So here’s the thing about eating disorder recovery.
It is so freaking hard to write about.
I’ve started out posts multiple times with some tips or some techniques I’ve learned but then I realize that it’s impossible to describe how I’ve implemented them into my life because some of them have only worked once and some of them work always but I ignore them on purpose because I’m kind of messed up in the head like that and I don’t want to lead anyone astray.
But now I’m just kind of like, fuck it.
As long as you know that the information below is only my personal experience, and I’m certainly no doctah, and what you read could also trigger you into a binge or a relapse, then I’ll write it. Read at your discretion and know that I’m not here with any concrete answers, only the things that have worked for moi.
So here goes.
First of all – let me just fill you in on what I’m actually recovering from. I started secretly bingeing at age fifteen. I hit puberty at age fourteen on a family cruise to Alaska where I was too afraid to try tampons and thus spent the entire week staying out of the hot tub. It was fantastic.
At fifteen, I was no longer wearing cute little size three flares and tube tops from Wal-mart. I ballooned to a size nine within minutes it seemed. My dance teacher was less than thrilled with my “pooch pouch” that was forming below my belly button because it meant that two piece costumes at competition were out of the question. While the older girls in class were still able to wear low-cut jazz pants and sports bras to class, I was stuffing myself into leotards and covering them up with jazz pants and then another shirt on top of that. I guess “thick” would be a good word to describe my fifteen-year-old self. Dancing twenty hours a week in front of mirrors made it impossible for me to deny that that my body was changing rapidly.
I was just so sad that this was all happening. I didn’t know what to do about my expanding hips and my soft back fat and my stretch marked thighs, so I ate to forget. My parents would leave me home alone because I was old enough and I would eat all the Ritz crackers with jelly. All the chocolate peanut butter chips – straight from the bag. All the cheese, all the ice cream, all the pickles. Oh my God and the Better Cheddars. We were ALWAYS out of Better Cheddars. Sorry.
Take this story all over the east coast – from Pennsylvania to Virginia (college) to New York City (auditioning) to New Jersey (boyfriend) to Hilton Head (performing job) to Albany to Fort Lauderdale and all the way back to Washington Heights, NYC where everything came crashing down around me, finally, a decade after I first learned how to eat myself into a coma.
I came to find that I was an emotional eater. A compulsive eater. A secret eater. A food addict. And an extremely disordered eating female with depression and anxiety and no way to get help through my measly health insurance.
And through reading and my own tweaks and my own journaling, this is what I’ve learned.
- I have to keep all the food in the house. Fuck this Weight Watchers “keep your environment safe” bullshit. I need to have the Nutella and the ice cream and the cheese and the pesto and the cookies and the pizza and the beer in the house. For ten years I kept it all OUT of the house and spent nearly $40,000 on binges where I’d go and get it anyway, bring it in, eat it all up, and throw the containers in the garbage outside so that in my mind I could say “it was never inside”. For me to feel safe, I need all of it IN my environment. Now when I started doing this, yea, the ice cream disappeared within hours. But a month into it, I kept a carton of cookies ‘n’ cream in the house for an entire two weeks. Six months later, and I kept it in the freezer so long I forgot about it (community housing – it got hidden behind everyone else’s stuff and I totally forgot it was there). A year later, and I can bring multiple flavors into the house and they can be in there anywhere between one day and one month. It depends on my PMS and how hot it is outside, but it no longer scares me to have it in there. I need to know it’s there for my convenience at any time, and all of a sudden, it doesn’t consume my thoughts anymore. Hence why we’ve had two monstrous containers of Nutella from Costco in our pantry for over a month and I’ve only eaten an eighth of one jar. (I was going to show a picture but HELLO triggers – not appropriate today.)
- When I’m hungry, I need to eat NOW. I spent ten years ignoring hunger signals and only eating carbs for breakfast but never dinner and always before 7pm and every three hours and not at all and counting points and when I finally hit that rock bottom, I learned to listen to my body. My beautiful intuitive body that I never gave any credit to. My body tells me when I’m hungry and I listen now. It took me a year to figure out exactly what those signals are – the hunger signals and the full signals and the “i need protein” signals – but it was worth all the listening because I’m not one of those people that wakes up every day at the same time and can eat oatmeal for breakfast for the rest of my life. I need change and I need options and I need to eat when my body is ready – not before or after. Diets never taught me any of these things, and it was only after I stopped dieting that I could really spend time with my own body and learn the way it speaks. And it took me A YEAR y’all. As in, TWELVE MONTHS. As in, A WHILE. It did not, I repeat, IT DID NOT happen overnight.
