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After an incredibly long plateau in recovery, I have decided to see a new therapist. He comes with high regards, and is really good at “making people feel” which is something I really need right now. He is also a gay man (and pretty effeminate), so I feel comfortable discussing the intersection of my body image and gender identity. My previous therapist, while totally supportive, wasn’t as knowledgable about LGBTQ issues. I have a feeling that I won’t be able to hide behind “you just don’t understand” with the new therapist because he does get it.eat

I also took another huge leap in attempting to break the plateau and was a lot more honest with my dietitian. From the language I had been using in our sessions, she was under the assumption that I was following our meal plan every day. However, it was actually just Tuesday-Sunday. I have only been eating dinner on Mondays. I leave for work at 545AM and get home at 7PM, and teach all day. It has been a very easy way to restrict, and I have kept it to myself all semester. While my dietitian kinda sorta threw her pen at me when I told her (totally okay, we’re on that level), we both agreed it was a huge step in letting go of this last part of my eating disorder that I seem to be clinging on to.

 

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As I stated before, my dietitian and I are adding a new dimension to my recovery, where I simply examine my behaviors in a non-judgemental way.

For example (and this is from the ‘book,’ but is not an actual story of mine): “Oh wow, I just noticed that after talking to my ex-boyfriend, I didn’t want to eat all day. Interesting! Why do I think that is?”

It’s a way of learning from your behaviors and not getting caught up in what is “right” and “wrong” and “good” and “bad,” which in the eating disordered world, always means “thin” or “fat.”

It’s a little easier to do after the moment, but the point is to be able to use these skills while one is in the moment. A little while ago, while I was procrastinating, I took a look through my Facebook pictures and saw one that upset me. I didn’t like how my body looked. I started to sweat. Fidget. My shoulders tensed up. Five minutes before, I was fine. But now? I needed to know my weight. I had to.

Only one minor problem… We don’t have a scale in our apartment. Both my partner and I are in recovery from eating disorders, and one of the first things we were told to do was get rid of our scale.

This was an issue for me, and remains one to this day. My sister and best friend used to always poke fun of me for my “relationship” with my scale. I brought it EVERYWHERE. When I traveled home from breaks during college, it was in my bag. If I was going to be out of my dorm/apartment for over 24 hours, I brought my scale with me. I even had a back up scale that I could use when that one broke.

Pulling through moments like that are always so difficult. While I’m sitting there, feeling like my world is going to collapse, it’s so easy to forget to use the “skills” I learn in the office’s that make up my treatment team. When I’m sitting in my dietitian’s office, breaking apart the keys to my body image, eating disorder, and various addictions, it’s easy to work through moments. After all, I feel so safe there. Bombs could be dropping outside and I’d still be in the moment.

But like many of you know, all of that goes completely out the window when you’re in the moment, sitting there having a complete breakdown over something so simple.

The thing that worked tonight was looking back to how far I’ve come. I thought back to the first time I told myself that I would not purge. I had just eaten shrimp and cocktail sauce–probably the most sustenance I had that whole day. Immediately after finishing, the urge hit me. It had to come out. But that night, for the first time, I didn’t do it. I didn’t use some skill to get through it, I didn’t avoid or leave the room. I just didn’t do it. I was curled up in a ball, sobbing hysterically, for over an hour.

And although, in that moment, it seemed like the world was going to end, and that I’d die if I didn’t purge (how ironic), I am still here. Still kickin’, still living, still here.

If nothing else works, and I’m having a really hard day, that’s what pulls me through the moment…. This too shall pass.

It feels weird to start typing, but almost like it’s time to start sharing my thoughts again. As soon as my fingers started to hit the keys, my shoulders relaxed. Maybe this is what I need right now..

Oh, where to start. I’m not even sure, but I’m sure you all want an update. Things are absolutely crazy. I work around 50 hours a week, when you combine teaching, research, and my internship. Outside of that, I train for AIDS/Lifecycle, run a student organization, and try to fit in some activism. Oh, and did I mention I’m a full-time grad student?

Everything that was posing issues before–an eating disorder, gender, figuring out my life–is still an issue. However, everything has moved forward somewhat…

Things started taking a minor turn again, and I started getting the urge to purge or restrict numerous times a day. So, I started seeing my dietitian weekly for nutritional counseling and it has been unbelievably difficult. I’m being pushed way out of my comfort zone, but I’m making progress. Slowly but surely. The past few weeks, however, I’ve realized how freaking scary that is. I literally do not know my life without an eating disorder. At any given point in my memory, my life was somehow interwoven with restricting, bingeing, purging, chewing/spitting, using diuretics or laxatives, or exercising compulsively. Thinking about my life without all of that is so unknown and so scary.

