Unfamiliar fears bring new revelations

The more curious and open I have become about my feelings and where they come from, instead of just trying to redirect or stuff them down, the more I have learned about myself and my genuine desires for my life.

A few weeks ago (I started this post a month or two ago), I was walking the dog a little later than usual and he wanted to go down a dark alley (yea, the dog is in charge of where we go on his walks, what can I say) and I suddenly felt a new, unfamiliar fear.  Well, not totally unfamiliar, but a fear I hadn’t felt in a couple of decades.  I became aware of something I had always known, but was too ashamed to verbalize: until recently, I really didn’t value my life. I can’t really pinpoint this belief to to any particular time or specific event, although there are some incidents that make sense in retrospect.

I never wanted to be responsible for my own death, but (especially when I was feeling particularly low) I would fantasize about accidents tragically rescuing me from what felt like a dark, inescapable hole of a life.  I feel sad now, when I think about all the time I spent feeling so desperate and so broken, that I would hope for something so horrible.  I feel shame about the selfishness of it and the pain it would have caused the people who loved me, something else I couldn’t quite fathom at the time.

Thankfully those dark clouds have cleared and I’m grateful for the breath in my body, but what I discovered that late night in that dark alley, is that valuing my life comes with a side of fearing its loss.  As I noticed this new, unfamiliar fear, I had an opportunity to contemplate a few interesting things:

Is this fear real?  Now that I’m not afraid to exist, does the familiar feeling of fear have to attach itself to something else?  Am I so used to the feeling of fear that I don’t know what or how to feel without it?  Where does the fear go, when it has nothing to attach to?  What am I specifically afraid of?  Death itself?  Whatever comes after life? Something else entirely?

In asking myself these questions, I found that my greatest fear is regret.  Regret about leaving things unsaid.  Regret about not having made the impact I believe I am capable of making.  Regret about not finding and fulfilling my purpose, or squandering my unique gifts, whatever they may be.

Once I had identified that REGRET is my core issue, I started thinking about how I could live a regret-free life. I thought back to my last post, about living in the moment. I thought about avoiding “deferred happiness,” the false belief that happiness is somewhere in the future, when I finally [fill blank] (examples: lose weight, get a degree, find a partner, get my dream job, make more money, the list goes on and on).  I thought about openness and vulnerability.  I realized if I speak my heart in every moment, instead of waiting for a more appropriate time in the future, and if I do work I am passionate about NOW, instead of waiting for a more convenient time, a time when I imagine I will be more “ready” (let’s talk about that lie some other time), then there will be no regret to fear and late night walks don’t have to feel scary.

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This was also the day I decided to give notice at my fancy corporate job, to return to school and start working on a career that fills my heart space with passion and purpose. More about this soon.

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Little hints from the universe about living in the moment

A few weeks ago I told you about a video I saw that brought me to a profound realization about myself and who I am, with or without ED.  I think the universe served me that video, along with a few hints, and the capacity to understand what I needed to learn.

I think the same thing happened again last week.  I had a 3 hour drive ahead of me and it was already 7pm, so I pulled up my “throwback” playlist.  I like to listen to songs I memorized a decade or two ago, because remembering the words (and singing along) helps keep my brain awake when I am tired.

An old favorite, Janis Joplin, popped up.  I went through what you might call a “Woodstock phase” in my early teens.  I don’t even remember what started it, but I was basically obsessed with Janis Joplin, Joan Baez and Jimi Hendrix.  Anyway, Ball and Chain starts playing and I’m jamming out in my car until around the 5 minute mark when she starts “rambling.”

I never really understood exactly what she was talking about before, after, or in the middle of songs and I never really tried, because I always assumed it was just drug induced rambling that wasn’t even supposed to make any sense.  But this day I was driving and didn’t have anything else to do with my brain, to distract me from these words (they start around the 5:30 mark, if you want to watch the video):

“If you gotta care for one day, man, I mean, say maybe you wanna care for 365 days, right? You ain’t got it for 365 days, you got it for ONE DAY, man. Well I tell you, that one day, man, better be your life.  Because, you know, you can say ‘aw man’ and you can cry about the other 364, man, but you’re gonna lose that ONE DAY.  And that’s all you got, you gotta call that love, man. That’s what it is, man.