- Oh my God the triggers. None of this “Healthy is the new skinny” shit on Facebook and no recipes. Nooooo recipes. No Women’s Health, no Glamour, no Cosmo. Twitter is a constant trigger no matter who I unfollow so I just stay off it altogether unless I post. Facebook has a mind of it’s own so I choose to follow Astrology writers and Ram Dass and “I Fucking Love Science” instead of all this Mind Body Green shit. I can’t see lists of things to eat and things not to eat and not be triggered. Know your triggers. Does seeing a list of things to do with chia seeds trigger you? Unfollow. Do ads for beer or weight loss or life coaching trigger you? Unfollow. Unfriend. Unlike. Immediately. Like it or not, social media is a humungous part of our lives. It’s how I’ve reached all of you. Thank God. I fucking love you and would not trade this for the world. But know your triggers – even if it’s me and my page – and cut them out.
- Friendship/Significant Others/Family: Be straight up. Don’t tiptoe. This might not be your style, so perhaps emailing them one of these articles could be helpful as well.*
Table for Three: You, Me and My Eating Disorder (a straight up guide for friends and loved ones)
Tips for Family (from the Renfrew site)
*There are many many many like TOO MANY articles on how to stage an intervention and how to try to get help for a person with an eating disorder but not nearly enough articles on what to do once they are in recovery and are seeking help. Especially for significant others. This is something I am determined to work on and will post as soon as it comes. If you know of one, please post it in the comments below so we can spread it far and wide. Mahalo.
With friends, family, and loved ones, do not be afraid to tell them exactly what you need. My family, well, those who understand anyway (grandparents don’t count – they forget and they don’t understand and they really just want to “fatten” us all up with cookies and how can you get mad at that?), knows to not say a word about my eating choices. When I eat, what I eat, and how I eat it (yes, mom, sometimes I wrap cheese around a pickle like a pregnant woman and put sriracha on it and I don’t even have an answer for why) is off the table for comments. It took them a few years to fully commit to this but this summer with my seven weeks home really helped them understand. Not eating at dinner because I’m not hungry? Sorry mom, that pasta looks delicous, but I might not be ready to eat it til 9pm tonight when you’ve already cleaned up. And I say, that’s okay because of where I’m at on my journey.
When it comes to loved ones, ask and you shall receive, for the most part. My mom was amazing and understanding and never once pushed me this summer when I ate at weird times with weird condiments. My dad is still learning, but he’ll get there and he’s aware and that’s what matters. Talk to your friends and your cousins and your girlfriend and your hubby and be as straight up as possible.
“I need to keep this nine dollar jar of organic pecan butter in the house and I need you to not comment on it’s price, it’s size, or it’s taste. It is my choice right now and it’s part of my recovery and I need you to support me.”
“I need you to pick the place for dinner tonight, and if you say it and I wrinkle up my nose because it doesn’t sound good to me, I need you to not get frustrated. I realize that I am frustrating you but I am not in a place to make decisions because I don’t know what I want and I would really appreciate your patience in this decision making process tonight.”
Okay, whatever it is, there is no harm in asking. And if your friend/boy/mom can’t understand why this is, I ask you to also be patient with them. They may accidentally make a judgemental face that they have no control over when they see you pouring animal crackers on top of a bowl of ice cream and they may accidentally ask you why you need to order pizza AND pasta AND salad AND dessert and the more patient you are with them, the more patient they will get with you. It’s a give give situation here. No one is perfect and this is a touchy subject that needs care and compassion from all sides – including yours.
5. Know your other “vices”. Cigarettes and TV are mine. When I am emotional and want to binge, I don’t reach for the beer so much as I crave a smoke and an SVU marathon. And you know what, I fully accept that laying on the couch on a beautiful beach day and choosing Olivia and Elliot over the sunshine is absolutely part of my healing process and a choice that I make when I don’t have the energy to go live life in the sand today. It’s a distraction, it’s a simple comfort, but you know what? It’s not a jar of Nutella and as long as I’m aware of it, I carry on with my marathon and do my best to forgive myself. The cigarettes – not so much, because I’m a role model for my students and I had such a hard time quitting that buying a pack would just send me into hardcore reverse. But occasionally I’ll bum one and feel satisfied and I do my best not to feel shitty about that too. I’m in recovery from an addictive habit – and most disordered eating is addictive if you really think about it – so knowing what you are using instead of eating/refraining from eating as your new vice is super crucial to your recovery and a healthy life. Forgive yourself for the replacements and give yourself a little credit for being aware and just do your best today. That’s all you, or anyone else, can ask for.
