. I used that journal up until the second week of Forest View when I finally had enough. We all destroyed the thing and it became this:

DSC_0696

I didn’t use any method of tracking food/calories/exercise until late fall. Paul tried to have me do a simple “put a check if you finished the meal plan” calendar for a month. It became yet another way to see how little food I could eat so we put that to an end at our next appointment.

You’d think that with my history I’d stay away from anything remotely close to what I’ve abused in the past. Well, that didn’t happen. I was so excited to hear that the Rise Up + Recover app was coming to Android. I wanted to use it so badly. I was sure an app specifically designed for recovery wouldn’t hurt me. The day it came out I downloaded it. (Quick disclaimer: I have nothing but praise for this app. I love the inspiring quotes and coping mechanisms. I also appreciated the fact that you can track behaviors, meds, etc. I truly feel it can aid many people in their recovery. Unfortunately I’m not one of them.) I wasn’t even counting calories but I still use it to try and eat less than the day or week before. I allowed it to help push me into relapse. As much as I’d love to keep the app for it’s good aspects, I know deleting it means letting go of this disorder even more.

Although I can’t be certain of what my future holds and how much healthier I will become, I am sure that I have to stay away from any form of tracking meals, calories, or exercise. It isn’t okay for me like it is for others. Even though I just deleted the Rise Up app, I haven’t used it since the day I committed to recovery again. It was hard, at first, to not write down every single thing I put into my body. 9 days later, however, I feel relieved. I am not held back from recovery like I would be if I was still meticulously tracking intake/output. This is right for me.