“Shame cannot survive being spoken”-Brené Brown

This is the first of the 10 posts in drafts I’ve committed to finishing and publishing by the end of this month.  I started this one in October of 2015.

***

Today I have decided to go public about my struggle with food and self worth, because “shame cannot survive being spoken.”  This is ABSOLUTELY TERRIFYING, but it has to be done.  I’m putting shame on notice that I’m taking ownership of my life.  Here goes…


I have spent the majority of my life ashamed of my body. Not just because of what it looks like, but because of  all the things they say being fat means about me as a person. I’m sure you’ve heard them. Just a few weeks ago some lady claiming to be a comedian went on a whole tirade about it. I was taught to believe that being fat means I’m lazy, I don’t have any willpower or self control, I don’t care about myself, I’m stupid, ugly, I smell bad, I’m inconsiderate, ignorant, oblivious, a burden to society (medical costs), I don’t deserve to be loved.  I’m told that I could very easily do something about it, if I just made that choice (let’s talk about how false and harmful this is some other time), making me also feel incapable.  Ashamed.

Maybe you are thinking “who cares what strangers on the internet say,” or “who is *they* anyway,” but it’s more than some anonymous, imaginary foe. I started getting these messages at home long before I was aware of a greater social narrative.  I started dieting in first grade, counting calories with my mother.  My grandfather once told me that I probably only thought about dieting when I wasn’t eating.  My father used to tell me that I have such a lovely face, I could be so stunning, if only I could suck in my tummy and tuck in my butt.  I spent most of high school in the same few clothes, because regular stores didn’t cary things that fit, but I didn’t know where else to go.  I was teased, hurt, but I couldn’t even be angry about it, because I believed that I had brought this shame on myself.

In my recovery, I have found peers and friends around whom I have been able to speak about my shame and be met with empathy.  People who understand this common struggle of disordered eating and self/body hatred.  But I also found that I am still too ashamed to share my story with people who might not understand, might not empathize, so I continue to hide.  To suffer in silence.  To remind myself why these things aren’t talked about.

I tried to move forward without having to be vulnerable and put my whole self out there, but as long as I am too ashamed to embrace my full story, what I’ve been through and where I’ve come from, shame gets to keep its death grip on my life and happiness.  So today I say NO MORE.  Here’s the truth I’ve been too ashamed for anybody to know:

Hi, my name is Margo, and I have an eating disorder.

******

Given that it is now June of 2016, you’ve probably guessed that I didn’t end up going public quite at that time.  However, I did leave my job in December and explained to a number of people that my eating disorder was a big reason for the life and career change, which was a pretty huge step for me, and then in February I “came clean” on my personal Facebook page.  And to my great relief, I was met with a mountain of love and understanding from a huge number of friends and a pretty significant and surprising number of “me too”s.   Here’s the post I shared:

In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week this week (2/21-27), I want to share something I don’t talk about very much. I was officially diagnosed with an eating disorder about 3 years ago, after 25 years of struggling with food, body and worth, and being told by family, doctors, friends, society, that I could change if I JUST worked a little harder, cared a little more, wanted it badly enough.

I thought I was fairly well educated about eating disorders, but I never thought for a second that my own inability to control compulsive behavior or obsessive thoughts around food, binges, shame, anxiety, depression, restricting, chronic dieting, daily (or multiple times a day) weighing, and more were a real medical condition. So I suffered in silence, too ashamed to talk about it, or ask for help, for fear that others would judge and hate me for my “failure” as much as I judged and hated myself.

Through treatment, an amazing support system, and some of the most incredible people you could ever hope to meet, I have come a VERY long way these last few years. I’ve changed in ways I never even imagined were possible. I’ve learned to love myself, value my life, and appreciate my body for the amazing things it does every single day.

My recovery journey has put me on a new career path, to use my own experience and pay it forward. I could have and should have gotten help so much sooner, if there had been more awareness and education around eating disorders, especially in the medical community. I am grateful for the opportunity to use my own experience to have an impact and pay it forward.