If you got it today, you don’t wear it tomorrow, man, ’cause you don’t need it.  ‘Cause as a matter of fact, as we discovered on the terrain, tomorrow never happens, man.  It’s all the same fucking day, man. (Note: there’s a possibility she is saying got a ‘cat’ and you don’t have ‘him’ for 365, but my takeaway is still the same.)

 

I’ve been working on being “present” in the moment for a few years now.  The closest I ever got was when I was practicing Tai Chi regularly, but I had never been able to explain it/understand it quite so simply and bluntly.  If I spend the ONE DAY I have worrying about what I won’t have the remaining days of my life, then I also lose the one day I DO have.  It’s not that I didn’t have the information before, but somehow, hearing it from this person, in this way, at this time, shifted something inside of me.

Since this revelation, I’ve been able to be more productive at work, because I’m not allowing fear of the future (what people will say, how they will react, whether it will be good enough, etc) to paralyze me from taking action in the present.  I’ve been able to love and appreciate my self in individual moments, without thinking about being perfect in the next moment, or the next day, or forever.  Just for today.  I’ve been able to make some big decisions and feel completely at peace about them, because they are the best decision I can make right now, with the information I already have, instead of fooling myself into believing that I can somehow predict or figure out what the future will hold and make a better decision that way.

These few sentences didn’t magically change me, but they took knowledge I already had in my brain and carried it to my heart/soul, where it turned into wisdom.  And somehow that has made all the difference.

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I am the glass

A couple of weeks ago, I saw this video by John Styn, talking about his Grandpa Caleb on the “Human” page on Facebook.

If you can’t watch the video right now, the short version is that John Styn talks about a conversation with his Grandpa.  John tells Grandpa that he always helps him see the glass as half full, but Grandpa is not looking at how much is in the glass, he’s looking at the glass.

The message immediately seemed so profound to me, but I couldn’t quite put into words what it was.  I understood it was about seeing a bigger picture; we pay so much attention to the things in the world, and forget all about the world.  But that’s doesn’t sufficiently describe the depth of what I feel when watching the video and hearing John Styn say “he [Grandpa] leans back and he says ‘it’s a beautiful glass.”  Of course, the world is big and important, but this revelation felt so much more personal to me.

I figured it out today.  In my recovery journey I have been struggling with understanding who I am without ED.  Who am I outside of this body?  Who am I without the overachieving that started in feelings of inadequacy, but got me the things I considered *good* in life (house, job, degree, etc)?  Who would I be, if I wasn’t afraid?

Today I realized that I am the glass.  I am not the contents.  Actively acting out in my eating disorder is half empty, making progress in my recovery is half full.  But I AM not recovery and I am not disease.  I am the vessel that holds both of those things.  There is room for lots of half full and half empty things in my glass.  Connectedness, peers, love, joy, half full, fear, pain, loneliness, suffering, half empty.  The glass is big enough for the full half and the empty half.  The glass itself is just as perfect whether it is half empty or whether it is half full.

The glass itself also doesn’t change because the contents is hot or cold or sweet or bitter or thick or clear.  The glass is just the glass; the container that holds whatever I choose to put in it.

I am the glass.  Half empty and half full and perfect.

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Self hatred is a trap and the only way out is acceptance

Sometimes I catch myself fantasizing about a day in the future, when I’ve lost a bunch of weight and somebody who has known me a long time asks earnestly with a blend of excitement, surprise and awe “How’d you finally do it?!?” And I simply say “I stopped hating myself.”

I’m not really proud of this fantasy, because I’ve been working hard to convince myself for the last few years that my recovery is not really about the weight.  I’ve even practiced righteous indignation at the idea that I should have to.  But then I constantly feel reminded of how much better/easier/happier my life would be, if only I didn’t have to spend it in this inconveniently, unacceptably sized body… the one that makes me hate myself.

See?  Two paragraphs in and it’s already a catch-22.  The only way to change my body is to stop hating it/myself, but the only way to stop hating it/myself is for my body to change.  SO obviously, that’s not going to work…

The other thing that becomes obvious to me as I read back my own words is that I identify who I am with what I look like and what I do.  My unhealthy relationship with food started longer ago than I can remember.  I don’t remember who I was then and don’t know who I might have become if the love-hate relationship with food hadn’t taken over my life.  I don’t know who I am without ED.  What I do know is that it has been reenforced to me for most of my life that my inability to control my behavior or modify my body to fit the expectations of family and society is the thing that *proves* I’m not good enough.  Not lovable.

