Monday, December 28, 2009

The Last Decade

Do any of you remember all the frenzy right before the year 2000 turned over? We thought all the computers in the world would crash, or worse, that our water supply would be tainted, etc., so people were buying up water for reserve, filling up their bathtubs, and the fear was high.
It was all uncertain. No one really knew what to expect, but the unknown held dark demons.
As I'm thinking today about the coming year, 2010, I reflect back upon all that this last decade (wow!) has held for me and my life. Of course, none of the fears of the year 2000 came to pass, and our world has continued to produce, explore, and invent, new and better (?) electronic devices. The turn of the century didn't mark the end of the world as we know it...for the most part.
But for me, in ways that were completely unknown and unexpected, this decade HAS marked the end of the world as I had known it for the first 44 years of my life.
I had just began my career as a RN at the beginning of this decade. I had barely survived Nursing School, not only in terms of passing my classes, but literally by surviving alive. I was spiraling down once again in weight and bargaining in my mind that tomorrow would be different..finally. Each day became more difficult.
In May of 2001, I was working at my third facility, after only 5 months earlier, nearly dying from strep pneumonia and sepsis. I liked my job in the ER, although it was hard work. It is a miracle that I was able to do my job.
I went back into treatment for anorexia in May, only to leave the second week of June to bury my 17 year old son. Tim was accidentally shot and killed at point blank range, by his very best friend.
I still remember after returning to treatment, in an attempt to 'get healthy', standing on a desolate knoll in the Arizona desert, screaming at the top of my lungs, "WHY?"
That word still rings in my head nearly every day. I have no answer.
I believe that I was born with a strong core. I also believe that God must have had a purpose for me to live despite what I put my body through.
I entered the River Centre Clinic on January 21, 2002, knowing that if I didn't recover 'this time', I would die. At the time, I wasn't even sure I wanted to live.
From that moment up until this day, my life has changed in nearly every way possible. Summarily, it's all for the good. Looking back, I know I am who I am today because of the sum of my experiences. Eloquent...NO! Just true.
The past decade has been the decade of LIFE for me. A sort of rebirth. Feeling the grief and loss of my dear son, yet feeling the joys and passions that live in me. I can't have one without the other. I love BIG. I cry often. I laugh even more often :)
I know who I am. I accept who I am. I don't equate my body with who I am..finally!
Amazing people fill my world. I can be ME with them and they love me. I am never lonely even when I am alone. I get angry about injustice, and I cry when I see a baby.
I know what it is to love someone be IN love.....heart, soul and mind. I am amazed by the depths of my love every day.
I very seldom use the phrase, "I'm sorry" because I no longer feel as if I shouldn't 'be'.
I am not afraid anymore. I am not perfect..sigh.
I am alive. Without apology.
Happy 2010!!!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Self Awareness and Developing Your True Identity

