So what happens when you get stuck? We’ve all had those moments of feeling completely defeated. It doesn’t matter whether you’re suffering from an eating disorder, or whether you simply feel lost and directionless in your life. Whether you’re struggling to get back on track after a relapse, or whether you’re simply just drained- emotionally, physically, mentally, whatever it may be. You feel, for one reason or another, like you’ve hit rock bottom. You’re at the foot of a wall, and you can’t figure out quite how to scale it.
And we’ve all been there.
One of the things you notice, especially in an ED recovery world, is that many times people fall. A recovery that is relapse free is a rarity, not a norm. It’s normal to struggle. The defining part is what you decide to do when you find yourself once again back at the bottom of the Totem pole. The amount of times I’ve seen cries out into the blogosphere, after extended periods of inactivity, saying, “I don’t know what to do! I feel so defeated, so enchained once again in the ED grasp! Therapy isn’t working for me, I’m scared to start eating normally again, and all I can see when I look at myself is huge.”… yeah, it’s more than I can count. And my heart bleeds every time I see this. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like.
For me, relapse was worse, or at least harder MENTALLY, than the first time around. When you enter recovery for the first time, it’s kind of a Chucky version of sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. Yes, you’re terrified, but you don’t know what comes out of recovery because you’ve never been through it. You get to the point where the professionals take everything out of your hands, and you have this obscure promise of normalcy. Something like, “Oh thank God, they’re going to show me how to eat, exercise, AND be normal, AND maintain my weight, AND not go through this hell ever again. And then I’ll be able to leave it all behind me.”
And that hope pushes you through. But when you go through it, you realize it’s its own kind of hell. And when you climb so far up the ladder, only to find yourself once again at the bottom in the depths of a relapse, it is 100 times harder to find the oomph and the drive to try to climb back out again. You’ve seen part of the other side, and it wasn’t as sunny as you thought. The grass wasn’t necessarily greener, but rather just a different species of grass. When I got down to the bottom again, I didn’t know if I wanted to climb back out again. I didn’t know if it was worth it.
But if you send out that plea into the blogosphere, that cry for help, it’s because you haven’t completely given up hope. You acknowledge that it might not be perfect, but it has to be better than what current is. You just don’t know where to start.
It’s been years. YEARS for me. And I still struggle, on a day to day, minute to minute basis. But as I have read these cries for help, I find I’m often asking myself:
If I was there again, what are the most important things I wish I would have known? When it all comes down to it, what are the bare essentials that would have really and truly helped me to get out on the right foot? What would have made that wall a little easier to scale? Where would I have liked to have started?
Hence, I decided to make this list. This list is for anyone. Of course, it is tailored for someone who struggles with self acceptance, anxiety, and an eating disorder, but really I believe it’s a list that anyone who feels defeated could use from time to time. The points in it are things we all should bear in mind.
So here we go:
THE CLIFF NOTES VERSION OF ESCAPING ROCK BOTTOM
1) TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR OWN SANITY.
This one is a huge one for me. I truly believe that every situation can be a learning experience, but sometimes the learning is brief and to the point. How many times have you made a mistake, quit, or “failed” at something, and then been asked by someone else (in a condescending “I know better” way, or a truly compassionate loving way) “What did you learn from this experience?”. Stop looking at all those things that didn’t work out perfectly as mistakes, or failures. Realize that it served a purpose, and sometimes that purpose wasn’t to teach you what you WANTED, but rather to show you what you DIDN’T WANT. I choose to look at recovery the same way. Relapse is a chance to let you know what doesn’t work for you, and show you that whatever process you were following before doesn’t click with you in one way or another.
I’ve worked with a number of therapists, a number of doctors, and a number of dieticians. Some of those meetings and sessions were complete and total busts. Some of them caused more problems than they solved. And some of them worked for a bit, but then they didn’t work anymore. And all of that is okay. All of them taught me one thing or another… either a skill set, or a mindset, or simply showed me what I DIDN’T want my recovery to look like. They key thing was, I refused to settle for something that only kind of worked, or for something that didn’t work at all. I didn’t look at the passing of another dietitian or doctor as a failure on my part, or a sign that there was something inherently wrong with ME. There is nothing WRONG with ME.