6. Therapy. Finding a therapist isn’t easy. Depending on where you live, you might be lucky enough to have an eating disorder clinic in your area that offers outpatient therapy. If you’re not so lucky, and you live in Hawaii like me and there is absolutely NOTHING pertaining to eating disorders at all (on the Big Island anyway), ask your health care provider for a list of counselors in your community and buck up and give them a call. I called around today, yes literally today before typing this up, and talked to some “therapists” that didn’t even ask my full name or what I was looking to get out of counseling. NEXT PLEASE. Then, when I was about to give up, I called a woman that has a PhD and asked appropriate questions and has already sent me forms to fill out so I can show up and just have a relaxing appointment. Shopping around is clutch – it’s like finding an agent as an actress – they are working for you, not the other way around. Trying them on for size takes time and is a real pain in the ass, but at the end, the payoff is something healthy for YOU. You get to take away the benefits of therapy and apply it towards a happier healthier life.
Holy shit, my arm hurts from typing this so fast. But you know, it’s been calling to be written for months now and I can’t keep putting it off until I find the right pictures or the right title or the right statistics to offer you. Please, for the love of all things healthy, pick up a copy of When Food is Love by Geneen Roth and allow yourself to become aware of your patterns. Or start from the very beginning and find solace in others like you in Feeding The Hungry Heart. I don’t love Geneen so much anymore because she charges you for everything and doesn’t really like to communicate with her fans but you know what the bitch can write and she writes it all and she helped me and I can’t deny that for a second.
Body love is a whole nother topic in this whole recovery thing and I’ll be on it very soon. It’s actually a huge gigantic amazing fabulous component that deserves a post all of its own.
I hope this list helps and I hope you find something here that sheds some light. Share it with someone who needs it. Print it out and put it in an inspiring place. YOU CAN DO THIS. I HAVE FAITH IN YOU. YOU ARE STRONGER THAN YOU REALIZE. YOUR LIFE IS YOURS AND YOURS ALONE. I AM YELLING AND I AM SHOUTING IN ALL CAPS BECAUSE I BELIEVE ALL THESE THINGS TO BE TRUE. YOU ARE FUCKING AMAZING AND YOU DESERVE RECOVERY AND THERAPY AND LIGHT AND BREATH AND SANITY AND FEELINGS OF SAFETY AND CONTENT.
AND, last but not least, you know you can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions and concerns.
All my love and support and congratulations for being open to help and doing what you can to recover –
All of you. From the gay one, to the rich one, to the very taken one, to the older one, to the younger one, to the douchebag, to the stoner, to the one who just couldn’t fall in love with me, to the chef, to the tap dancer, to the soccer player, to the reality tv cameraman…
I would not be where I am at this very moment, which is, quite literally, in paradise, if it weren’t for all of you.
If you had complimented me when I wanted you to, it would have taken me that much longer to figure out how deep my insecurity lies.
If you had held doors for me and carried my heavy bags around New York City for me like “a true gentleman would”, it would have taken me that much longer to figure out how independent I can be.
If you had told me you loved me, it would have taken me that much longer to fall apart. Which means it would have taken me that much longer to arrive here, in this moment right now, when I can tell you thank you.
Since I’ve arrived in Hawaii, which is where I’m writing you from by the way, I have done so much work.
The work I’m speaking of is not the type of work you do. It’s not numbers on a computer or running a restaurant, although I respect you for that and appreciate the nice dinners you bought me because of it.
The work I’ve been doing here is different. It’s emotional. It’s spiritual. It’s mental. It is feeling the pain that I have allowed each one of you to inflict on me, accepting that pain, and forgiving you.
I’ve sat on cliffs and thought through the time I found your porn addiction on my own laptop.
I’ve laid under a sky of stars that you can’t even fathom and thought through all the names you used to call me. The “crazy”. The “bitch”. The “mess”.
