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The Fire Within

When I decided to leave treatment early this last time, I got a lot of resistance from my treatment team. The message that I got was that they truly did not believe that I could do the work on my own. And that is okay, I don’t hold any anger towards them – more so pride that I proved them wrong.

But for a lot of people, the structure that treatment provides is so incredibly necessary – even life saving. In fact, it was that way for me the first time I went. It was pivotal that I had that structured environment – the ED had taken over too much of my brain for me to make coherent decisions.

But the second time around, I knew in my heart and my gut that if my goal was to truly recover, I needed to make the decision to eat for myself. I couldn’t have a treatment team putting down food in front of me and making the decisions for me. I needed to eat unrestrictedly on my own terms, without adhering to a schedule or the time on the clock to give me ‘permission.’ The permission that I needed could only come from within.

And when I realized that, I knew that I had to leave. I knew a lot of people wouldn’t believe in me and I knew people would be worried that I would simply slip back. But in my heart there was a fire burning, and I knew I had to let it grow stronger and stronger until I was finally set free. This fire had started out as a tiny little kindling, a mixture of anger from the memories ED had forced me to miss out on but also some purpose, courage, determination and perhaps some sadness. I could feel this odd combination of emotions whirling up within me with great strength, and I knew that this time around, my recovery would be different.

My recovery would not be defined by simply eating enough to appease my family. Nor would there be any shortcuts or bargaining with the ED. My life is worth more than that, and I wanted every single part of it back from the ED, not just some of it or must of it, but all of it. That fire has lit the way to where I am today – not quite there, but so much closer than I have ever been. And when the fire dies down or looks like it might be running low, I work to rekindle it and stoke it back to strength with the declaration that my life is worth more than this disease. It is my past but I refuse to let it be my future.

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Thin Privilege

I was not exactly sure how to word this post. Not because I don’t have a lot to say, but because I questioned how I could, in some words on a blog post, try to express the deep and fundamental issues of our society that would allow me to have ‘thin privilege’ while others struggle daily with discrimination and inaccessibility based on their size – based on something as fundamentally unchangeable as genetics. How could I possibly put into words the absolute injustice of our healthcare system? How could I express my abhorrence at the fact that people are turned away from eating disorder treatment based on living in larger bodies? I have not lived through this injustice, and thus I cannot imagine how it would feel. But I figured that trying to express this, despite my words perhaps jumbling together and my emotions getting in the way, is better than saying nothing at all.

I want to make the way I feel about thin privilege, weight bias and weight discrimination very clear. And how I feel is this. I feel immense sorrow for those who must face this discrimination on a daily basis. I feel immensely regretful for my past ignorance and for posting pictures on here that, though unintentional, perpetuate the insidious idea that eating disorders have a certain ‘look’. I feel anger within me every time I am taught in nursing school the arbitrary scale of BMI and the labels that go along with it, determining a person’s health status based on some random numbers created in the 1800s. I feel like screaming out loud when I read in my nursing textbooks that the first thing I should advise a patient to do is to ‘lose weight,’ as if that is a magical cure-all treatment. As if we haven’t proven time and time again that intentional weight loss and dieting does more harm than good.

But more importantly, if I feel this way – if I feel this angry and sorrowful – then I cannot begin to imagine how people living in larger bodies feel facing this reality every single day. They don’t have the choice to live in ignorance as I did. They are faced and confronted with it everyday and that is a fact that our world must acknowledge and must change. Words are a start, but words alone are not enough. We need action.

All of this to say, I feel that it is imperative that I recognize my thin, white privilege here on this account and state clearly and boldly that this is NOT fair. This is unjust and we must do better. I wish I had recognized and stated this earlier, but I will do all I can now to educate myself, acknowledge my privilege and work to fight against the inherent fat-phobia and discrimination of our society.