It came to a head a few weeks ago when I, sitting in my dietitian’s office, began to cry. I’ve been in therapy since my Junior year of high school and I’ve never cried. This day, however, I put down my walls, showed my vulnerability, and let go. After trying to mumble out what I was thinking amidst all those tears, my dietitian just looked over to me and said: “So what you’re saying is that you’re at a crossroads?”

I had never thought about it like that before, but yeah, that’s exactly what this feeling has been for the past 6-8 weeks. I am at a crossroads. I feel like I’ve separated myself from the eating disorder too much to ever fully go back, but that I’m not yet fully in recovery either. I’m at this weird, awkward place in the middle, where my mind is telling me to move on with my life and my heart is reminding me of the comfort, solace, and control I find in my eating disorder.

It’s almost like a new grieving process. I feel like I’m looking back at all of the ups and downs with my eating disorder and I’m trying so hard to say goodbye. I don’t quite understand why it’s so difficult (after all, I almost died because of my eating disorder), but It feels like an immense loss. It reminds me somewhat of how people describe walking away from an abusive relationship… But needless to say, regardless of how happy I “should” feel to be in recovery, at the same time, it feels like I’m grieving for the loss of an old friend, something that gave me solace and comfort in my darkest moments.

All of this vulnerability, surprisingly, has pushed me further into recovery. It has forced me to think on a daily basis about my body image, my inner dialogue, and the choices that I make every day. For the first time ever, I found the courage to open up about the role that gender plays in my body image, and how it makes the battle with my eating disorder a walking bundle of mindfucks.

For those who do not know me–I do not look like a female. I am biologically female, but identify as gender queer and feel a whole lot more like a man than I do a woman. I never really thought about how this plays into body image before, but I’ve recently realized how difficult it makes my struggle with body image, creating this duality where I want to be thin (which is common amongst women with eating disorders), but also bulky and muscular (which is more common among men). I have this thin, lean, muscular image of myself that is literally unattainable. I cannot be as muscular as I’d like to be and still be as thin as I’d like to be. I cannot be as thin as I’d like to be and still be as muscular as I’d like to be.

So that leaves me confused and unsure–in the middle of these two extremes, fighting two body image battles at the same time. Which brought me and my dietitian to a new point in my recovery last week. One thing (at least in my disordered mind) that will bring me both thinness and muscularity is exercise. I feel AMAZING when I work out. I feel in control and on top of the world. The constant negative self-talk in my head is gone. I don’t worry, I don’t think. I just am. And, like I was so afraid would eventually happen… after a year of seeing my dietitian, she called me out on it. She looked at me, took a moment of extreme seriousness, and said: “You are addicted to exercise.”

I immediately became anxious and she knew it. I have avoided the topic of exercise because I have kept it for me. I’ll talk about behaviors, I’ll talk about my family or my past, I’ll talk about how far I’ve come since I hit rock bottom in 2007. But I will not talk about exercise. And now, it’s been thrown into the forefront of my recovery. I know, deep down inside, that I do not have a healthy relationship with exercise. When I think about it, I get that same feeling in the pit of my stomach that I get when I think about my relationship with alcohol or my relationship with food. I know it is disordered.

To throw in an additional factor (which probably makes sense to everyone else), I have a torn tendon in my foot. I felt it hurting a few months ago, but could not rest. The thought of not engaging in physical activity, even if its going to the store and walking around, makes me incredibly anxious. I’m sitting here thinking about how the next few months will play out… I’ll either be in a cast or I’ll be having surgery, then be in a cast.. And I can’t bear it. I start to sweat, my anxiety increases, and I get irritable. As soon as I think about the possibility of not being able to exercise, I want to go out for a run.

And thus, although it has been so so difficult, my last session ended with me giving my dietitian a compliment. I told her that, a year ago, when I began to see her, I thought it’d be just like every other treatment in my recovery. I thought it’d be a cake walk. I’d been in treatment since the end of my freshman year in college and I had never had difficult discussions about how I really feel about my body, or about how amazing it makes me feel to engage in eating disordered behaviors. I, in 4-5 years of “recovery” never really found out what “being in recovery” even means. But.. seeing her has been so trying that I can’t even begin to explain it. I have been pushed far beyond what is comfortable.

It’s not easy, and it surely keeps my head spinning. I lay in bed at night, looking back on what my life was. I couldn’t function. I honestly couldn’t tell you who my professors were or where I had class my freshman year, because my days were spent in the gym and not in class. I looked my doctor in the eyes, she told me I had months to live if I didn’t commit to recovery, and I went home and purged. I kept a tally of the number of times I purged in a week next to the toilet so that I didn’t have to think when I saw my “treatment team” the next week and they asked me.

