Muscle memory 

Last Sunday was bright and beautiful. I woke up late, as I enjoy to sleep in when I have a day off. 

I slept a little later than I meant to, but with sleep, I trust my body. It used to be that, as with food, I fought tooth and nail against my inner clock. I would force myself to stay awake even when a nap seemed logical or like a nice idea. Naps were a waste of time, and I didn’t need them.

One of the things I’ve really come to appreciate, for healthy reasons, is sleep. I nap if I feel like it now. Some days I don’t “feel like it” and nap anyway.

Getting back to my point- last Sunday was amazing because I got a lot of sleep. And because I went for a run. I also ruined my favorite pair of running shoes, but that’s kinda besides the point.

I went for a run! If you’ve been following my story at all, you might either be confused, or you might be doing a happy dance on the inside…a run?!

Yeah, the correct reaction would be a happy dance. People, I haven’t intentionally exercised in months. I think the last time was in the early Spring. Obviously, I’m not keeping track. 

Not keeping track…

What a thought. For so many years, I exercised whenever I could. If my family was going out of town for the day , I had to go for a walk before we left. It was exhausting and it kind of makes me sick to think about. My brain was full of numbers. Minutes I “had” to exercise, calories I was eating, time left in the day.

Sunday, when I set out for my run, I felt so good. I had no route in mind (a must for my previous, teen self) and I had an iPod full of podcasts. I began walking, thinking I’d go where my body took me. (Also, if this turned out to be a failure, at least I was being my good, multitasking self and feeding my brain a constant stream of words).

Well, the podcast thing just wasn’t working. I had walked a few blocks and was bored already. I craved movement, and not in a punishing way like before. I turned on some music, Broods I think, and my feet tripped to the beat

“hallelujah, I’m free, I’m free, I’m free ”

And I was free.

I ran out of joy, I ran out of peace. Out of rest, and caring for my body. Hallelujah, I’m free.

It was only until a few days later that I realized: I ran and when I was tired, I walked. When I got home, I sat down for a while and relaxed. And the epiphany…my brain can heal

It almost brings me to tears to think of it. I ran! And when I got done, my first thought wasn’t about how many calories I had burned, or what I would or wouldn’t eat. It wasn’t about having to do this again tomorrow. 

It wasn’t about obsession. 

And maybe you’re thinking ok, big deal. And maybe if I had never been on this journey, I would too. The thing is, I recognize this as a huge leap for me.

When I was first told I had an eating disorder, I felt so alone. At the time, I didn’t use the Internet a whole lot. I read as much as I could about anorexia, and many of the texts were probably outdated. One thing that I remember very clearly, is the belief that I better heal and get my act together before my teen years were over, as my brain would stop having plasticity and the capacity to change (in my mind) the minute I turned 20.

New research and studies on the brain have come out, and given people like me hope. Healing is possible.

My run is a perfect example of the new research being legitimate. Like my dietitian told me last year,  imagine the pioneers. Their wagon wheels made ruts in the earth that can be seen (in places) to this day. This is a perfect metaphor when talking about the habits and rituals I held for so long. My brain is a lot like the dirt those wagon wheels cut into. My actions and thoughts for ten years left big indentations in the healthy parts of my brain. Over time, these pathways might heal, given the proper thoughts, adequate fuel, and cessation of harmful behaviors (as much as I’d like to say I’m there, I’m not quite yet). Some day they might become like those wheel ruts: old trails I walked frequently at one time, but must search to find the scars of now. 
I’ve seen many subtle signs of healing happening. This revelation is the most prominent so far though. And I surely didn’t get here fast or easily. I see a long road ahead of me. Recovery is hard, and I know I have a lot of work to do still. It’s breakthroughs like this that give me the courage and hope to continue and keep moving forward.


 

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Heavy thoughts 

So you’ve come to the realization that you have a sort of “negative narrative” going on most days. This isn’t necessarily saying that you’re a negative person, it’s just you having negative thoughts.

It’s really hard to shut that stuff off, when you’ve been doing it for so long. Telling yourself that the little whispers of thoughts, of “you’re not good enough” and “no, you’re OK” from Ed are something to believe.

Not always pinpointing why you’re   having the thoughts and beliefs, but why you believe them. Trying to curl up and listen to what you’re feeling. 

Some days are better than others, it comes and goes. And this is a journey. It’s scary sometimes, to look closely at details. 

And the freedom you feel, as your feet hit the pavement and you feel strong again. The pride and awe you feel when you realize the next day that it was moving your body just because, not because shame was involved. 

And this is how change happens, slowly, but surely. Just like turning those negative thoughts around.

Shame and guilt have followed you around for years. The shame a veil you peer through, the guilt a heavy backpack that gets more cumbersome every day.

You know no one else can hold the weight of your troubles but you. Some days it doesn’t even seem possible to speak the thoughts and feelings you are experiencing. The thought itself causes a sigh to escape your lips.

You never imagined there were so many layers of complicated thoughts and emotions. Where to even begin?

Who are you without the thing you’ve been living with for a decade? Who is that floating in front of the mirror? These questions haunt you.

And you can’t imagine living through the next day, not because you want this life to end, but because you’re so tired. 

When you feel out of place, lost, overwhelmed, please remember: it is OK to have bad days. It is OK to have good days. And on the not so good days, repeat this mantra: This too shall pass.

Ultimately, it is a relationship 

Being married is hard work, I think anyone who is married knows that. Marriage is many things, but ultimately it is a relationship. 

Anorexia and marriage don’t share very many similarities. I am very grateful for that. But I have come to find that they do share a few.

