Sunday, May 18, 2008

Relationships: Singing the Truth

As many women who struggle with ED do, I fail to hear the sweetness of my own song because I am too busy listening to the singing of others. Rather than searching for the essence of who I am and expressing it in my own unique voice, I have allowed others to define how I should be, what I should look like, what I should do, what I should want. Unable to hear my own inner voice I feel a vague but ever present sense of alienation that is hard to bear. Longing for a sense of inner connectedness and finding the estrangement from my true self intolerable, I fill my mind with thoughts of food and eat the way I live, as if in a trance, not conscious of what I truly want.

Because I feel so disconnected from myself, I cling desperately to my relationship with others, hoping to get the attention, love and support I'm not able to give myself. Cautious of anything that might be disruptive, I'm quick to discard my own ideas and values whenever conflict arises. And once again, I turn to food to distract myself from speaking my truth, from daring to sing out loud.

To find my inner voice, I must recognize my need for self-nurturing, for a period set aside for quiet reflection. By learning how to take time out from my relationship with others and sit quietly with my own thoughts and feelings, my values, my rhythms, I can hear the beauty of my song.

To be in a relationship with others in a way that nourishes rather than drains me, I must be able to listen to others without losing my own voice. I must maintain a balance between my need to be in relationships with others and my need to remain true to myself. I must remain aware of my inner thoughts and feelings even while interacting with others. To do this, I need to change the questions I ask myself. Instead of asking questions like: what will she think if I do that? How will he react if I say that? What do they think about my being here? I need to ask myself questions like: How do I feel about what she just said? What's my reaction to what he just did? What's it like for me to be here with them?

The feeling of community, of being connected, of belonging, is an important part of every woman's sense of identity and self worth. Striving to create nurturing, supportive relationships is an important aspect of a woman's life. In an attempt to create harmony and connectedness, however, I have assumed total responsibility for my relationships, for making them happen, fixing what's wrong, making everything all right. It became me who has done all the comprising, me who sacrifices what I want to keep things agreeable, me who sings someone else's tune to keep the peace.

I found myself surrounded by others who don't share equally in the responsibility for nurturing a relationship. I have supported others who haven't supported me in return. People who criticize everything I do and try to convince me that I'm out of tune whenever I sing a song they don't want to hear. Discouraged, I stopped singing. Instead, I turned to food for pleasure and my relationship with food became the most important relationship in my life.

In order to recover, I must realize the beauty of my song and refuse to sacrifice it, even when feeling uncomfortable or pressured to do so. I must refuse to participate in relationships with those who don't value my voice. I must recognize that it is MY song, the truthful expression of who I am.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Feelings: Gifts From the Heart

I am afraid of my feelings. I am afraid that if I allow myself to feel my loneliness it will last forever, that if I fully experience my anger I will do hurtful, destructive things. I have learned to mistrust my body and discount my body's most intimate way of communicating - the language of emotions. To keep a safe distance from my body and feelings, I distract myself with activities of all kinds and with constant thoughts of food. Anything but letting myself feel.

It is only when I allow myself to fully experience my feelings that I will be able to receive the precious gifts they have to offer.

Anger can bring clarity and strength. When I recognize what ticks me off and why I can experience the relief that such clarity can bring. A good relationship with my angry feelings can give me the determination to forge ahead, the strength of "stand my own ground", the energy and focus to let the world around me know what is and is not okay.

By embracing my fears, I can discover what I really need to feel safe.

Sadness offers the gift of healing and cleansing when I allow myself to cry. It teaches me compassion for myself. Sometimes, situations that bring up a lot of sadness can provide me with the opportunity to heal past hurts and cry those "little girl" tears that weren't safe to cry "back then".

Jealousy can make me aware of what I want for myself, what I truly desire.

So, when a feeling comes knocking on my door, I need to stop pretending that nobody's home. I need to invite her in. Ask her, "What brings you here?" Get to know her. Thank her. Treat her with honor and respect. Because she is truly my friend and is there to help.