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The Danger of Diet Culture

Diet culture has led us to believe that if we listen to and trust our bodies, things will go all wrong. We will lose control. That we can’t be responsible to feed ourselves. “But there’s no reason to despair!” Diet culture says under the false veneer of compassion – “Here’s a new fad diet I have created just for you; I will save you from yourself.”

Really diet culture? I should put my trust in you – an external source who has no idea about my individual needs, my food accessibility, my lifestyle? I should trust you over my own body, which has been created specifically for me with hunger and fullness cues to guide me? Oh yeah, you’re right, that makes much more sense! (I hope you can sense the sarcasm)

I didn’t realize how engrained I had become in diet culture until I started this all in process of recovery and really started to do some deep reflection on it. Whether it was intentional or not, I had attempted to recover from my eating disorder following the rules of diet culture. I chose to stick to “good” foods because they were safer for me and because society praised them. I could easily go for an acai bowl, but to order a burger and fries? I would have been scared to death. I was trying to recover, but I was doing so with conditions. It was a conditional recovery – “Yes I’ll recover, but I will do so on specific terms that align with society’s preconceived notions of ‘health.’”

But pointing out the ludicracy of diet culture isn’t for people recovering from an eating disorder – it’s for all of us. All of us who have had our joy and freedom taken away by a multi-billion dollar industry that profits off of our insecurities. All of us deserve food freedom, all of us deserve to listen and respond to our own bodies. That is a right we were born with and, I would argue, that is a right diet culture is trying to take away.

However, we can respond. We can decide not to comply. Diet culture will only be sustained as long as we allow it. This message has started to be spread, and there are some amazing people on social media advocating for an end to the madness. If you’d like to separate yourself from diet culture, I would encourage you to seek out accounts and people who promote this message. Do research and dig deep. Read amazing books such as Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon and really ask yourself what your values are. I say this, because this is the journey I am currently embarking on. Not only has it helped me in my recovery, but it has also helped me in life.

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Writing

I really want to become more active here on my blog. Ever since I was a little girl, writing was always a passion of mine.

As I aged though, I began to get more critical of my work. Did that really sound good? Did that story even make sense? I went from writing at least once a day to only writing when I had to complete essays for school. Then, I would often get pretty poor grades on my essays, because they were “off topic” or “used too much colorful language.” With writing, I was never good at following a rubric or adhering to rules, because I’ve always used it as an expression of self.

Once my eating disorder took over it steered me clear of all the genuine things that brought me joy. My life slowly narrowed into restriction, exercise, and school. I was constantly performing a balance act, trying to keep these three essentials in check. So much so, that I had absolutely no time for anything else.

This is why writing is so important to me as I go through this all in recovery process. I became such a perfectionist in my eating disorder, that I didn’t even want to attempt something like writing. If I couldn’t be perfect at it, then why try? Going all in means I m challenging those beliefs in every aspect of my life. I am constantly reminding myself that my words do not have to be perfectly written, and my grammar can be all over the place. That is okay, that is not the purpose of my writing. In my mind, writing is for self expression and connection. I think writing is a powerful tool and I no longer want to allow my eating disorder to take away such a passion.

So, as I said, I hope to be posting here more often. Maybe short posts that are just a mess of thoughts or more laid out pieces that I have thought through. Either way, I hope to connect and share. 🙂

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Eating Disorders Do Not Have a Look.

When I was scared, but I didn’t think anyone would listen, I decided that I could use my body to communicate. To tell people that I needed help, without actually having to say anything at all. It wasn’t a conscious kind of decision – it was a small, gradual realization that losing weight made people notice, losing weight caught attention. Not only that, but losing weight was praised.

We – I – have to learn how to voice and communicate my needs independent from my body. Even this most recent relapse was driven by an intense need for more help in my recovery, but fear of being perceived as “dramatic” or “emotional” because my body didn’t fit the picture. This, I now understand, is not only a misinformed and seriously biased mindset, but a dangerous one as well. I don’t take the phrase “eating disorders do not have a look” lightly. If we want to recover, we have to internalize that phrase and really start believing it. Because eating disorders do not have one, generalized physical representation. It is a mental mindset that cannot be judged or based on physical markers. Gaining weight does not mean recovered, getting to your set point weight does not mean recovered, nothing about physical appearance can tell whether someone is recovered or struggling.

