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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.

 

Hello everyone! Sorry it has been so long. My life has been crazy! I get up first thing in the day and I’m busy until late at night. In addition to doing school work, I have numerous jobs that are keeping me busy, in addition to training for my 98-mile walk.

Oh, and my partner and I also signed up for AIDS/Lifecycle, a 545-mile bike ride from San Fran to L.A. to raise money for the LA Gay and Lesbian Center, which provides treatment to AIDS patients in the area, regardless of the ability to pay for care.

In terms of food stuff, things are still going relatively well. Exercise isn’t as much of an issue as I thought it’d be. It’s crazy that I actually have so many “corny” moments when I’m out on my 20 mile walks. I start to appreciate my body and what it can do for me, want to fuel it for keeping me going for so long.

The only thing that’s been kind of rough is that being so busy has made me kind of anxious here and there! It’s hard to take time out for myself, and when I don’t, the urge to purge gets really terrible. When I let my anxiety build up, as soon as I eat, it comes back. It’s something I’ve been trying to work on. I’m trying to make my down time for purely relaxing–no answering work-related e-mails on my blackberry, no reading journal articles while I relax. Just pure down time! When I can let go of all of the work stuff, it’s actually pretty fun too. My partner and I spent time playing the pool yesterday and even when bowling last Friday. I had a great time and felt so much better afterwards!

It’s still been difficult to kind of work out who I am in this process too. So much of the food stuff is natural now. It’s natural for me to say negative things about myself and my body, natural for me to want to restrict, binge, or purge when I get upset. Natural to count calories and fat and choose the lower-calorie option all the time. Making a conscious effort to break these habits is very difficult, but proves to be so worthwhile when I do so.

I’ve had a couple of really solid appointments lately, with both my dietitian and my therapist. Things are starting to slowly fall into place. However, there’s a big, scary thought boiling on the backburner when things start to go well…

Who am I without all of this? Who am I in general?

I’ve had a set of goals–a dream, a passion, a reason for living–since I was only five. I know that I was meant to go into medicine, and that I was meant to help people. That is what I was born to do.

But outside of that, who am I? In some ways, I feel like life since the eating disorder crashed has been a big blur. Clinically, actually, I’ve probably had an eating disorder since I was about six. But when things escalated and crashed right before my freshman year of college, and I began the quick descent into anorexia and bulimia, life just went all into one big blur.

My dietitian and I have spent a lot of time talking about what things used to be like and where I am now. At first, I just didn’t want to talk about it. But, like usual, I eventually realized she was right. Minimizing the past has allowed to be okay with where I am now.  We laugh about it, and she brings up every past behavior (sometimes just to be an ass and prove her point). Restricting? Bingeing? Purging? Chewing/Spitting? Laxatives? Diuretics? Exercise Addiction? Keeping the room cold?
All of it has made me realize how much letting go is similar to grieving, even if you’re letting go of something so painful and terrible.

My sessions, I’m finding lately, have been a time of ultimate release. I let go. I open up, I use my voice, and I speak. I also feel a lot of pain and think more than is comfortable.

I finally trying to be honest with myself and say all of the things that I’ve been so afraid to admit…

The common phrase I’ve heard countless fellow Ed patients utter–“I just want my life back, I just want to be me again,” has a whole new meaning these days.

Who am I without my eating disorder?

Honestly, I’m not sure I know. It’s become such a huge part of my life. Some of it is just instinct now–my mind naturally spinning numbers, always looking for the room to be a little colder than comfortable, constantly moving, trying to sway the caloric balance in “my favor.”

I’m looking forward to figuring it out. Deep down, I know I’m still me. Allison, the alcoholic, anoretic, bulimic child is becoming Alex–the sober, recovering adult. With freedom actually in the distance–I can almost see it–I can’t help but be afraid. Everything that happens from here on out is new. A new experience with new feelings. Seen under a different light, one that is sober, letting go of numbers, and so much wiser.

After writing my goodbye letter to Ed (previous entry), thinks food-wise got a little off. I couldn’t really determine why. After all, I had just wrote a strong letter denouncing my eating disorder and saying that I didn’t need it anymore.

Finally, after a lot of thinking (and crying), I realized that it was most likely because I didn’t have the support I needed after writing. I usually see my therapist and dietitian biweekly, and I hadn’t/haven’t seen any of them in over a month! Things have been very tight with money (mostly due to errors made by stupid companies!–how frustrating!).

I’m realizing that I’m getting extremely discouraged because of how things are going, and cannot wait to see my therapist next week. She doesn’t really know about anything–gender stuff, food stuff, my sobriety…

It’ll be good to get some of this off my chest. However, just thinking about it, I’m getting overwhelmed. I have so much to update her about, how can I ever fit it all into 50 minutes?!?

Until I get to see my dietitian again, I’m going to try to set some solid goals for myself. I would like to try to start eating more mindfully, pausing at intervals to determine how I’m feeling. I’d also like to make a more concerted effort to food journal for the majority of meals, and to ask myself what I’m really in the mood for. On that same note, I’d like to start listening to my cravings and what I am in the mood for! I’m realizing that ignoring how I’m feeling emotionally just leads to poor decisions later. Finally, I’d like to try to slow down and take a step back when I start to feel overwhelmed/stressed. Instead of restricting or bingeing, I’d like to step back and ask myself “Why are you feeling like you need to?”

I’m feeling really overwhelmed without the professional support from my therapist and dietitian, but I think these are some great steps to take in the meantime.

More exciting news: I’m going on vacation this weekend. My partner and I are heading to Vegas, and stopping at a Nature Conservancy walk on the way. We’re also hitting up a baseball game tomorrow night. As if that wasn’t enough, I’ll also be meeting her mom for the first time! It should be a jam packed weekend.

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…