Children seem to be more adept to letting their feelings flow through them. They've not yet learned to be afraid of themselves, to be untrusting of their bodies and to be obsessed with trying to make a good impression. Their emotional lives are unblocked.

To help me cope with my feelings I learned to block them out. Rather than pay attention to my feelings, rather than letting myself feel, I think about food and eating. After years of doing this, my awareness of my feelings got pushed so far back behind my obsession that I've lost touch. I don't recognize them, can't identify them or give them names. I can't communicate with them, can't make contact, can't cope. I'm not even aware of them until they get so intense that they consume me. It's not the feelings themselves that cause ED. It's my attempt not to feel the feelings.

An essential part of recovering from ED requires dropping my judgements about feelings, developing an understanding that feels are neither "good" nor "bad". There are no right or wrong feelings. Feelings just are. They only "negative" feelings are the one that I can't accept in myself.

My feelings were dismissed when I was younger. I was scolded for crying for "no reason at all", or told to stop crying because I'd cried long enough. I never got a chance to reach the level of understanding that these feelings were trying to tell and teach me.

When I stop seeing my feelings as the enemy, something that just gets in the way of doing what I think I should be doing, I can establish a different kind of relationship with them. As I make friends with my feelings, I can discover that they can be allies and guides in this journey I call life. They can lead me to a place of deep understanding about who I really am and what I truly want, a place I might not otherwise be able to reach.

In order to recover from ED, I first need to increase my awareness of my feelings so that I can sense their presence inside of me. I need to learn about the different sensations I might experience and pay attention to where in my body I feel them. This will help me distinguish one feeling from another.

Next, I need to learn to accept my feelings, understanding there is no right way or wrong to feel. Although some feelings may be more pleasant or seem more socially acceptable than others, no feeling is superior to any other. Different feelings bring different experiences into our lives and offer different lessons.

Finally, I need to express my feelings in a clear, direct manner. This means if I'm sad, cry. If I'm angry, talk about my anger with the person I'm angry at. If I'm lonely, call a friend. Sometimes, I may not need to do anything at all but just be with the feeling until it passes. The point is that how I respond needs to fit with how I am feeling, so that I am not responding to each emotion with the same behavior: sad? eat. angry? eat. lonely? eat.

My feelings don't have to make sense, don't have to be liked, but, simply, I have to accept them. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Hunger As a Metaphor

My eating is used to escape from uncomfortable feelings. If I am having a difficult time coping with confusing or conflicting feelings, I discovered that I can plunge into binging large quantities of food. I can't breathe freely with a too-full belly and if I can't breathe freely, I can't experience my feelings.

Food serves as a constant companion when I feel a pervasive sense of loneliness and emptiness. Eating becomes something to do, a way of filling up the empty space in my life by creating a sense of fullness in my stomach. 

We all use food to one degree or another for reasons other than physical nutrition. It only becomes a problem with it becomes the only thing we ever do to cope.

In order for me to recover from my ED, I need to discover the deeper meaning of my hunger, so that I can recognize that my desire to eat compulsively may be speaking to me about my greatest hearts desire that remains unfulfilled; my tendency to stuff myself may be an attempt to stuff down "unacceptable" or "troublesome" feelings; my need to eat continually may be a reflection of the constant emptiness I experience in my life.

Addiction to Eating

My addiction to eating removes me from realities I find intolerable. It provides an escape route away from the conflicts and dilemmas I find unsolvable. When I can't bear to be in my own skin, in my own body, where I experience the pain of being human, my addiction can throw me into a state of unconsciousness. When unconscious, I feel nothing, knowing nothing of my pains, confusion, struggles. Anyone who has experienced a binge knows the trance-like state it can induce where all other realities fade into the background, at least for as long as the binge lasts.

Unlike behaviors, emotions can't be controlled. My addictive process represents an effort to keep feelings and life itself under control. I am unable to let things be, unable to let things take their natural course. There's always some right way, some better way, some more perfect way that things can be.

