28 June 2010

Reclaiming my voice

How do I distinguish between that inner voice which guides each one of us through life and the eating disorder voice which attempts to lead me down the path of self-destruction and death?

The two voices are warring within me right now. For four years, I have battled anorexia nervosa and its voice. My fingertips have touched recovery only to have it slip out of grasp and spiral downward, dead as a withered brown leaf in the fall. Hope would rise and fall, and the rollercoaster ride of anorexia would continue even as I screamed at God and Heaven to let me off.

I recently completed about six weeks of treatment at the adult partial hospitalization program at the River Centre Clinic in Sylvania, Ohio. The above verbiage is the result of both my continued confusion about what led me to need more intensive treatment (will I ever know why I developed anorexia) and how to move forward in recovery.

It wasn't the most positive of discharges. My therapist there privately told me she had concerns about my ability to continue in recovery, particularly in the area of meal planning and eating. And frankly, I had concerns about that too. I am still concerned how to transfer RCC program eating into real life. My official discharge papers also said I was leaving AMA - even though I had said before entering the program I had to leave for school by a certain date. Leaving AMA (against medical advice) could hinder any future treatment options.

Several fellow RCC patients had kind and encouraging words to say during the graduation ceremony held on my last day. I was grateful to hear that I had helped several people and that others had enjoyed getting to know me as a person. There had been a lot of drama for several weeks in our small living space and I was led to believe much of it was my fault (was I too difficult? too opinionated? did I say the wrong things?)

I know I struggled with wanting recovery, and I'm sure my ambivalence was not helpful to others who were struggling.) I know each one of us made mistakes and was gratified that for the most part, we were able to move past the problems and support each other. Hearing others speak about me so kindly helped me see the truth through their eyes.

Still, I drove back home in silence. No singing along to the radio and rejoicing in the fact that I did stick with it. No happiness that I ate everything (except one snack) and gained ten pounds. Just confusion about the future and the fear I would never escape anorexia.

I met with Dr. Sackeyfio (my outpatient doctor/therapist) the day after I was discharged from RCC. I was unusually quiet. He kept asking me about my treatment there; the things that happened and how I felt about it.

I felt weighed down and oppressed, unable to talk. He gently confronted me, asking why was I afraid to express my opinion. I started to cry. It felt like it had been a long time since my opinion really mattered and didn't seem to cause trouble. It felt like it had been a long time since I was more than just a set of symptoms and urges to be fixed.

I opened up and my fears began to ease. He asked me to consider what I learned during the past six weeks and write about it. (What I learned and what my inner voice taught me through that time will be in a future blog post.) Our session ran over because he wanted to make sure I heard something before I left: "You have the right to your opinions. You have the right to your voice."

Immediately I felt the crushing weight lift, my spirit already feeling more free. I felt relief.

I am reclaiming my voice. It is separate from the voice of anorexia, and it doesn't always agree with everything I learned in treatment nor from my doctor. It is my voice.

20 June 2010

Releasing the weight of anorexia

Fear Anxiety Depression Self-Hatred . . .

Each rock was a strange mixture of velvety softness combined with rough bumps and indentations. I wrote each word — feelings and actions which have weighed me down for years — on several rocks in stark black ink.

One rock was reserved for the terrifying and addictive disease which has been trying to take over me body and soul for years.


I started to feel both fear and relief as I traced that word in blood-red ink on each side of the rock. I fear letting go of anorexia because it has become so intermingled with my identity. But I know I need to let go of this disease in order to live.

The word looked so powerful. My mind flew back to when anorexia first crept into my life, chipping away bits and pieces of me until I sometimes felt there was nothing left.

Each one of us wrote down the things which have weighed us down throughout the years. We then could choose to hold onto these rocks that symbolically represented the traits which have held us down for years.

Or we could chose to toss these rocks into the river run past the River Centre Clinic. The choice was ours . . .

I went first. I was determined to throw everything which has weighed me down for years. I have struggled through almost six weeks at the clinic. The road to recovery has been rocky and I often have been my own worst enemy as I have fought to get better.

But through all the struggle and pain, through the tears I cried and the loneliness I often felt as I longed to be with my husband and friends back home, through the ambivalence I sometimes felt about letting go of anorexia, there remained a mustard seed of hope that I could be free, I would be free.

