Sunday, May 30, 2010

"People Watching", or Searching for ME?

After a busy day last week of various activities and intense focus, I walked through the local Mall with my husband, thinking about the variety of 'sights' you see in a public place.
'People watching' use to be a main pastime of mine, one I have come to realize was closely related to my search for 'self', and my need to determine who I was going to be. OK, I know that none of us can determine who we are going to be, but I never realized that until I stopped trying to do just that.
I grew up, given a very clear description of who I was 'supposed' to be, and from a very early age, knowing I did NOT want that, I began the search for who I wanted to be. I became very self-critical, always second-guessing my own words and decisions, because I feared criticism from others. Internal criticism became my only way to prevent myself from doing things 'wrong', or so I thought. I was actually tearing myself down, bit by bit, while simply trying to survive.
As my efforts to 'control' myself began to morph into a full blown eating disorder, my fascination with watching other people became more intense and obsessive in nature. I was hyper-vigilant in my focus on other people.
Everywhere I went, I needed to SEE everyone in my scope of vision, and often beyond. My focus was on weight, mood, dress and general appearance. I compared myself in each of these aspects, always seeking who I wanted to be, what I wanted to look like, and most of all, what weight I 'should' weigh. Yes, I watched people, but not for recreation. I watched them to compare, to take mental notes which might somehow lead to ME.
As you can imagine, I never found anyone who I could make myself into. I certainly tried. I continued to seek that 'perfect' description, the one that would finally fit. It almost killed me. I could not become someone else, and I had no idea how to be ME.
So, last week, as Dave and I commented about a couple of 'interesting' people we happened upon, I reflected on how little I take time to watch other people now. More than that, I realized I have no need to examine others to discover myself. I no longer compare the size of my legs or my body in general, to every woman I see. What I order for dinner is not determined after some complex calculation of what every other woman in the restaurant is eating.
I do truly love people, getting to know them and sharing experiences along life's way.
But, my need and desire to be around others is based on my daily pursuit of life, not a fervent pursuit of my identity.
Without apology....♥

Saturday, May 29, 2010

What 'Causes' Eating Disorders?

While I most like to compose my own posts, the following is too good not to share:

There are two distinct issues being conflated in this statement; A) What is the etiology, or natural history, of ED? and B) What is the internal experience of someone who has ED? The former deals with the brain, our most important organ. While our understanding of the brain is in its infancy, the BRAIN is without a doubt a physical, tangible object and we can describe brain structure and function with the languages of science and medicine. The latter has to do with the MIND, and that is a much more elusive thing. It's not tangible. It's mostly subjective. The nature of the mind is best described in the languages of philosophy and theology. And yet, our MIND is a function of the BRAIN. So we've developed the discipline of Psychology to bridge the gap between the tangible and intangible, the objective and subjective, science and philosophy and theology.

Eating disorders are the behavioral expressions of bio-chemical and neurological disorders of the brain. People who exhibit EDs were born with genetic traits that made them susceptible to developing the disorders if and when certain kinds of experiences occur in their environment. The genetics seem to express themselves as high levels of anxiety/social anxiety, OCD, perfectionism, conflict avoidance, and other related traits long before ED occurs. Common environmental triggers include conscious diets, strep infections, trauma or high stress, and incidental periods of insufficient caloric intake (like the kid undergoing a growth spurt, or the athlete whose training intensifies). It looks like, by and large, you need at least one ingredient from each the "nature" and the "nurture" columns to develop ED, and most people have more than one from each. Additionally, the developmental changes the brain undergoes during adolescence seems to play a key role, as the vast majority of EDs exhibit themselves at this stage. Since our social milieu also changes radically during this time, it is likely that the environmental triggers are stronger and/or more common at this stage.

Given the above, someone who has ED may well experience it as "a control issue". In fact, many ED sufferers report that they have (short lived) positive "control" thoughts when they don't eat, and negative "control" thoughts when they do. They also have a tendency to misinterpret other's actions as negative. And to think their own bodies as larger and shaped differently from how they actually are. But these thoughts are actually a symptom of the disease. This is similar to how people with the classic symptoms of schizophrenia (hearing voices, believing outside forces are controlling their actions, & etc) are having the symptoms because of the neurological imbalances of that disease. In both cases, the person is having real experiences inside their mind that have little to do with the outside environment.