I remove myself from the present, thrust my mind into the future and miss out on the life that could be unfolding before my eyes. I know, though, that only when I am in the here and now can I really get filled up and be "nourished" by life. If I am obsessing about yesterday or planning for tomorrow, I am unable to take in and receive whatever is in front of me that be "nourishing": a smile from my daughter, a compliment from a friend, the scent of a flower, a favorite tune, a brilliant sunset. The emptiness grows.

I am learning that I am actually starving on an emotional and spiritual level. My longing for food is a longing for emotional and spiritual nourishment. A longing for the "Good Mother" who nourishes me, soothes me and loves and accepts me just the way I am. This is frequently what I am searching for as I stand in front of the pantry. But no matter how much cookie dough or how many brownies I eat, I can not fulfill this longing because I am filling my stomach, not my heart or my spirit. This "food" I require is not material food.

So, what is the name of my hunger? I'm hungry for acceptance - to be loved just the way I am. I needed to identify it so I can remember it and keep it in the forefront of my mind, moment to moment. I must remember what it is I am truly hungry for every time I slip or stumble into addictive patterns and reach for a food that can not feed my real hunger - something to soothe my aching heart or broken spirit.

Food Is Not the Issue

It's important to recognize that food is not the problem itself. If I'm obsessing about food, fat and dieting, what I'm doing is distracting myself from the real issues I struggle with in my life. As horrible as feeling fat is, as painful as it is to struggle with feeling fat, focusing on feeling fat gives me something tangible to troubled feelings that feel unresolvable.'s an illusion.

I often experience "fat attacks". They come on rather suddenly and are intense. They occur when I all of a sudden feel extremely fat, as though I've gained 20 pounds overnight. I know, rationally, that I didn't, but it sure feels that way. When I have a fat attack, this is a signal that something else is going on that's upsetting me. It seems like the source of my misery, but it's only a reflection of something else that is troubling me. If there is something that I don't quite know how to handle comfortably, I begin to focus intensely on my fat and the original problem appears to fade into the background. As bad as it feels to see myself as fat, at least I know what the solution is: lose weight.

Coping with the "real problems" requires skills that I never properly learned and therefore resolving them seems like an impossible task. I am discovering how compulsively overeating helps to distract me from the issues in my life that overwhelm me, that I haven't yet learned how to deal with effectively. And I have been discovering how effectively it distracts me, moment to moment, from the fear of facing things head on, from the pain of past hurts. No wonder it can be so addictive!

The relief, however, is temporary. It doesn't take the stress away, it only distracts me. Although what I'm doing with food distracts me from my sadness, anger or fear, it doesn't help to resolve the problems. In fact, it makes them worse. The stress worsens, the ED increases and the real issues never do get resolved.

Life with ED

Many women with ED are believed to be terribly difficult and resistant. The truth is, they're some of the brightest, most talented, most creative people you've ever met. So what happened? Where do these ED's come from? Hopefully, my story will help you to understand...

I do not perceive myself as mentioned above. I see myself as worthless and unattractive. I sought help at The Emily Program to find some answers to this obsession that's consuming my life.

I've always had a sense of not quite fitting in, of not quite seeing things the way others did, of being a "misfit". My family didn't want to deal with my ultra sensitivity to emotions. Since my survival as a child depended on my fitting into the family, I had to find a way to conceal who I really was. I had to hide from others and myself, because acknowledging my differences would've resulted in extreme distress - a sense of not belonging or fitting in - that would've been unbearable. 

And so began the process of disowning the woman inside of me. I accepted others' perceptions of reality and rejected my own by taking a position that something was wrong with my perception, that something was wrong with me. This was easy since my perceptions were not validated often. I stopped listening to my inner voice for guidance and started to follow the rules of others.

As I began to search for something to distract me from my discomfort, I began to feel the first stirrings of my obsession with food. An obsession with food created a new focus in my life. I could count calories or points and agonize over every pound rather than feel my deeper pain and fears. As I intensified my struggle with my body, my fear of being different and seeing things that others did not, and the feelings of loneliness that come with not quite fitting in, receded into the background. I perceived my body as the enemy (and still do, getting more and more validation for that from weight gain, miscarrying and comments about my weight from others).