I have gained weight in this all-in recovery process, and I will continue to gain weight. I have put on weight faster than my mental shifts have occurred. I have three years of neural rewiring to do – that won’t be accomplished in just three weeks. But my body is putting on weight because it is trying to protect me, it only wants health for me. So without judging my body or trying to slow the process down I will continue to lean on my support system for help, educating them on the fact that just because I might “look better” does not mean that I am better. 

If you feel like there is a barrier to you attain full recovery, I encourage you to ask yourself why? Do you feel like you can’t reach out for help, because the eating disorder has deemed you “not sick enough”? Realize that that is one of the eating disorder’s most skilled attacks. It is a lie and the ED is only trying to keep you from chasing full recovery and the life you really want. Don’t listen to it, because there is no such thing as “sick enough”. There is just you and your life. What do you want for it? When I realized that no one else can force me to fully recover, that I had to make the decision for myself and for the life I wanted for myself, that made all the difference.

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Psuedorecovery or Real Recovery?

Sometimes I think that doing the hard things in life, the things that make us the most uncomfortable, actually serve to grow and strengthen us as people the most.

And that is an unfortunate truth. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather stick around in my comfort zone, never pushing myself into the fear and anxiety that lies beyond. But if I did that there would be no personal growth. I would stay stuck and stagnant.

When I got my eating disorder I thought I could recover through bargaining and reasoning with the ED voice in my head. The truth is, recovery cannot be comfortable. In fact, the way to gauge if you are doing it right is in finding that uncomfortable place, and then going a step forward.

For the past year and a half I was living in “psuedorecovery” – an in between state where the eating disorder thoughts were still present, I would challenge them sometimes, but then I would fall back into those behaviors that gave me immediate relief. I traded immediate comfortability for long term gain.

Well recently, I started nursing school, and with the beginning of a rigorous program and some other personal life events, the eating disorder took a stronger hold. What I realized during this time was that I had not fully recovered at all, if I had I wouldn’t be slipping back into old patterns. This period was the wake up call that I needed. About three weeks ago, I decided to go “all in” on recovery. What does this mean? It means waking up everyday with a promise to myself and my body that I will respond to its absolute every desire with unrestricted eating. This means breaking every single eating disorder rule that has been conjured up in my mind, and doing so intentionally. This means finding places where the fear is the strongest and running directly into those places. Eating at times my eating disorder deems “inappropriate”, eating foods my eating disorder recoils at, essentially doing every single thing I can to make my eating disorder mad.

Is this comfortable? Not at all. Is there anxiety? Yes, a lot. But I wouldn’t be doing this for no reason, and thousands of people recovering from eating disorders before me wouldn’t have either. Full recovery is possible and it is worth striving for. I have committed to unrestricted eating, to feeling the fear and doing it anyway, and I won’t look back until I have achieved food freedom.

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Let’s rewrite the story.

In fifth grade I stood with my hands on the counters, levitating myself above the scale.  First my big toe, then my entire foot – what would the number be? I saw the real number and shuddered.  No, that can’t be it. At ten years old I held onto the counter and lifted some of my weight off the scale to see the number plummet.  A lower number, I was satisfied.

In sixth grade I refused to wear pants because I wouldn’t let anyone see the size of my thighs.  I wore only long skirts and dresses. At home I would stand in front of the mirror and stare at my legs. Why? I thought to myself.

In seventh grade I had to go swimming.  I wore long swim shorts so no one could see the real me.  I pulled the swim shorts down so that they could practically reach my knees – only then was I comfortable, only then was I safe.

In eighth grade I stood in front of the mirror before changing and imagined cutting off the parts of my body I was not satisfied with: my hips, my stomach, my thighs.  I wanted them to disappear, I did not want to be associated with those things anymore.