And different still from the physical causes of a disease, or the mental symptoms the disease may cause in our thinking or our understanding while we are sick, is the MEANING we attach to things we experience. Our experience of "what does this all mean?" is ultimately completely subjective, and completely dependent on our belief systems. If we believe diseases are caused by voodoo curses, or cold unloving mothers, or imperfect faith, or a kind of test from a higher power, or none of the above, or all of the above, our understanding of the disease experience will be framed in terms of that belief.

So if someone states "I got ED because I needed more independence from my father", he's not "wrong", he's just talking about how ED fits into a larger meaning in his life. It also shows that that person is not being exposed to good clinicians who could tell him "Well, yes, you may have needed more independence. However, if you hadn't had the genetic makeup you do, the stress of the situation would not have triggered the development of ED."

You can read the full post here:

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Moving Beyond the Chaos

The process of recovery is full of challenges, fears, emotions and just plain exhaustion. There is no order to the steps you must take, how long it will take, or what YOUR recovery will look like. This uncertainty can be immobilizing in itself, and often prevents those who truly need help from taking the necessary steps to move forward.
There is a pseudo 'safety' to the cocoon of an eating disorder, no matter how miserable a person may also be. The routine holds certainty, while making changes holds NO promises or clarity...UNTIL you actually begin the process, and keep going.....
The chaos that change may bring often feels much worse than the pain of the eating disorder, and this can cause additional depression, hopelessness, and thoughts of turning back. Trusting without proof of the outcome requires a 'leap of faith', and constant reminders of why you don't want to go back, or remain in the possible deadly cocoon of the eating disorder.
Commonly, guilt will cloud the picture as well. It may be a guilt for 'wasting' all those years, for hurting others along the way, or even guilt for working recovery. Many times you/we don't feel at all worthy to be well, and least of all happy about it!!
I know it's hard to keep the momentum. The pain, memories and horrible body discomfort bring on doubts about whether the effort is worth it. There will likely be many moments of wanting to give up.
Recovery requires patience, and if you don't already have it, you will acquire it along the way.
For myself, the development of my 'distress tolerance' skills was vital. Learning to wait, sit with the discomfort, the anxiety, and the fear was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. But it is also the experience that taught me the most about myself, and how to deal with life without relying on the eating disorder to cope.
Change requires letting go, but it also requires some 'chasing away', in terms of truly having to fight against the old thoughts, eating disordered messages, and to 'break the rules' that have literally controlled your every movement and decision. You can't just NOT do something anymore, I believe you must do something different, in it's place, or you are left with that void that will be filled...but with what? Those are the decisions that are key to moving forward, and they are not always changes that can be implemented without the guidance of a professional.
The body and mind take time to heal. And they will heal, if the disordered eating and other behaviors do not continue to happen.
How can you forgive yourself for the time lost? How can you walk through the guilt of 'letting your body go', which is what the old eating disordered thinking will try to lead you to believe? In the midst of the eating disorder, you may have worked very hard to achieve a goal..of weight loss, perfection, acceptance, or a number of other possibilities. What does it mean for you to let go of that, to move against that, to think in the opposite direction? Likely it will result in great distress and confusion, depression, and often, loneliness.
There is often true grief in letting go, in moving forward, even though part of you knows it's for the best. It's what you have known.
For myself, I finally got tired of grieving that loss, and I decided that if I truly wanted to find meaning in my life, I had to look ahead as much as possible, and accept that I could not change what I 'lost' due to my eating disorder, and that I want to live my life to as full of an extent every day now. Unless I cut the strings to those regrets, I cannot do that. Truly 'living in the moment' allows me to do that now.
I remember being told at one point during my recovery that if I wasn't uncomfortable, I probably wasn't making progress. At the time, I didn't understand or believe that, but I see it now, and I know also that it doesn't apply to life in general, but for the process of change for someone who clings to the 'safety' of a routine.
Set new goals, believe in the possibility in new experiences and new ways of doing things, and most of all, NEVER GIVE UP!!
Without apology...♥

Thursday, May 13, 2010

"If You REALLY Knew Me......"