Healing from an eating disorder is hard work. It is a day by day, minute by minute choice that must be made. I’ve found that letting one thing go, say a snack or an unhealthy thought, can lead to detrimental scenarios. I could be fine one minute, and the next I could be struggling to drown out my “Ed” thoughts. 

And that isn’t even the half of it. But I’m not writing this to throw a pity party, so I’ll leave you with that example. Being in an active eating disorder is hard work too. I don’t want to dwell on this aspect, because it’s dark and ugly, but it’s the truth.

When I began down this road, which I hope will ultimately end in recovery, I was essentially in a relationship with Ed. I followed him wherever he chose to go. I worshiped his opinion. I was willing to go to the ends of the earth for Ed.

Do you see a connection here? Just a little? 

I wanted to write a little bit about marriage, and my husband, because they have both played roles in my recovery process. Then I realized the connections and how in some ways, I am giving up Ed for my marriage.

I thought marriage would fix me. I really did, even though I acted like I knew it wouldn’t.

And for a while I stayed at a stable weight, but I was still really uncomfortable around food. I thought maybe a new environment would help, and it did a little bit. But I knew I couldn’t keep it up forever.

I blamed marriage for making me feel unsafe. I blamed the house. The weather. My husband.

I didn’t blame Ed though.

Guess what happened when I finally got Ed behind bars for once…

I began to feel a little safer. I started reaching out to Dan, instead of the eating disorder.

Ed always knew what would make me feel better. He always knew just what I needed, without me even having to tell him. We were strong together.

Dan is a gentle human. Whereas Ed doesn’t mind seeing suffering, my husband hates it. Of course he wouldn’t intrude on my relationship with Ed, because he knew how much it would hurt me.

It took a long time for me to listen to Dan instead of Ed. In fact, I still struggle with it. I know my husbands love runs so much deeper than Ed’s. I know Ed only loves me for what I give to him.

Ed’s whispers of a cure to all of my pain are malicious, yet addictive. He knows how difficult it is for me to feel it all. He knows that without fuel, I shut down and only talk to him.

Being married to Dan has given me so much more than Ed ever could. In fact, in many ways I believe marriage saved me. Marriage, and the relationship it holds. The love that isn’t in the terms and conditions. The support and care.

Ed never cared about what happened to me. I’ve found someone who does, and even on my not so good days, that is enough.

Alone

How to sum up a crazy weekend on one concise blog and post…the idea makes me even more exhausted! I want to share what I learned while it is fresh though, so here goes…

Several months ago I received an email stating that I was the recipient of a scholarship to the 2016 NEDA conference in Chicago.

The day I got the email, I didn’t really know what this meant. I certainly didn’t know I had just received a gift that was worth several hundred dollars. 

It had only taken me a short amount of time online to fill out the simple scholarship form. I didn’t really think I would be a recipient of a scholarship, but I’ve had some luck winning things before, it doesn’t hurt to try, right?

After I received the email, everything  began to come together for travel plans. My aunt made the generous offer of allowing my husband and I to stay at her apartment in the suburbs. I got the time off work. I got new tires and break pads.

For me, the eating disorder rituals and habits didn’t happen all at once. Neither did this little relapse I feel like I am going through. When I received the email telling me I had a scholarship for the conference, I was giddy.

Little things weren’t taken into account, just like they never are when it comes to food and me. 

I hadn’t always been sticking to a solid meal plan, because of disordered thoughts. I often eat later than is typical, another thing closely related to Ed.

You can imagine this posed a problem for me at the conference. The NEDA, along with sponsors, was kind enough to provide snacks and breakfast and lunches. There was always some delicious looking food sitting out.

The first night I arrived late, though they had some dinner items left out. I did try purple cauliflower, but I didn’t touch the meat dish.

I had been thinking I would eat meals at the conference, or at least “on my own”, without Dan. I didn’t anticipate how difficult this would be.

I realize now that fear, feeling a little anxious, and being  without an eating partner all culminated and I became a fearful little girl. I wouldn’t touch that food for anything.

Breakfast the next day and I was a ball of nerves. One of the things I realized just now is that I have a lot of this narrative “you don’t have to eat. You can wait and have dinner with Dan. This food looks delicious, but you don’t even know what you want! You certainly can’t have one of each item! You have a protein bar in your bag, with more nutrients.”

So not only is Ed bringing me down by telling me I don’t know what I want, that something else would be a better option, etc. I also noticed how scared and emotional I felt around the small buffet.

I found myself thinking Dan would like the food, appreciate it more. I wished I could smuggle some to him. Never once did I wish I could smuggle some for myself.

Ed began building a wall the moment he saw food. It was obvious that the food was not for me, even though I argued there was plenty. Ed said no. And I found myself defiantly thinking that I do what I want, I’ll eat later, I’m tired of overthinking…so I didn’t partake. Oh, Ed did allow some pineapple and melon slices though.

It went on like this, and I blamed it on routine. No one there knew me, what did it matter whether I ate “normally” or not. I was thrown off, who could blame me?

But I know it’s more. Yes, I eat better when I have support, but I know support won’t always be there.

I want to be able to know when I am out, that I will be able to successfully fuel myself. I want others to know that too.

I felt like I learned more about myself these past few days, than I did about Ed. 

It’s scary for me to write this, because for one, I like to do something, and do it well. And secondly, I know I have a bunch of hard work ahead of me. 

I took a lot of notes, met a whole group of women who have struggled just like me, met Jenni Schaefer (Author of Life Without Ed), scratched an adorable dogs head and sat in on a bunch of good sessions and workshops.

I took away a lot of good information. I hope someday I will look back at this experience; a stronger, wiser woman. One who can laugh at her smallness in the room full of people, and joke about being in a conference for eating disorders, and actively engaging in restricting.