I stepped down the grassy, sloping path to the river, dodging overgrown bushes and hanging tree branches, balancing my rocks in my hand. I stepped close to the edge, the river's dark waters churning just a few feet away from me. I threw the first rock, angry as I remembered life before my eating disorder developed. I threw more rocks as far as I could, willing each one to sink deep into the water.

The rock with one word — anorexia – remained in my hand. It felt soft and cold in my hand. The word seemed to mock me, saying that I would never get better, I would never be free.

I hurled it as hard as could, feeling a strong sense of release as it landed into the water. I felt as if I had been buried under a ton of rocks and I had finally climbed my way out. At that moment it finally hit me — I want to recover. I want anorexia out of my life forever. I want to be free.

Each one of us took our turn. Some women were able to release all of their rocks, while others chose to hold onto one or more until they felt ready to release their burdens.

I started to cry as I walked back up to the center. I'm still not sure why. I was feeling a mixture of release and relief, mingled with fear about the work I still need to do in order to get better.

Later that night, I thought about all those rocks we threw into the dark waters. I could still see the words we had written on the rocks. I imagined the water rushing over the rocks until the words disappeared through the ages, the ink worn off and everything which had weighed us down mingled together into nothingness, becoming meaningless as we move forward into recovery and life.

18 June 2010

Dear Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,
Today I found this comment by you on a previous blog post: "Do your true friends really like you? Because I don't know many people who do. You are self obsessed and a very ugly person inside and out. You put on a front but everyone knows it is fake."

You need to know several things. First, this comment initially hurt me until I realized it must have come from a very sick and disturbed person. Now I only feel sorrow for someone who is so angry and hateful that the only way she is able to express it is by lashing out at someone else in such a gutless manner.

Second, you may think you are anonymous, but you are not. See the tiny little green and white box at the very bottom of my blog? That is a site meter. I am able to track every visit and comment made to my blog, including the place of origin, the Internet service provider and the type of computer and browser used. In this case the information was precise enough that I am 99.9 percent sure of who you are, Anonymous.

Why were you so afraid that you felt the need to hide behind anonymity? You obviously know me and could have approached me in person. I could speculate, but that would be wasting my mental energy on someone who doesn't deserve it.

I want you to be assured that your words mean nothing to me. I am very secure and surrounded by a loving husband and friends who value and support me on a daily basis. It just disturbs me that there are people like you in this world who feel the need to strike out at other people instead of dealing with the anger and resentment in a more appropriate manner.

Several people have suggested that I close this blog to anonymous comments because of your post, Anonymous. But I will not do that. I chose to use my full name whenever I blog or make comments on other people's blogs. However, I can understand that some people are not comfortable with full disclosure. I have received many insightful and supportive comments from people who have chosen to remain anonymous and I can respect that, because unfortunately people with eating disorders and other mental illnesses still face stigma and discrimination. I want each person to feel free to post in a way he or she feels most comfortable.

Rest assured, Anonymous, you have not changed either how I feel about myself nor how I conduct my life and this blog.


13 June 2010

True friendship

I never realized how much my true friends — those who have been with me through tears and laughter, anxiety and joy, soaring highs and crashing lows — meant to me until recently.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about what true friendship is, and how often we as a society casually through around words like friendship and love and loyalty and commitment. Many people say these are part of their core values. But how often do people really show love and kindness to each other?

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I worked as a social worker in downtown Flint. Flint was ravaged by the loss of General Motors and the income it had generated and was hit hard by Michigan's recession. Many people were unemployed and I would often be approached by people asking for money. I had been forewarned by my co-workers not to give money to beggars because they most likely would spend it on alcohol and/or drugs.

Sometimes I did give beggars money. Sometimes I didn't. I wasn't very consistent in practicing one of my core values — kindness toward others. Sometimes I would give someone money and later kick myself, feeling that I just fed a drug or alcohol habit. Other times I wouldn't give someone money and later berate myself for being so selfish.

I was judging people without knowing all the facts. I had no idea if the person was an alcoholic or drug addict. I couldn't tell by how the person looked — if I lived on the streets or in a shelter, I'd look pretty rough too.

Now I wish I would have given every person who had asked at least a dollar or two. Without hesitation. Without thought. Without judging.

What does this have to do with friendship? I have learned my true friends are ones who have stood by me, particularly after I developed anorexia. Several friends have since told me that they have been frightened for me; frightened when I was so thin and yet insisted nothing was wrong. Finally I received treatment and slowly regained weight and returned to life.