The first time I was asked to complete the sentence above, I was standing among a group of High School students, in a circle, holding a microphone, scared out of my mind. My first choice for a response was "you'd know that my favorite color is green."
Now I know that the purpose of this activity was to open myself up and 'lower the water line', so to speak, so that others could know some things about me that I don't usually share.
How would I complete this sentence today?
If you really knew me, you would know that......
--I approach life with my eyes wide open. I ran from life for the first 46 years of my life, so now I strive to see, hear and experience everything around me in a very real way.
--Now that I 'feel', I feel deeply and completely.
--Fear is a challenge to me now, not a deterrent.
--My greatest joy is being. Being with Dave is the ultimate. ♥
--I love meeting people, and getting to know them on a 'real' level.
--I am a 'helper', but no longer a caretaker. It's much more rewarding.
--I am not ashamed nor embarrassed for being imperfect.
--Pet peeve--people hurting other people, in any manner.
--I love to hear myself laugh!
--I'm going to write a book....someday...
--I wish that my family (of origin) would give back as much as they expect.
--I am passionate about my involvement with eating disorder awareness.
--I have a large group of friends, and they are the greatest people on the face of the Earth!
--I am no longer searching for who 'I am supposed to be'.
--I have learned how to give, without taking from myself.
These are only a few things about who I am, as I have come to discover in just the past few years. Before that time, I would have not known, nor been comfortable sharing anything about my true self with anyone.
Life is too short to waste even one more day trying to 'make myself' what I think I am supposed to be. Looking within and honoring ME, for who I am, body and soul, is my greatest and most rewarding accomplishment.
How would YOU complete the sentence above, holding nothing back?
Without apology....♥

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Breaking the 'Rules'

Nearly every aspect of life requires a set of rules or policies to which we must adhere in order to remain safe and organized. Most sets of rules are standardized, and not specific to persons or groups of people, unless of course, you include religion or cultural codes.
For anyone who struggles with an eating disorder, they most likely have developed their own personal set of rules by which they must abide, but that pertain to no other person, in any circumstance.
I know this is common, maybe a given for anyone with an eating disorder, but these rules are almost never spoken, only stored within the recesses of the eating disordered patterns in one's mind, however constantly governing every move that person makes.
For me the rules were easy, following them was the hard part. From a very young age I was led to believe that life was supposed to be hard, to the point that if I felt joy, I suspected I was in the wrong. Therefore, when I developed an eating disorder, it seemed natural to begin to formulate 'rules' that would keep me safe and that would allow me the special control which I hoped would finally help me gain acceptance and worth.
My rules had to be painful, limit my freedom, and keep me 'protected' (in my mind) from the harmful world and people around me.
The rules specific to ME centered around escaping any additional situations or emotions that I believed I could not deal with. I can remember that as things would happen or situations would arise that I could not control, I would flee back to my rules, which I thought was the only way I could be safe.
I believed that my rules prevented a tragedy, yet life has taught me otherwise many times over.
Not only did my rules involve certain behaviors involving food and eating, they involved some very obsessive/compulsive actions such as the way I stacked my dishes, the way I arranged my clothing, counting my steps throughout the day (yes, for the entire day!), and compulsive list-making. I would make a list that reminded me to make a list for...whatever. I was desperate to cross off each item as I completed my tasks, because otherwise, I believed that someone in my family would be harmed.
The connections that my particular rules had to other things made no rational sense, but to me, they were what I clung to every day for simple survival.
What was it about arranging the food in my refrigerator in a certain way that kept me safe? It didn't, but I certainly believed that without that 'order', my world would fall apart. There were times when I remember thinking that if I didn't follow the 'right' rules, I would die, right on the spot.
My brain was starving, and my body was in overdrive. I know now that this combination provided the prime situation for my 'need' for rules...i.e. safety.
I am asked the question often, "What is so different about your life now that you are recovered?" Nearly everything is different, but a very stark difference, that I am reminded of over and over, is that I am no longer afraid of life. I feel no fear when I wake up in the morning.
I am not afraid of failure, because I have already overcome the thing that most defeated me...the eating disorder. I no longer engage in rituals in an attempt to prevent disaster, nor do I need to
align the food in my refrigerator in a certain way out of fear of losing control.
Some people may shake their heads and roll their eyes, because this only makes sense in an eating disordered world. Others will relate exactly to what I describe, and perhaps wonder if this is truly possible.
It is.
Safety for me today means using my brain, which by the way, is NOT starved anymore, to make wise choices. It means being emotionally honest with those in my life who can understand that. And it involves continuing to set healthy boundaries for myself in situations that involve other people.
I am no longer ruled by my rules. I have broken them, and I am fully alive!