What’s your drink of choice? Mine’s a grande Starbucks iced coffee frappuccino, half sweet with cinnamon dolce flavouring, soy milk, no whip, and a sprinkle of cinnamon dolce spice mix on top. Say it five times fast, and try to get all components of that right when you’re ordering it (or rather when they’re making it). My mom’s is a grande half-caf americano, non sweet, with just a bit of room for a a touch of cream. My boyfriend doesn’t even like coffee, save Tim’s iced caps, but you’ll often see him with a Dad’s Rootbeer. None of us are the same, and we all have our own unique brews. If we’re allowed to have our own unique favourite drinks, we’re also allowed to have our own unique mixture of treatments that work for us. And you’re worth enough to keep looking and looking until you find what works for you. Play around, and don’t look at another ended session as a failure… look at it as an opportunity to identify the things you don’t want. Look online, find in person sessions, but also find other’s who are willing to work via Skype from all parts of the world. Look for discounted rates, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. A lot of people are willing to work with you and work around you. You do you.
2) COME TO TERMS WITH YOUR CATALYST.
This is a mixed one, because everyone’s experience is different. I’ve met so many people through my recovery, and no two descents into the diet/self hatred mentality look the same. Some people have had a messed up relationship with food, exercise, and/or their body for as long as they can remember. Some people can’t actually remember a time when they weren’t trying to look different than they naturally did, were dieting, or actually felt comfortable in their own skin. I feel like I can relate in some way, shape, or form, to this, as I grew up always thinking I wasn’t good enough, or that I could do and be better. This wasn’t always food or body related for me however, but I was never comfortable in my own skin. From the moment we had to start changing for PE class in school, somewhere around grade 2 or 3 I’m guessing, I remember consciously sucking my stomach in so that I would have the illusion of being slimmer than I was. I don’t know what spurred this, I honestly don’t. But even then, it never really impacted my eating, or my exercise. My love of food, and hatred of exercise still trumped that. Regardless of what you can or can’t remember, I’d venture to say that everyone does have a definitive moment that sticks out in their mind as the time a “switch” went off. It might not be the first moment, but it’s a moment that took you from being somewhat okay, or functioning, to NOT functioning, NOT being okay, and being DESPERATE to change.
For me, this was when my best friend in high school came over to my house a year or so after graduation with a Christmas present. We’d always been the same size (minus my D cups to her I’m guessing B’s), and the whole time I knew her, I always thought she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever known, inside and out. I opened the present alone in my room later, and it was a gorgeous red dress. I hastily took off my clothes and tried to shimmy into the little number, and suddenly it didn’t fit anymore. We were no longer the same size. I couldn’t wear the same size dress as her. At the time I was already feeling low, depressed, and down on myself for other, non body related reasons, but for me, this event sticks out in my mind as the catalyst, the “switch flipped” moment where I decided to actively instead of passively loathe myself, my body, and do everything in my power to change it.
After YEARS of work, and YEARS of struggles, I am now starting to come to terms with my body. I’m starting to be okay with it. I’m not yet at the point of loving it, and at times I’m far from it, but I’m now at a point where I can look back on that catalyst, that moment in time, with something other than anxiety, guilt, shame, and regret. For once in my life, I can look back on that moment and not wish to change it, but rather I can feel sorrow and compassion for 20 year old me. I look back, I accept that it happened, I don’t long that it went differently, but I want to wrap my arms around my former self, hug her, and tell her that it sucks that you feel this way, but it’s okay. You’re okay. You’re fine. You are worth more than this moment and this dress.
I have finally made peace with this moment, and most of the other moments in my life that I blamed, or looked back on with guilt, shame, and regret for where they got me. I’ve made peace with the people that have impacted my life in a negative way. I’ve made peace with my mom’s alcoholism, my dad’s dementia, the family members that told me I wasn’t good enough, the people that made me believe that my only value was my smarts, or my body. I don’t love those moments. I don’t necessarily forgive them. I just accept them, and leave them where they are. They shaped me, in good ways and bad, but they don’t need to be rehashed any more. They don’t need to be a part of my current or my future.
