Earlier this evening I read an article on The Mighty criticizing the upcoming Netflix movie To The Bone. The movie depicts the struggle the writer had with anorexia. Given the struggle was with anorexia, the star of the movie is extremely thin. Out of curiosity I followed the link to watch the movie trailer, knowing in the past things like this were known triggers of mine. For some reason, seeing an emaciated woman would drive my brain to want to look that way as well. It suddenly became a competition.
Watching the trailer, I witnessed the emaciated woman talk about counting calories, exercising until she was bruised and exhausted, and finally ending up in treatment. When she wanted to give up on herself others refused to give in. I watched the main character watch others having fun, eating, and living life while she sat on the sidelines. In a way, I felt like I was watching my former life on the screen before me in a manner older movies about eating disorders could never capture. In that moment I felt sorry for the main character; I did not want to be her.
Instead of feeling triggered to return to that former life, I felt pride and happiness. I often find it hard to believe that I started this final recovery attempt 2.5 years ago now. Often, it feels like a lifetime ago that the diseased portion of my brain controlled my every thought, action, and entire life. Watching the trailer I was reminded of how much better life can be on this side–the recovery side–of things. Instead of watching my friends eating sushi, laughing about stupid stuff that happened, and deciding to get snow cones at the last minute; I participate. I go get sushi and eat in front of people while sitting in a crowded restaurant without fear that people are judging my body and the amount of food on my plate. If someone is judging, it is his/her problem not mine. I honestly feel a little sorry for said person because, quite possibly, s/he is struggling with body image and food–perhaps without even realizing it. I’ve learned life is so much better when it is being lived versus when I was living inside myself, hidden by a life-threatening, life-changing disease.
While this film may indeed be triggering for someone in an active eating disorder or in the very first stages of recovery, I think there is going to be a lot of educational insight into the mind of a person struggling with an eating disorder. In the few moments of the trailer alone, I was really surprised by how spot-on the thoughts, actions, and mannerisms of the woman struggling were to what it was like in my mind during the eating disordered reign. I am so proud I am in a place where I can see something like To The Boneas educational content instead of using it to trigger my own disease and spiral back to the depths of the disease. This was a cathartic work for the writer, something I completely understand, we just chose to do it differently. Typically, I try to protect those in an active eating disorder, and those who are in the early stages of recovery, by not writing anything that could be clearly triggering. This post is going to be a little different.
I think the trailer to this movie could be good for those readers who have not struggled with an eating disorder, and even those who are like me and no longer triggered by this material. It makes me grateful for the place I am in now, strong, healthy, and living life. Within the few moments presented in the trailer, I felt like I was watching much of the eating disordered dialogue I had with my struggle presented in a movie format. It brings to life a lot of things I write about. So, this is where I am choosing to trust my readers and let them explore their boundaries. While this material isn’t triggering to me, I understand and respect that it may be triggering to others; therefore, this is where I am trusting you to know your limits and the bounds of your struggle with this disease.
This is where I am choosing to trust my readers and know I cannot protect everyone from triggers at all times.
Recovery teaches individuals to replace unhealthy behaviors for positive practices, coping mechanisms. Often that means instead of purging after a meal, the individual is taught to do something such as coloring, knitting, etc. to help take the individual’s mind off the temptation to engage in harmful behavior. However, there are times when an individual picks up another harmful habit to replace the original harmful habit. In my case, I was starting to become a closet drinker to replace the emotions the eating disorder attempted to drown out.
In my family there is a history of addiction. Without throwing all the people under the bus, I will say my dad was an alcoholic. He may not have admitted it, but he was; I believe it played a part in killing him. To some degree, I believe I inherited his addictive personality. The eating disorder was similar to an addiction in that it gave me a “high” when I restricted food or purged. I used the eating disorder to cope with stress, loneliness, sadness…well, just about any emotion or feeling possible. While I have not been using alcohol to fill all those voids, I was using it to cope with loneliness and stress above all else.
Living in a marina, I am surrounded by people who drink on an unhealthy level. The ship store offers a wide variety of craft beers and wines that are easily accessible. There are people who drink early in the morning and continue to do so all day long. Smelling alcohol on someone’s breath at 10am is not abnormal. I feel into the trap of thinking drinking every night was completely fine for me. Perhaps for some people having a beer after work stops there, but for me, it became something that made me salivate. Got in an argument? Grab a beer. Feeling lonely? Open up that wine. Boat troubles got ya down? No worries, a rum cocktail should fix that right up.
Before I knew it, I was having a beer or two nearly every night and drinking them without eating much on top of that. I had moments where I would want a drink so bad my mouth would water and I was having an all-out craving so I would walk up to the ship store and take care of it. While I love living on the boat, the availability of alcohol when I lived on land in a house was not like it is now. On land I would’ve had to drive 10-15 minutes to get to a store, buy the beer, then drive 10-15 minutes home. By the time it was all said and done I didn’t think it was worth it, and at that time I was still in treatment so utilizing positive coping skills was easy. Convenience is everything.
Over the years I thought I had found my balance with alcohol. For example, I realized three years ago that I can’t drink vodka because it makes me incredibly angry and argumentative. Just ask my old iPhone that got thrown down in a fit of vodka-fueled rage onto the pavement and shattered. Wine makes my nose stuffy, but I drink it anyway because it is socially common since it “pairs well” with food. Of course mimosas for breakfast and brunch; especially in the South. Then there is beer. Not your run-of-the-mill Anheuser-Busch beers, but the well-crafted, flavorful beers. They come in all flavors now–cold brew coffee, PB&J, notes of citrus fruits–I could go on and on. Lets not forget my Caribbean island favorite–rum…or rhum, depending on where it is from. Just typing that all out makes my mouth water thinking about it.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been down this road. The first time I ever went to therapy for the eating disorder, back in 2008, my therapist was concerned about my drinking. Of course, at that time, I was a senior in college so drinking a lot and often was not uncommon. Again, alcohol was and is an accepted societal norm. I still have the charts from that therapist regarding “how much should you drink” based on your age, weight, and other factors. At the time I didn’t think anything about drinking; even though I still feel bad about the one time I showed up for my appointment a little tipsy. My reasoning? It was St. Patrick’s day so Ann Arbor was full of green beer.