Do you think you would be different in any way, had your life been interrupted by a life-threatening eating disorder? Do you think your view of yourself would be impacted by this experience? I’d like to share with you how your self-awareness and identity can be affected, either temporarily or permanently, if you suffer from an eating disorder.
Self-awareness, especially on an emotional level, takes time and introspection. It’s a dynamic process, lasting throughout a person’s lifetime. Some people may develop a deeper understanding of themselves than others for a variety of reasons. These reasons may include their family dynamics while growing up; experiences with relationships, friendships, and social interactions; religious convictions; or if their personality tends to be more obsessive or perfectionist. These can be important factors in a person’s level of self-awareness. Further, I believe that there are some people who are more naturally “tuned in”, and able to understand themselves more fully on a higher level.
Upon developing an eating disorder, the level of self-awareness becomes compromised when compared to the self-understanding before the onset of the disorder. As the disorder continues and worsens, it becomes more complex; many fears and doubts begin to form causing further confusion about identity. As the eating disorder identity broadens to consume more aspects of life, more and more of the former identity may slip away, or lie dormant.
During the intense phases of the disorder, true self-awareness isn’t possible. The ability to think clear, rational thoughts becomes nearly impossible due to the affects of starvation. When suffering from an eating disorder, self-awareness is usually limited to the most basic needs for survival, and even at that, it becomes clouded in terms of one’s own physical well-being. Awareness of self is restricted to only who you are in the realm of your disease, strictly on the outside, and what is perceived to be obvious to others.
Self-criticism and the belief that one is never “good enough” are often exhibited by fear and isolation. At this point, there is an awareness manifested by thoughts of being bad, wrong, or imperfect; all of these thoughts lead to a lack of awareness of true self. I have found that true self-awareness involves accepting yourself, being confident with whom you are, and having the motivation to keep moving forward. This requires an honest evaluation of yourself, psychologically and emotionally, and being willing and able to reach out for support and input from others. It may be difficult to accept imperfection within oneself, but the reality is that no one is perfect. This mindset is much more complex when suffering from an eating disorder. The thought of possibly being imperfect usually causes great fear. It may equate to a loss of control, being a failure or a “bad” person, and it may bring on a sense of danger or impending doom. To the anorexic, the ability to be “perfect” is a convoluted form of self-protection.
When in recovery from an eating disorder, the hardest part is breaking away from the obsessive mindset, in order to begin to focus on thoughts, feelings and true self-analysis. The first step, weight restoration, can be the key to unlocking the rational and teachable part of your brain. Learning about yourself requires taking risks, and a willingness to reveal parts of yourself which you may have kept hidden for a very long time. It’s a process which requires time to begin to fit the pieces together, and at a certain point, becomes more of an exciting discovery. Acceptance of who you truly are, in the process of recovery, is necessary for continued progress.
How does self-awareness differ from how you evaluate self-worth? The concept of “self” may be based more on:
· Judgment and criticism associated with your accomplishments
· Self-denial
· How well controlled you consider yourself to be
· How well you control the world around you
Most likely, the anorexic wants these “virtues” to be noticed by key people in their life. They may feel stronger because they have the will power not to eat, the ability to lose weight, or because they can somehow survive on less sleep. Fewer needs equates to more strength or control. They may determine their worth solely on inner strength, outward accomplishments and self-control.
My own self-awareness increased drastically as I recovered from a long history of anorexia. A major difference is that I can now accept my imperfections, or my humanness, including my physical characteristics (weight, size, shape, etc.) as well as who I am inside: emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. I don’t consider myself as inadequate or mentally ill anymore. Additionally, my definitions of “perfect” and “imperfect” have completely changed. I don’t believe that perfection exists, so therefore there cannot be imperfection. In the past, my own attempts for perfection only led to feelings of self-hatred, failure, and unhealthy coping methods. As I have become aware of these things, I also realize that I can use my new awareness and acceptance of myself to move forward in my life, to face my future with a positive outlook, and to develop meaningful and lasting relationships with special people in my life on all levels. I feel a new confidence in knowing who I am, and in my ability to contribute to relationships.
“The set of behavioral or personal characteristics by which an individual is recognizable.”
The desire for the “anorexic identity” can be an enormous factor in the development and maintenance of anorexia and the reconstructive task of recovery. Even before the onset of the anorexic disease process and associated behaviors, there will be doubt and confusion about identity. Several factors often add to the confusion in this matter, especially for women. Parental teaching and expectations, sometimes pertaining to gender roles in society, or religious teachings, can cause conflict with regard to individual beliefs and life goals. The influence of society and the emphasis that is put on the importance of outward beauty and physical perfection can trigger guilt and lowered self-esteem. In an over-controlled environment, the desire to gain control becomes all-important. Developmental instructions that mandate how one “should be” or moral concepts that dictate what one “should believe” lead to the conclusion that all things can be determined to be either good or bad.
Interpretations of good and bad may vary among different people, but being “good” usually means being people-pleasing, conflict avoidant, and maintaining emotional and physical self-control. Emotional self-control commonly involves denying any feelings and emotions. Physical self-control focuses on body perfection, which is displayed in society as the ultimate goal and achievement. When suffering from anorexia, there is a need for control and the search for perfection evolves into restricting food, losing weight, exercising, and other forms of bodily control. The lack of clear identity, along with the obsessive nature of the disorder, often results in isolation in order to protect oneself from scrutiny or judgment.
When your weight loss becomes obvious, the positive reactions from others strengthens personal resolve and fuels the belief that this is good and acceptable, i.e., more “perfect”. This may be viewed as self-control and strength. As an anorexic, this promotes the feeling of pride and accomplishment which will likely encourage thoughts to continue to prove self worth and strength by physical, emotional, and psychological denial. When acceptable and successful in others’ eyes, this is deemed to be “good”. To an anorexic, “bad” is synonymous with weakness, and may be applied to eating, weight gain, cleanliness (germs), impulsiveness, lack of self-control, displaying emotions, and allowing oneself joy and pleasure. A convincing argument could even be formulated that if one’s life isn’t difficult and painful, then you aren’t working hard enough.
Over time, this anorexic identity strengthens as individuality diminishes, and you are unable to have a rational view of yourself. It becomes increasingly more important that others notice your weight loss in order to uphold that anorexic identity, even when it becomes obvious that weight loss has reached a dangerous level. The numerous psychological factors involved in the maintenance of anorexia may each take on their own personal identity. It’s terrifying, as an anorexic, to imagine letting go of that identity; there is perceived emptiness without it, along with loss and loneliness. This often leads to desperation in thinking:
· Who am I without it?
· How do I find out who I am?
· Will I like who I am?
· Will others like who I am?
This is a process of discovery, and it can not be hurried. But it can be encouraged by being willing to take risks in exploring your values, reaching out for support, and by challenging your past beliefs.
In my experience after many years of maintaining the disease and not being successful in numerous attempts at recovery, I felt no pride or accomplishment in that identity. For years, my “anorexic” identity had been seen by everyone around me, but I felt shame and guilt for continuing to be sick. I hid my body and pretended that I was fine. I wanted out of the prison I had built, and I wanted to adopt a new identity, yet fear had me immobilized, and I knew no way out. As I began to recover, giving up that identity wasn’t as hard as I had expected. Because that identity had become a source of shame for me, I desperately wanted something better for my life. I also made the decision not to return to the environment I had come from, so I didn’t have the same issues that others might have of people noticing and commenting on the physical changes they saw in me. I did however, feel great fear about what my identity would be without anorexia. I knew myself no other way.
During recovery, the first and most important issue that I addressed was weight restoration and maintenance; normal brain function had to be restored. On a daily basis, weight stability has been the key to allowing me to discover my true identity. I feared at first that I would have to develop or create an identity, which seemed overwhelming, until I realized that I had an identity before anorexia. I had to do a lot of hard work to recover and understand it. Recovery is a process which requires repeated times of letting go and allowing yourself to become who you really are. I have acquired an understanding and belief that worth is not earned, nor is it something that is developed. Worth is something that is realized along with the development of an identity outside of anorexia, including the social skills to contribute to meaningful relationships, and the acceptance of who you are as a person. This requires taking risks, a commitment to examining who you are as a person, and patience. I now find strength in having true control over my disease, trusting my own decisions, and by refusing to use past coping skills.
Developing and maintaining an identity is a life-long process, as you grow, change, live, and learn. Life’s experiences, and how you deal with them, also influence who you are. At this point in my recovery, I have learned a lot about who I am, and I am able to accept myself, flaws and all! I have become comfortable with my body size, and when I feel discomfort, I am aware that it is not about my body, but that something emotional is going on, and I’m not dealing with it in the healthiest way. Now that I know what maintaining a healthy weight has given me, I’m not willing to sacrifice that. My weight is no longer who I am.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Random Snippets.....

