Tuesday, June 29, 2010

escaping my abuser...again and again.

how many times have i been told to think of my eating disorder as an abusive relationship?
however many it is, until this week, it was the same amount of times i had the thought below in response:
yes. i am in an abusive relationship. for someone on the outside to notice must mean i'm really succeeding at this.
my mom is going to kill me for this, because she was the ultimate advocate of the abuse analogy. but as with most aspects of recovery, it didn't make sense to me until it made sense to me.
although now i rarely struggle with urges to restrict, my eating disorder still sneaks in the shadows, trying with all its might to maintain some measure of control in my life.
lately, i've trying a bit too hard to avoid feelings of worthlessness and bad body image by adhering to a strict list of to-do's each day. i've found myself worrying that if i were to miss a workout, or wake up late, or take too long of a nap, or use a little too much soy sauce on my sushi and get bloated, that the ominous clouds of self-depricating thoughts would quickly blow in and hang heavily over my head.
it’s kind of like my day is a tent- and my work out, my plentiful but extremely healthy food, my early mornings, my ability to go and go and go without stopping- are the tent-poles holding it up.
on saturday, as i laid in bed, missing my workout, sleeping, eating "sick food" (as in food people eat when they don't feel well, not eating disorder food), and sleeping some more, i felt as though life had been ripped out from under me. like i was going to have to start again, ground-up, to rebuild my sense of self-worth. Because i'd not adhered to my success-standards for one day, i woke up Sunday morning frightened to realize that i wasn't as sure of who i was as i had been before spending saturday in bed.
I would prefer not having to think those thoughts or feel those feelings again. And so I found myself fearing the next time i would (for whatever reason) miss my schedule.
so thinking through all of this, as usual, brought a psychology class to mind. i remember a girl giving a presentation last semester about therapy techniques for battered women. she talked about the criteria for battered woman’s syndrome. there were four of them, but there was one in particular that really got me thinking:
a battered woman lives in constant fear of her abuser.
i thought about this. and i thought about my fear. and i thought about my scampering around as of late, in effort to keep my fear from coming true.
although i'm no longer in the type of relationship that demands restricted eating, visible bones, and my entire existence really, i still think these tent-pole standards of mine look lot like a person in an unhealthy relationship.
(fellow strugglers: maybe some of you are still in the stage of your struggle I just mentioned above. That is OKAY. This can apply to anyone at any place in his/her disorder)
all of this pondering and realization about my abuser led me to do some research on abuse.
I found a site offering post-relationship advice to abuse survivors. (please ignore the lacking chic-ness of the site: the content is truly the best I found)
here’s my favorite sentence on the site:
“[once you get out of the abusive relationship] You won't constantly be running around like a headless chicken making sure everything is 'just so'.”

I started to think about all of the women who are in these types of relationships, forced to “run around like a headless chicken making sure everything is ‘just so’”.
for a lot of these women, their abuser isn’t just in their minds, or their own bodies, it’s a living, breathing, frightening man who can look them in the eye and hurt them in any way he chooses.
I’ve said a zillion times that an eating disorder is the worst thing that anyone could ever have to deal with. and I won’t back off the fact it’s definitely up there on life’s list of most unpleasant things. but the up/downside of our abusive relationship (and any other addiction to substance or behavior) is that once truly we make up our minds to end it, our abuser has no chance of coming back to get us.
there isn’t one ounce of power in the relationship that isn’t in our hands.
It feels completely unnatural at first- to act out in our power and not the eating disorder’s. it doesn’t just feel unnatural at first, in fact, it feels unnatural for a long time. It sometimes still does.
But just this week, I found myself so naturally in the midst of one of the most beautiful nights I’ve spent in college yet. My dear friend, Morgan Read, had just returned from Haiti. A group of us surprised her on our apartment balcony to celebrate her belated birthday which took place while she was away.
The balcony was dimly, sweetly lit with it’s single lamp and the candles from Morgan’s cake. There was music and laughter and blush wine and the air was sticky like summer, but not oppressive. We sat in a circle listening intently to story after story about Morgan’s adventure. I noticed after awhile the utter stillness of my heart and mind. I looked at the bright, beautiful women around me, and I didn’t have to pretend I that I was present or wish that I could be. I just was.
what I’m trying to say is this:
when we continue to relish in the unnatural, to separate from the painful stability of our abuser, and just feel it (sometimes not knowing how or why we continue) at some point, the natural things that we wanted to feel, that we’ve watched other people feel, suddenly envelope us. and the [beautifully imperfect] life we thought we’d never have isn’t just lingering around us…it’s actually ours.
and it's because of this that no matter how difficult it gets, i will continue to escape my abuser...again and again.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

in honor of two great lives.