Clean the slate. Feel the pain, grieve a little, then find acceptance and compassion for that moment, or those moment(s) that stick out in your mind. The catalysts. The memories. And then leave them behind.
3) SEPARATE YOUR FEELINGS FROM YOUR FLAB.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m not much for fluff. I gag at “You can do it!” type mantras, and things that fall along the lines of sunshine, lollipops, rainbows, and perfect realities. So the idea of writing an acrostic of feelings was a little too Hello Kitty, Minnie Mouse for my liking…
Side note: To all those I offended by insulting either Hello Kitty or Minnie Mouse, I apologize. I assure you no bobble-heads, keychains, or stuffed animals were harmed in the making of this post.
BUT, I reluctantly listened to my dietitian because she and my ideologies of what recovery should look like are THE SAME, and I have massive amounts of gratitude and respect for her. I did the acrostic. And I instantly shed my diet mentality, loved my body, and have a new lease on life.
Peanut butter brownie points for anyone who can pinpoint what awesome book that’s from!
Okay, no. It didn’t work like that. No sunshine and rainbows remember. BUT, it did remind me that when I claim, like many others, “I feel FAT!” or “All I see is CELLULITE”, I am quite possibly and probably equating my feelings with my physique and flab. FAT and CELLULITE, are NOUNS, not adjectives. You feel EMOTIONS, which are ADJECTIVES. You don’t feel fat. You feel something else, which is making you SEE fat, cellulite, or whatever else makes you feel uncomfortable. Take a few minutes out of your day, ideally when you are in the midst of a triggering/stressful situation, and check out what emotions are actually coming up for you. A neat way to do this is to use your “word of choice” which for many is FAT, or CELLULITE, as the basis of an emotional acrostic. It’ll remind you of reality as opposed to the probably screwed perspective of yourself you’re experiencing. Mine turned up something like this:
4) FORGET THE BURN. FIND THE FUN.
A list of sayings I once felt guilty to hate, but now unapologetically loathe:
- Just do it.
- No pain, no gain.
- If you’re not first, you’re last.
- Strong is the new skinny.
- Sweat like a pig to look like a fox.
- That’s not sweat on your face, it’s fat crying.
- What you eat in private, you wear in public.
- Sweat once a day.
- You’re not going to get the butt you want by sitting on the one you have.
- Everyone has to do things they don’t want to do.
Don’t get me wrong, moving your body is important. Using the muscles you were born with, giving them the chance to engage and disengage, and literally carry you through your life, is something we all need to do. BUT, there is a difference between moving your body because it’s important TO YOU and because you FIND JOY IN IT, and moving your body out of a sense of DUTY, GUILT, and OBLIGATION. Because believe it or not, if you’re doing something that causes you mental and physical anguish and stress, you’re probably overriding the health benefits of it.
Take me for example. When I was in the depths of anorexia my heart rate was predictably and expectedly low. Too low. I went through the process of weight restoration and once I was, from a strict weight and BMI standpoint “healthy”, my heart rate was no longer low… in fact, at times it was quite high. Higher than it should be at a resting state. Many doctors said that it was a complication from a strain on my heart because the muscle had been so weakened. I’m not negating this possibility, but I will say that their solution, exercising the muscle to strengthen it, was UNPREDICTABLY unhelpful. I got to the point where I weighed more than I had ever in my life (still a “healthy” weight by all generic means), and I was exercising for at least an hour or two a day, plenty of cardio AND strength training, yet my heart rate was still higher than you would expect given my level of consumption and muscle at times.
What was going on?
The prescribed solution? Keep up the sweat. What solution actually worked for me? Relapse.