Let’s end the stigma around our bodies.  Let’s not allow little girls to grow up thinking that their body parts are things to be hidden.  Let’s celebrate health at every single size, because there is no one size fits all.  Let’s stop advocating for diet fads and start celebrating everything in moderation.  Let’s rewrite the story the way we want it to be:

In fifth grade I stood with my hands on the counters, staring at myself in the mirror and smiling.  I noticed my curly brown hair and laughed – I loved how much I looked like my dad.

In sixth grade I wore skirts and long dresses because I loved the look of them.  I loved how the fringe would flutter in the wind.

In seventh grade I got to go swimming and I wore my favorite swimsuit that my mom and I had picked out together before cannonballing into the lake.

In eighth grade I stood in front of the mirror before changing and said thank you to my body.  Thank you stomach for digesting my food, thank you legs for allowing me to run, jump, and dance.  I felt fortunate for my health, and appreciate of my body.

 

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There was a time…

There was a time…

When I feared upcoming doctor appoints,

When I was scared of the fine line I walked between school and treatment.  

There was a time…

When I felt utterly numb and closed off to my emotions

When food was my absolute enemy

When even the sight of butter made me squirm.

There was a time…

When my life was reduced to what I was eating – or rather, what I wasn’t eating, and how much I was walking in a day.

There was a time…

When I thought that this way of living would be my forever

When I truly could not fathom a life without Anorexia.

There was a time…

when the number on the scale defined absolutely everything.

This was one year ago.

And now today, there are times…

When I choose to eat ice cream, to go out to dinner with my friends, or to snack while watching a TV show

Choosing recovery means that today, there are times…

When I feel truly happy with myself

When I feel like I am really enough.

There are times…

When I look around at my life and I wonder why I gave all of it up for Anorexia.

When my brain isn’t thinking only about food.

When I live utterly in the moment.

I don’t wan’t to oversimplify or minimize recovery.  There are still times when I really struggle with the person I am now.  There are times when I miss the simplicity of being “sick.” A lot of my identity was tied up in being that person, and now I feel almost bare without the cloak of malnourishment.  It can sometimes be scary to feel as though the real, true me is now exposed. But it can also be invigorating.

The happiness I have found in my recovery journey thus far so outweighs the struggles I still go through.  Actually feeling my emotions is so much better than stumbling through life, barely aware of what is going on.  I would say I still have a lot of work to do and I am definitely not “there” yet. But what I think is so exciting is that despite only being at the beginning, I am already reaping the benefits of choosing recovery.  

I have learned that I am not going to wake up one day miraculously “recovered.”  It is going to take time for my body to trust me again, for my brain to realize that food is literally just food, not some kind of frightening monster.  But I have also learned that if I simply choose recovery every single day, then that will be enough. Eventually, I will get “there,” it will just take time and a whole lot of perseverance.  

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Getting my wisdom teeth out and recovery?

Getting my wisdom teeth out gave me a glimpse into what recovery could look like?  I state that as a question because the two things seem completely unrelated at first.  They are two different entities entirely, how could being swollen and bruised allow me to remember a piece of my past life – a life without Anorexia?  

For the past couple of days, I was absolutely dreading getting my wisdom teeth out.  I was afraid of how Ana would react – it would be a few days of rest and a whole lot of doing nothing.  I braced myself for the pain Ana would likely put me through, forcing me to move my body despite the surgery.  What ended up happening surprised me immensely.

Yesterday, I got home from my appointment at 10:30 and was utterly exhausted.  I then did something I haven’t done in years – I took a nap. That’s right, I laid down on my mom’s bed, curled up in my SWEATPANTS and slept for two hours.  I woke up afraid, what punishment would Ana inflict upon me for doing this? But for the first time in a very long time, she was quiet. A voice of reason popped into my head, “Georgia you just had surgery and are on a lot of medication.  Resting is completely normal for you today.” I liked that voice, that voice validated my feelings, it made me feel okay.

