Happiness

I have been thinking a lot about happiness and the difference between my happiness before versus during the eating disorder.  

Before, I was truly happy; it was an in the moment, beautiful kind of happiness. I would wake up each morning excited for a new day and I would go to bed content.  I ate intuitively, I moved intuitively, I did not wake up to self criticize and abuse myself. I noticed things: the green of the grass, the intensity of the rain, and the laughter of my family members. I craved learning and knowledge for the pure enjoyment of it; I read and wrote for fun.

I swam and ran and danced without a care in the world.  It was never with the intent to lose weight, but rather to move my body in a healthy and mindful way. I laughed until I cried, until my stomach hurt. Before the eating disorder I was present and I was truly alive.

During my eating disorder I had momentary highs but I also experienced my lowest of lows.  I was good at faking it, and I could sustain a happy facade for days on end before I would break.  I was constantly trying to convince myself that I was happy, and I nearly managed to do this. I no longer moved for fun. I moved to lose weight and to change my body.  I deprived myself of food so that I was constantly distracted and never fully present. I lost my sense of humor and soon, my will to laugh. I no longer woke up excited for the day: In fact, most mornings I woke up already prepared to go back to sleep.

The times that I felt joy were few and far between. Maybe when I glanced in the mirror and noticed my shrinking body or when I got a comment on my dropping weight. It was a false sense of happiness, it was not real nor was it sustainable. The joy wouldn’t last long and within a few minutes or hours it would vanish.  

This lifestyle was not fulfilling but it was addictive and it took incredibly hard work to break the cycle. Each day in recovery I am fighting against the cycle.  I am interrupting it because my primary reason for recovery is to get back my happiness.

Wake up and make a decision.

I am sick of trying to shrink myself just to please other people, just to be accepted.  I am tired of trying to achieve a perfectly flat stomach and an entirely unrealistic thigh gap.  I am realizing that this so called “goal” will destroy me, that it will keep me sick, that it will lead to an unfulfilling life.

I am sick of poor body image, of low confidence and self criticism.  I am tired of looking in the mirror and picking myself apart piece by piece.  I am realizing that I am enough as I was made naturally, and now who I became through starvation.

I am sick of baggy sweatshirts and long T shirts that cover the parts of my body that I want to hide.  I am tired of covering up to avoid judgment from others.  I am realizing that my body does not define my worth, that who I am as a person means so much more.

I am sick of resisting weight restoration and fighting against my body’s natural inclination to return to a healthy weight.  I am tired of starvation and restriction.  I am realizing that I will be so much happier once I am nourished, and I am realizing that I deserve food just as much as anyone else.

A very important person to me in this recovery process once said to me, “Everyday you wake up and you have to make a choice.” Everyday, it is a conscious decision.  You have to decide not to choose self hatred, decide not to criticize and critique yourself, decide to be kind to yourself for that day.  Self love will not come naturally at first, confidence is not something you will just wake up with.  It is a choice you must make every morning before you start the day, and something you must reflect upon every night.

Back in residential: Update

My first day back in residential was yesterday and so far I am doing okay.  Meals have gone fine and I completed my supplement last night.  Needless to say, it is so much easier than the first time.  I have a better mindset and I am more recovery focused this time around.  Everything seems just a little bit clearer and there is an end goal in sight.

I am only staying for two weeks so I want to make the most of my time here and get to a stable weight.  I also want to make immense mental strides as I work through my restriction and exercise urges and face them head on.  I think my second stay here will be a good reset for me and will be a chance for me to reassess my priorities.

I am doing this for my future, for eventually getting my CNA and going to Seattle Pacific University in the fall.  I am doing this so I can exercise and move again in the way that I want to.  I am doing this for my own happiness and for my own life.  Restriction and excessive exercise is not the way I want to live.  In fact, that lifestyle is not living but is rather merely existing.  For me, there is no choice but recovery.

Choosing to go back to residential the second time is the difference between thriving and just surviving.

 

My decision.