Without apology....♥

Saturday, May 1, 2010

My 'Walk' Continues.....

I decided it's time to update some things here, since I have been too busy to write many posts in the last month or more.
I've been thinking about 'topics' to write about, and it's very hard to narrow them down and decide what is most pertinent. So today, I plan to bring you all (and myself) up to date with what is going on in my life...a journal entry of sorts.
Beginning about this time last year, this Blog brought me the opportunity to begin writing a bit on another website, EatingDisordersOnline. I simply wrote a few posts from time to time, until the company who owns the site launched a new site, which was If you have never checked out either site, you really should!!
I began moderating the support site for eating disorders in June of 2009, which exploded into numerous experiences and opportunities for me. I can go no further here without sharing that the women (and a few men) who I have 'met' and become close to through this site, have brought indescribable joys and inspiration to my life. Because I am a deeply compassionate person (to a fault at times), this has also been a learning experience for me in separating my concerns for others from my own daily least in terms of allowing this to pull me into that cycle of trying to save everyone. I have learned to care deeply and share honestly, while not sacrificing my own needs or energies. This in itself has proven to be an experience of growth and healing for me.
Coincidentally, as I began to take on these challenges, another more personal challenge presented itself. My Mother-in-Law moved in with us shortly after my Father-in-Law passed away last May. My world became centered here at home, for the most part, as I did my on line work, and cared for 'Joy'. The 9 months following, while she lived with us were 'interesting', to say the least, with the challenge being much more emotional than physical. It was hard to witness her demise into her dementia, knowing there was nothing I could do to make it different. But it worked. We made it work, but not without it being a joint effort. Dave made sure that I got out by myself as often as possible. We had to move Joy out to an assisted living facility on March 1, this year. It was a tough decision, but one that has been best for all of us.
Late summer/early Fall brought even more opportunities, which was a huge surpise!
I was awarded a full-ride scholarship to attend the NEDA Conference in Minneapolis, which led to meeting and getting to know and love the Spencer family! The Conference allowed me to network and meet many other people in the field of eating disorders and those who are working to recover.
I was asked to help with website expansion for the River Centre Clinic ( at about this time, in terms of drawing in testimonials from other people who have found help through treatment there. This also led to increased efforts on my part, to 'market' and make others aware of the supreme treatment available there. My life is a testament to that.
As the Fall weeks flew by, I began to consider taking on the coordination of the first annual NEDA Walk for our area, which was just completed one week ago!! I learned a lot during those months of planning, and I am looking forward to making next year's Walk even bigger, with the help of my group of great volunteers, and with more press and advertising!!
In March I attended the IAEDP Conference in Orlando as a volunteer, which added to my 'contacts' in the field, and increased my desire to be involved in an even more 'hands-on' way.
What I have noticed since the beginning of 2010 is a much more balanced and settled peace within myself. I feel secure in my recovery, like I never thought possible. Fear is not a part of my life anymore, in terms of facing each day.
What has and continues to amaze me is the number of people who correspond with me, and who are seeking help. The fear of asking for help is monumental, I think, because of the stigma associated with eating disorders, and...the already low estimate of themselves that those who suffering have. I have come to know women all over the world, some more intimately than others, but nonetheless, they all bless my life.
The hard things have included separating myself from some in my life who are toxic, for whatever reason. I cannot nor will I tolerate manipulative or dishonest people who refuse to help themselves. It's one thing being 'unable', but another being 'unwilling'. Setting boundaries with others has never been easy or enjoyable, but I am realizing the value of it for all parties involved.
I began facilitating a recovery support group in my area in January. This is something that has been lacking in this area for a long time. Through this, I have met even more brave women who continue to fight for their freedom from an eating disorder.
Three weeks before the NEDA Walk took place, I took a position at the River Centre Clinic, doing intake and marketing. Being able to be instrumental in a very hands-on way is something that fills me with joy.
So...I am busy, with many things, most of which involve eating disorder support. I am blessed to have the most amazing, loving husband on the planet. I cannot believe how much love I hold in my heart!
I look forward to more experiences and more travel in the coming months...Houston (yeah!), a delivery to KY (hehe)....and back to the NEDA Conference in October. In the meantime, I continue to value my life, love with abandon, and I do it all,
without apology....♥