I’ve swam out in the ocean with fish you’ve only seen in storybooks and thought about the bender you decided to have – cocaine, Grey Goose, and all your boys – the night that you were supposed to help me pack my car up before my Christmas show contract.
I’ve thought through it. Felt the anger. Felt the hurt. Felt the memory. Felt that shit.
And let it go.
Of course, there are still things I haven’t conquered. For instance, why I allowed myself to be taken to a hotel room during your hockey tournament only to have to hide out for three days so no one knew you were cheating on your girlfriend. But that’s not really on you. That’s on me.
Why I allowed myself to be treated like an object – someone who you could dress up, pay for, and show off at company dinners – feeling like your own personal doll who you could bring along when you needed me and forget to call me when it was poker night. But that’s not really on you. That’s on me.
Why I allowed myself to believe that your big plans to go back to school, get a degree, put a ring on it, and move to New York City were real. Even though my gut told me it was never going to happen, I moved to another state to be with you anyways. But that’s not really on you. That’s on me.
I take responsibility for staying in situations that my gut told me to leave. My instincts have always been there. I chose to ignore them.
My friends saw it. My mother saw it. My boss saw it. But I stayed. I loved. I loved you hard.
What I’ve learned in the past six weeks is that although all of you are great comedy material, and you’re great topics of conversation when I go to unlimited mimosa brunches with the girls, it’s not all your fault that it all ended up the way it did.
I had control over most of the situations I was put in with you guys. And I stayed. I stayed and thought loving you would fix everything.
You see, I fucking love a good project. What can I fix? How can I help? Who can I save?
All of you were great fucking projects. I’ll help you through that addiction. I’ll save you from your girlfriend. I’ll warm your cold, money-hungry heart.
Projects are great distractions, aren’t they? Projects could help distract me from all the work I should have been doing, on myself.
I’m quite the project. I’m sure you all knew that once you jumped into bed with me and discovered my insecurities. I’m sure you found that out when I was too afraid to eat in front of you on a date but would binge on your Nutella when you went to work the next morning. I’m sure you knew all of that when I picked you apart, nagged at you, told you every little thing you did that was wrong.
You may not know this, but all that nagging? The picking? The criticizing? All that shit is a reflection of me. All that shit I didn’t like about you? That has something to do with shit in myself that I don’t like.
I don’t like my own procrastination, but I sure as hell don’t mind bitching about yours.
I don’t like my own addictions and habits, but I sure as hell don’t mind telling you how bad yours are.
It was never my responsibility to fix you. And I’m sorry that I expected you, in return, to fix me.
Throughout all this work I’ve been doing, I’ve been journaling. Brooke, my sister from another mother, has been buying me fucking journals for six years as gifts and I never used any of them. Funny how I’ve filled three of them just since I’ve been here.
I’ve never done what I’m about to do before. Shared my journaling. I mean it’s the secret stuff that comes right from the brain – raw and real. But I’m gonna let you see what I wrote about some of you in my journal. Ain’t no names. Ain’t no nicknames even. I just used pronouns.
This work that you will read below, is what is changing my life. Opening my heart. Letting light in.
This is what I’ve learned:
“He didn’t want to live his life loving himself so how could he love me? He is a direct reflection of me. He didn’t care enough about himself to love me too. That’s not enough love to go around. Basically it’s not that he didn’t want me. It’s like that thing that Emily always says when we’re working together. On planes, you gotta put the oxygen mask on yourself before you can help someone else. It’s the same in life man. It’s that he couldn’t figure out how to put on the oxygen mask first in order to move on to me. He was just like me. We took our energy from each other, instead of investing it in ourselves. We tried to complete each other instead of ourselves. We were each other’s addiction. Porn and food aside, we used each other to escape. I absolutely used him as an escape.”
“You couldn’t love me enough. And I deserve to be loved as much as I love myself. Which wasn’t much then. You could only love me as much as I loved myself. I couldn’t control when you loved me more or less. I couldn’t get compliments out of you. But that’s because I needed your validation so badly instead of stating to the universe that I was beautiful with or without you. The porn addiction would have been there with or without me. Binge eating would be there with or without you. Another person cannot save you from addiction. They can take you to rehab. They can offer an ear. But they cannot just heal an addiction because then THEY become the addiction. And when they peace out, leave, disappear, you’ll need to find something else to fill that void with until you admit that you’re using addiction to fill the void.”