I’ve said the words, “I’m going to quit drinking” several times over the last few months to my husband. I would try and it would last a few days, maybe a week then I’d be back at it again. While my husband has been away on business I realized I really don’t think my behaviors toward alcohol are healthy. My mindset isn’t simply having a drink with dinner, but having a drink to drown something out. Quite honestly, the prevailing thoughts are similar to what made me want to restrict food to numb out feelings and get a high from it in the first place. Either way, none of it is healthy. Therefore, I’m calling myself out and making it public to work toward accountability. I’ve been living my eating disorder recovery as an open book, so I’m adding this to it.
If you’re reading this and you want to offer me a drink next time you see me, please don’t. Social drinking is so common and accepted that I struggle to say no. I don’t want to be the odd duck; which makes me smile a little when you consider in high school I wouldn’t drink at parties, but instead would drink plain orange juice to try to fit in. Alcohol is a socially accepted drug. Heck, I studied that in graduate school. Some people can have a drink and that is that; there is no deeper emotional reasoning behind it.
That person is not me.
I am the person who uses it to replace “my” addition of disordered eating.
Once again I find myself returning to tried and true coping mechanisms I learned in treatment, as it is obvious I still need them. Finding my center and my ability to cope with loneliness and stressful situations in a healthy manner is of the utmost importance for my recovery and my future; therefore, I must give up alcohol. I know this is not going to be easy, as I’ve said, it is socially common and acceptable; however, many before me have done it and I know it is what is best for me.
During a phone conversation with a friend and mentor the other day she said, “When you crave it is an opportunity to spiritually connect. Discontinuation of a behavior is trusting in God’s power.”
If you need me, I’ll be crafting a little memo with that on it to post in my kitchen.
The therapist I saw during my years in graduate school would marvel at how I turned everything into a competition. It doesn’t matter what, I made it a competition in my mind in order to be the best…to be perfect.
Here I am, years later, a little–okay, a lot–less competitive.
However, all that has started changing.
I joined a local gym in the fall and struggled to maintain a healthy focus while getting back into something that was once used as a tool against me by my eating disorder. My thoughts quickly changed from having a healthy focus to an eating disordered focus rather quickly. While I wasn’t spending an excessive amount of hours in the gym, I was severely restricting my food intake in combination with exercise; making my sole focus weight-loss. Within a few weeks of joining the gym my behavior started to raise red flags with those who are close to me. My track record of easing back into the gym is definitely not good.
Therefore, when I signed up for the Ruck to Remember 60 to 60 event taking place over Memorial Day weekend, I knew I needed to start with my head in the right place. The event is a 60 mile ruck march where I’ll be carrying 40 pounds on my back. While it takes place over three days, it will still be physically and mentally demanding. I had considered signing up for this event for several months, but feared training for it because of the eating disorder’s ability to grab ahold of my brain in the gym. That, and the last time I did a long ruck march was when I was in the Army very sick with an eating disorder, and ended up stress fracturing my pelvis from overuse and stress on weak bones. Needless to say that was a less than pleasurable experience. So, how to tackle training while keeping the eating disordered thoughts at bay?
Reach out. I’m training for this with a former Army instructor, turned friend, who will also be participating. Accountability for training. This instructor was with me when I got injured during the ruck march before and hung back with me at my painfully (literally) slow pace because I refused to quit. Next, I e-mailed my former dietician to ask for help and guidance with the nutritional side of things. I concluded the e-mail with, “I know this sounds like an eating disorder horror story…” Nutritional guidance for endurance training. Finally, I found a training buddy here in Charleston. A former Army infantryman has decided to run with me at 0400 in the morning (or in the afternoon, if I’m lucky) before he goes to work. I’ve surrounded myself with accountability this time around. Of course, I strive to be honest with TJ about everything, including the moments when the desire to hit the gym may not be motivated by healthy factors.
Instead of turning this into a competition with myself to be perfect or to lose weight and burn calories, I’ve turned this into a competition with myself for something good. This is a competition to prove when I am healthy I can do more and be better than I ever was when I was sick. I look back on several occasions when I was in the Army and find myself grateful nothing worse than a stress fractured pelvis happened to me as a result of the eating disorder. Now I am out to prove to myself that training in a healthy body–a body that is far heavier than it was at any point during my time in service–can serve me better than my sick and broken body ever did. For once I am taking my need to compete and putting it toward a recovery mindset instead of an illness centered one.
During my two years of treatment for the eating disorder, I learned to embrace mindful, slow exercises such as yoga and slow walking. While these exercises are fantastic for the mind and my healing body, I appreciate their place and purpose, but there is something deep inside that yearns to leave everything I have on the pavement. The Army instilled in me the need to compete with myself and I want to train with a purpose for something greater than just me. Participation in the 60 to 60 event does just that. It gives me a greater purpose and a reason to, once again, leave it all on the gravel. My body is healthier and more nourished than ever before, as is my mind. By the time Memorial Day rolls around I will be ready to participate, and my focus won’t be on calories burned or weight lost, but rather the lives that were lost protecting the freedoms we enjoy in this country.
I can already see a difference in how I treat my training times now versus six months ago. Having a designated purpose for training makes all the difference to me and my recovery.
With Body Love, Lane
PS In case you are wondering, yes, the featured image is of me in 2007 during some Army training. Here is another (that is me in the front):
“Identity cannot be found or fabricated but emerges from within when one has the courage to let go.”
Identity. This is a concept with which I have struggled in recent months. For nearly two decades my identity has been wrapped up inside a neat little package I refer to as the eating disorder, and subsequently my recovery. When the satin bow on that neat little package was untied it led to the contents spilling out over the table like puzzle pieces without an order. Each facet of my life lay before me, upturned and mixed up, waiting for me to pick it up, examine it, and set it in its proper place; in hopes of uncovering my true identity somewhere in there, or perhaps when the puzzle formed a picture.