my grandad (dad's dad, not the one from a few posts ago) lived an awesome life. he knew what he loved and he went after it. his determination truly served him well. after 90 full and happy years, my grandad, monk wade, passed away last sunday.

i'm not aiming for one of those cliche life-is-too-short-to-struggle-with-whatever-you're-struggling-with posts, so keep reading. (i can't promise there won't be hints of it here and there, but i plan to put my own twist on it)

At the service this morning, as the preacher highlighted precious strands of memory from monk's life, the one that made my eyes shine with tears was from his wife's (my dear grandmother vera) funeral.

i'd never known or heard this until today, but apparently as they put my grandmother in the ground, monk turned to the preacher (who has now officiated both of their funerals) and said, "i wish i could just crawl into that casket with her".

it really cut into my heart to think of a love like that. it got me thinking, too, about my grandmother vera (we named her, "scat" after the phrase she ruthlessly hissed at our cat every he came within two feet of us when we were babies)

scat was a precious-hearted, saint of a woman. she died of alztheimer's about 5 years ago, so even then it'd already been a number of years since she'd been herself.

but as i sat there and let the truth of the current circumstances-- my grandfather dying, my dad's dad dying, all the people who hadn't witnessed his declining health and the renewed perspective of his best years they brought-- i realized what was really happening and that it's going to happen to everyone i love and i wondered why this sense of love and loss and life's fragility hadn't really gotten to me at scat's funeral like it had today.

i thought back to scat's funeral. and i realized why it was fuzzy. scat's funeral was in march, five years ago. in march, five years ago, i was roughly four months into my eating disorder.

i remember that day, waking up and feeling thrilled because the scale had read ** pounds that morning. i felt the skinniest i'd felt yet. I remember my mom saying something to me about some friends of hers making comments at the visitation about how thin i'd gotten.

Once the funeral and burial were over, we went back to scat and monk's and there was food everywhere. i remember really letting myself eat that day because it was kind of an occasion. i didn't feel guilty about it because i hadn't eaten in weeks and wouldn't again after that day.

that afternoon my mom's mom, nini, took me to look for prom dresses. i'd officially become a size *. in fact, a lot of the size *'s were too big, and i had to have a size *, which i never thought i'd actually reach.

those are the things that i really remember about that day. and i can never have that day back. and scat deserves a heck of a lot more than that.

but when i look back on today, i'll remember feeling love and appreciation for my grandfather and his life, feeling proud of my dad as he read his own father's eulogy, and above all, feeling grateful to my precious Lord Jesus for his grace and redemption as person after person motioned heavenward and said, "monk was ready to go home".

today, as i live in recovery, i live also in reality, and in reality, as we see my memories of monk's funeral vs. scats, is where life is.

it isn't fair to scat, or to me, that my eating disorder kept me out of reality that day. and as much as i hate my body today, and very well may hate it a lot of days, i know that anything that would take my presence-of-mind from the laying to rest of my precious grandmother is something that i want as far away from my heart and mind as i can manage to get it.

let this post settle into your heart and mind and aid you in your respective struggles, and let it do so in loving memory and tribute to monk and scat wade. he was truly a character and she was truly a saint.

here's to their lives, my life, and your life. let's not waste it.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

the best.

Dear Daddy,

as you well know, i am an over-fulltime summer school student with no income (until july 17th when an art show will hopefully change that). Because any father's day present i would purchase for you, you would technically be purchasing for yourself, i opted against the store for your father's day gift this year.

I hope you don't mind, but i think i feel pretty safe saying you don't. of course mom got you something really cool, that i'll hold off on telling you about in case you read this before you open it...but i always like to do something specifically and especially from me (as you know- something that's usually of an artistic nature).

i've been surprising myself a lot lately, and here i am doing it again with what i'm about to say: i decided to leave my creativity (along with my non-existent wallet) out of your father's day gift this year. what i'm giving you is not a tangible work of art, but my acknowledgement of one, one that in my own wisdom, i failed to acknowledge. it's been only by the love and mercy of the Ultimate Father that i've come to the beginnings of understanding its true beauty.

what i'm trying to say is this:

Happy Father's Day, Dad. And here, in writing, is my own genuine and personal acknowledgment of the fact that i am a beautiful person.

the potential was there for awhile. and for awhile, it was the undeveloped, pallid potential i found disturbingly beautiful itself.

but just today, perfectly enough in time for this post, i noticed the uniquely beautiful coloration in my freshly-showered face. It was as if God had taken a paintbrush and water-colored the lightest purplish-rose into the creases of my eyelids, the softest dusty peach into my cheeks, and the palest pure pink into my lips.

