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Prior to 2011 National Eating Disorders Awareness Week had a different meaning in my life. It was one week out of the year when I more publicly attempted to help others understand the struggle I was facing, with the hidden hope that someone would rescue me from the hell that was my eating disorder. It was one week out of the year when I told myself, “This is when your recovery will begin,” only to learn that my proceeding choices would keep me so tightly wrapped in my eating disorder that any attempt to get well would end in tears and frustration.

For many years I worked toward recovery. I took two steps forward, five steps backward, three forward, four backward. I wanted to know life without my eating disorder, but I had a fear so deep that I simply would not fully let go. I didn’t know who I would be without it. I didn’t know how I would survive without it. I was convinced it was who I was and thought that if I didn’t talk about my eating disorder, I couldn’t talk at all. It was an all-consuming, yet (to me) a necessary, evil.

During my 18-year battle, I read book after book, article after article, about eating disorders. I wrote stories, poetry, blog posts, newspaper articles, etc. because I could not think for very long about anything else. I did my best to fill people in about what these disorders were; more so during NEDAwareness Week. Much like I’d seen people advocating for other diseases they were diagnosed with, I wanted to advocate for those with eating disorders. I didn’t know then that the eating disorder used this as a way of making me focus an even greater portion of my life on it.

By late 2011 I’d had enough. I was 29 years old, engaged to be married, beginning a career as a professional counselor, and moving away from home. I was ready to begin really living my life. This feeling of being “done” with my eating disorder was solidified that November when I faced the loss of my best friend to the same disorder. I felt done, but I was also grieving…not the typical timing for recovery to take off.

It was, however, the most beautiful sorrow I would ever experience. With this loss I was saved. I took a stand for Meredith and thrust myself full-force into recovery. I stopped using behaviors almost immediately and it wasn’t just because I wanted to. I also had this nudge inside of me to get well because it would have been what my best friend would have wanted…I know it without a shadow of a doubt. She told me in her own way many times while she was here.Butterfly 1

Following that, the definition of eating disorders to me changed within a matter of months. My recovery was more solid than I ever thought possible and for the next six months or so, I didn’t want to read a book about eating disorders, talk about them, educate others about them. I simply wanted nothing to do with them. I wanted to immerse myself in wedding planning and building my career. But mid-2012 I decided to begin working with clients with eating disorders at the practice where I still work. I advertised subtly at first and allowed myself to explore other niche options until I felt ready to more effectively work with these disorders. One year later that feeling arrived. I began working on certification as an Eating Disorders Specialist and advertising more aggressively. After all, I knew more about these disorders than many practitioners. I’m still working on this certification and found it necessary for me in order to assure I was learning about eating disorders as a professional too. I’m now able to see eating disorders from both sides, furthering my ability to work with my clients.

Today ends the first NEDAwareness Week since my decision to work toward certification and the meaning of this week has shifted from a hidden desire for someone to rescue me to a true desire to assist others on their journey toward recovery. I want to help my clients and the public realize that among the many misconceptions about eating disorders is that recovery is not possible. BUT IT IS! I’m living proof! Many others are living proof!

If I have a message to those still struggling, it is this: Healing feels uncomfortable, even painful, at times. This feeling can push you further into the eating disorder because there is a doubt that it will ever get better; that this too will in fact pass. Beginning to eat or beginning to eat without using compensatory behaviors, or beginning to control your eating can bring you to tears. It can stop you from trusting your treatment team, from wanting to continue trying or from thinking you’re capable. You may lie to others because it’s what you think they want to hear. Letting go of ED can feel like you’re letting go of yourself – out of control.

IT DOES GET BETTER. THIS TOO DOES PASS. RECOVERY IS HARD, BUT WORTH IT. THE FEELINGS WILL PASS. YOU CAN DO THIS. YOU DESERVE TO LIVE YOUR LIFE – NOT ED.

Accept and Let Go

Last week I read an article on things to let go of before the New Year begins. I was so moved that I immediately printed out several copies to share with clients I was seeing December 30th; as the article, in a sense, summed up many of the things I encourage my clients, as well as myself, to do on a regular basis. Since then, I’ve thought a lot about what it means to “let go”, and that for many of us the first thing we can ask when we hear those words is “how?”

IMAG0680Simply put, letting go means no longer allowing things to impact us. I don’t believe there is a quick way for any of us to let go of things that are holding us back or creating uncomfortable emotions in our lives. In fact, it can be quite complex; which is why for many who seek counseling, the process isn’t over within a few sessions. I do believe, however, that the first steps in letting go are being able to acknowledge and accept that there is something affecting us in a way that is unpleasant.

To acknowledge and accept is to recognize and then to believe something as valid. In session, I often explain this concept using the example of my water bottle sitting on the table, stating “The water bottle is on the table. That’s it. It just is. We know this because we can see it sitting there.” However, if we enter into a judging or emotional mindset we can begin to create questions about the water bottle and our relationship to it, such as “It’s still completely full so I obviously have not drank enough water today. I’m so mad at myself.” In doing this, we’ve shifted from acceptance to judgment, and may then find ourselves in a place of blame or self-sabotage.

Acceptance isn’t an easy task, but it’s possible. One reason is because we can take a look at the evidence around us that suggests something is true, and then convince ourselves that it’s false or not completely true by putting judgment and emotion into the picture as stated above. Or we can judge ourselves based on what we see before us. This is where we can fall apart in our daily lives; we’ve created something that may not actually be there, and is based on perception and feeling, rather than on evidence and truth.