Breaking Benjamin concert...Wednesday night...

I'm preparing to drive four hours today to Indianapolis. My Christmas gift to my son Matt is to attend a concert with him (his idea). Breaking Benjamin and two or three additional bands??? Should be interesting.....:)It's actually pretty amazing that he wants me to go with him, for several reasons. It was only 5-6 years ago that I could not be around him for fear of my own safety. His anger and grief over his brother's death, combined with me leaving and divorcing his Father caused extreme turmoil between us. I won't even try to describe it all. I'd like to forget. But what is so wonderful about this is that he WANTS to be with me, and he knows that I am now truly alive and able to enjoy doing things with him (even this concert ?? :). I missed out on so many of these types of things while he was growing up. One of his worst memories (and mine), he has told me, is me being in a wheelchair while we were at DisneyWorld. I was too weak to walk around the park due to my eating disorder. He was about 7 years old, and he has told me how humiliating it was for him. I have forgiven myself (but it took a long time), and now, I can only hope that by making new and more joyful memories, those more painful ones will fall behind.


First, I have not become a groupie...head banging, hot, sweaty, LOUD, but it was all worth it to be with Matt. I was thinking in the midst of it, that he and I have truly not had times of FUN was like we all just 'got through' each day...makes me tear up. But last night....we were alive..BOTH of us! Not crazy (well, maybe a little :), but I could tell he was happy to be with me, and I think he was proud of me....maybe? He's really become such a sweet and caring man. He is so loveable..truly! I enabled him last night....paid for all the tickets AND a room for the night. I don't care. It's Christmas. Period.

Being alive....truly alive. I never knew it. I didn't think I wanted it. I was terrified of it!
I use to think that the Holidays were only about food. That's because that's all I could think about, and it was what I most feared. I would focus on 'just getting through it'....'survive this one, and it will be over'.....wishing time away.
I wished away over half of my life due to fear.
What have I learned? I WANT TO LIVE! I am experiencing life and I am not afraid!
Recovery has given me a new set of eyes, a new perspective on the world and my life. I look at experiences as just that-experiences-and I don't find myself 'just getting through', but living every moment for what it has to offer. Some moments don't offer much, or what I may experience is pain, grief, or sadness. Those moments have to happen, or else the moments of joy and true peace could never exist. Every other statement is not "I'm sorry", because I have learned to accept who I am, without apology.....HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Challenges/Triggers-Stepping Stones to Recovery?