Problems with food and fat, as painful as they could be, appeared to have a simple solution compared to the other problems in my life. As I became more deeply embroiled in this struggle with fat, foot and dieting, however, this "simple solution" became more and more elusive. I know what I need to do (lose more weight), but not I can't figure out how. And so, I have developed an image of myself as flawed and helpless. The society in which we live supports that I am indeed inadequate because I lack the willpower I need to control my body.

The gift of who I am (my beauty), has become buried beneath layers of self-doubt and self-loathing. My interpretations of what I perceive are distorted by my self-doubt and self-esteem. I'm too sensitive, I'm no longer attractive and I overreact...this is what I tell myself after conversations with family, friends or my husband. And I stuff my emotional distress with thoughts of food. 

I have continued through life with the assumption that there is something very wrong with me. After all, if I see something a certain way and no one else does, there must be something wrong with me. My struggle with food confirms that indeed, there is something wrong with me. This has become my focus, my obsession: if only I could fix this problem, then everything would be okay.

This rejection of my very being, however, eventually takes its toll. As the years go by, I'm plagued with an uneasy sense of emptiness. So I try to fill myself up by compulsively eating.

With my ED out of control and my self-esteem shattered, I've found my way to The Emily Program onto the road of recovery. A road of learning to leave behind old perceptions of myself that I have adopted from others and reclaiming my own inner authorities. A road of listening to the inner voice within me to give me guidance and support as I search for my true thoughts, feelings and desires. A road where I assert myself that I am not defective. A road of finding my own reality and understanding the deep wisdom of my personal story, from a place of knowing and believing that there is nothing wrong with me, that although I've been hurt, I'm not damaged goods. A road where I recognize that my ED doesn't define who I am - instead seeing this as a much needed protective mechanism I picked up along my journey through life - something I have learned to use to help me deal with the emotional distress of being different or feeling misunderstood, unaccepted or overwhelmed.

As I walk this road, at times I feel trapped, lost, frustrated and anxious, but I keep going, placing one foot in front of the other. It's a gradual step-by-step process that will one day call me believe that there is indeed, nothing wrong with me.

Eating In the Light of the Moon

My dietitian has given me homework. I am to read a book called Eating In the Light of the Moon. I have to admit, I didn't want to read it, though I can't identify why. As I have begun to read this, many things have been brought to light about the eating disorder I struggle with. Over the next few posts, I'd like to tell my story, living with ED (ED will be how I now refer to "eating disorder"). The author did such a good job putting my thoughts into words, that I will use many excerpts from the book itself, changed words here and there to reflect them as my own. Whether you think you have an ED, know someone with an ED or aren't at all familiar with ED's, I recommend following my posts and dialogue with me. ED's are very real and very common - the knowledge itself will be worth it.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

My Relationship with Food

In meeting with this new realization surrounding 27 going on 17, I can't help but wonder if I've been operating out of the 17 year old in my relationship with food.

It was at 16 that I was at my all-time worse - suicidal and deeply depressed. The ultimate feeling of being alone - my friends hated me, my family didn't understand me and the love of my life had just left me for another. The food helped to numb me. The weight really started to pack on when I attended college and the food multiplied into alcohol - the two together were the perfect mixture of "medication", especially when man after man would reject me, even after I had given more of myself to them than I am proud to admit to today.

Before having my daughter, Isabel, I lost 20 lbs and it surprisingly was pretty easy to do, with the help of Weight Watchers Online. After Isabel everything changed...I came last. (Did I ever TRULY come first???) Alcohol was no longer an option, as being a born-again Christian helped me make the decision...but also, my body just doesn't agree with alcohol like it used to and I can't find the night of fun worth the days following of recovery. So what was my

Being a stay-at-home mom is much harder than I ever thought. I love my daughter more than anything on this planet (besides my hubby, but it's a different kind of love), but new responsibilities and new meanings of "death of self" came with it. Being cooped up in a house with nothing much to do and rare adult interaction was a dangerous concoction for a person fighting depression, who processes things out-loud by discussing with others and is deemed as a "social butterfly". Food. My companion, my friend, my drug of choice. All attempts at losing weight failed and so came the feelings of being a failure. I was so confused...why was it so much easier to lose the weight before Izzy? And every time I put on my new seasonal clothing, I am reminded of my being a failure, since most of my wardrobe is too tight to wear.

