Here’s what happened when I bought myself flowers for a year

July TOTALLY got away from me, not JUST because it’s been so hot that I’d like to go to sleep in a refrigerator and not wake up until September or October, but that’s definitely been a contributing factor.

I also had a birthday, which led to a lot of time thinking about how much my life has changed over the past year.  I changed jobs (more accurately, quit the job that was killing my soul and hindering my recovery with no backup plan and then the universe dropped the most perfect work arrangement that EVER existed into my lap), I started working on pre-requisites for a master’s degree program and discovered a surprising love for chemistry (probably mostly due to the abundance of puns), I started an EDA meeting that has brought together 8-10 participants each week in just a few months, I stepped down from weekly, emotionally volatile and exhausting therapy sessions to light hearted check-ins every 4-6 weeks, and I’ve been very consistently eating breakfast and dinner every day for a while (still work to do on this, but much further than I ever thought I would get).

In all of this, one of the biggest themes/shifts has been self love.  When I started on my recovery journey, I couldn’t even say “I love myself” out loud, because it felt like such a heinous lie.  Today I can say it AND mean it!  This change didn’t happen overnight, or automatically.  I cultivated it.  Like a garden.  I planted a seed and watered and tended and weeded and watched it grow.

Given that I used to think it was completely impossible for me to love myself, just based on how much I hated myself, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the actions I took to develop and grow this love for myself.  One of those things has been buying myself flowers.  This might not be as big of a deal for you, but here’s some background on why I think it was for me.

I used to think cut flowers were the biggest waste of money! It was a big scarcity issue for me. In fact, for the first 9 years that my husband and I were married, I never allowed him to buy cut flowers for me.  After all, they are basically already dead when you buy them, they don’t serve any particular purpose and the money might as well go straight to the trash, where the flowers will end up eventually.

Instead, whenever he wanted to surprise me with an anniversary gift, or a “just because I love you” gift, he would bring sweets, which seemed like a perfect solution to me, since I was going to spend THAT money on my next binge anyway.  And of course this just reinforced my belief that food is love, which was one of the core beliefs that kept me trapped in my eating disorder for so long.

Then I went to treatment for my eating disorder and there was a staff member that brought in fresh flowers almost every Monday.  I loved seeing the new flowers every week.  It became something I looked forward to, was grateful for, and on the rare occasions that a week was missed, I really noticed their absence. The fact that somebody was going to the trouble of buying and arranging flowers, to bring beauty and (ironically) life into our living space made me feel cared for, valued, and loved.

What I realized is that I didn’t just think flowers were a waste of money, because they are expensive (actually not even true) and don’t last… but that I didn’t think I deserved them.  Meanwhile, this person who barely even knew me, valued me so much that she bought flowers.  Every week.

It took me a long time to value myself enough to spend money on flowers simply because they are pretty and I enjoy looking at them.  But one week last year, we had a coupon for flowers from the grocery store and I decided I was going to buy myself this treat.  I was going to set them on the dining room table, where I sit down to eat between two and six times a day and each time I sit down, I am reminded that I value myself so much, that I believe I am so deserving, that I can have flowers on my table, just because they bring me joy.  And each time I see them and that thought fires down this new neuropathway I created, I believe it a little bit more.

I made a decision that this was a worthy budget entry, but I do know personally, and for others on a budget, it’s not always that simple.  As you may recall from a few paragraphs ago, I changed jobs last year.  I only make about a third of what I used to, so I say this not to justify the dollar amount I spend on myself, but to tell you that it doesn’t have to be a bank breaker.  My grocery store sells flowers that are already pretty reasonable, but when those flowers get close to the “sell by” date, they are discounted to half price.  I spend somewhere between $3 and $7.50 at a time and, depending on the type of flower, they last 2-3 weeks.

When I think about the amount of money I used to spend on a single binge, to fill this hole where self love should have been, I know that a fragrant, colorful reminder of that love and value at my dining room table is the absolute BEST way I can be spending those $120ish a year.

Here are a few of my favorites.

A gift of love from me to me.

A gift of love from me to me.