I started this blog when I was merely months in true recovery after leaving treatment, and it has provided an outlet for my thoughts as much as it has provided inspiration for people who read it. Each day I grow stronger in my recovery and take more steps away from the life that once defined me; almost as if I am stepping out of my old body and life to move forward into a new one. Taking off my mask and revealing my true self. The eating disorder was the mask for so long and the space between the mask and my face formed the majority of my identity for the last two years–my recovery.
This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (NEDAW) and usually I flood my social media accounts with facts, stories, and information about eating disorders, treatment, and statistics. Not this year. My choice to not participate wasn’t a conscious one, it just happened. My newsfeed on Facebook and Instagram have been bombarded with NEDAW images, sayings, and statistics; yet I have not shared any of them. It isn’t because I no longer care about individuals struggling with and recovering from eating disorders–not at all–but my identity is not longer wrapped up by the satin bow of recovery or the messy puzzle of the eating disorder. I still greatly care about and pray for individuals who have not yet discovered the freedom recovery will bring.
I have found myself writing for BBA less and less over the last six months, as I have been stepping away from the eating disorder and recovery communities more and more. Writing for BBA only once each month wasn’t a choice I made with logic or reason, but it one that has happened as my life is being lived. Eating disorder thoughts no longer dominate my mind and a “proper” meal plan isn’t something that I cling to in order to give me normalcy while eating now. My exercise isn’t obsessive or damaging to my recovery and my body does not define me. I’ve started to leave the role of eating disorder recovery advocate and step with my whole heart, mind, and body into the roles of Christian, mother, and wife.
Earlier today I found myself sitting with a friend and discussing this very topic over coffee. Identity can be confusing for adolescents and young adults, sure, but it can be equally confusing for adults; especially those impacted by trauma or mental illness. My friend and I talked about finding our identity in Christ and what that actually means. Whether or not you are a Christian, or have a Higher Power at all, your identity is found in your personality, beliefs, etc. While I do not hold the answer as to what it means to have my identity in Christ, I know my “roles” fall under that identity. My confidence comes from Christ and knowing I am created in His image. Outward beauty holds no power over my heart and the acts of kindness I can perform for others.
Struggling with my identity 0ver the last several months culminated itself today when I realized my identity is found in more in my heart than anything else. My identity is my calling and purpose. Christ has given me a heart for people society tends to overlook or despise–inmates and individuals struggling with substance abuse–and how I focus my heart, energy, and attention speaks to my identity. I still love and care about the eating disorder recovery community, as it helped form who I am today and I’m eternally grateful for the individuals God placed in my life to help get me here, but it isn’t the biggest identifier of who I am anymore. My BBA posts may not be as numerous as they once were, but they will still show up every so often, as I wholeheartedly believe everyBODY is beautiful. There are self-acceptance and body-acceptance lessons to be gleaned in every day life and when a lesson smacks me in the face, I’m going to share it.
My identity is in Christ and the courage I have to serve the community He placed in my heart many years ago. My identity is found in the life I lead; not in my body, recovery, or past history of an eating disorder. For me, this is not my identity anymore but a building block to help form who I’ve become. I may live on a sailboat and enjoy sailing, but I don’t identify myself as a sailor to define who I am any more than formerly struggling with and in recovery from an eating disorder makes me a person with an eating disorder.
In the last six months I’ve found the courage to “let go” of the mask, and the space between the mask so my identity could emerge. It has been there all along, waiting for me to realize that my identity is found in the calling Christ placed in my heart long before recovery was on my radar.
Yes, I struggled with an eating disorder for 16 years, and yes, I am in solid recovery after two years of ridiculously hard work, but neither of those things solely define me anymore. Christ defines me. The heart He has given me for the incarcerated and addicted population helps define me. My role as a mother and wife are part of my identity. I will continue to write for BBA but I no longer feel like my recovery or being a writer for BBA is the biggest part of my identity; a feeling that is even more freeing than recovery itself. As my husband said when I explained all this, “I’ve waited for years to hear you say that.”
I’m calling out my current demon for what it is: depression. While this isn’t directly related to body image, depression can indirectly impact my mood, self-worth, and all other aspects of my life. Until today I didn’t realize what was happening; until today I didn’t know to call my demon by its name.
Two years ago at this time, January 2015, I was in treatment at The Center for Balanced Living; chipping away at the emotional baggage that accompanied a 16 year battle with an eating disorder. I felt safe and surrounded by treatment professionals as I unloaded that baggage, learned my triggers, and exchanged all of it for pieces of my “new” personality and purpose in life. Two years ago The Center was helping me along by calling out my demons when I couldn’t and walking alongside me as I found my way through the dark.
One year ago, January 2016, I was still in treatment but on an outpatient level. Each week I drove to Columbus to see my outpatient therapist and dietician; further chipping away and the old and making room the new. When my demons came calling my team was there to help me call them out and cope with the subsequent feelings and negative thoughts. The hard work was getting easier and I felt more confident with each trial that came my way. Support meant steps toward success.
Today, January 2017, I am out and “on my own;” having been completely discharged from treatment since April 2016. There are times, lately more often that not, that I question whether I was fully prepared to step out on my own when I did. At the time I felt healthy, strong, and emotionally able to knock down all my demons through positive thinking, coping skills, and Christ. However, today I am not so sure. Today, and nearly every day for the last six weeks, my demon has come to call and I’ve answered instead of fighting. I’ve allowed depression to seep back into my life through the unsecured cracks in my recovery walls. I stopped using coping skills, convincing myself I no longer needed things like journaling, yoga, or “me” time to decompress. I threw myself to the wolves and the wolves have been winning–but today I am calling myself out.