After waking up I proceeded to do some of the things I have been meaning to get done for weeks, however Ana hasn’t let me sit down long enough to actually do any of them.  I made some phone calls, completed the assignments my dietician assigned me, and even looked into nursing assistant jobs. This was all while sitting under the warmth of the sun outside on my patio.  This may not seem very revolutionary, but for me it was a huge step. I wasn’t forcing myself to sit down, I wasn’t fighting the voice telling me to get up and walk around, I was enjoying myself. There was a beautiful quiet within me.

By that time my jaw was starting to ache, so I took one of the pain medications prescribed to me.  About an hour later, I was cleaning my room and fell asleep on my floor – yes, on my floor (I have a very cozy rug).  Instead of beating myself up for this “laziness” the voice of reason calmed me yet again. “The side effect of those pain medications is sleepiness Georgia.  Don’t worry, this is normal. It’s only one day.”

By dinner time, I had made it through the entire day without the intense feelings of guilt Ana usually inflicted upon me.  By evening, I was not exhausted from the inward battle that usually wages incessantly within. I had a lovely dinner with my family – of mashed potatoes, soup and apple sauce – where I could happily engage in conversation and be totally in the present.

And so now I ask: What happened yesterday that was so different from all my other days?  Yesterday, Ana gave me a break. Apparently wisdom tooth surgery was enough for her to decide I deserved one day off.  I’m not complaining, yesterday was amazing, but how can I make yesterday every single day? That’s what I am trying to figure out, but I know it’s going to take a lot of hard work and dedication to make yesterday my reality.

What a different life I could lead by just being kind to myself.  A whole new world was exposed just by listening to my body and my true needs and desires.  I simply treated myself as I would a friend or family member and that mindset made all the difference.

Each and everyday, being kind to myself will look a little bit different.  Yesterday, it looked like a whole lot of rest and quality time with my family.  Next week, it might look like a walk in the park with my dog followed by some time with my friends.  But I know one thing now, yesterday gave me a glimpse into the true happiness I could have just by treating myself with a little respect.  I know that I deserve this, and so do you. Let’s get there together.

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Three Simple Crackers

How does it feel to get in a fight with your mind over crackers?

That probably isn’t a question you’ve ever asked before.  Or maybe it is, and you understand exactly what I mean. Maybe it’s not specifically crackers but something else – a piece of fruit, a granola bar, some nuts.

“Georgia.  You think you need those three crackers?  No you do not. You’ve had plenty of food today” says Ana.

“But I’m actually really hungry.  I had lunch a while ago and I don’t think that this will ruin my dinner.  It’s just a few crackers” the real Georgia says in response.

“You won’t be hungry for dinner, and then what will happen?  You won’t be able to eat for a long, long while. I don’t want that for you.  Let’s put the crackers away. That’s it, right back into the bag.”

“Okay, but what about if I walk the long way home after this?  Then surely I would deserve the crackers and some dinner.”

And maybe Ana gives in here.  If she does, she still won’t let you get off that easy.  If you eat those crackers, there is still a trade off, a due that must be payed.  It is not as simple as munching on an afternoon snack. Because that snack has repercussions, it continues to play in your mind long after you’ve eaten it.

When eating is no longer just about popping a few crackers in your mouth, when it becomes a mental obstacle course you must navigate every single day, it gets exhausting.  But we must press on regardless, because each time we successfully complete the course, it gets just a little bit easier. We engrain it into our muscle memory, we memorize every twist and every turn.  Next time, that voice that argues with you over crackers is just a little bit less defiant.

And I know that someday, I will pop those three crackers into my mouth without even a second thought.  I’ll forget five minutes later I even had them in the first place. I won’t dwell on it, it won’t matter to me in the slightest.  Because Ana will have been outnumbered, beaten down by persistence and determination. She will no longer have a say in my day to day life.  She sure as hell won’t be allowed to have a thirty minute argument with me over the merits of eating a few simple crackers.