Haha. Kidding. But that is what eventually happened. The “healthy” lifestyle I had cultivated was completely UNSUSTAINABLE. Why? Because I LOATHED every minute. I spent my time obsessing over getting the food I needed to prevent a relapse, struggling to cultivate a body shape that I was not meant to have, and exercising for ultimate “health”, all while waking up in the morning anticipant of bedtime in 16 hours when I would again have reprieve from the hell I was in. I laced up my gym shoes for hours a day, sweated it out, pushed myself harder and harder, all while staying under the quoted “13 hour a week” maximum for “health”, but I wasn’t experiencing any of the health benefits I was striving for. Mentally, mind mind was constantly racing, and I wasn’t present or in the moment with my life. Physically, my muscles were toned and strong, but they also ached and at times spasmed when I got up from a resting position to the point where I almost/did fall over. Emotionally, I was drained and dreading every minute. And my heart rate spent a good chunk of time higher than it should have been. Why? STRESS!
And then I gave up. I gave in. Anorexia was easier. Deprivation caused pain, and anguish, and suffering, but so did this. And what I found, upon relapse, and then recovery again, was that when I was relaxed… mentally and physically, my actual level of health and wellness was far better than it was when I was “sweating it out, and making the fat cry”.
The truth is: you don’t have to have sweat, feel the “burn”, or put yourself in aerobic states and pain to achieve HEALTH. Your mental AND physical health depend greatly on your level of psychological wellness, and if your “exercise” is impeding that, you’re probably doing yourself a vast disservice.
But like I said, movement is still important. I’m not calling out here saying that it’s perfectly healthy and fine to lay around on the couch all day. No. You were gifted with the muscles you have, and you owe it to them to allow them to do their jobs. BUT, that doesn’t mean you have to go through hell. If exercise is HELL, then STOP.
Take a breath.
Pain DOES NOT ALWAYS EQUAL gain. Sweat DOESN’T NEED TO HAPPEN for exercise to be worthwhile. Sitting on your butt DOES NOT MEAN you’ll store fat there. Exercise IS NOT WORTH your quality of life and mental wellness. AND if you’re exercising, to achieve a certain body type, weight, or shape, realize that your goal is thinness, not health or wellness.
So what should you do?
- Change your vocabulary. Remove the word EXERCISE and replace it with MOVEMENT. Think about it… what emotions do you feel when you hear the word exercise? What emotions do you feel when you hear the word movement? Is there a difference?
- Set yourself parameters. Are you a paid athlete? Do you do this for a living? If not, you don’t need to exist at the gym, or spend hours pounding the pavement. You have more important shit to do. Believe it or not, even ten minutes of activity still has a positive affect on your body. I’m sick of those people that state you MUST do x amount of activity for it to be worth it. If you do two minutes of yoga and feel like a rockstar, then I’d say you’re two minutes richer than you were before.
- AND THE MOST IMPORTANT: FIND THE JOY. I have spent… hang on, I’m… 24. Okay, 23.9999999 years of my life thinking that this was a sort of pot of gold at the end of the rainbow kind of concept. A fantastical ideal that doesn’t actually exist for me. I was CONVINCED beyond a shadow of a doubt, and ashamed to admit, I FRICKEN LOATHED ACTIVITY. I could not find anything that was movement that I could do that I didn’t feel obligation in doing. Everything I did, I did because I felt like I SHOULD do it, and the activity that I have gravitated to in this second attempt at recovery was those things that I didn’t hate as much, or that in a moment of inexplicable clarity found a sense of calmness doing, even though it was only for like 2 minutes out of 30. AND THEN… about a month ago my boyfriend decided he was going to help me learn how to ride a bike. Yes, laugh. 24 and I had no idea… even I laughed at that. But I’d tried stationary bikes and that was just as much, if not more hell, than a treadmill… so I hadn’t exactly been chomping at the bit. My expectations were low. The first two weeks of constant start-stops and bails, complete right leg bruises, and one internal contusion on my ribs later that I apparently still have to wait another 4 weeks more to heal and be severe pain free… yeah they were disgruntling. They were hellish. They were frustrating. BUT one day… I flew. That’s the best word I have for it… I felt like I was flying. I felt overcome with legitimate joy as I sped down the street. And now not a day goes by that I don’t want to get on the bike… and while ED likes to try to stick his claws in, the initial desire is 100% me. I couldn’t go yesterday and I actually MISSED it. It’s possible to find JOY IN MOVEMENT! And that’s the movement you want to stick to.