My moments with Ed all blurred together and I had a life with Ed. I didn’t think that I was one of those people. But I was. And I still am.

For the first time ever in my life, I have begun to figure out who I am outside of Ed. Fully.

Recovery seems closer to me than the eating disorder. Really exciting, but very scary.

After looking back, I decided that posting my Goodbye letter to Ed so that new readers can read where I’m at in my recovery is probably a good idea. The letter gives a good idea of not just where I am now in my journey, but where I’ve been. Some history.

It also updates those who read my old blog as to where I am now, so that you’ll be ready to read my next post which is how things have been going since the letter. It also nicely ties in my eating disorder and sobriety.

As a reminder:

My dietitian asked me to write a goodbye letter to my eating disorder. I’ve known Ed (“eating disorder”) intimately for almost my whole life. When I was little, I overate purposely because I believed it would stop me from being abused. In the naiive mind of a child, I thought that if I was fat, no one would fine me attractive, and they’d just leave me alone. In other words, I overate to hide.

When college came, I snapped and went in the other direction. My life felt out of control. I needed control. I felt better about myself, felt on top of the world with every calorie I cut out and every pound I dropped. I ran on the treadmill until I hit the ground–working out over four hours a day. I exercised until I was too tired to think anymore–too tired to hurt anymore.

I was eventually hospitalized involuntarily, and that is when my journey of recovery began. It’s been a long four years, and I have gotten better, relapsed, gotten even better, and then relapsed even more. It’s been up and down and sometimes, unfortunately, my life has been touch and go. But four years later, I am as far along as I have ever been.

Seeking to help me find a mental disconnect, to help me to realize that I do not need to use food to control my life and to calm my anxiety, my dietitian asked me to write a goodbye letter to my eating disorder.

As an fyi, for those that know me as Allison, I’m in the process of changing my name (well, my middle name). I generally go by my new middle name, Alex.  Want to learn more about why? Visit my gender blog–The link is in my blogroll to the right.

Here it is:

Dear Ed,

As I’m sitting down to write this letter, I’m realizing that I have a lot of mixed feelings. Over the years, you have served an enormous and significant purpose for me, one that has quite possibly kept me going and hanging on, and one that has helped me question my relationship with drugs and alcohol, as well as my respect for myself and for life in general. However, while you have allowed me to do many positive things with my life by distracting me from the chaos, you have also wreaked havoc in other areas of my life. I am extremely intelligent, but can no longer function at 100% because my time and energy is being devoted to obsessing about food, calories, weight, and body image. At any given moment, I am either judging myself for the previous meal, running a tally of input/output in my head or deciding which food rules to follow at the next meal. I have restricted, binged, purged using laxatives, diuretics, and exercise. I have run myself into the ground until I have collapsed. I have put you first when you did not deserve to come first. Now, I will come first. Ed—you served your purpose, you helped me with what I needed help with, but I no longer need your help to control my life. Your empty promises gave me hope, which I desperately needed at the time. However, now I have real, worthwhile promises—promise of a better life, of a better me.

As a child, I learned to look to you to shove down my feelings, to numb my pain. I used you as a way to keep going. I overate to hide. I thought that if I hung on to you, I could eat so much that creepy old men wouldn’t like me any more. I hung on to you when I felt lonely and worthless. Children dealing with trauma need these ways to escape, to keep faith in their life. But I am not a child anymore.

In college, I started to look to you for hope and self-confidence. I was at a really desperate place in my life, and felt completely alone and isolated. With every pants size that dropped, I felt better about myself. For every meal I skipped, every calorie I cut out, I found control. A high. Every mile I ran like a hamster in a hamster wheel made me more and more numb. Erased the pain, calmed me down.

With that high, however, you helped me to let go of alcohol and drugs. Being distracted from the daily pains of life and being so caught up in calories had a plus side. Obviously, with the calories went alcohol (it obviously has calories). This gave me time to go to AA and reevaluate my decisions and my life. I realized why I was drinking and stopped myself before I lost even more…

Unfortunately, however, I became addicted to and dependent on you. No matter how much I tried, no matter how much I curled up in a ball and cried, I could not let go of you. No matter how much I hated the metallic taste of blood and bile, or the way I got dizzy upon standing, I still fell for the lies you told me. I still thought I needed you. You were my crutch. But just like with a crutch used for any injury, there is a time to let go. If someone is in pain, a crutch will help them while they heal and get stronger. But if it is used for too long, muscles atrophy and the person is actually weaker. You were my crutch. You helped me get stronger, but now it is time to let go.