Throughout my recovery journey, I’ve learned a lot about shame and worthiness.  I’ve learned that “failing” at unrealistic expectations does not make me a failure.  I’ve learned that making mistakes makes me human, not fundamentally bad.  And I’ve learned that the only way out of self hatred is acceptance.

I didn’t really understand the stuff I had been learning about acceptance for myself until I was having a conversation with a recovering alcoholic who didn’t believe he deserved another chance from his family and friends.  What he hated the most about himself was that he knew all the things he was supposed to do to be the person he was supposed to be, but he just. couldn’t. seem. to. change. who he was.

This was one of those magical moments for me, where the clouds parted and everything became clear.  He felt like a failure, because he believed he was a disappointment to his family, a disgrace.  He wasn’t an achiever, like the more celebrated, well adjusted members of his family.  He was different.  A musician who made a few bad choices that led to other bad things that solidified his belief that he was bad.  He was the problem.  He was simply not good enough.  Believing something like this about yourself is a pretty heavy burden, so he self medicated, to numb the shame, which led to more bad decisions, which led to more self hatred, which led to more drinking, more bad decisions, it’s a trap.

I suddenly realized that if he could forgive and accept himself for being an imperfect human, like all the rest of us, he didn’t have to feel shame for being imperfect and if he didn’t feel shame for being who he was, then he wouldn’t have to drink to feel better.  Acceptance.  I am who I am and that’s good enough.  Perfectly imperfect.

I told him, “maybe you don’t have to change who you are.”  He said “if you are a raging alcoholic, you definitely have to change who you are.”  I said “you have to change what you DO, but you don’t have to change WHO YOU ARE.  Drinking is what you do, because you can’t accept who you are, but if you could believe that who you are is good enough, if we all could believe that we are worthy of a good life, then we wouldn’t need the food and alcohol and other distractions to get through a day.  We wouldn’t have to feel ashamed for using those maladaptive mechanisms and we wouldn’t be driven to more bad behavior to cope with that shame.”

Now don’t get me wrong.  This is much easier said than done.  It takes a lot of work to train your brain to believe this new thing, especially after so many years of trying to prove that something else is true.  But it’s possible and it all starts with acceptance of whatever IS, right now.

 

 

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Fear of failure in recovery kept me from attempting recovery

I recently learned that fear of failure can be an actual phobia.  It’s called Atychiphobia and is defined as “the abnormal, unwarranted, and persistent fear of failure and is particularly devastating for its effects on a person’s willingness [or unwillingness] to attempt certain activities.  Persons afflicted with atychiphobia consider the possibility of failure so intense that they choose not to take the risk. Often these persons will subconsciously undermine their own efforts so that they no longer have to continue to try.[4] ”  Here’s a link to the rest of the Wikipedia entry about it.

This disproportionate fear is all too real for me.  Somehow I have convinced myself that I can only fail at things I attempt and through my distorted perception, failure is more likely than not.  What am I really afraid of, though?

My brain has concocted quite a story around this fear, to somehow make it normal, controllable, rational.  You see, the fear it’s not necessarily that I think I am not capable of succeeding (although I do have a long history of perceived failure as evidence).  It’s that when I have the option to do something, at which I may or may not fail/succeed, I would rather choose not to do anything and believe that I COULD, IF I took action, than to TRY doing it and CONFIRMING that I am NOT CAPABLE.

I do the same thing with relationships.  When things get strained, I withdraw from the relationship, because it allows me to believe the other person might care about me and be open to me reaching out or being assertive, rather than trying to reach out and confirming that they don’t care about me and the relationship is over… forever.

I also definitely did this with my recovery.  When I first started treatment, I was extremely resistant to any work around the meal plan.  I’d been on so many diets by this time and I was convinced at this point that “diets” didn’t work and that a diet by any other name is still a diet, which included “meal plans” and “lifestyle changes.”  I had convinced myself that this “meal plan” was just some double talk to get me to attempt and inevitably fail at yet another diet.