5) TEMPORARILY REMOVE THE WORD “BUT” FROM YOUR VOCABULARY.
A little act of self care for yourself. This kind of goes along the lines of the “Just Do it” mentality. How many times have you had someone say to you, “You did a great job, but if you just worked a little harder you’d be perfect!”? How many times have you received a compliment, and said, “Thanks, but I could have done better.”? How many times did you get second place, BUT instead of rejoicing in that followed it up with, “But it wasn’t first.” ? It’s important to not be arrogant, self righteous or conceited, but a lot of the time the so called “positive” quality of “being humble” is a breeding ground for self depreciation, shame, and negativity. This step is all about being grateful for the good things, and allowing yourself to take credit for the positives and things you have achieved. Remove the word “but” from your vocabulary. It works in so many situations!
- I made it three days without restricting/binging
but then I ate half a cheesecake
- A coworker gives you a compliment on how well you did training a new employee. Your response: “
Thank you, but it’s no big deal.” Just say thank you.
- I exercised for twenty minutes,
but it wasn’t enough.
- I had Ben and Jerry’s ice cream for the first time in years,
but it had way too many calories.
You get the idea. Stop discounting the positives.
6) BE REAL, GET ANGRY, AND SWEAR A BIT.
I’d have to argue that perhaps the number one way to guarantee your own unhappiness and lack of fulfilment is to pretend to be different, or be apologetic, for who you inherently are. This is about all those times that you said to yourself, I have to dress a certain way, act a certain way, or think a certain way, to be accepted/not mocked by others. It’s about all those times that you forced yourself into a mold to “fit in”, and all the times you felt ashamed to be different than others. Why? Because it’s unsustainable, and eventually something is going to give- either it’s you deciding it’s not worth it anymore, or it’s your mental and emotional wellbeing. It’s like asking a cat to be a dog, although cats are not that stupid as to even try. It just doesn’t work.
Speaking of cats, if you asked a cat to be a dog, chances are the cat would look at you in that way that you are 100% sure says, “Screw you.” Cats are good at getting testy. Whatever struggles you are going through, be it an eating disorder, depression, anxiety, addiction, or simply not feeling good enough, it is important to get testy yourself sometimes. Get angry at your struggles rather than be consumed and defeated by them. Your mind is you, and therefore you are the master of your own mind. It kind of goes along with the idea of my last post. Screw you. Do you feel like a brownie? Did you eat a big dinner, but are still hungry? Does the eating disorder want you to eat an apple instead, or stop eating? If it does, get angry. Say, screw you! Did someone tell you you should lose a few pounds? Screw you! Did someone try to give you “advice” because they care about you, that instead made you feel unworthy, unloved, or not good enough? Screw them! Are you tired of listening to all these external rules about how you should look, or who you should be? Screw the rules! YOU are in charge of YOU. No one else is, and nothing else matters. If people can’t accept you for who you are, YOU deserve better.
And that last one… nope, I’m not joking. I am 100% literal here. I come from a religious family, and I grew up with my grandmother who, if she heard you utter a foul word, was not hesitant to stick a bar of soap in your mouth with a vengeance. And I still don’t swear as a general rule in most situations, but sometimes the best way to release things is to utter some choice expletives. Now, I don’t necessarily mean go up to everyone that has ever said something hurtful to you and wail on them. No. I also don’t mean forget all sense of public decency and start rattling off the expletives willy-nilly. Be sensitive to others, and respectful that not everyone wants to HEAR that kind of language. However, a well placed curse word, often if only uttered to yourself, has the potential to trigger a great sense of release and empowerment. And it also helps with that, get angry, bit. 🙂
7) STOP SEARCHING FOR LOVE.
This is an odd one, especially since we’re in the age of online dating, blind dates, and Dr. Phil. Stop jumping from relationship to relationship. Stop basing your worth and value as a person on whether you have a significant other. Realize the power, and liberation, of being alone. Realize that you don’t need to be WITH someone, in order to BE someone. And most importantly, don’t let the fear of never finding someone keep you from being your true self, or keep you stuck in toxic relationships, be it friendships or romantic relationships.