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Perfectionism vs Drafts Challenge Update

Well folks, it’s 10:45pm on June 30th and while I have made some updates to at least four more drafts, there is definitely no chance that I will post them in the next hour and fifteen minutes.  But guess what?  I published SEVEN posts in the last 3 weeks, compared to 7 posts in the 9 whole months before that.  I definitely got my mojo back and I have no shame whatsoever about not making it to the arbitrary number I set for myself.

Have I managed to completely let go of perfection and not edited a few of those 7 posts to death?  No… but I definitely gained some courage and made some progress.  I’m still going to finish 4 more drafts, because it’s been a great project and because it doesn’t have to be all or nothing (as in, if I didn’t post them by the time I said I would, I can’t post them at all).

In the meantime, thanks to all of you who have been following along and liking and commenting and encouraging me.  And HAPPY JULY!

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How will I know myself?

I started this post for the first time last August (2013).  I’ve come back to it a number of times since then, but I’ve never really been able to verbalize this feeling.  Maybe this time will be the charm.

***These were the only 3 sentences in a draft dated 3/11/2014.  I came back to it many more times between then and now.***

How will I know myself has been one of the most difficult questions of my recovery, right after who am I, if not this.  My identity was so thoroughly wrapped up in my eating disorder for more than two dozen years, I couldn’t even fathom an identity without it. The other things I identified with were anger, despair, and resentment.  In mid-2013 I was just learning about how I was going to need to let go of all of those feelings, if I was going to have any chance at recovery and I. was. terrified!

After spending so much of my life managing my emotions, so I would always be prepared, I would always get what I expected (even if it was the minimum, or the short end).  Not knowing what to expect, abandoning these emotions that seemed so quintessentially ME, felt like a huge risk I wasn’t sure I was willing to take.  Aside from mistakenly believing that I wasn’t me without those crusty old resentments, I also thought letting them go meant I was giving up on fighting for myself (you can read more about that here).

But last fall (2015) I finally figured it out who I was before my inner adult/fixer/dictator squeezed out my inner child (see picture below).  I remembered the exuberance, the wild, free-spirited, girl who loved to twirl and radiated love and light, wanting nothing more than to receive love and light back.

This is a drawing of my inner child and safe space environment from a therapy session.

This is a drawing of my inner child and safe space environment from a therapy session.

And I also gained one of my biggest insights yet, that I can fill my self/vessel/being with whatever I want and if they don’t fit or feel right, I can dump them and try something else.

These two learnings led to a revolutionary change in my perception of myself and my willingness to see myself as something other than what I had always seen.  I realized that recognizing myself wasn’t dependent on certain emotions or behaviors, because I had created them.  They weren’t actually me; they were something I created to keep me grounded, safe, but in reality, there is no spoon…  😉

The questions still remained, who was I supposed to be, how would I become the person I was supposed to be, and how would I recognize myself if/when I ever became that person? I haven’t talked much about how I answered that first question, but it’s all about being in the present moment.  “Becoming who I am supposed to be” is in the future, and the future doesn’t exist.  My purpose, and happiness, is in actually being who I am right now and discovering whether that feels right and then being who I am in the next moment, based on what I discovered about myself in the last, which is also the answer to the second question. Trail and error.  Is it getting a little too meta in here?  The third question, how will I recognize myself, becomes easier the better I get to know myself in the present.  As I create the life that feels right, I will start to recognize it as my own work.

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My brain is the fierce protector of my heart

I started this post in July of 2014.  At the time it was called “Feelings follow thoughts,” because it had been a topic of much discussion with my therapist and I had briefly touched on it a little in a previous post.

***

There’s a saying (which the internet attributes to Henry Ford, so let’s go with that), that says “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

Whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right.

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.

I used to think this meant that if you think you can’t you won’t try, thus confirming your “can’t” status.  While that may very well be the case, I now think there is a deeper, more useful meaning to this quote. **I have to laugh at my knack for the dramatic… this is literally where I stopped two years ago, without making any notes about what my grand epiphany might have been, but thankfully I have some new insights to finish this up.**

When I was still in the beginning stages of my healing journey, my therapist was trying to convince me that the negative feelings I had about myself weren’t necessarily true, and they only felt like they were true, because I believed they were true.  Let’s all say hello to my old friend Circular Reasoning.