I remember sitting with my friend’s mom in a diner. She wanted to ask me about my food intake and realized things were going poorly. I ordered a salad; she made me get a tuna steak on it to “get some protein in me.”  I remember sitting there in the diner staring at a salad–lettuce and vegetables. I remember starting to cry because I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t eat it.

I remember walking into my bathroom in my dorm. Leaning over the toilet to purge. Over and over and over. I stood up, and put another mark on the tally on my wall—my doctor always asked me how may times I had purged in the past week, and I started to lose count because it was so often. It was easier to just keep a tally.

I remember sitting in my doctor’s office when she told me I would die within a few months if I didn’t make some changes. That I would be hospitalized soon if I didn’t “listen.” I looked down on my labs and saw a series of “L’s” meaning “Low.” Hypokalemic, Hyponatremic, Hypoglycemic, Anemic. My body slowly wasting away.

I remember fainting while exercising, my heart rate irregular and tachycardic. Someone called 911. It was that night that I, at the age of 18, was diagnosed with Atrial Flutter, and later Atrial Fibrillation. I remember laying in the hospital bed, hooked up to wires and with an uncomfortable oxygen tube in my nose. My heart rate now low after cardioversion, what they called “rebound bradycardia.” Ticking away at a meek 49 beats per minute, my blood pressure now 90/60, where it remains to this day. I remember my cardiologist coming in, after driving two hours from New York City to tell me that I needed to go see a surgeon in Hartford.

Let me give you some basic info, Ed. Look up Atrial Fibrillation online. It’ll tell you that the risk increases with age, and that up to 10% of people over the age of eighty have AFib. 80. I was eighteen. Laying in a bed for cardiac catherization, while the man in the room next to me was coding. All because I decided that being thin, purging, and controlling my life was more important to me than I was as a person. All because I believed the lies you told me, the false hope you provided me.

I remember being held in the infirmary at school for weeks on end. The first face I saw in the morning was my therapist, bringing me an Ensure Milkshake at 7 AM. Yes, Ensure mixed with ice cream. After that hour, I was with you, so it was probably the most calories I had all day.

I remember the awkward silence when my friends Aunt didn’t know she was on speaker phone and exclaimed: “How’s Allison? She eating yet?”

I remember being diagnosed with Celiac Disease, which is triggered by a stressful event—virus, extreme stress, surgery, etc. I remember zoning out as I got the news in an appointment with my dietitian—hearing some words, but not all of them. Only thinking “Great. Another thing to deal with.” I remember her saying that it was manageable, but that it had happened in other predisposed patients of hers during the course of their eating disorder, an extreme stress on the body.

Now, I remember you every morning, when I take my list of medications. Drugs that I will now take for the rest of my life, because I have known you so intimately. Two for low blood pressure, drugs to decrease stomach contractions for Celiacs.

These are my moments with Ed.

All of these moments have given me perspective in life. They’ve allowed me to help and touch so many people, to pull them from your grip and give them the reality—the reality that I have now realized. That they, along with myself, have hope. That life does not have to be that way. That no one, including myself, should waste their valuable time and energy obsessing about food and calories all day. That they are worth more than that; That I am worth more than that.

I am an amazing individual. I have cared more in my short time on this Earth than many do in a lifetime. I was only fourteen when I was told by someone that I inspire them to be a better person. I have known more pain and more heartache than many do, but I have stood up every time I was knocked down. I am a good friend and a good girlfriend. I am intelligent, I am worthwhile. I know that I will make a difference on this planet, that my existence on this planet is meaningful.

I met a person who helped me realize all of this while I was helping her to do the same. Fortunately, every day she helps me to realize more and more–to have lightbulb after lightbulb. On good days, I look in the mirror and I like myself. The positive voices in my head drown you out, and you become a quiet murmur in the back of my head. Even in desperate moments, I realize that I have the support I need, and I do not need to go back to you any longer. Some days, when it’s really bad, you seem tempting—the lure of that power and control, the numbing silence after purging or running until you collapse. Slowly but surely, as I become empowered, however, you are losing your power.

Finally, I am learning to own my life. With the help of my therapist, I have learned an essential key to life—when I take away a secret, I take away that secret’s power. If I am not ashamed of my battle with an eating disorder, or with cutting, or with alcohol and drugs, these things have no power over me. I can talk about them and not be anxious. As I own my life and my history with you, you lose even more of your power. Every time I food journal, every time I tell my story, your grasp on me loosens more and more.

So, Ed, it is time to call it quits. We’ve had a long history, but sometimes, it’s better when people part ways. I am a better person for having known you, and I would not take my experience back for anything. However, this is the end of our friendship. I no longer want to know you intimately or hear your goals for me. I will not follow your rules; I do not need you to coach me along in my journey.

Sincerely,

Alex

Stay tuned for life since the letter, where I left off with my old blog…