The only problem is that this was not just any other diet.  This was my last chance.  This was the only thing I had not tried (besides surgery, but my insurance turned me down for that twice and I’ve since realized it can be far more dangerous and damaging than staying fat).  In my mind, if this diet-we-weren’t-calling-a-diet didn’t work, I had nothing left.  No hope.  Nothing to cling to.  No future happiness (you know, the one that lies and tells you “you can’t be happy until you do x”).

My internal fight against this one last thing, surrendering to a process and trusting that it would have a positive outcome, was a mechanism to protect me.  To preserve my hope.  To believe that it COULD/WOULD be working, if I chose to take action.  I COULD be successful, if only I would try (but when I was ready to leap, doubt and fear of negative consequences started setting in). It allowed me to spend my time thinking about WHY I was so resistant, what the block was, rather than ever finding out whether there was anything left to fight for.  There is lots of other “fodder for therapy” around this block, including my father’s unrealistic expectations that I could, in fact, be perfect, if only I cared enough to try harder.  He definitely taught me to believe I could achieve anything I worked at hard enough, so experiencing (what I perceived as) failure, after giving it all I could, was that much more devastating.

But it’s time to challenge this false belief that not confirming a failure, or disappointment, is not also a failure.  Even if I think there’s a 99% chance I’ll fail at something I attempt, there’s at least a 1% chance of being successful.  If I don’t try, I might never know that there is a 99% chance of failure, but I also don’t have the 1% opportunity to succeed.  The absence of failure is not the same as having success.  I would rather fail 10 times a day in recovery, to see a glimmer of progress every once in a while, than continue to blame myself for not trying.

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Assertiveness is a loving communication

It has been almost two years since I first told you about the assertive communication formula.  I sincerely believe that it is an incredibly powerful tool, but I haven’t used it as much in the last two years as I could have.  Even though I could see so many great benefits (see original post linked above), it still seemed like it was really just the nicest, most empathetic and self reflective way to tell someone what they did wrong in regards to interacting with you and how you hope they will treat you in the future (not that there’s anything wrong with telling people how you would like to be treated, but that’s not the point of this post). 

I thought both people in the interaction needed to understand the formula and its intended outcome for the person at whom the assertive communication was directed not to get her/his feelings hurt.  Additionally, while “letting go of the outcome” is one of the most important aspects of the formula, I still had a tendency towards hoping they would adjust their behavior once they realized how it affected me and I still hoped to influence/control their feelings about me (by addressing the issue so diplomatically and not alienating them).

Assertive communication formula

It was clear to me that the formula was valuable in gaining self awareness and connecting with my feelings, but it wasn’t until I came to some new awareness through Brené Brown’s work that I really understood how/when/why to use it.

Brené Brown’s is a “shame researcher” who teaches about shame, vulnerability, authenticity, connection and more.  She has lots of Ted Talks and books that are totally worth your time, if you are not already familiar with her work.  The following quotes of hers really sum up the point I want to make on the assertiveness formula pretty well:

Shame is universal. We all know that feeling: I’m not enough. I’m not thin enough, rich enough, beautiful enough, smart enough.  And shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection:  is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, I won’t be worthy of connection? – Brené Brown

If we share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive. – Brené Brown

We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known. – Brené Brown

Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest.  The choice to let our true selves be seen. – Brené Brown

Most people believe vulnerability is weakness. But really, vulnerability is courage. We must ask ourselves: are we willing to show up and be seen? – Brené Brown

Owning our story can be hard, but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky, but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light. – Brené Brown

What I learned from these lessons is that assertiveness is a loving communication.  When feelings come up in response to an interaction I had with another person, it is an opportunity for me to share something about my self.  To connect with them more deeply.  To be vulnerable.  And known.  And seen.

We cultivate love when we allow our must vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known. - Brené Brown

We cultivate love when we allow our must vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known. – Brené Brown

I was not seen or known as a child, but instead of realizing that my parents weren’t able to see/know me for their own reasons, toddler logic told me that it was because my true self was not worthy of being known and seen.  So I hid my true self where it couldn’t be reached and created a girl who was visible and worthy of being seen… well… I tried to be worthy, anyway.