When you’re seeing someone, be you. Don’t be the person you THINK they want you to be. It might work in the short term, but a relationship based in smoke and mirrors isn’t sustainable and will eventually have negative ramifications. When you are you, when you are unapologetically real, the right person will find you. I truly believe that love finds you when you stop looking and start living. And if you’re not in a relationship at the moment, it means it’s not your time to be in one. You find love in unexpected places, at unexpected times, and if you’re being real and true, you’ll be rewarded. Stop searching, start living.
8) DETOXIFY YOUR LIFE.
Seriously though, I hesitated to tell you about this because it kind of goes against everything I said about food freedom… but I found this miracle detox plan that literally is the bee’s knees. No I’m not kidding! It’s a relatively new detox program that helps you shed pounds and cleanse your organs from all those evil little carbohydrate and fat monkeys that are wreaking havoc internally from your unhealthy food and lifestyle choices. It’s an extract that they’ve taken from the knees of bees, specifically a species of bee indigenous to South America… see I said literally! They’ve put these extracts into these smoothie-like drinks that you consume for one week straight. Nothing else! Just these smoothies, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They’re a miracle cure, with relatively low incidences of complications, and only 3/10 chance of fatality!
… Yeah. Screw that.
Did I have you going there?
NO! I will NEVER recommend a detox cleanse, unless it is MEDICALLY PRESCRIBED by a doctor on an individual basis. BUT, I’ll definitely speak volumes on social media detox and cleansing! It sounds corny, but I swear to you it works. Detoxify your social media, and remove all accounts that you follow related to “Thinspo”, “Fitspo”, unrealistic (AKA typical) body ideals, specific diets (yes paleo, yes gluten-free, yes vegan, yes raw- unless you are medically required to eat this way, you don’t need this), and any other feeds that cause you shame, guilt, anxiety, or a desire to manipulate or control your weight, shape, size, or personality. You don’t need that shit. Instead, fill your feed with images of REAL women/men, REAL people…
Side note: Some people are NATURALLY slim, toned or what have you. I’m not implying they’re not real. I’m simply saying don’t buy into those things that are completely digitally altered and airbrushed.
And fill your feed with other ideas- places you want to see, things you want to do, inspiring quotes, balanced food and exercise examples (i.e. everything, no rules), HAES (Health at Every Size), etc. The more you expose yourself to the things that matter, and to health and wellness ideas, the less the other stuff will matter. It really does work.
The same goes for your relationships. Go through your Facebook friends, and delete people you haven’t talked to in twenty years, or those people who make you feel like crap about yourself. Stop spending time with those who are negatively impacting you, and who don’t value you for who you are. It’s not a contest. No one has 700 actual friends, online or in real life.
9) GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO TAKE UP SPACE
In all manners of the word. Being smaller doesn’t make you worth more, any more than being larger makes you worth less. I know for me, there’s a sense of unworthiness, a lack of value, and it makes me feel like I need to be smaller. I don’t feel like I deserve to take up emotional space- I don’t want to share my fears, my problems, my worries, and take up others time. I don’t feel like I deserve to take up airspace. Another one of those toted “positive” qualities of ALWAYS putting others before oneself… yeah, at times, it’s bull. You deserve airspace. You deserve to be listened to, to sometimes get to pick the activity, to have wants, desires, cravings. You deserve to come first at times. You deserve to have a day to yourself where you do exactly what YOU want and need to do for your own health and wellbeing. If you don’t allow yourself to take up space, if you constantly squash yourself for others, or allow others to squash you, you will eventually crumble. And perhaps, this sense of being small, this sense of being not worth anything and being half a person, will translate to you literally starving yourself to be ACTUALLY half a person. Who knows. Just a thought.
You’re allowed to take up space, emotionally, mentally, and physically. Your curves are allowed to exist, your cellulite is allowed to exist, and your mind is allowed to exist. Allow yourself to take your rightful place in the world.