Tomorrow, I am going back into residential after days of endless debate and contemplation.  My choices were either outpatient or residential and my eating disorder more than anything wanted to choose outpatient.  Ed told me that I would be fine, that I am more weight restored than I have been since getting anorexia, that I am more medically stable.  Ed told me we could compromise, I would stay at this not fully restored weight and he could still have a little bit of control. He told me outpatient would be fine, that it would be great even.  The one thing he told me loudest of all was that I would not weight restore. If I did, I would be disgusting, unlovable and utterly worthless.

So what did I do?  I chose to ignore the voice chattering incessantly in my head and I am going back.  Ed is not at all happy about this decision, which ironically is how I know it is the right choice.  I decided that I am done trying to change my body for the approval of others. I am so sick and tired of starving myself just to fit some arbitrary mold.  My body is not perfect and that is so okay, that is more than okay.

Critiquing and constantly judging yourself is so tiresome.  Basing your self worth on your body is so unbelievably inaccurate.  You were put onto this earth to do amazing things. You are meant to do so much more than pick and pull yourself apart day by day.  We need to stop the self criticism, although it is so much easier said than done. Remember, you are more than your body and you are so enough.

Listen to your body…

Listen to your body, it knows what it needs.

For so long, I tried to ignore the signals that my body was desperately sending me.  First, it was “stop moving, please rest for just one day”. A regimented exercise schedule left my body tired and defeated and it tried to tell me this in any way possible.  My muscles were excessively sore and my body felt limp and exhausted. Each morning getting out of bed was a struggle, yet I persisted and pretended that my body was wrong; it did not know what I needed.  One rest day would stir up to much anxiety to be afforded.

Next, it was “please nourish me, I need real food.”  At first, I responded and increased my food intake in line with my newfound movement routine.  However, these hunger pains soon started to scare me, and I began to push them away altogether.  I instead gave my body exactly what it did not need at the time: vegetables and fruits. Not a balanced and healthy diet but a stilted and disordered diet that completely cut out essential nutrients.  Hunger was but a feeling for me, it was nothing to respond to immediately. I ignored the signal for so very long that it actually started to fade away. Realizing that its plea would not be met with action it quieted down.  One of the scariest parts of treatment has been the return of my hunger cues, and realizing that my body will not be denied forever.

Every day I am struck by the subtle complexity of the body.  Its one desire is to keep you alive, and it will do so in anyway it can.  I no longer regard hunger cues as evil but rather a reminder message from my body.  “We need to keep living and keep the energy up, but we need more nourishment to propel you through life.”  Eating seems so simple to most, it is human nature, but an eating disorder ruins this perfect simplicity. Recovery is about fighting to give your body’s natural signals control yet again.  

The evolution of looking in the mirror

Elementary School:

How easy it was to look in the mirror as a six year old.  After throwing together a mismatched outfit and clasping my hair in a high pony I would run to the bathroom in the morning to quickly brush my teeth, eager for a breakfast of waffles and syrup.  “Ooh!” I would think to myself in delight, “Maybe mom has bought those sugary lucky charms!”

My reflection in the mirror did not bring up judgment or criticism.  I did not pinch the spot where my things touched nor did I lift up my shirt to inspect my ab-free stomach.  Instead, I marveled at how curly my hair looked on that particular day, and how green my eyes appeared as the sun shone through the window.

My outfit was not chosen to hide my body but rather was selected because I was drawn to the bright coral pink of the shirt and the deep turquoise of the skirt.  Not a second thought went into how my body looked on that particular day, or how others would perceive me. I would skip off happily to the kitchen, eager to devour a breakfast that would fuel me into the day.

Middle School:

It’s all about perception.  If they can’t see your giant thighs they will never know they are there.  Those thoughts would race through my mind as I began my morning routine in middle school.  Something had changed, no longer was I that carefree little girl who grabbed whatever clothes appealed to her and ran out the door.  I now meticulously chose outfits to hide my emerging curves and the terrible things that came along with puberty.