Then I relapsed and saw it all fall apart starting in January.

Yet none of these friends abandoned me. None of them judged me. All of them continued to call and invite me out for coffee or dinner, knowing I might just nibble at a salad. Each one encouraged me to try harder and seek more intensive treatment as my weight began to once again plummet, even though several of them were facing severe problems of their own (including unemployment and the threat of home foreclosure.)

I called my one friend, Michelle, the other day and she started crying after hearing I was eating again. She confessed that she thought I was going to die and she knew what she was talking about — Michelle beat anorexia and bulimia after decades of struggle. I assured her I was eating again as she gulped back tears — for me! I sometimes forget how loved I am by so many wonderful people.

Tomorrow begins my fifth week at the River Centre Clinic. I have been lonely there; it takes time for me to make friends and I miss this wonderful group of people who have stood by me for years and surrounded me with their love, prayers and hope for my recovery.

This world might think everything happens instantaneously. But I have learned — with some pain and hurt — that true friendship takes time. Two people meet, start talking with each other and then begin sharing a history. True friendship is like a strong tree with deep roots which has been watered with tears and laughter through the years.

Not every person who seems to be a friend is one. Not every beggar is an alcoholic or drug addict. These past four weeks have taught me to cherish my friends, save my trust for those who have earned it and not judge people by their outward appearance. Some of the most physically beautiful people in the world can be toxic and dangerous for my recovery, while a beggar wearing the dirtiest rags could be an angel whom you "entertain unaware."

"If you are judging someone, you have no time to love them" - Mother Theresa of Calcutta

07 June 2010


I will eventually feel better, right?

Today begins my fourth week at the River Centre Clinic in Sylvania, Ohio. I am trying to learn and grow. I am trying to overcome my desire to dive back into my safety net of anorexia nervosa. I am confronting my demons and anxieties.


I feel full all the time and I hate the feeling. My stomach hurts constantly and I am often nauseous. The amount of calories I eat in one day sustained me for more than four days during my most severe restrictive periods. I am eating mechanically; the concept of enjoying food is completely foreign to me. Frankly, I can't wait until bedtime when I don't have to eat anymore.

This worries me. I am still in the weight restoration phase, in which I am trying to reach what both the clinic and my doctor agree is a minimum healthy weight for me. Most likely I will not reach that weight before I return home and thus, I will have to continue to eat that many calories until I do. I also have learned from past experience that as a severe restrictor anorexic, I will most likely have to maintain a higher-than-average caloric intake in order to stay at a healthy weight.

I also hate the inflexibility of meal planning. It causes me a lot of anxiety on the weekends when I bring my meal plans home and have to make substitutions for one reason or another (mainly because our small town's grocery stores lack some of the foods on my weekend meal plan.) It also makes me feel weird to have to take my own food to social functions, like brunch at my brother's last week or lunch at church today.

It makes me feel disconnected from what's going on around me.

That is a real problem. I live in Sylvania during the week and at home during the weekends, and I often feel lost between the two places. One morning last week, I woke up and instinctively reached out for David. I was half asleep and started to panic as my hands couldn't find him. Then I realized I wasn't at home.

It really was the start of a very disconcerting week. Everyone there has their own issues, and sometimes it is harder to deal with some issues than others. I often wished I was a turtle, able to withdraw into a protective shell. I am trying to absorb such things as distress tolerance and mindfullness, or being in the moment.

But sometimes my emotions start spiraling out of control and it becomes hard to calm myself down. My anxiety can reach such a high peak I feel either like I am going to die or I want to die. The only other outcome I can envision in these moments is me literally exploding.

I have decided I need to change some things about myself in order to both recover and live (as oppose to just existing.)

I cannot let people push my buttons. The week also started with an anonymous comment that said in effect that I was not that thin and I am an Ana wannabe (I deleted it, as I will delete all comments that I deem are triggering to either myself or people who read my blog.)

But I allowed that comment to stay in my head and the eating disorder part of my brain had a field day with that, constantly whispering that this person was right and what I really needed to do was go home and lose more weight.

So I veer between feeling disconnected from my body (am I too thin? or do I need to lose weight? who is right? why can't I see the reality of my physical being?) and trying to trust those who tell me I need to remain in treatment and that I have not yet reach a healthy weight.

Trust. Who can I trust when I can't trust my own eyes nor my own thoughts at times?

It's a very confusing time.