Another important aspect to mention with regard to acceptance is that it does NOT mean we like something or are even okay with something. I can’t stress this enough. If we’re struggling with an eating disorder, for instance, we may not like that we have an eating disorder, but we can accept that we do based on the evidence that supports this as true. It’s only after we’re able to accept, that we can then determine if we need/want to make changes in our lives. For example, “I have an eating disorder (acceptance). The eating disorder is creating problems in my life (acceptance again).” We can then dissect this further to determine what those problems are, and what we want to do to change/improve them.

This is important in order to begin letting go. To let go we must first acknowledge and accept that something is affecting us in a way that’s unhelpful, and make a choice to not allow it to affect us further. We make changes in our thinking, feeling, and behaviors. If we don’t want to continue being affected by something, we must accept it, and choose not to dwell on it continually or use it to manipulate ourselves. We can allow thoughts to slide through our minds (like an egg in a Teflon pan) and not grab hold of them. Another way is by acknowledging ineffective thoughts and learning to respond differently/talk back to them (notice that in this response there is also a healthy choice being made):

Ineffective thought: “You must lose more weight.”

Response: “I have an eating disorder. I no longer want to be controlled by it and am choosing health over sickness.”

It’s at this point we find ourselves more able to let go…

If we live our lives in denial or continually allow things of the past to control our lives, we can lose so much of our today. In starting this New Year, may we each learn to accept and let go of the things that are proving to impact us negatively and are causing us to be less than we were created to be.

candleThe hustle and bustle of the holiday season is here and many of us will soon finish our shopping, attend seasonal events, or visit with family and friends before awaking Christmas morning, sitting around the tree in pajamas, sipping coffee and enjoying the blessings we have received.

But for some, this time of the year is more difficult than enjoyable. It may be a time when we remember a loved one who is no longer with us or we struggle to be around the various foods that will be before us. It could be a time when we realize how last year’s Christmas was bigger and better because we recently lost a job and could barely afford to purchase more than a candy cane for someone’s stocking. Or perhaps just being around family is awkward or stressful. Whatever the reason, the holidays can be challenging.

So what can we do to help ourselves get through a time of year intended to be merry and joyful? I’ve compiled some suggestions based on a mix of my personal experience, as well as my knowledge as a counselor. However, I realize that not everyone can find the peace they are seeking this holiday. To help, I encourage all of us to:

1. Stay in the present moment and try not to dwell on what has happened in the previous days/years. This helps us to not miss out on the experiences that are right before us; the memories that are creating themselves today.

2. Focus on the positive aspects of your life. Even when we can’t or don’t want to see them, we all have positives in our lives and this is a great time of year to remind ourselves of the things that have helped us feel good throughout the past 12 months.

3. Call a family member who lives far away and is unable to directly share the holidays with you. Calling my aunts, uncles, cousins or grandmother who all live in Rhode Island gives me a feeling of warmth and love. The phone call may be short, but it reminds me that there are many more people in this world who care about me and about whom I care.

4. Reach out to someone who may not have anyone at all. Perhaps you can stop by a local nursing home and provide Christmas cheer to a man or woman who is lonely or buy a cup of coffee or a muffin for a homeless person you see on the street everyday on your way to the office. Evidence shows that helping others can increase/renew our sense of purpose and feeling of hope.

5. Laugh. Laughter truly is one of the greatest medicines and the best part is that it’s FREE!!! Who doesn’t enjoy a good chuckle now and then? If you’re alone this holiday, there are many websites that have funny videos posted, so why not Google such videos and give yourself a chance to laugh out loud.

6. Practice deep breathing. This is probably the number one skill I teach to my clients, no matter what their age, because it works. When we’re experiencing tough emotions, such as anxiety, taking deep breaths in through our nose and out through our mouth, slowly, can produce a calming effect and is actually proven to slow the heart rate.

7. Listen to your favorite music, even if it’s not holiday related. Music, like laughter, is shown to help increase mood. When you start to stress or the noise of all the kids in your family starts to bring up negative emotions for you, pop in your earbuds and turn on your MP3 player. If you don’t have a MP3 player, head to a quiet part of the house, turn on a TV or a radio and allow yourself to relax.

8. Give yourself grace and know that it WILL be Okay. I’m thinking specifically of those who struggle with food concerns and how much anxiety can be present for those individuals during this time of year. Know that it’s normal and okay to take part in holiday meals and that if we pace ourselves, while practicing some of the above skills, we will get through.

9. Watch a holiday movie. Whenever I see that “Elf” is playing on TV, I instantly feel better. Ironically, the first time I saw this movie I was in a very difficult place in my life. However, it’s a movie that is hilarious and brings to me positive, happy feelings and truly gets me into the spirit of the holiday. There are others that are just as good, such as the old Charlie Brown movies. Whatever you choose, let yourself enjoy it!

10. Pray or talk about your feelings with someone you trust. Coping with the challenges of the season is in no way easy and I’m a believer in prayer and in talking about what’s going on. In those moments when I truly don’t know what to do, I bow my head and say, “God, I need you. Give me strength to get through.” I’ll also quote Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God,” which reminds me that I don’t have to know all of the answers to why things are the way they are and I don’t have to figure it all out on my own. He is there to guide me and to provide that which I cannot provide myself. On another note, if you are having trouble handling a family member, go to that person and gently express your concerns. I use a structure that I also teach my clients: “When you (fill in the blank), I feel (fill in the blank) because (fill in the blank). I need (fill in the blank).” An example? “When you crack jokes about me being unemployed, I feel angry because I worked very hard. I need support and compassion as I try to find another job.” Make sense?

Some additional things we can do to improve our holiday experiences include cooking, baking, crafting, playing in the snow, taking winter/holiday photos.  Maybe you’ll be able to practice at least one of the above and certainly feel free to let me know how you did.

With that I’ll say, try to have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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