But it’s time to find that hidden girl and share her with the world.  I might not always like the outcome of being real.  Sometimes my story will not be met with empathy and understanding.  Sometimes assertiveness will not deepen my connection.  But at least I can be proud that I was brave enough to own my story and vulnerable enough to share it, that I was not ashamed to be seen. I will know that I am exploring the darkness to find my light.  I will know that I am showing up for myself, my true self.  I will know that I am running TOWARDS love and belonging and joy instead of away from it and I can finally take comfort in the knowledge that I am allowing myself to just BE the person I was born to be.  Perfectly imperfect.

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I contain multitudes

One of the most profound quotes I’ve found in my recovery journey is an excerpt from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”:

Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself.  I am large, I contain multitudes.–Walt Whitman

The reason this quote resonates so much with me is that I have a very difficult time accepting the contradictions within myself.  I’ve had a clear image of the kind of person I *should* be, the kind of person that is *good*, and I’ve believed that being the opposite of any of these traits makes me inherently bad.

My unrealistic expectation is that I can/should be generous, compassionate, considerate, happy, thankful, selfless and wantless ALL the time and that these things determine my goodness and worth.  Meanwhile, occasional selfishness, intolerance, sadness, anger, resentment, neediness, carelessness and such mean that my attempted goodness is fake and that I am in fact deeply flawed and I AM all of the other negative things I’ve believed about myself for most of my life.  If you are familiar with cognitive distortions, you might recognize this as “all or nothing” or “black and white” thinking. (Fun fact, I just went to look for the post on cognitive distortions, to link back to it, and apparently I never finished/posted it. HA.  Well, I guess that’ll be up next soon.)

I’ve also convinced myself that, while it is OK to make mistakes occasionally, it is NOT OK to make the same (or similar) mistake twice, because it means that I don’t learn.  Repeating mistakes means I knew better and did it anyway; I am careless.  It means that it wasn’t just a lapse, but is in fact *who I am*.  Incidentally, this is the key difference between guilt (I did something bad) and shame (I am bad).

It’s not that I believe nobody should ever make mistakes, or that it is never OK to make mistakes; after all, Alexander Pope says “to err is human.”  Of course humans should be allowed to make mistakes; in fact, lots of amazing things have been invented and developed because humans make mistakes.  BUT (and I don’t intend for this to come across as grandiosity, because that couldn’t be much further from my reality), at some point in my life I learned that I am supposed to be able to be better than that.  Better than “merely human”…  When I made mistakes or did stupid things my father would say “it’s OK for so-and-so, but I expect you to be better than this” or “you are too smart to do something so stupid” or “you KNOW better, you just don’t WANT to do better.”  (This last one has been particularly prevalent in my diet history: I KNOW what to eat/do, I must just not want it badly enough, because I can do anything I put my mind to/where there is a will… etc. instead of recognizing that it’s a disease, not a willpower issue.)

The reality is that multitudes, contradictions, imperfection, THESE are the things that make me human and my humanity is something to be celebrated, not condemned.  Selfishness is sometimes necessary for self preservation.  Anger is an indicator that my boundaries have been breached and resentment is a sign that I have not addressed the breach, but allowed it to fester.  Some things should not be tolerated.  And the fact that I spend this much time WORRYING about carelessness, well, that’s basically the antithesis of carelessness in and of itself.

These days, when I meet myself with judgement about mistakes or contradictions, I channel my inner Whitman.  I say to myself: very well then, this is how I am.  I am human.  I CONTAIN MULTITUDES.  I can be generous and selfish.  Both of  these things can be true.  I can be happy and I can be sad.  I can contain courage and fear.  I can love people and also enjoy being alone.  Just because I am not ALWAYS one way or the other, does not mean I can NEVER claim the other side.  I also don’t have to label these two sides of myself as good or bad; they just are.  I don’t have to keep trying to attain this unrealistic expectation.  Instead, I can accept myself in all of my humanity and contradictions and multitudes.

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The Parents-Sized Hole in my Heart

Once I became aware that eating disorders are not really about food and that the disorder served an important purpose for me at one time, I started to think about what my unfilled needs might have been and how ED helped me meet them.  One of the themes that rose to the top was my parents’ physical and emotional unavailability.  Now, the intention of this post is not to blame or shame my parents.  I realized and accepted some time ago that they had their own issues and they did the best they could with their own set of skills and circumstances.  So, while I do understand *now* that this was their stuff and had little or nothing to do with me, I spent many years internalizing these deficiencies and they became a key component in my core beliefs about myself.  In order to start challenging and changing some of these core beliefs, it is important for me to acknowledge and accept this part of my story, again, not to blame or shame them, but to affirm and embrace mySELF.

I heard somewhere recently (disclaimer: I have not fact checked it and I’m sure it’s way oversimplified and over generalized) that we get our identity from our mothers and our self worth from our fathers.  My mother felt like she had been cheated out of her dream job and instead of doing something she loved, she was stuck with having and “caring for” 4 babies in a 5 year period.  I am the second among my siblings, so by the time I was 3, there were two younger children who were less self sufficient and whose needs were more urgent/important than mine.  Apparently I was already fiercely independent by this time; I’ve been told that I potty-trained myself at 18 months, because I hated being in wet cloth diapers.  I used to think that was funny and awesome, but now I feel sad, because it makes so much sense that I would have ended up with the core belief that I am the only one who can, or will meet my needs.  It is suddenly so unsurprising that I have a difficult time trusting people and asking for, accepting, or feeling like I deserve help or support.

There are many examples of this self sufficiency through the very early years and the rest of my life.  Being the needless, wantless, “grownup/big” girl who could take care of herself and everybody else, instead of being an added burden, became my identity and one of the ways I did that was with food.  Instead of looking to my mother for comfort and connection, I soothed my sadness, fears and loneliness with food.  I used food to get the attention I was craving without having to “need” it, by creating a body that had to be dealt with.  When I was 5 I finally got the one on one attention and interaction I was missing when my mother and I started counting calories together.  I was “big” enough to take care of myself, I didn’t NEED anything, but this body situation required some attention, which I could only continue to hold on to if I continued to grow (not that this was a conscious decision, but it certainly makes a lot of sense to me in retrospect). 

My father was “in the closet” until his 60s, so I imagine he must have had a very difficult time with his own self worth.  It must be very difficult to make children feel worthy and loved and accepted, when one is unable to feel those feelings towards oneself.  Since he felt like who he was at his core, his BEING was wrong, he taught us that value and worthiness were in DOING (and doing improved through criticism).  My value was directly tied to my accomplishments and actions and behaviors and the less perfect those things were, the less worthy and valuable I felt.

Food supported me in this distortion in two ways.  First, it allowed me to distract from and numb the feelings of worthlessness and second, it validated my beliefs about myself.  Child logic couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t good enough; I didn’t even really know, consciously, that this was the message I was receiving.  My relationship with food and my imperfect body gave me a concrete reason to hate myself and to understand why others couldn’t love or care for me.  And so food became the weapon in a war between filling the holes of identity and worth my parents had left, wanting to be seen and accepted, and hating my body and self for being merely and imperfectly me.

With this awareness, by identifying the needs that created my relationship with food, understanding how those early unmet needs became my current belief system and what my actual needs are now, I can finally start to figure out how to meet those needs without food/ED.

 

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Breaking up with ED again

After another very difficult winter, I took a few months away from the internet.  I’ve missed posting and have lots of topics and thoughts to share with you.

In my time away, I thought a lot about the purpose my Eating Disorder (ED) has served in my life.  This well is deep-deep-deep, but I’ve managed to identify a few main themes for starters.  Then I wrote a letter to ED recognizing that his presence has been important to me in these struggles, but that I am ready to let him go and deal with the feelings in a more healthy and productive way.

I’ve been trying to break up with ED for years, but I never acknowledged the reasons why I brought him into my life in the first place (partly because I didn’t really know and partly shame about needing him or having any needs at all).  Without identifying my true needs and finding other ways to fill them, I kept going back to this abusive relationship, because I ended up feeling lost, empty and alone without ED.  I’ll just share the letter with you today and will expound on each of the themes more throughout the week.

Dear ED,

Thank you for filling the parents sized hole in my heart when that’s what I needed to survive.  I’m glad you were there to meet my needs in the best way you knew how to, but I’m going to take it from here.

You lived and thrived within me when I felt lonely, but I don’t need you to keep me company anymore.  I don’t need you to fill that vacancy, because now, when I feel lonely, I can inhabit myself.

You protected me from the feelings I feared.  You kept me from drowning in what I imagined would be an overwhelming tidal wave of emotions, but I’m not afraid anymore.  I have a life boat of tools now.  If the dam does break and the wave does come (which it probably won’t), I’ll be wet, but I’ll be safe.