I hated this idea for several reasons.  1.  It meant my negative feelings were my own fault, because they came from my own negative thoughts.  2. I liked to believe that my feelings were my moral guide, as in: if it feels wrong to do something, it probably is.  3. I really didn’t like the idea that I couldn’t trust my feelings, because they were supposedly so easy to change (read: manipulate).

But in retrospect (present day 2016 at this point), having changed my thoughts and feelings a lot, starting to believe that I CAN, I recognize that negative thoughts protected my sensitive heart at a time when my heart wouldn’t have been strong enough to bounce back from being disappointed or broken. My brain processed and rationalized EVERYTHING, never allowing any of it to sink all the way into my heart, where I would have to actually *feel* it. Brain would just explain away the cruelty of the world. Brain would build up a wall of words for me to hide behind.

Unfortunately this plan wasn’t entirely bulletproof (obviously), because brain also grew up with the core belief that I was the problem. I was not good enough. I was not worthy of receiving the care and love I needed. I believed it was my fault when people abandoned me. I believed all the *I cants* and set myself up for all kinds of failure. So, some of that rationalizing ended up hurting my heart more than protecting it (which is why I had a therapist explaining brain science to me all these years later).

I see it more now. I still rationalize… a lot. I still go round and round with my therapist sometimes. I still try to find a way to avoid feeling the actual pain. I recognize now that this is an attempt to control my emotions, but some things just need to be felt, before you can really move forward and knowing THAT is half the battle.

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How Flamingos became my Recovery Spirit Animal

**Thigh gaps are for flamingos.**

Thigh gaps are for flamingos

I first heard this phrase about a year ago from a peer in treatment and immediately loved it (this post is technically from the drafts series, but I really only had the headline). While pursuit of specific physical attributes does *sometimes* play a role, EDs are usually about much more than that.  Similarly, this statement is not necessarily about thigh gaps in particular, it’s much more about the awareness that there are many different body types, just like there are different heights and eye colors and shoe sizes.

To me, this is an empowering statement about unrealistic body standards and expectations and moralization.  Flamingos have thigh gaps.  That doesn’t make them good flamingos, or bad flamingos, they are just flamingos.  Penguins don’t have thigh gaps.  They don’t even really have thighs.  That does not make them good or bad, that’s just how they are.  Nobody would dream of telling a penguin to work on getting a thigh gap, because that’s just not how their bodies are made.

Unless you are a proverbial flamingo, which would also be perfectly acceptable, a thigh gap may not be a realistic expectation for you.  That doesn’t make your body any less perfect or lovable and this is an important awareness for me. My body is a good body. Just because my body type isn’t flamingo, does not mean it is a bad body.

Given this connotation in my mind, I adopted the flamingo as my recovery spirit animal.  I have acquired several items of clothing featuring flamingos and when I feel anxious about being among people, or insecure about my body, I wear one of these items and am confident in the knowledge that my body is a good body and my attributes need no justification.

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Finding recovery in purpose and purpose in recovery

This draft was started just a few months ago.  It’s like recovery inception, which kept getting too wordy for my inner perfectionist.  So, this is fair warning, I’m not editing this post once it’s finished and it might get rambly. 😉

***

I’ve been aware of the meek 5-10% success rate of long term weight-loss for a pretty long time.  Unsurprisingly, given the belligerent messaging from the diet industry, that didn’t keep me from believing that trying just a little harder, cracking some mysterious code, would allow me to be one of those illusive success stories.  However, if you read a lot of these stories, they tend to have one thing in common: a hook, something powerful enough to justify even the most restrictive or abusive rules around food in the long term (although, spoiler alert, this does not necessarily guarantee long term, 5+ years, success or better health either).  It might be a medical diagnosis, the threat of death, having/wanting to live for/be able to play with and chase after children, the love of someone other than yourself, etc.

Realizing that a hook was imperative to the possibility of success was frustrating for me, because I hated my life and my self so much that I regularly fantasized about some tragic, life shortening diagnosis or spontaneous death, I didn’t have children (still don’t), and I always thought I was a burden to the people I loved and they would be better off without me.  I was hookless.  There was never a consequence so severe that I wasn’t willing to act out and risk it.

Through eating disorder treatment and recovery, I learned to love myself and care for my life.  I learned to love my body and I learned to want to protect and nurture it.  I was never able to force myself not to binge for fear of consequences.  I was never able to stay on one of the many restrictive diets I went on to atone for my most recent failure.  Binges lead to diets, which lead to binges, which lead to more diets.  I never had a compelling enough reason not to make “bad” choices…

…until I learned to love myself.

Self care became a worthy enough cause.  A purpose in and of itself.  And once I started to take care of myself, instead of punishing and abusing myself, I felt less compelled to use my eating disorder for that end (of abuse).  Circular reasoning finally makes itself useful.  Learning to love myself through recovery and finding purpose and satisfaction in caring for myself has helped me put some space between me and my ED behaviors.

And then, through the strength and joy I found in recovering from those ED behaviors, I found purpose (and a new career) in paying it forward and supporting others in their recovery, which, in turn, filled more of the emptiness in my heart and made the bingeing that much more redundant and unnecessary.  Recovery begets recovery.  The better I get, the better I get.

Recovery –> purpose –> more recovery –> more purpose.


I do want to be very clear though, that recovery does not equal weight-loss.  While I have ultimately lost some weight and not gained it back after more than a year without any kind of dieting, that has NOT been the purpose of recovery for me.  Recovery has been about accepting my body for what it does, not what it looks like or what other people think of it.  Recovery has been about learning that I am not wrong or bad or unlovable, simply because our society is obsessed with a certain body type.  Recovery has been about not obsessing about food or weight and letting go of behaviors, regardless of whether that has any effect on my body. And purpose.  Recovery has been about finding meaning and purpose in my life.

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Secrets Keep Us Sick

I’m in a pretty good place in my recovery and life in general these days, have been for several months now.  My stress, anxiety, depression and self hatred are at an all time low, I am genuinely happy and thankful for the breath in my body most of the time, I have an AMAZING support system and I’m the least out-of-control I’ve ever been around food.

But old habits die hard and when I find myself in situations in which food used to be my comfort, I sometimes find myself defaulting to old behaviors without even thinking about it; or especially because I’m not thinking about it.  Auto pilot is so much easier than intentional, mindful action.  Without even formulating an actual thought about it, every fiber of my old self remembers how comforting this old behavior is.  After all, it wasn’t my safety blanked for 25 years because it didn’t do anything for my limbic system.

Once my cells are reminded of why I was addicted to this behavior in the first place, I start to crave the comfort it used to give me.  (**Spoiler alert** it doesn’t actually provide the same comfort anymore, but remembering that part takes a little more active thought.)  THIS is a critical point for me.  My disorder wants me to keep this craving to myself.  My shame only wants people to see my recovery side, only see me moving forward, never backwards.  This is when toddler logic kicks in: if nobody sees me doing it, then it didn’t really happen.

Secrets keep us sick

Secrets keep us sick

When I start to catch myself hiding food or wrappers, or waiting for my husband to go to bed to eat the thing that’s been calling my name, keeping secrets, I know it’s time to tell on myself and ask for support, because the shame of engaging in disordered behavior is only compounded by the shame of hiding and lying about it.  And when the secret gets to be too big and the shame gets to be too much, I become less and less likely/willing/able to tell somebody and more and more likely to keep using the same behavior to make myself feel better about it (hello circular reasoning).  Keeping my eating disorder and consequent behaviors a secret has a direct effect on my inability to stop them.

It’s a good best-practice to make a list of all the behaviors that are definitely eating disordered for you, as well as a list of borderline behaviors that might not be directly disordered, but might be warning signs.  For example, for me, sneaking food or hiding wrappers doesn’t necessarily mean I’m bingeing, but it’s a slippery slope.  Other things that are borderline behaviors for me are frequent weighing, skipping meals, planning/ideating/talking about restrictive meal plans for weight-loss (because-spoiler alert- these almost always lead to rebound bingeing and weight gain) and isolating.  Being aware of behaviors that might be benign for others, but are problematic for me, helps me notice and address them as soon they creep back in, before they can take over my life again.

I have the tools and the support to stop these thoughts and behaviors when they come up, but only if I am honest about them with myself, my higher power, and my tribe.  These are the times when I need to be reminded that I am not in this alone and that there is no shame in imperfection.  We all step backwards occasionally.  This doesn’t make us bad, or unworthy.  It doesn’t undo all the work and progress we have made.  It’s an opportunity to check in and decide where we go from here.

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