I still feel I have more work to do in this area of my life, but I am slowly getting the answers. My current process much of this 17 year old mentality is rubbing off on my relationship with food? Is the self-control harder now, because I don't want to be "left out" of experiencing the food that so many others can do with no outward appearance consequences?

Friday, May 2, 2008

27 going on 17

Isn't it amazing that something said to you 10 years ago can shape who you are today and how you function as a person? Many times I've heard people reference therapy as a thing for "broken" people and people with "problems". While that can be true, I personally believe therapy is for everyone. When you think about the complexity of communication and all the things that need to go right in order for your message to be received as intended, it's no wonder we don't understand each other! :)

Though I'm currently 27 years old, my emotional being stopped growing at about 15-16 years old.

In the past two weeks, I've encountered a few scenarios where I was feeling "left out" (sounds childish doesn't it). It was through recent therapy that I was able to have one of the biggest breakthroughs of my life in understanding how and why I tick the way I do.

Growing up I was the youngest of 3 kids. My sister and brother were significantly older than me (5 & 8 years older). The two of them did and still do share the same friends and are best friends themselves. I was always the one "left out", picked on, called names, etc. I never felt like I fit in. I was always told by my mother (and siblings) that I was too sensitive and was a "drama queen" always making bigger deals out of things than they were, while my dad looked on with no words of encouragement or fighting for me. I'm often told (by my sister) how big of a brat I was. Was it a defense tactic on my part? The message to me was that who I was wasn't okay and that's why I was always left out. This carried over into my friends, who were ruthless when it came to ganging up on one person. And yes, that was usually me - the ganged up on one. Is there some reason why I've attracted these types of people to me? So, when I met my ex-fiancée in high school (a much older man), was it any doubt that I clung to him with full force, leaving my friends and family in the dust? Never mind that they all warned me about him. In the end, I left everyone for him, and in turn, he left me for another woman. Again, the message was, "Who you are is not okay - that is why I am leaving you."

Fast-forward 10 years to me now. I hate confrontation and couldn't figure out for the life of me why I was always so uncomfortable around my family. Why I would get anxious driving to see any of my family thinking, "What are we going to talk about, so it's not weird." Why I get so intimidated so easily by certain people. I've still been told to this day by my family, "Don't dwell on things", "You're so weird", etc. I STILL don't fit in. I was once told that when I get around my family, I'm a different person - my defenses go up and I'm always on guard. I thought they were crazy and imagining things, but now I see, they are right.

I've always felt alone, awkward, unsure of myself, intimidated, etc. And while I'm 10 years older now, that 16 year old girl is still very much functioning inside of me. Could this be why I strive for excellence and never give myself grace? Why I constantly stay busy and have to be apart of WHATEVER I'm "privileged" enough to be included in? Why I cling to any and all invites I get from others, even if I don't really want to do what's been asked?

I've believed for so long that I deserved to be left out and not included because I'm weird and "different" and that's not okay. I'M NOT OKAY. - The phrase brings tears to my eyes every time I think of it. I feel as though, very few people have taken the time to really get to know ME - they've all been quick to criticize, but not quick to love.

The only companion I had through it all was food. It comforted me; it was always there for me to cheer me up, etc. In the end, it's functioned as a literal and physical protective barrier for me. Is this why I get sudden urges that I need to lose the weight and lose it now? Because the more the "truck girl" comes out, the less the barrier is needed? Or is it the eating disorder talking?

So, now I get it. I understand my teenage-self. Anytime I feel that I'm being left out, it triggers all these emotions and stirs up hurt, disappointment, self-hatred, etc. within me. The feelings of not being enough, but being too much at the same time. The feelings that who I am is unlovable. The feelings that if I was anyone but myself, I just might be included.