Grabbing my customary long purple shirt and loose leggings I would stare at my reflection in the mirror.  I would carefully adjust the shirt so that it came down to just above my knees, hiding the parts of my body I had deemed unacceptable.  With a sigh I would try on another outfit, maybe a long skirt would hide the curves a bit better. Outfit after outfit would be discarded until I was left frustrated and ultimately, wearing the same clothes I had started off with.  Never was I content or satisfied with my choice, everyday it would merely have to do.

Next, it was a matter of distraction.  Heavy makeup so others wouldn’t look at my body.  It was messily applied to my face, complete with bright pink blush that starkly stood out against my pale face.  It made me look scary, too done up. I was a little girl trying desperately to be someone I was not. I straightened out each of my ringlet curls, taking time each morning to ensure my hair looked straight and utterly perfect.  My hope was that people wouldn’t notice my disappointing body, that I could somehow avert the attention.

High School and College:

Maybe I can change my reality.  Maybe I don’t have to hide my things or my stomach because I can alter them to make them acceptable.  Maybe I can watch that number on the scale drop and drop until I am satisfied.

High School is when I realized a deadly truth: I can take action to dramatically alter my body.  And the reflection in the mirror suddenly wasn’t so scary, because I would change it. Day by day I would shrink into the body I had always so desired.  My current body was only temporary, my hips and curves would fade away and I would finally be able to wear jeans, maybe even a swimsuit, with confidence.

So, I stopped hiding my body, and I translated my low self confidence into something else.  I worked out daily, a regimented schedule that left my body tired and exhausted. I controlled my food intake to the last bite, each day restricting calories and food groups that my body vitally required.

And despite my misery and depressed mood, my body started changing.  So yes, I could now look at myself in the mirror, but everything else in my life was hollow.  That reflection had come at an extremely high cost. The exercise and restricted food intake left me apathetic and at times aggravated so that I was changing both physically and mentally.  I somehow thought that all my pain and suffering was worth it because I had reached my end goal: I could look at myself in the mirror without disdain.

Current:

I am slowly but surely making amends with the dreaded mirror.  Granted, I have days where I cannot bear to look at my reflection, even days when I do not recognize the girl staring back at me.  However, I am learning to love the body I was given for all that it can do for me.

I am realizing that the high price that comes along with attaining that “skinny physique” is just not worth it in the long run, nor does it align with my life goals and aspirations.  As I have said before, skinny does not equal happy.

A bump in the road

Eating disorders are so incredibly strong.  Just when I thought I had restored enough weight to make it on my own and step down to a lower level of care, ED grew louder yet again.  I have been in PHP (partial hospitalization program) for only a week now and the recommendation was changed back to residential.  I will now have to return to 24/7 care starting Friday.

I have a lot of reservations about returning to residential.  I have already spent ten weeks there and when I discharged, I said my sorrowful goodbyes and farewells.  I wished everyone good luck and they wished the same for me. I feel like my return will disappoint the staff there that I had grown so close to.  They will now know that I was not successful on my own.

My second reservation is a little harder to come to terms with, and even harder to write about.  I am much farther along in my weight restoration process then I was when I began residential the first time around.  That time, I desperately needed the care and the treatment.  This time however, I feel that I don’t deserve it.  Somehow, my brain has decided that because I am physically a bit healthier, the attention and the help should not be wasted on me.

Regardless, I am going to do whatever I can to make recovery a reality.  That starts with weight restoration and gaining back my full physical ability, no matter how deathly scary that may sound.  However hard this continuing process may be, I will cling to one solitary mantra that has helped me through so many times before: “remember how happy you were before the eating disorder.”

I was at first hesitant to post this update, because I felt it was too brutally honest with a slight air of negativity.  Then I read back through some of my old posts and realized I had been continually writing about how recovery is not linear and my progression is merely an example of this.  Yes, I must step up to a higher level of care but that does not mean I am giving up.  If anything I am pushing for recovery even harder, and making it my top priority.

Please don’t be ashamed if you have set backs in your recovery journey.  Of the utmost importance is to try not to blame yourself.  I know it can be hard, and I know that the easiest thing to do is self blame, but it is not your fault.  An eating disorder is a cruel and nasty disease that lives inside the brain but it can be overcome.  Take one step at a time and don’t worry about the fall backs.