The title may seem odd, but it fits with my stream of thought at the why not? Among my on line 'sisters', there has been a lot of talk about 'triggers'. Do you try to avoid them or remove them from your life? If you think about it, 'triggers' are simply people, situations, advertisements, or statements that may cause us to feel the urge to act out in an eating disordered way. They are all part of LIFE. Unless you want to avoid living, which for me, is exactly why I LOVE being recovered....I AM living, you have to learn to deal with 'triggers' and decrease the power they may have once had over you.
I see a big similarity between challenges in recovery and triggers in everyday life. In fact, can't you pretty much interchange those two words in my statement?
The challenges in recovery are many. It comes down to NOT hiding from your fears, and facing them, doing whatever is required to take that next step. Each time you don't back down, you take power from your fear and the eating disorder, which you can use to take once again, that next step forward. How is this similar to dealing with 'triggers'?
When faced with what usually triggers you to have a symptom or put yourself down, which then may lead to self-harm or a symptom, the test is to not react, but to act, in the opposite direction. Think about how you can use the knowledge of how this affects you to change how it affects you. I am a firm believer that knowledge is power. Once you have knowledge, if you choose not to use it, you have no excuse. Along with this, once you are aware of what may 'trigger' unhealthy thoughts or behaviors, you can use this awareness as power to resist those past responses. This is much like ammunition against the eating disorder, and for recovery. You get to decide how you will use this a stepping stone to recovery, or as a step back into the prison of the eating disorder.
Knowledge of what my trigger you may be what saves you. Not because you avoid it, but because you learn how to arm yourself and not allow it to control you. Avoiding would be just what was accomplished by the eating disorder. How well does that work?
As with recovery challenges, if you never challenge those rules you had/have about eating, would you ever be free? Would you ever be recovered? Why settle for partial recovery, with a 50% chance of relapse?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Leap of Faith

I love this picture! I took it on our vacation this past September during our tour around the San Diego Zoo. Talk about perfect timing!! This beautiful beast was posed and ready to take a dive just as the tour bus we were riding in was the two seconds following this moment, he took the plunge, diving head first, deep into the water....what a show!! These are the experiences that I cherish as I live my days as a recovered person. While I was sick, being at the Zoo, having this opportunity to witness such a thing would never have interested me. I had no strength or energy to focus or feel.
I found during my treatment and true recovery that there were several moments at which I had to take that 'leap of faith' in order to move forward. I had to trust that what was ahead would be better. It required faith that the outcome would be better, or at least not worse than what I had been, and was experiencing. Bottom line, a change had to occur, and because my own decisions about recovery or staying sick had not worked, I had to do things that were uncertain and very frightening.
As I said, I knew that MY decisions had not gotten me anywhere, so it became a matter of that the professionals knew more than I did about what I needed. That was a hard one for a person who had somehow, in my mind, maintained control for many many years. During that time I thought I was staving off what I perceived to be the worst possible consequences. But truth be told, my 'control' only kept me sick for over 35 years. What I know now I did not know then, obviously.
This brings to mind something not related, but yet, possibly related...
From a young age I was terrified to do a somersault..yeah, a forward roll, as it was referred to in gym class. I would get in position, but I could never get past the fear of taking that 'leap of faith'. I do not know to this day what I was afraid of, but I was 27 years old before my husband then took me by surprise and pushed me on over. I almost hyperventilated. Yet, I felt a certain degree of success, like I had conquered some great obstacle. Yet, I have never done it again. I have no reason to. It's not important.
During recovery, many times I had to 'trust' others and eat enough to gain weight. I had to allow tubes to pump liquid feedings into my body. These were my earlier attempts at recovery. I realize now that I never really trusted, and my many efforts at manipulation are evidence of that. I never really took that 'leap of faith' to continue to pursue the truths for my life.
Coming to River Centre Clinic in January of 2002, on my own, against the 'best' wishes of my husband and family was a huge leap of faith, but more than that, it was a desperate attempt to save my own life. Yet still, I faced many more moments when I had to take that 'leap' once again. Accepting that I had to trust the professionals with decisions about food and weight, etc., took a leap of faith, and there were days when I felt like I had leaped beyond 'safety', but I always survived. Another quite drastic, but life-saving 'leap' was my decision to divorce my husband of over 29 years. This was, what I believe the true beginning of freedom from my eating disorder, not because this man had caused it, but because the only thing holding our marriage together was my eating disorder...and vice verse. and honest...revealing myself, without apology (I so love that phrase!!)....another very frightening, but so rewarding in the end, leap of faith. I was certain that I would never be accepted, that I had nothing to offer to anyone, that I would never 'measure up'. What I found was that with every 'leap' I took, my confidence increased, and I was stronger and ready to face the next 'leap'.
Today, as I strive to face life 'without apology' and with anticipation instead of fear, I often take the 'leap', because I now have a passion for life, and total intent to live my life fully, without fear.