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A Piece of Chocolate

Yesterday, my family and I headed out in the early morning for a road trip to explore Minnesota, a state we visit annually in the summer.  We travelled down roads lined with looming pine trees and passed glimmering lakes that sparkled under the morning sun. We stopped at some landmark destinations, including two lighthouses and a waterfall, and eventually ended up back in the car, tired but content.

On the way home, my brother enthusiastically convinced my parents into stopping at a quaint candy shop he had seen on the drive up.  It was a little red and white house complete with two large windows and an inviting porch. It looked exactly like something I would have delighted over in my younger years, but this time I kept quiet in the backseat as my anxiety built.

My mom peered over at me with a hopeful look in her eyes, “Will you try a piece of candy?” She asked.  But all I could muster in response was a harsh, “No!” I flinched at the words as they escaped my mouth, Ed was clearly not going to let this happen.  He was going to ruin a perfectly normal time, and suck the fun out of stopping at a cute candy shop on the way home from a long road trip.

I slouched defeated against the seat of the car and popped my headphones in, returning as I often did to the music that soothed me.  As I sat with my head against the window I began to really think and I could feel the voice of old Georgia battling with the powerful and strong voice of Ed.  At first, he did not waver or falter but rather persisted on, “What have you done to deserve a piece of chocolate candy?” and I didn’t know how to argue with that.

Then I thought of all the times my family and I had made this trek up to Minnesota before.  Every summer since I was born we have packed our bags and relished in the sacred family time this state has given us.  It is our two weeks of respite, our time to get away from the real world and just be with each other. I thought of the trips I had made up here without my eating disorder, how happy I was, how I would not have even hesitated at the thought of a piece of chocolate.  And then I reflected on my trip up here last year, how it was ruined and tainted by the darkness of Ed that all but consumed me. How I spent my time plotting and planning reducing my food intake and obsessing over exercise. And in that moment, I made a choice. The old Georgia grew stronger with each passing mile and by the time we had reached the candy shop, I had all but won the battle in my head.

We walked in and I selected a chocolate coconut piece of candy.  I will not lie, I felt guilty and undeserving and I walked out into the cool, crisp air as soon as I had made my order.  The rest of my family delighted in the treats offered at the store, and picked out two to three pieces of candy. We all piled back into the car and I took a bite of my sweet treat.  For all of the anxiety it stirred up, there was an equal amount of pride, because I had just wholeheartedly defied my eating disorder. It may seem like such a small step, a piece of candy may seem like no big deal, but to me, it meant a whole lot.  If I keep continuing to win these battles and continue finding these recovery moments soon I hope they will become natural to me. Eventually, I hope the anxiety will fade, and one day, I could be a girl who jumps at the chance of a piece of chocolate.

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What would happen?

I was walking around my town last night when I overheard another conversation held by three adult women.  I was actually on my way to meet a friend for ice cream – a very big step for me. Anyway, their topic was one not unlike others I had heard so many times before, however that night it struck me.   They were discussing another woman’s weight, glamorizing her skinny figure and seemingly revering her for the fact that she “just didn’t eat.”

Maybe it was because that was my first day out of residential treatment or because I was feeling particularly sentimental on that night but their conversation got me to thinking.  What would our world be like if we stopped discussing bodies and started admiring intelligence, personality and achievement? What would happen if we started trading tips on how to be kinder rather than how to lose weight?

Maybe their conversation would have gone something like: “Have you noticed her compassion and willingness to help others?” rather than “Have you noticed how skinny she is, I wonder how much she eats?”  When did a person’s worth start becoming dependent on their food intake and their body’s physique? When did we start placing so much importance on a thigh gap or a flat stomach?

Because this unknown woman is so much more than her body.  And in fact, she could very well be struggling but instead of noticing we praise.  Not eating and excessive exercise now yields admiration rather than concern. When did this attitude become so entrenched in the fabric of our lives?

While before, the conversation might have compelled me to turn around and walk away from the ice cream store, this time it only propelled me forward.  It also gave me a sense of urgency, I need to write about this, I thought to myself. How can we change the mindset of our society today? If we don’t stop emphasizing bodies and comparing sizes our world will forever be plagued with disordered eating and excessive exercisers.  It made me realize, I don’t want to live a life anymore where I “just don’t eat.” I want to live a life of balance, of enjoying myself when I want to and doing the things I love.

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Core beliefs

I am discharging from residential and entering into outpatient treatment as of this Tuesday.  Though I am extremely nervous, I feel so much more equipped and prepared than my first discharge.  I now understand that recovery outside of treatment is not going to be easy or linear. It is going to be an uphill battle and a decision that I must commit to every morning when I wake up.  As much as I would like it to be, it won’t be comfortable. At least for now I must live with that reality, and battle Ed everyday.

It’s funny because though I was quite reluctant to come back, reflecting upon my time here I think my second stay in residential will be essential to my recovery.  I realized a lot of things, and I sorted out some core beliefs that I hold very close to my heart and that have been a barrier to my recovery.

That of the utmost importance would be my deeply held belief that without my eating disorder, I will be lazy and worthless.  Essentially, without the mask of Ed I will amount to nothing and have no motivation to do anything at all in life. This core belief permeates my mind and my thoughts everyday.  “Walk those few extra steps”, it says, “or you are giving into the laziness”. “Do not sit down on the couch, you are not worthy of the couch.”

And so, I have adjusted my life accordingly to appease the voice.  I never sit on the couch, I never take time to rest, and I maximize my steps in everyway that I can.  My conclusion? That is no longer the way I want to live. I would like to live and move intuitively, always with the intent to keep by body happy and active but not to exhaust.  In order to reach this goal, I have to continually work on my core belief. I have to take care of myself and reassure myself that I will not be lazy without Ed, and I will still be able to achieve my goals in life without an eating disorder.  In fact, those goals will be immensely easier to achieve without the eating disorder holding me back.

It is something to keep in the forefront of my mind everyday.  Giving myself time to rest is essential. Endless days of constant movement and exercise is not the life I want to live.  I need to find a balance between activity and downtime, movement and rest. A lifestyle that will enrich and fulfill me, rather than exhaust and depress me.  Choosing this kind of life does not mean I am lazy.  Now I just need to prove that to myself.

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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.

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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.

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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.  

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Words are so much easier.

There will be days when you mourn the loss of your eating disorder.  There will be moments of anger and frustration and times when you will want to reverse all of the progress you have made.  I have experienced these feelings over and over again in treatment.  The most important takeaway from this?  Recovery is not linear.  Sure you can say it, but to truly believe this statement is another thing entirely.

I thought that I would spend 32 days in residential treatment, the average duration for the average resident.  Instead, I have been here going on two months and I still go through days of fear and hopelessness.  However, despite my shaky progress, I know I am recovering because of each small recovery moment in between.

Recovery moments: How you know you’re recovering.

  • Eating that oatmeal raisin cookie.  Not just eating it, but truly enjoying it.
  • My first 100% completion of breakfast, the hardest meal of the day.
  • Finishing my carrot cake because I deserved it.
  • Placing self love at the top of my priority list.
  • Not letting the hunger and fullness cues of others define my own.
  • Internalizing the phrase: “You are enough. You have always been enough.”
  • Hearing the old Georgia’s voice louder than the voice of the eating disorder.

An eating disorder is often a means of exposing something true about yourself.  What I have learned through this journey is of the utmost importance:  I need to find my own voice.  I need to be able to speak up and stand up for myself without anorexia.  An emaciated body will no longer be my means for communication.  Words are just so much easier.