I also don’t need you to make me big anymore.  If I feel small, or unseen/unheard, or insignificant, I can use my voice, my assertiveness, to make myself visible.  I don’t have to be big to be mighty.

You are no longer the only friend I trust not to abandon me.  There has always been love for me in the world, I just didn’t know how to receive it.  I didn’t believe that love was really meant for me, because you made me believe that I could only be loved for this better-than-me persona I was pretending to be.  You told me my true self would never be worthy of that love.

Well, I don’t believe your lies anymore. I don’t have to believe that I am not enough, that who *I AM* is not good enough, that I am not worthy.  I don’t have to believe that there will never be enough, especially not love; LOVE is not a limited resource, it multiplies.  What I want and need is not “too much”!  My needs are valid, reasonable and important.

Now, I don’t expect you to shut right up, because I don’t want to listen to your lies anymore. But that’s OK, because even though you mean to lie, to keep your hold on me, you leave breadcrumbs to the truth and I know how to follow them home.  I’m sure I will run into you again occasionally.  I may even fall back into the hole again, but I don’t have to stay down there anymore… I know how to get out.  I have the tools within me to build a ladder.

So thanks again for your years of commitment and dedication.  I’m sure you really DO love me and didn’t even mean to be abusive, but I’m done carrying your heavy ass around with me.  I need all my strength to carry myself and to move on with my life.  It’s over.  We’re done, ED.

Sincerely,

Recovering Girl

Thank you and goodbye.

 

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Welcome to the Closet Liberation 101

Exciting things have been happening at Casa Recovering Girl, my friends, and it sounds a little bit like En Vouge cue music **FREEEE YOUR MIIIIIIND CLOOOOSET, and the rest will follow.**

This story goes way, way back in my life, so here are a few facts that help set the stage for the miracle I’m about to tell you about.

  • As the second child, my early years were dressed in my older brother’s hand-me-downs
  • I’m the only girl among my siblings, so I managed to get my “own” clothes by refusing to wear pants starting in elementary school
  • While my mother was very strict about food, she was basically a free spirited hippy when it came to clothing and let me leave the house in absolutely anything my 6+ year old wanted to wear (see proof below)
real life worst dressed

This is a real picture from my real life. Just a regular day. These choices are not cultural, as you can tell by the normally dressed kid next to me.  AND this was before cell phones and people carrying cameras in their pockets at all times.  Some teacher went out of her way to immortalize this outfit.

 

  •  In 5th grade I lived with my grandparents for a year.  I babysat for one of their neighbors who took pity and bought me some pants
  • One of my aunts once gave me a beautiful twill dress that I had admired in a magazine for my birthday.  It didn’t fit.  I saved it for MANY years, hoping some day it would
  • In Jr High I had TWO shirts: a green button down shirt that had been my older brothers (I later dyed it black and held the cuff on with safety pins when it started falling apart) and a black cable-knit sweater.  It’s not that I didn’t want more shirts, but I could never find anything in my size where I lived
  • When I moved to the US for my last year of HS I discovered Big & Tall, the mens plus size store… that helped for a while.
  • I was instantly so attached to the first pair of women’s jeans that fit me in the waist that I didn’t even care that I had to insert a few extra inches of denim at the bottom to make them long enough in the legs.  I wore those jeans until LONG after they stopped being appropriate (girls with legs that rub together know what I’m talking about)
  • When I discovered Lane Bryant (LB) the heavens opened and the angels sang. I was so thrilled, in fact that I got a part time job there, not because I needed the money, but because I wanted to take advantage of the employee discount.  The money I made there rarely, if ever, left the store.  This is where the rest of this story really gets going.

When I first started working for LB, I was in the middle of one of my more successful diet attempts.  I had already lost a fairly significant amount of weight and expected that this was a trend that would continue.  Armed with a shrinking body and first hand access to the best clearance PLUS employee discount deals to be had, I started buying any clothing I liked (keep in mind that clothes in or near my size was a newly discovered luxury for me), even thought it didn’t necessarily fit at the time that I purchased it.

These clothes were aspirational.  They were like promises to myself, that I was committed to shrinking.  To investing in the future.  To doing whatever it would take to make sure those aspirational clothes were not wasted.

SO who wants to put money on what happens next?  You probably guessed it… the clothes were definitely wasted.  They didn’t become inspiration, they became a source of shame.  Money wasted.  **Willpower** defeated (spoiler alert, I no longer believe in the relationship between willpower and my ability to manipulate the size of my body).

Over the next 14 years, I accumulated a MASSIVE collection of clothes in an incredibly wide range of sizes.  I could have opened a fully stocked boutique.  Now, to be clear, not all of the clothes in this collection were too small when I bought them.  Some of them were my favorite pants, or shirt, or skirt for whatever time my ever fluctuating body was in that size.  And when they started getting too tight they went in the “I’ll be back in those clothes after the next successful diet.”

It has taken me several years of hard work, but nowadays I recognize the lie of this “deferred happiness.”  The false belief that happiness is somewhere in the future, when I finally [fill blank] (examples: lose weight, get a degree, find a partner, get my dream job, make more money, the list goes on and on).  I don’t want to give away the end of this story about my closet or anything, but I can’t wait to the end to tell you that happiness doesn’t come from reaching whatever arbitrary goal you, or somebody else set for you.  There will ALWAYS be just one more thing you have to do before you can finally be happy. Before you are finally ENOUGH. Here’s the truth: if you can’t be happy RIGHT NOW, right where you are, exactly the way you are, if you can’t see that you are already perfect, even if you never fit into your jeans from HS again, you will NEVER FIND PEACE. Let me say that again: you are ALREADY PERFECT and so am I! I digress.

After more than a decade of continuously adding to my collection and never getting rid of anything, because, hey, all it takes one good diet before I will need those clothes again, I had filled so many closets and boxes and suitcases (with space saver vacuum bags) to the absolute gills, that I had to convert a whole bedroom into a new closet/dressing room with rolling racks. I know, RIGHT?!?  It’s TOTALLY getting ridiculous.  SO I say to myself:”self” I say “we don’t need all of these clothes anymore” and the proverbial meltdown ensues.  I mean, what in the actual F**K is the matter with me?  They are JUST clothes.  Clothes that don’t fit.  Some of them have not seen the light of day in YEARS and there are REAL TEARS at the mere THOUGHT of letting them go.

At my next appointment with CZB (aka my therapist extraordinaire), I didn’t really feel like I had anything to talk about, so I casually mentioned that I was frustrated with the the clutter and my inability to release my iron grip. She always knows when something isn’t really casual banter and dragged my real, ugly-cry feelings  out of me.  We processed through some of my well known themes, like letting go, and fairness, and not enough.  She reminded me that I should be cutting my losses and stop throwing more time/money/energy after bad.  She told me that I wasn’t allowed to say “BUT” for the rest of the session (because I am a master reasoner/arguer and have a reBUTtal for EVERYTHING).  I was reminded that I have to let go of them EVENTUALLY (not that I’m near death, but you can’t take your possessions with you).  I know that it does not diminish me as a person to let them go.  I absorbed that it does not serve me to continue to beat myself up for something that seemed like the right thing to do before I learned about the alternative.

Learning and relating to theories has always been the easy part, but taking action and putting those theories into practice is incredibly difficult for me.  How do I keep from forgetting my lessons and freaking out when I am actually faced with the task at hand.  So CZB helped me with a mantra, which I fleshed out a little, wrote it down, kept on my desk and read to myself each time I looked up, until it felt comfortable.

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Attachment to these THINGS is no longer serving me. I need to let them go.

I permitted myself all the time I felt I needed (because force always has the opposite outcome), but the more I thought about it, the more excited I actually got about getting this task done.

As I started talking about my project, I discovered why plus size clothes are not well represented at second hand and consignment shops: because it’s some kind of cruel, universal conspiracy that every fat woman should have a full range of sizes and a boatload of shame and guilt in her closet.  That’s when I decided once and for all, that I would LIBERATE my closet from aspirational sizes.  It looked a little something like THIS:

 

 

 

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I’m hoping to start a trend.  I sorted my clothes by size, so I can give RIGHT size clothes to other women who need to liberate THEIR closets and they can give their clothes to more other women times infinity.  And even if this isn’t the beginning of some magical chain reaction, I’m pretty freaking pleased with myself.  There is magic in the air, friends.  And now that I’ve made space, there’s room for more of that magic in my life.

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