In the meantime, for anyone who might be suffering in silence, like I did, I want you to know:

**you are not alone
**you are worthy of recovery
**recovery IS possible
**help is available
**I am here to support you

AND if you don’t know whether your own struggles with weight or food might be an eating disorder, check out this free, anonymous screening.

http://screening.mentalhealthscreening.org/NEDA

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blank journals and the debilitating nature of perfection

I’ve been returning the cursor to the beginning of this post for 5 weeks now.  If I’ve written a hundred sentences, I’ve written a thousand; all of them the first and all of them inadequate.  I love to write and I love sharing my story, but every time I sit down to write about what’s on my mind (and there’s a lot, I have more posts started in drafts than I have published over the last 4 years) I get overwhelmed by my expectations for how detailed and well researched and perfect the post has to be.  So I end up working on it for a few hours and then run out of time, or steam, or just generally lose track of where I was going with my thoughts in the first place and all of the clutter just stays stuck in my head, swirling round and round, mixing with the shame about my inability to finish a post.

I have always liked the idea of journaling.  I especially love blank books and journals. I love the fresh, clean, crips pages, and the different headers that allow you to keep track of the date or day of the entry.  I love the different covers and various pictures, or inspirational quotes intersperced between the lined pages, the smooth covers, the unbroken spines.  They start out so perfect, flawless.

With loves like these, you might expect me to be a prolific journaler, but I have this debilitating fear that the first word, or sentence, or page I write in a perfect, new, blank journal will not be good enough and will ruin the book’s untouched perfection.  I can’t even tell you how many formerly blank books are on my shelves with one or two pages of writing, or the first several pages removed, to try to restore the tranquility of blankness.

This is not even half of the blank journals and fancy notebooks in my office alone.  And that's not even counting the books with one or two pages written on.

This is not even half of the blank journals and fancy notebooks in my office alone. And that’s not even counting the books with one or two pages written on.

It sounds kind of crazy, when I’m trying to explain this fear of imperfection to others (except of course in recovery circles, where people understand this sort of insanity), but inside my brain it seems like the most logical, rational thing in the world.  No matter how far I’ve come believing in my worthiness, I still don’t value my thoughts and words enough to believe that they enhance a blank page, rather than diminish it.

This is actually one of the reasons I was drawn to blogging.  It’s much easier to remove a flaw from a digital page than it is from paper.  However, it is the same feeling of not being good enough that frequently keeps me from finishing a post and publishing it.  I had a lot of lofty goals for this headline.  I wanted it to be some grand revelation, that would get people to see that being a perfectionist isn’t a cute way to dodge an interview question about your weaknesses, it can actually be completely paralyzing.  But now that I’m too many paragraphs in to put the cursor back at the top of the page, I’m recognizing that telling you about my fear is enough of an accomplishment for this post.

I’m taking my power back. I am no longer willing to expend this amount of energy trying to hide my flaws.  I will instead direct that energy towards acceptance.  And to practice getting past the anxiety of posting something flawed, I’m going to finish and post at least 10 started posts from my drafts by the end of June.  I will spend a pre-determined amount of time to finish them and then I will publish them without agonizing, checking and double checking.  And that’s all I have to say about that.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Sharing article: “Dear Doctor: your patient has an eating disorder”

I have been hoarding articles to share with you, but I always want to add commentary, which requires time and a big enough screen to flip back and forth.  I just came across this article today, but felt too urgently about it to put it in the archive with all the other links.

One of the things that caused a lot of anger at different points in my recovery was the fact that it took 25 years for me to be diagnosed and get help. Instead of being diagnosed with an eating disorder, I was “diagnosed” with obesity and all the *lazy slothiness* it presumably entails, but every time I was told to diet more, work harder, I became more cruel to myself, more rigid, more ashamed, more hopeless, and more sick.  If even one of over a dozen doctors in various cities, states and countries had diagnosed these symptoms/”complaints”/diagnoses described in this article correctly, I could have saved myself years of struggle and my body years of abuse.

One of my long term goals, once I have the education to be taken seriously, is to educate doctors on eating disorders and how to identify and treat them, and more importantly, how not to make them worse.

In the meantime, this is a very thorough, well researched article about some of the misconceptions doctors have about eating disorders and some information you could use to (a) educate your own doctor, if you are already in treatment or recovery (I have a story about this for you one of these days) or (b) identify some of your own beliefs and objections and recognize that, in spite of what your doctor says, you might have an eating disorder.

Quick disclaimer though, I don’t agree with point 3. Some of us DO have an issue with binges and sometimes they have more to do with blocking feelings and numbing out than with not being sufficiently nourished. Also, while a lot of this article fit for me personally, the finer details can and absolutely do definitely vary among individuals.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Healthy Body, Period.

Before ED recovery, I had never met a single woman who was excited about getting her period.  The experiences seemed to range from nuisance to discomfort to pain to outright debilitating.  One of my best friends got so sick with every single cycle that she missed at least two days of work EACH MONTH.  So I always considered myself pretty lucky that my periods were *irregular*.