The week before Thanksgiving my husband lost his job. He was, at that time, the sole provider for our family; working weeks away from home in the oilfield. Then he lost his job and our world was turned upside down. I called the marina where we live to explain the situation and see if I could work there to help our family along while he figured out what was next for his career. Graciously, I was given a job as a dockhand doing physical labor for $10.50 per hour. Well, it was something, so I agreed in order to help support my family–benefits would not be included. Despite having two degrees I do not hold a social work license in the state of South Carolina, so finding something in a related field would be nearly impossible; for most other jobs my degrees rendered me “overqualified”. So now I find myself chipping oysters off cement pilings and washing dock boxes, lost in a sea of depression.
Each day I put on my happy face, staff t-shirt, and walk to work; returning at the end of the day exhausted and on the verge of tears. Much of my depression can be chalked up to anxiety. I constantly stress and worry over my much younger co-workers talking about me (doubtful), whether or not I’m making big mistakes (usually I’m not), and how long I can keep up this job before I have a breakdown in the employee bathroom (seriously, not much longer). I put my headphones in and listen to praise and worship music as I chip away at the oysters, begging God to help me handle this anxiety and depression that, at times, seems almost debilitating. Over the last few days some revelations have occurred during these oyster-chipping-worship hours, causing me to realize I have to confront my demons head-on and recognize where I am in life.
I took being a stay-at-home-mom for granted, as well as the ability to freely write whenever I wanted and now I’m mourning that loss. For the last three years I’ve been a full-time mother and more often than not I was frustrated by the end of that day that I wasn’t doing “more” with my life. I would clean up messes and meet up for playdates while wishing I could be doing something else. At the same time, I had the freedom to write and work on my future (hopefully) Kindle Single but rarely did because I was convinced I had writers’ block or something of the sort. Now I find myself wishing I could be the one running my daughter to school, dance, or a playdate at the park instead of soaking up the strong scent of bleach into my skin. Lately I’ve been praying for God to give me a second chance at both of those things, as He is the one who gives and takes away. I don’t always know His plans but I know He has a purpose for me being where I am in this moment and while I pray He changes it, I know He has me right where He wants me. Clearly there is a lesson to be learned in all of this.
Self-care and the use of coping skills is not a bunch of bologna. When we moved aboard our boat I stopped doing yoga every day. It wasn’t because I didn’t have time or space, we live on a catamaran so space isn’t really an issue; it was because I was convinced I no longer needed yoga to center myself and start each day balanced. I thought being on the water every day would be life-balancing enough but, until recently, I didn’t realize how wrong I was. I need daily yoga in my life for balance and mental health. The same goes for journaling. While I greatly enjoy writing for BBA and our family sailing blog–McKelveys on the Move–neither one can replace my trusty pen and paper journal for my mental health needs.
Wishing my life and current situation could be different won’t solve anything. Wishing for circumstances to change is a lot like crying over spilled milk; as you cry the spill seeps everywhere creating a bigger mess than the one with which you started. Right now my life looks a lot like spilled milk that I’ve been crying over instead of cleaning. Each day I wish my situation was different, that my husband had a good job again, and I would given back that time to write and play with my daughter every day. Wishing for all those things doesn’t change where I am but only seeks to further my depression and squander the time that I do have doing the things I love. So today, I’m going to stop crying over the spilled milk and start cleaning.
No where in the unfinished, utterly unwritten Book of Life does it say I have to love my job or be thrilled with my current situation. It also doesn’t say that I have to be happy go-lucky 100 percent of the time. What I am choosing to write in my Book of Life is this:
Depression comes and goes, the only thing that remains constant is Christ.
My current situation isn’t the most favorable but it is part of the greater plan for my life. Aside from trusting God I can do my part to ensure the demon of depression stays at bay by committing to doing yoga, journaling, and appreciating each moment and opportunity for what it is. While that is often easier said than done, choosing to make a commitment to my mental health is important; no one needs to read about the woman who had a mental breakdown in the employee bathroom…but if I do, it won’t be the end of the world because this is my life and so much of it has yet to be written. This small paragraph in my book won’t last forever but there is always something to learn from every word.
I don’t know why I allowed you to have so much power over me.
As I posted earlier this week, your judgement of my parenting angered me but also made me feel self-conscious and unworthy. I let myself feel that way because of your domineering, harassing attitude…and I didn’t need to. I let you get inside my head and the nasty words you used to describe me, the words you used to put me down, took on their own voice and put me right back into the grasp of the eating disorder.
When you came to my home and got in my face, calling me names and blackmailing me about my parenting, I was so shocked and angry I didn’t know what to say. In reality anger is a secondary emotion and I realize now that I was afraid. I was afraid you would call social services on me because you believed your opinion to be greater than mine without giving me the opportunity to discuss it with you. When I should have told you to get the hell away from my property and to mind your own business I allowed myself to shrink back into myself, as I have always done in the past. At a time when I’ve already been vulnerable and struggling to keep my food on track you only helped make matters worse. Your behavior sent me back into an almost full-blown relapse.
While I realize no one can control my behavior but me, you actions did not help. When I already felt terrible about myself your “confirmation” of that put me over the edge. Days had passed before I realized I had hardly eaten anything for that amount of time. Small things here and there dotted my meal plan but it was predominately made up of caffeine and negative energy. I was volatile and wanted war with you. I let you tell me how I should feel and that was wrong.
You don’t know me. You don’t know my story and yet I allowed you to control me. I allowed your negative opinions to infiltrate my brain and tell me how I should feel about myself and my parenting. I allowed your words to dominate my thoughts and help control my actions–which meant caloric restriction until I was well into starvation mode for several days. You don’t get to have that power. You don’t get to have ANY power over me.
You don’t get to dictate my parenting or my recovery.
I never should’ve given you the time of day and the subsequent hours of worry. You aren’t worthy of my brain power. You aren’t worthy of my time. In my eyes you are almost worthy of nothing but that wouldn’t be correct because everyone is worthy of God’s love. While I am going to struggle to show you that over the next several months while we share a marina, I am going to try. I am going to show you that while you don’t believe I am worthy of the dirt on your shoes, I believe you are worthy of God’s love. You don’t get to send me back to the temptations of the devil, instead I will overcome your negative words with the power of Christ. Just watch me. Watch me treat you with the respect and dignity you won’t extend to me. Watch me show you that I can rise above your ridicule and continue to be the bright light I was before you.
I am going to win this war against relapse and I’m going to show you that God wins the war of hate. His love conquers all–my eating disorder/relapse and your emotional outburst. I don’t know what from your past has you angered but I hope that God can show you the way out. I hope God can show you that demeaning others won’t make you feel better but instead alienate you from others. Rather than be the pariah of the marina why don’t you try treating me with the same respect and courtesy with which you treat the other residents? I am not a threatening individual and if you would come talk to me like an adult you might even learn about me, my parenting, and my life. I’m not the bad person you tried to paint me to be and if you would get to know me you would see that I am intelligent, kind, and a fighter. Why don’t you try it sometime? Just come by the boat and try learning a little more about me before you pass judgement and try to belittle me.
“If you realized how powerful your thoughts are you’d never think a negative thought again.”
Thoughts have the ability to determine our day, even our outlook on life. Our thoughts, when verbalized, have the ability to shape the minds of children and support or break down others. Thoughts, especially in conjunction with words, are the most powerful weapons in the human arsenal. Sometimes thoughts feel so uncontrollable, so overwhelming and demeaning to ourselves that we act based upon those thoughts. This is the case with me when eating disordered thoughts once controlled my life. Sometimes the thoughts are still powerful and it takes all the remaining mental strength I have to reason with myself and convince myself that an eating disordered life is no way to live. Due to my own faulty thinking regarding food and body image when I am being controlled by the negative eating disordered thoughts, I am able to recognize the potential dangers in others when they verbalize their faulty thinking.
In September I was added to a group on Facebook that seeks to support women on their weight-loss and healthy eating journey though a biblically based plan. In order to protect the women of that group I will not name the plan or the group but the basics are this: balance your blood sugar through different types food/fuel combinations; typically resulting in weight loss but at a minimum resulting in change in energy level. The principles are solid and I have reaped some of the benefits of utilizing this notion in conjunction with the knowledge base I have from working with a dietician for 18 months. I have more energy and I’m less sluggish when I follow the food combinations outlined by the plan but I have not, and will not, go “all in” as so many in the group say. I see the faulty thinking in this. Food becomes about rules, competition with self and others, and all too often becomes about the weight loss. Daily in this group women post photos of their feet standing on a scale to show how much they weigh or body comparison photos demonstrating their weight loss over the last few months. I shake my head because I know weight alone does not signify health. In fact, multiple women in the group have commented that since starting the plan and going “all in” they have lost a significant amount of weight (in too short amount of time, in my opinion) and, as a result, are struggling with hair loss. That raises a red flag to this woman in eating disorder recovery. Hair loss in the land of eating disorders symbolizes a lack of nutrients, and potentially a serious caloric deficit. In fact, when I was in treatment we had a lengthy discussion about weight loss and hair loss. The body is preparing for starvation. This is not something I want. I happen to like my blonde hair and would prefer not to lose it.
Women also post almost daily about being discouraged, hating their stomaches/thighs/etc, and begging for tips on how to make the plan really work for them to lose weight. It seems very reminiscent to pro-ana discussion groups in which I once found “support” and encouragement. However, this group does it to “glorify God” by taking care of their bodies, as they are a temple for God (1 Corinthians 6:19). I am not mocking the faith of these women, as I believe in God and have a strong Christian faith, but I believe most of them are not doing it for this reason alone but also because they absolutely hate and are ashamed of the way they look. Some women who utilize this plan have been urged by medical professionals to lose weight or death and disease will ravage their bodies and, as a result, lose weight and truly become healthy. Everyone has their own motives but I know not everyone has pure intentions and use the group as a means for comparison, self-deprecation, and a motive to lose more weight.
The most worrisome posts to me are the ones where emotions are clearly tied to weight and body size. Women who say they cry because they gained two pounds instead of losing two or saying they “feel fat” because they aren’t dropping clothing sizes. These are borderline eating disorder thoughts, especially when combined with the strict rules being followed when going “all in” on the plan. So often the “rules” associated with the plan remind me of the rules I followed when I was living in the eating disorder, which is what scares me for these women. The most disturbing trend I keep reading and seeing in this group deals with the children. Women post selfies standing sideways in the mirror often but the photos that really rip at my heart are the ones where these women are posing with unhappy, self-loathing faces (words to match) and their child is standing beside them, silently observing the self-hate and learning these behaviors. I’ll be the first to admit that I still fall into the trap of body-checking by standing sideways in a mirror (when I have access to one) to determine whether not I like how an outfit makes me look but I never, NEVER do it in front of Vivienne. However, some day she may catch me doing it and it is for that reason I need to continue to strive to change my behavior. I can still clearly picture the photo that hurt me the most and it is of a woman who is doing just as I described and her daughter, the same age as Vivienne, is standing beside her with a sad face, too, while clutching her blanket. Is this really what we want to teach our children?
I know it isn’t what I want for Vivienne. I don’t want her to look at her body after it has birth babies and hate what she sees because her stomach is no longer flat and her breasts aren’t perky. We were all created unique in God’s image and that uniqueness extends to our bodies. Some people are built to be heavier than others. We aren’t all going to look like models, have well-defined muscles, or absolutely zero cellulite. Sometimes we forget that while God created us with different personalities He also created us with different bodies, but all are still created HIS image. All I can do is strive to take care of my body to the best of my abilities in this life I have been given. I can’t get bogged down by playing the compare and despair game and I don’t want to pass that game on to my daughter.
It is time to change the conversation. We, as women, have a responsibility to the young girls in our communities to teach them to love who they are, regardless of body size. We, as mothers, have the chance to change how our daughters look at themselves in the mirror and the dialogue they have about their bodies. We, as Christians, have a responsibility to celebrate all bodies and the uniqueness God created.
No two people were created exactly the same and that is something we should celebrate! It is time to quit playing compare and despair. It is time to teach our daughters that bodies change over time but their abilities should still be praised over appearance.
In the dark of the “Cardio Cinema” at Gold’s Gym I struggled to fight back the tears that started to come to my eyes. My mind still isn’t healthy enough to do this, I admitted to myself in utter defeat. The workout seemed easy enough but fighting back the demon that still plagues my mind is another story.
I found a rabbit hole and couldn’t resist the shiny object at the end: thinness and weight loss. Instead of following my recovery mind, I followed the eating disorder right down that hole. That stupid, big black hole.
In a matter of weeks I could feel myself slipping and, once again, becoming a woman possessed by workouts, “clean” foods, and my body. Things I thought were long gone and replaced by more enjoyable life experiences such as happiness, writing for BBA, and health. I wanted to build my strength and cardio endurance so hoisting the sails on our floating home would be a little less tiring each time I did it; fully acknowledging the risks associated with entering a gym. In my case the risks are not so much physical as they are mental and emotional, but I thought I put a good support system in place. I didn’t hide my gym membership from my husband and I even decided to start going with a friend who is in excellent physical condition to help me get back at it. We set a time limit, and often broke it, but had a plan for our time at the gym nonetheless. I couldn’t just exercise endlessly without accountability. That was my plan. My plan had one major fault: my brain.
By entering the exercise arena again, I opened up a corner in my brain that allowed the eating disorder to slowly creep back into my life. I could “hear” it before I wanted to admit it was back. The voice telling me not to eat because I had done such an excellent workout that I shouldn’t poison my caloric loss with more calories.Red Flag. Talking myself into eating over a grumbling stomach; knowing I had only eaten twice but now it was after 7pm so I shouldn’t eat anything more. Red Flag. My brain telling me to just make some green tea and sip on it until I am no longer hungry. Maybe I should. Maybe then I could actually lose some weight. Red Flag. I found myself obsessively looking in mirrors and reflective surfaces with a consistency I haven’t had in months, berating my body and appearance. It took over my mind every time I saw my reflection with a vengeance for giving it up in the first place. Red Flag. I found myself utilizing the same old excuses with family and friends who voiced concern over my return to the gym, reassuring them I knew what I was doing and I was ready for this. Red Flag.
Red Flag. Bright, red, you-can’t-freaking-miss-it flag.
My recovery mind was fading into the background fast; replaced with thoughts dominated by the eating disorder instead of the real me. But why? Why now?
I’ve been doing well for so long…
I returned to the gym during a period of high stress. Mistake número uno. My sister and the son of my Army Soulmate/BFF were having surgery and I was stressed. I needed an outlet and I felt my life was too hectic to sit down and write. Instead of utilizing safe outlets such as yoga, writing, and paddleboarding; I opted for one of my bigger triggers because I thought surely I was ready for a triumphant return.
I traveled to Pittsburgh, PA to be with my sister and Army Soulmate for the surgeries; requiring I stay at a hotel. Only I didn’t stay at a hotel. I stayed at this quaint little place, Family House, for people who have loved ones at local hospitals. Upon walking into the place it felt eerily like walking into an eating disorder treatment facility; a feeling that made me want to rebel against recovery with every fiber of my being. The large kitchen with two industrial size refrigerators, large sinks, and multiple microwaves screams community meals. The environment is meant to feel inviting, like a home, but instead feels like what it is–a place where people stay when something serious happens. I stood in the oversized kitchen after both surgeries had been completed and I had been up for 18 hours, when my mind flashed back to my time at the Center for Balanced Living. At least this time my food wasn’t being checked and re-checked for meal plan accountability and I wasn’t going to be watched while I ate. I suddenly felt devious. I could sit alone at a table where I could eat as slowly as I wanted and throw out food without the need to hide it first. What I couldn’t believe was that I was even entertaining this thought. I sat at the table, playing with my food, and eating it incredibly slowly; pushing the thought out of my mind that I might actually be starting to struggle again. Despite being very busy while in Pittsburgh, I made time for exercise because I couldn’t “undo” all the hard work I had recently been doing.
All these red flags and I kept ignoring them. Excusing them away and dismissing them as paranoia. I mean, when will I get my life “back” if I don’t start now? I do enjoy the occasional run and the feeling of being back in the gym, but I went too hard too fast. The safeguards weren’t enough because I started out doing too much too soon. I didn’t ease back into the gym, I went at it like my mind and body were fully healed and not susceptible to relapse.
I was wrong.
Healing from an eating disorder doesn’t happen overnight.
Recovery and healing happens over years; marked by struggles, slips, and points of higher learning.
My experience in the gym is a point of learning. Learning I am not able to exercise daily like I used to because my mind isn’t ready for it.
The trigger to return to the eating disorder is still there, lying in wait, for me to choose it.
I chose it.
I tried to ignore it but thankfully I’m stronger than that now. My husband is stronger and knows when to call it to my attention.
Together we won’t let the eating disorder retake my life.
On a similar, yet slightly different note, I hate myself a little for supporting a business that thinks posting crap like this is appropriate, but it is what it is. Besides, I haven’t been a “girl” in quite some time…I’m almost 30!
I much prefer the cover image I’ve chosen from Women’s Running Magazine that both demonstrates and states that weight doesn’t matter. Because it doesn’t.
I found myself standing in the cold plastic surgery center; looking into a full length mirror while a doctor measured and pinched my very pale, saggy, three years postpartum abdomen. I suddenly felt vulnerable, exposed, and insecure; incredibly aware that the eating disorder had found a small window of opportunity and taken it.
If you have been reading my blogs long, you know I start my posts out with a quotation, usually of the inspirational variety. Today, however, I started it out with my own words and my own experience. I, Lane McKelvey, went to a plastic surgery center to get a consultation about my stomach; the one part of my body where true body acceptance is often so elusive. The small eating disordered voice preyed upon that insecurity and in a moment of weakness I made a phone call and scheduled an appointment. An appointment the healthy, wise-mind, recovery-oriented part of me rescheduled twice before I actually went.
Driving to the surgery center I was nervous, a little anxious even, contemplating whether I could even maintain this blog if I went through with the suggestions from the consultation or if I would be another sellout to society. I mean, I had already rescheduled twice, wasn’t that proof enough that I wasn’t even certain I should go? Apparently not. Apparently the eating disorder had the wheel and I was heading for the surgery center regardless of the nagging, healthy voice in the back of my head.
Upon arriving at the surgery center it was pouring down rain; the heavy afternoon rain that comes with the Lowcountry summer heat. I ran inside and thought I might have been in the wrong place because the waiting room looked and felt more like a spa than a surgery center…except it was cold. Why are doctor’s offices always so cold? Glancing around I saw autographed photos from Miss USA contestants, models, and local “celebrities” thanking the good doctor for making them “perfect.” The receptionist with her very perky breasts and nonexistent wrinkles gave me a nice welcome packet; which included a pamphlet about the services offered, a pen with the doctor’s well-chiseled face on it, a drink koozie bearing the logo and name of the surgery center (in case all my friends want to get some work done), a gift certificate for a free microdermabrasion (still not sure what that is exactly) and a magazine called New Beauty. I suddenly felt like a fraud and I knew I had been duped. I mean, the magazine even had an article in it called “Striving for Perfection”. Yeah, this was not my kind of place.
Frantically I sent my husband a text telling him my insecurities about even being in such a place and contemplated walking out but it felt like it was too late, I had to go to the consultation. I also conveniently left out the part where I felt like I had been tricked by the eating disorder and tricked him as well by saying I was going in to learn more about taking care of my belly fat, “since it squishes your organs and is so unhealthy” (quotation courtesy of the eating disorder). I silently cursed myself for not catching it sooner–ED had been really sneaky this time. Somehow that sly devil found a weak spot in my defenses and preyed upon it until that spot collapsed and I was standing in an office being pinched and told how my body could use some changes to be perfect. I thought to myself, “Damnit, Allie was right. This was ED all along and I didn’t believe her. I thought I knew for sure this was just me trying to make myself a little healthier and it wasn’t all about the aesthetics. I haven’t even seen myself in a full-length mirror in months, maybe even a year, and now I’m doing it with someone else. What. The. Hell?”
“You’re an excellent tummy tuck candidate,” the doctor said, snapping me back to the reality of the situation. “Sagging, excess skin and these pockets of fat could easily be taken care of with a tummy tuck procedure.” Walking back over to the table filled with “before and after” images of women who have done everything from a tummy tuck to the latest trend of CoolSculpting to rid themselves of fat, the doctor also tells me I would be a great candidate for the hCG weight loss program. “Oh sh*t, I’m in trouble now. Is it inappropriate to cover my ears? Weight loss program?” My healthy brain swirled but the eating disordered part was all ears; “A rapid weight loss program promising no less than 20 pounds lost in 40 days? COUNT ME IN!” I finally escaped the consultation with more handouts on the suggested procedures and the hCG weight loss program. I couldn’t get to my car fast enough.
Sitting in my car in the rain I was extremely sad about what I had just done. Not only had I been tricked and gone to a consultation with a plastic surgeon–something I am usually adamantly against–but now I felt like I was the worst looking woman in the world. My body image tanked in a matter of minutes because I listened to ED without even realizing it. Doing the most responsible thing I could do, I drove to the nearest outlet mall and went shoe shopping to try to take my mind off the very tempting weight loss program offer…it didn’t work, but I did end up with some cute (and comfortable) wedges.
I got back in my car and began researching the hCG diet. I found the following:
The hCG diet consists of three stages. The hCG Diet stages are:
Loading — 2 days of eating fatty, carb-filled foods. Burning — 26 to 43 days of a 500-calorie diet, depending on your goal. Maintenance — 3 weeks of a starch/sugar-free diet.
Record your weight each morning, and if you have gained more than two pounds in any given day, you should skip a meal. This helps your body regulate your appetite and weight.
hCG can be administered as daily injections.
As I drove away I started contemplating what I just read. A highly restrictive diet of 500 calories a day? Skip a meal? Was I really considering spending $600 to open Pandora’s Box and potentially undo the two years of hard work I’ve done? Finally, my brain kicked in, “WHAT ARE YOU THINKING!? This is the anti-meal plan. This is the anti-Anne, anti-CBL, anti-recovery plan. You just spent two years learning you don’t have to cut out food groups and living on 500 calories is not only stupid, but deadly. DO NOT DO THIS.” As I was having an internal debate, okay less civilized, an internal battle a song I hadn’t heard in a very long time started playing on my iTunes: Courage by Superchick.
I told another lie today And I got through this day No one saw through my games I know the right words to say Like, “I don’t feel well,” “I ate before I came.” Then someone tells me how good I look And for a moment, for a moment I am happy But when I’m alone, no one hears me cry
I need you to know I’m not through the night Somedays I’m still fighting to walk toward the light
In case you hadn’t noticed by my usual musical background to my blogs, I am a very musically oriented person. Courage is the song that is playing today. As soon as the song began playing and the lyrics hit me I started to cry. This is NOT what I want for my life. I don’t want to go back to the eating disordered life. I don’t want to tempt it by further considering this weight loss program as an option. I have no desire to go back to treatment, to monitor every bite of food I consume, or sit in group therapy trying to figure out how to cope. I don’t want to have weekly weigh-ins, therapy sessions, and the loss of trust from my family. The secrets, lies, depression, anxiety, stress, struggle, and darkness that accompany the eating disorder are not what I want. A 500 calorie diet and daily weigh-ins, even with the promise of hCG as an appetite suppressant, is too much like an eating disorder.
It is an eating disorder.
Coming “clean” about this is somewhat embarrassing. I thought I knew all the tricks in ED’s playbook…but I missed this one. This shows that I am human and recovery is anything but perfect. While the ED voice is almost nonexistent most of the time I still have to remain diligent to ensure he doesn’t get let back into my life. Today was a little too close for comfort but this is recovery. This is the very real struggle people in recovery, even solid, long-term recovery have to fight for life. In a world where doctors make money preying on the insecurities of people, we must always remain diligent and true to who we are and the people we have become in recovery.
“Whenever you get TRIGGERED...get curious. Ask why. Dive DEEP.
That’s where the beauty lies.”
Sometimes triggers feel like they can break me. At the very least they shake me to my core and make me question my recovery; forcing me to examine my stance and stability–or lack thereof. While I once had a running list of things that triggered me, those things now cease to exist and it is the random, small things that force me to dig deeper in recovery.
In the beginning triggers where the glaring, obvious things that often stand in the way of people trying to achieve solid recovery. Some of those are still triggers for me and force me to step with caution in this dance I call life in recovery. Triggers would often follow the “people, places, things” rule that those in recovery for substance addiction face. However, triggers can often be other things such as songs, emotions, thoughts, feelings, and smells. Sometimes triggers are so random they sneak up on me and I feel like they are going to swallow me whole; forcing me to return to the “safety” and “security” the eating disorder once provided.
For the longest time I had to avoid Wendy’s fast food restaurant because in college I would go through the drive thru and order things off the dollar menu to eat and subsequently purge. Wendy’s became a trigger for me once I started to move toward recovery my senior year of college, suddenly becoming off-limits. A place could set me down the wrong path.
To this day the song Courage by SuperChick throttles me back in time to lying, hiding, and covering up my actions. Telling everyone I was fine, I had eaten dinner before I arrived, or that I hadn’t exercised beyond the point of exhaustion more than once that day was a near daily occurrance. I can still picture myself driving through the University of Michigan campus on my way to the Ann Arbor Center for Eating Disorders for the Monday night support group listening to that song. It was on my “triggering” playlist I kept on my old-school iPod Nano to spur me on toward a lesser caloric intake and unhealthy weight loss.
Numbers are still a trigger for me but it is no longer every number related to an eating disorder (weight, calories, numbers, etc.), just certain ones. For example, I still avoid seeing my weight at the doctor’s office and I have no intention of returning to knowing it because, for me, it serves no purpose other than to instigate evil in my life. Calories, however, no longer bother me as much as they once did. Often I don’t even look at them unless they happen to be plastered on the menu at a restaurant, then it seems unavoidable. When people rattle off their weight, pants size, or amount of time spent engaging in exercise I am often unfazed. At least I no longer compare myself to others!
Sometimes I don’t have to dig very deep to figure out my trigger; I only have to HALT. I first learned about HALT in grad school when I was working under an amazingly brazen internship supervisor who was in long-term recovery for substance addiction. She was seriously kick-ass–and still is! Anyway, HALT was used to help those in substance addiction recovery figure out their triggers and I realized it applied to eating disorder recovery as well. Never let yourself get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. Most of the time what is triggering me fits into one (or more) of those simple categories. Although, there is almost always more to it if the trigger is in the “angry” or “lonely” category. A different internship supervisor in grad school always said anger is a secondary emotion so we need to dig deeper to find out what is really causing the problem.
However, I still have those random triggers that sneak up on me.
Today I had to dig a little deeper to find why something triggered me. I had to ask myself why I was being triggered by something so seemingly small. What was it?
A sore throat.
An absolutely random thing was triggering me to engage in an eating disorder behavior. I swallowed a piece of the bread on my grilled cheese and it scratched my throat as it slid down. The sensation was so eerily similar to the feeling of purging that I could feel the thoughts creeping in and encouraging me to go ahead and engage in that behavior. The thoughts telling me to do it “just once” because I was already having an “off” day. That’s when my recovery brain–MY brain–jumped in and thought, “Ah ha! There is the real issue; the ‘off’ day.” But what about it had been so “off” anyway? I started to think along the HALT line: I wasn’t overly hungry (since I was eating), I wasn’t tired, but I was feeling angry and somewhat lonely.
Realistically, one of my biggest triggers–if not the biggest–is anger. Before going to treatment and learning how to feel and experience emotions again, all I ever felt was anger. I would hold all my feelings inside until a situation that made me angry came along and I exploded; not usually on a person but on myself in the form of engaging in the eating disorder. Makes sense right? Not. I allowed something someone else said/did to anger me (usually meaning I was hurt by their words/actions) and only hurt myself more instead of talking to that person. I digress, I was feeling angry about things that made no sense to be angry about and determined it was really just feelings of frustration and stress instead of anger.
Aside from stress and frustration, I also felt a little lonely. As I’ve stated before, we moved to a new state and, even though we lived here once before, my family and my closest friends are still in Ohio (or Columbia, SC and Saint Vincent in the Caribbean…okay, I have a lot of friends but none in Charleston). While I used to have almost weekly coffee dates with friends and a standing weekly lunch date in Ohio, I no longer have any of that. I am usually quick to make new friends (as my sister says, I can make friends with a rock) but our current situation makes that a little difficult. However, as I turned my mind toward the positives and reasons why none of this was worth throwing in the towel on recovery and allowing a lapse to creep into my life, I counted my blessings.
God is providing for our needs. We have a place to temporarily stay while we finalize our new living arrangements. We have food, shelter, and clothing. We definitely are not “homeless” as I often lament to friends.
I am staring to make new friends in the one area where I branch out.
The Charleston Community Yoga center is ah-mazing. From my very first class I felt welcomed into the friendly atmosphere. I started to become a “regular” at a few morning classes and, as a result, met a woman who has a child the same age as mine and we have started planning to have playdates. Hopefully once we get plugged in at a good church in the area we will make even more new friends.
Any day in recovery is better than even one moment in the disease!
Yes, I get frustrated and stressed that God’s timeline isn’t lining up with MY timeline but that doesn’t mean this is an “off” day. It just means His timing for our living situation hasn’t been met yet. Patience, Lane. Seriously, this small amount of time is just that–small.