I loved the colors and their compliments. and i loved even more that i found myself okay with them being there.

and so dad, i wanted you to know.

and i want to thank you, dad, for making treatment and follow-up treatment possible. as i told you on the phone a couple of months ago, although treatment was for me what studying abroad is for a lot of people, the freedom i've gained feels better than a study abroad across the entire world.

thank you for loving me, both healthy and sick, and thank you for your limitless patience throughout both my disorder and my recovery.

Without your support, there is no way i could be walking in the freedom, joy and health in which i walk today.

i love you dearly and always will.

Father's day love in Christ from your beautiful daughter,

Elizabeth Ann

Friday, June 18, 2010

jokes are serious.

there comes a certain but undefinable point in recovery at which eating disorder jokes become acceptable.

two of my favorites are as follows:

the first happened when my friends and i were on a weekend trip to Louisville, Kentucky. We went to this quirky little restaurant called Lynn's, and while we were waiting on a table, discovered a couple of fun-house mirrors- the kind that make you look about as wide as you are tall.

One of the girls stood in front of the mirror and said, "ugh! please look at this!"

i walked over, took a look, and said, "well- now you all know what i see when i look in the mirror every day"

their eyes darted to mine. they were completely baffled as to whether or not they were supposed to laugh.

"Sorry- eating disorder joke," i said. i guess that assured them that what i'd said was actually supposed to be funny, because they all burst into laughter.

i'll always remember that as a break through for my friends and for me.

My second favorite just happened this week. my granddad just had stomach surgery wednesday. he couldn't eat anything for two days prior to the operation. i called to check on him tuesday morning, and my grandmother told me he'd just come in from a walk. "How did he go for a walk if he hasn't had any food for 48 hours?" i asked. Nini (my grandmother) relayed him the question-

"Well," he said, "You tell her i been wonderin' the same thing about her for the past 5 or so years!"

The three of us died laughing and although he apologized, i'm pretty sure he was quite satisfied with himself for thinking on his feet.

there's a particular enjoyment i get from this specific avenue of humor, but i've recently realized that i find it more than funny. i find it liberating.

i think it's because in the midst of the laughing at my disorder, i separate myself from it, and i suddenly find myself on the same level with the rest of humanity, particularly, the humanity who love me.

it's the truest connection i've found on the other side. it feels real, and happy, and almost like i was never sick to begin with.

I really started formulating thought on the matter the other night after EDA (Eating Disorders Anonymous). I was talking with the wonderful Nicole Siegfried (director of Magnolia Creek). I asked her about some kind of supplement and wanted to know if it could cause weight-gain. I smiled after i asked and said, "I think i've had about enough of that" ("that" being weight-gain).

the both of us laughed and for one beautiful second, it felt like we were years down the road, talking as old friends, colleagues even. It didn't feel like the therapeutic relationship it is now (although there's nothing wrong with it being therapeutic) but to use one of my personally-coined phrases, i felt like a real person. it felt wonderful.

it's funny, i think, that the whole of the time i spent in my eating disorder, i also spent in isolation. I loved how "special" it made me feel, and at times i've loved how "special" being in recovery has made me feel. it's like no one can touch me or my identity, because the world is one giant lay-person and i'm the expert, the different one, the private school sorority-girl that ended up in rehab.

it's been that "different" feeling that's kept me so safe for so long. But if it's really safe, then why does it feel like it felt when i used to burst out of the bottom of the deep-end as a little kid when humor and i venture into humanity?

we put so much effort and struggle and destruction into the thing that makes us "the special one". we put our lives on the line (literally) to defend our differentness, because there's something in that empty abyss that's just so fulfilling, and we're scared that if we give up the disorder that sets us apart then we'll lose everything we don't even really have. i never, ever thought i'd find myself saying this, but is it really so bad (at least in this respect) to just be like everyone else?

i always thought it was in my disorder, outside of humanity that i really found myself. but i've realized that the real way to get to know myself is actually the reverse: outside of the disorder, in relation to humanity and my Lord.

who knew i'd discover it telling jokes?