“It’s not that he didn’t want me. He couldn’t give me what he didn’t already posess. There was barely enough love for him. He spread himself too thin by offering me any at all.”
“I am so thankful to have experienced the love I had with you. It was never about you not finding me sexy. You just had blurred vision as to what was right in front of you because you were too preoccupied trying to figure out why you weren’t happy. Why you weren’t living fully. I pray that you start living. I pray that you find self-love.”
“I forgive you for being a direct reflection of me. I accept that you did not intentionally hurt me during our relationship. I believe that I am going to love myself. Only then will I attract more and more and more and more and more and more love to me – whether it be men, women, friends, strangers – all kinds of love. I will attract love. I will attract love. I deserve love. And so do you.”
“He really tried. And when he tried I didn’t believe him. When someone tells you you’re beautiful, believe it. When someone tries to love you, believe it. When someone offers you love, trust it. You might get hurt, but it’s better to trust than to skepticize. At least if you end up getting hurt, you felt something spectacular first.”
I still have work to do, boys. I’ve conquered the big ones – literally, no pun intended – the two and a half year relationship, the whole dating a man who didn’t know he was gay thing, also the 8 month relationship with a man who just did not…love me. Now I have to move on to the smaller stuff. The verbal abuse. The objectification. The general douchebaggery of dating in NYC.
But again, that’s for me to deal with. I allowed myself to be treated that way. I stayed. I listened. I allowed it.
So this letter is about pure forgiveness. Letting go. Accepting what has happened. Everyone thought this blog was gonna be about you guys. For years, I made my life about you guys. You were what I talked about at girl’s night out. You were what I used in musical theatre class when I had to sing to someone who hurt me. You were what I used as part of my incredible self-deprecating humor skills.
And you’ll always be there to talk about, sing to, and make fun of. But not in the same way.
What has happened will no longer define who I am. I accept that I am fucking awesome, but not fucking perfect, and there will be a man who comes along and sees that, and accepts that, and he can choose to stay and experience it, or he can choose to move on. Whatever he chooses to do, will not define me. It might hurt in the moment if he chooses to move on, but it will not define me anymore.
I deserve someone who accepts all of my shit, will allow me to work on it by myself while dating me, and doesn’t try to fix me. I deserve someone who will allow me to love him as hard as I love. I love people hard, man. I don’t hold back. I have a big heart and I wear it on my sleeve and one day a man is gonna come along and fucking love that about me.
I say one day. But today’s the day, actually. He’s here. He’s real. It’s all happening. I’ve met him. Which is a story for later.
But for today, let me say thank you, boys, for all of it. All the laughs, all the cries, all the shit.
Everything that has happened in the past ten years has gotten me to this point. I would never be able to appreciate the good if I hadn’t had the bad.
And if I didn’t take the time to let you all go, and forgive you for all the shit, I wouldn’t have any room in my heart to let someone new and amazing in.
I encourage you to do the exact same thing as I’ve been doing. Do the work dude. It pays off.
Much love to all of you. Seriously – even if I waited eight months for you to say “i love you” because the girl shouldn’t say it first and I never got to tell you how I felt about you – let me say it now.
I loved you. Some of you, I will always, always love. Always in my heart. No regrets. Thank you for the good times and the bad times. The laughs and the cries. And all the shit.
Sending you healing and love from the Big Island of Hawaii,
To my blog readers: I encourage you to journal. I encourage you to write letters to exes and never send them. I encourage you to write down random trains of thought. I encourage you to think through the pain of past relationships and feel it and have a good cry and try to see why it still makes you so angry. I encourage you to find the reflections of yourself in other people and notice why it bothers you so much. I encourage you to forgive. I encourage you to remember the good times and laugh and get goosebumps. I encourage you to let go. I encourage you to do exactly what I just did.
The sooner you take the time to let go of the past, the sooner you can truly feel, and love, in the present. And trust me when I say, the most amazing thing, that thing you have been waiting for your whole life, could show up at any moment, once you’ve done the work. Do the work. Let the shit go. Feel it. Forgive it. Let it go. And get ready for one hell of a ride.
The payoff, is beauty. Love. Respect. Growth. Sex. Support. Amazingness. Gorgeousness. Belly laughs. And of course, someone to lay underneath the stars with and kiss.
Next week’s posting:
A Sensible Recap