I never thought too much about what was causing the arbitrary intervals of my cycle, but wasn’t particularly surprised when I was officially diagnosed with PCOS a couple of years ago (irregular periods are a common symptom) when I moved and switched to a new OBGYN. In addition to this diagnosis, she told me that if I wasn’t having a period naturally at least every 3 months, I needed to chemically induce one, to avoid serious health consequences including osteoporosis and uterine cancer.  At that point it had been about 10 months since my last cycle.  I decided I could probably tolerate the inconvenience, discomfort and expense (that one’s a rant for another day) 3-4ish times a year in the interest of preserving my longer term health.

Now that you know more than you probably wanted to about my plumbing, let me get to the actual point of this story.  The treatment program I participated in used to be designed around Eating in the Light of the Moon by Anita Johnston and there was a whole chapter devoted to “Moontime,” (insert heavy sarcasm font) that magical time when women “connect to the rhythms and pulse of life” and gain access to the “special link to emotions and the wisdom inherent in nature’s cycles.”  Of course this notion was so completely different from what we are taught by a society that doesn’t value soft femininity and intuition, that it initially sounds completely ridiculous.  I laughed so hard the first time I read the chapter with a group that I almost passed out from lack of oxygen.

But over time, I learned more about how my body operates and the masterful mechanisms at work every second of my life, through every breath I take.  I learned that the ability to create life is not just something that happens, it’s the female body’s superpower.  Just to be clear, this doesn’t mean I’m obligated to have babies, just because I CAN.  The point is that the menstrual cycle is a signal from the healthy body that it is strong enough, capable of sustaining life; even if that’s just my own.

-Moontime- is a privilege

Looking back at the gaps I previously considered to be arbitrary, I realized that the length of the time between cycles was directly correlated to where I was in my disorder.  I had longer gaps when I was starving myself on extremely low calorie diets, and I had longer gaps when I spent my days restricting and my evenings bingeing, and I had longer gaps when I was cutting out carbs and eating protein to the point of numbness at every meal.  Once I stopped dieting, got a handle on the binges, significantly reduced my stress level and started paying more attention to getting enough balanced nutrients (carbs, fats and protein) to support my body’s needs, I suddenly settled into a fairly predictable, regular, 45 (ish) day cycle.

I still have a knee jerk reaction of annoyance, especially when the timing happens to coincide with New Year’s and Valentine’s Day, but then I am also filled with gratitude for my healthy body, gratitude for the reminder that my body can handle me not being perfect, gratitude that my body knows what to do, as long as I hold up my end of the bargain.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Days go by

… and still I think of you.  My “Recovering Girl’ Facebook Page keeps reminding me that it has been WAY TOO LONG since my last post. And I’ve been meaning to write. I have LOTS of things I want to talk about and tell you about, but I’ve been struggling to focus and find the words (you don’t even want to know how many unfinished posts are in my draft folder).

I’ve always been afraid to commit to a number of posts in a given time period, because I didn’t want to over-promise and under-deliver.  Incidentally, the assumption that I wouldn’t be able to keep whatever goal I set for myself is also why I used to diet in secret.  I always thought it would be better to be successful at not trying than to fail (here’s just one of many examples of that).  But setting no goals for myself is really just enabling me to procrastinate and continue to hide, which is not really what I WANT to be doing either.  So… I’m sending it out into the universe and committing to at least one more new post in the next week.  And if that goes well, then I’ll commit again for the week after that.  Just like recovery, one day/post at a time.

Now that that’s established, the last couple of months have been pretty magical.  I quit my fancy corporate job in December and got a part time job doing very similar work for significantly fewer hours each week and with considerably more flexibility.  I’ve also started school.  About a year and a half ago I wrote about transformation and wanting to use what I have learned in recovery to help others.  That turned out to be the right plan, but the wrong time.  I wasn’t ready yet.  I had somehow worked myself up to an optimistic, almost manic high that ended up in a pretty colossal crash and a depression that took a lot of time and work to climb back out of.  But I’ve come a VERY long way since then and feel ready to help others who struggle, because (a) everybody deserves to know that they are unconditionally worthy of happiness and recovery and (b) supporting others in their recovery supports me in mine.

I have LOTS of prerequisites to take, before I can start a master’s degree program in a totally different field and as luck would have it, they are all prerequisites for EACH OTHER, so I can’t even take them simultaneously.  In the past I probably wouldn’t have been able to get past that news and would have given up, just thinking about how long it’s going to take before I can even start the actual program, but I’m getting more and more comfortable with enjoying the journey instead of focusing on the outcome.