Thursday, June 10, 2010


i have a confession to make.

today is the first day this week that i've not spent this hour of the morning in the gym.

it would be fine, healthy in fact, to be in the gym at this hour of the day, were i not taking a spin class from 8-8:50 right before.

as my awesome nutritionist says, Samford should be shut down (okay that's an exaggeration...but you get what i'm saying). it's known as the college capital of eating disorders, yet for a lot of majors, it still requires a concepts of fitness and health class, plus two p.e. credits on top of that.

the spin class is my final p.e. credit. and unfortunately/fortunately (this paradox is going to appear in a lot of my posts, i've realized) i have an hour-and-a-half break between my spin class and my art appreciation class, which is just enough time to get my second work out in, rinse off, and hop on a computer for a second before class.

here is the good/bad news: after three days of justifying this workout routine to myself, i'm calling it quits. if you read my last post, i'm realizing that i can't squint at the death side of the head and pick out the parts of it that are kind of alive; i either pick death or life, and today, i choose life.

it was something in my social psychology book that caught my eye and that's really fueling the fire of my 3-day-late healthy decision (is it still considered healthy if its 3 days late? i guess probably so).

(i started the above at 9 am on thursday. it's now 11:57 pm on friday)

i know i'm a total nerd for finding life inspiration in a textbook, but as it turns out, when a nerdy brain is fed the proper amount of carbohydrates, its actually really fun to think with.

anyhow, in my social psych textbook, we just covered a chapter that discusses the fact that contrary to popular belief, attitudes do not change behaviors, but behaviors actually change attitudes.

in other words, if you want to think a certain way, you're going to have to act like you think that way before you actually do.

the book gave an example of this about a study by a guy named Philip Zimbardo. Zimbardo wanted to study the effects of role-playing on people's beliefs, and so he conducted an experiment in which he placed college students in different roles in a prison setting. some were assigned as guards and others were prisoners. surprise: he called it the prison experiment.

long story short, the experiment was cut short after only a few days, because the "guards" had gotten so into their roles that they'd practically forgotten that roles was all they were. they became sadistic and abusive, and "prisoners" were either deeply depressed or disturbingly apathetic. It was no longer ethical for the experiment to continue.

morbid example, yes. but i think it illustrates really well what happens when we step in and act, even when it isn't something that feels natural to us. after a surprisingly short time, it becomes our reality.

(it's now saturday morning- 8:00 am)

this has been true for my recovery over and over. it's a little bit annoying, because i keep finding myself having to continue acting in out-and-out defiance of things that i've held as core beliefs for years.

it started with my nutritionist telling me that the weight i'd set out in my head as "not-sick-but-not-well-so-kind-of-okay-for-everyone" actually was sick.

I couldn't help that i disagreed with her. even in my months-long periods of "recovery" it'd always been *** lbs i'd found myself refusing to go over. but the real me was somewhere down in there, crying out for freedom, and so, feeling blindfolded, i let my nutritionist and my therapist lead the way.

(i was going to say i let them take the wheel, but didn't for two reasons:

1. it made me think of Carrie Underwood

2. i've still been in the driver's seat, but having them is a lot like driving a "student driver" car. i'm ultimately in control, but i've allowed them to take the passenger seat with its own brake, and i trust them to correct me when i'm doing something wrong.)

anyhow, when i decided to follow their lead, it included acting in step with what, at the time, seemed like crazy ideas. I'll never forget the first time they told me the weight they wanted me to reach. *** lbs seemed like such a happy-medium solution, but like i said, i knew i wanted freedom, and so i acted outside my belief, and followed them up to *** lbs and then well past it.

the one thing i'd feared more than anything else for nearly 5 years had happened. and i'd feared it just as much as always the entire time i was making it happen.

but somewhere along the way i found myself so in love with my newfound ability to live that *** lbs didn't seem like such an okay alternative anymore. i acted outside my belief until my belief came and joined my actions and me.

my weight is one of about a thousand examples. and every time i think, "nope. it's not going to work this time. i can never think that way," it happens, and eventually i find yet another sliver of my eating disordered mind reversed.

so here it goes for the thousand-and-first time.

right now, i find a pseudo sort of solace in multi-hour visits to the gym. i can't help that, it's something i believe. i believe that if right now, i take my running shoes out of the closet, put them on my feet, and let them hit the saturday-morning pavement for a couple of hours, that i'll feel really good about myself and about today.

but i'm taking a spin class 5 days a week, and that's all my nutritionist says i can do, and so my shoes will stay in the closet, and my sewing machine will come out instead.

already, as i sit here and type, i feel a little bit of my belief changing. sewing/designing is a gift, and as soon as i publish this post, it's a gift i'll be using, and not ignoring while i run.

have a beautiful weekend.



Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I spent a couple of hours wandering around the Birmingham Museum of Art today.
Okay…As much as I wish that were the whole truth, I was required to go with my art appreciation class, but I enjoyed myself more than I can say, and will most definitely be returning soon. I found inspiration for new things to sew and for lots of other facets of life as well.
This was one of my favorites…

It’s called, “The Monumental Life/Death Head”. It was carved out of stone around 1400 by someone from the Toltec-Aztec culture. As you can probably tell from both the photo and the name, it's a head that's half alive, and half skeleton. and looking at it, i couldn't help but feel like we're all this Toltec-Aztec statue inside. no matter what our struggles, we're all faced with daily dilemmas pertaining to those struggles in which we're forced to choose between being alive (whatever that means for each of us) or skipping out.
In my opinion, eating disorders (as with most addictions) are in very broad terms, an effort to escape from life. it's a constant turn to the skeletal half of the head, not necessarily for the appeal of death, but for the avoidance of the things that hurt, or are uncomfortable about living alive.
Back in January, when I was first released from magnolia creek, I had a therapist tell me that he’d never seen anyone leave treatment, jump back into school, and recover successfully.
“but hey- best of luck to you…” I remember him saying.
And however worried he and many other people in my life were about me “jumping back into life” so quickly, I promise that my worry surpassed theirs by leaps and bounds.
I wasn’t so sure that I would make it either, but although part of me going back for spring semester was perfectionism-driven, another part of me went back because I knew that if I stayed in treatment, or discharged, but chose to sit out of school and just “focus on recovery”, I would get more stuck in the “patient” role than I already was, and I would never be able to return to life as the self-sufficient, secure woman I now like to think I’m striving to be. i was afraid of life without the eating disorder, and although recovery is not the eating disorder itself, it's the closest thing to it, which is why it becomes a frighteningly easy escape and obsession.
like i said before, i've never been one for the death side of the head, but i was afraid of choosing life, and choosing against life, whether you like or not, is choosing death.
i used to love my meal plan, for example. i loved the structure and the fact that i had rules to follow and something to constantly think about. I loved the fact that when i was at restaurants there were things i couldn't order because they didn't fit my meal plan. are you seeing the escapism?
Although this was technically "recovery behavior" i can't help but look at the Monumental Life/Death Head, and realize that i was choosing the death half. i also can't help but realize that the eating disorder was pleased with my efforts to continue to deny the life going on outside my own head.
I still make an effort to stick with what i'm supposed to as far as food goes, but to be honest, i realized that i would rather be a part of what's going on at the table around me than the thoughts about how many grams of protein i still need circling inside my head.
I knew that as frightened as I was of being a “real person”, (that’s sometimes how I refer to life outside of escapism or life post-graduation…depending upon the context: hopefully you inferred that this is the context of life outside escapism) I was just as frightened of missing out on any more real-person-dome than I already had.
What the above ramblings really all come down to is this:
If an eating disorder is an effort to escape the discomforts of life, then it doesn't make sense for recovery to become an obsession, and it’s own form of escapism as well.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s crucial to take a little time to get back on your feet, particularly before physical health is restored-
(if you are less familiar with the world of eating disorders, I’m about to let you in on something that I wish more people understood: recovery doesn’t truly begin until the individual’s weight is restored to a normal, healthy range. It is NEVER the other way around)
-after all, I spent a month doing just that in treatment. But I think what I’m saying is that based on my own opinion and experiences, this whole, “just focusing on recovery thing”, is getting it all wrong.
The number one (and really all the other numbers too) reason that I’ve stayed in recovery really has nothing to do with the fact that I just like eating three meals and two snacks a day, getting used to being at a healthy weight, and having to constantly talk myself through triggering situations at all.
The number one reason I’m still in recovery is that day-by-day, sometimes moment-by-moment I’m watching my life come back before my eyes.
Now, when I pass people on campus or anywhere really, I have the energy to look them in the eye and have a REAL conversation, when I’m in a big group, I don’t sink into the background because I can’t muster the concentration to contribute to whatever is going on, I’m not the unspoken thorn in the side of family dinners, I think things are funny again, in class, my brain is alive and on top of things (my GPA went up by 1.66 points post-treatment), and most importantly, I can tell my Lord Jesus “goodnight” and “good morning” with a heart in honest and earnest effort to lay down my idols that sit above Him.
It hasn’t been through obsessing over recovery oriented behaviors that my life has burst forth the way it has. It’s been living life in the absence of the eating disorder that has truly made all the difference.
I'm not by any means saying that i've done this all perfectly. as you read in my example about my meal plan above, i've completely caught myself (my closest supports will agree with this) living recovery rather than life.
but somewhere along the road of recovery, i chose to think with living side of the head enough times that i learned that the beauty and joy that result are worth learning to deal with the scary and uncomfortable parts without escaping.
fellow strugglers (and everyone else really): i hope you choose the living side too.