That sounds pretty simple, but I actually didn’t come by it easily.  I was starting to feel very empty and unfulfilled again, just working towards being able to contribute in a meaningful way in the future, but not actually *doing* anything NOW wasn’t enough, and I was noticing that I was starting to fill that emptiness with food again.  I was so desperate to start living my purpose and so disappointed that I wouldn’t be “qualified” to do that for several years, it was really bumming me out.  But I realized (with a little help from my friends/peers/therapist) that I gain the most feeling of purpose when I am working with people and I see that I am making an impact.  I *just* (my favorite 4 letter word) needed to figure out HOW to work and connect with people in the meantime, so I decided in lieu of being a qualified professional, I would be a qualified volunteer and started an EDA meeting (Eating Disorders Anonymous) in my city, which has been absolutely FANTASTIC.

I also went “public” about my ED recovery journey on the Facebook during NEDAwareness Week at the end of February.  There’s a blog post in my drafts from a year or so ago talking all about why I WANT to go public, but can’t.  Well, I did it and nothing bad happened.  In fact, I learned that a couple of other people I have known for most of my life ALSO struggle with eating disorders.  I’m sad that we all feel obligated to suffer in silence, because of shame and stigma, leading us to not know something so profound about each other.  We could have been supporting each other all these years.

I am reminded that silence keeps us sick and that recovery (at least for me) is in vulnerability and connection.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dear Body: Thank you!

I should be packing right now, but instead of celebrating the privilege that I am able to travel with my husband to see family and friends for the holidays this year, I am thinking about my body.  I realized this afternoon that my current favorite / *most flattering* clothes need to be washed, but there is not enough time for them to dry before we leave tomorrow.

I was also reminded today that millions of women and I were raised to hate our bodies, no matter what, and I realized that this is the reason I don’t want to pack.  I even tried to convince my husband that we should leave a day later.  I’m getting worked up, because I am assuming that my friends and family will be judging my body as harshly as I sometimes do.  I assume that they are thinking about how much weight I could have/should have lost in the many months or years that have passed.  Have I gained weight?  Lost some?  When did they see me last? Will I be able to handle well meaning, but misguided comments about my health?

I find myself preparing the words to justify my fatness and just that quickly I am sucked into the vortex of self-hatred and shame about how being fat is an unforgivable personal failure.  I feel sad, because I forget so easily HOW. FREAKING. AWESOME. my body really is.  So I wanted to write myself a quick reminder.

My body is a self contained masterpiece.  I take a deep breath and feel the air filling my lungs, reminding me that I am alive.  I notice that I can feel the cold air on my skin.  My toes are tucked under the dog and I can feel his warmth and soft fur.  My toes can feel his breath gently making his puppy belly rise and fall.  I can hear the traffic in the street, along with the clicking of my keyboard.  I can see as the words appear on the screen.  I am amazed that my fingers just know what to do.  I realize that my thoughts have trailed off, but I am still breathing, without any input from me.  I am tired and I can feel my eyes; they are heavy, but they continue to blink to clean and moisturize themselves.  I don’t move for a few seconds and notice that I can feel my heart beating.  I am in complete awe that my heart can beat and my lungs can fill and I am grateful that my body sustains me, even though I can be so hateful towards it.  I feel the bruise on my knee, from where I bumped it yesterday.  My amazing body knows how to repair this damage. This makes me think about my joints and muscles and how they all work together to allow me to move.  I can barely operate a marionette, but somehow my body can stand and sit and walk and dance and skip and swim and BREATHE.  No matter what I am doing, my body just breathes for me.  I am tired, which reminds me of the brilliant signaling system my body has, when it needs something from me.  It tells me when to sleep, when to wake, when to eat, when to drink water, when to go to the bathroom.  My body is just ticking away, processing food and liquid into waste, meanwhile I am sitting here and can’t even come up with the words to express HOW COOL that is.  I think a little more about the food that is being processed; through years of dieting and restricting and bingeing and overriding, I have not been a consistent, trustworthy provider of fuel and I am beyond grateful that my body figured out how to protect itself in the meantime.

Dear Body: THANK YOU for sustaining me through everything.  I am ready to trust and support you, instead of overriding you.  Please continue to be patient with me.

 

image

There.  That feels a lot better.  Let’s get this bag packed.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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.

image

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment