I promised to keep it real when I started this blog. My goal was to have a blog where people recovering from an Eating Disorder could know they are not alone and for people without an Eating Disorder to understand what it’s like to go through recovery. So here is a check-in about a bad week in recovery.
It’s been a tough week. It was a week full of tears and breakdowns. I think most people in my position would have weeks like this too. They are hard to get through and inevitably happen. As I reflect back on my week, I try to figure out where things went wrong. How could I have handled it differently? What was the spiral of events that led me to a Thursday of ugly crying? Were there things I could have avoided? Could I have used a coping skill or practiced self care to detour my week away from it’s brutality? I’ve come to realize that some weeks just go by without much happening, and then there are those weeks where it seems like every trigger in the book is thrown at me. I’ve used every coping skill I’ve ever heard of and I just don’t have the energy to fight one more battle. I’ve used all my resources and I breakdown.
I'll stop here and describe what the resources are that I'm talking about. Resources are a supply of coping skills, people, and other things that support and help me to effectively function and cope during recovery. I turn to and use my resources when I am triggered, anxious, fighting E.D. thoughts or feeling stuck. They can be coping skills and sometimes they are the people that I reach out to when I am feeling low. One of my favorite resources is simply facts and knowledge that I have gained through recovery. I know the truth about the diet industry and what happens to your body when you starve it! My values are also a great resource. When my E.D. is trying to convince me of something, I quickly turn to my values to make a wiser decision. Having good rest and energy is a resource, as well as practicing mindfulness. Believe it or not FOOD is a great resource. If I don't have enough food I am not able to think correctly at all! Self care is a wonderful resource and so is every other skill in my recovery toolbox. These are all resources that keep me above water and effectively fighting my eating disorder.
I look at my resources like a tank. When it is full I am kicking butt and taking names! No E.D. thought will get me down! I challenge my thoughts like a ninja and have radical acceptance. I'm on my way to freedom and can't wait to get there! My tank typically fills up when I've had a good night's rest, I've met with my therapist and worked through some issues or I haven't had a lot of problems or triggers so I haven't had to use them up! When my resource tank is running low because I've had to use a lot of my them in a short amount of time I become tired and unable to cope with even the smallest task like eating breakfast. When it's low (which typically happens when I'm worn out physically or have had a long day) I can't fight a thought effectively and I am stuck in a mindset of defeat and hopelessness because I just don't have the resources to cope anymore. When my E.D. is REALLY triggered I have to use a lot of resources to fight back. I need to have the energy, the facts and the support. When I have all that, things are great! When I don't...I break down..
Now back to the week from you know where...
Weeks like this typically start out fine, and then something happens. I’ve been feeling sick because of a new treatment I’m having done to help my swelling. It makes me feel weak and achey like I have the flu. Since I’m not feeling well I immediately have a harder time dealing with triggers. It takes a lot of energy to get up and daily choose recovery from anorexia. When I’m sick, that energy resource is lost.
So, feeling tired and achey, I miss my Monday night bible study. This triggers thoughts that I’m not being perfect. That I’m letting my group down. That God thinks I’m bad and people will think I’m lazy. I know that this stuff is all garbage and I should practice some compassion and let myself rest, but fighting those thoughts alone takes more resources. I have to challenge the thoughts, practice self care and practice self-validation. All of which don’t come naturally. Now I’m down a few more resources.
The next day I go to an appointment with my new dietician. I’m pretty excited to be working with her and I feel like we are finally going to be working towards some of my goals! I keep track of all of my food intake and exercise on recovery record and this was the first appointment we would have after a week of seeing what I eat. I was pretty anxious. Would she say I eat too much? Will she tell me I need to relax on the carb intake? Will she tell me to stop eating my favorite popsicles? So now I have to deal with the anxiety that all these questions bring about. I practice sticking to the facts and turning from emotion mind to wise mind. More resources used. I step into her office and instead of hearing that I’m eating too much, to my horror I’m told I am eating WAY too little. This is my worst nightmare. I’m already overweight. I’m extremely afraid of gaining more weight. My Eating Disorder voice is SCREAMING that I should not eat more food. It’s telling me I’m back to square one. That I will just get bigger and bigger. That this will never end. So, I dip into my resources and practice some self care. I get my mind off of it and go shopping. when I’m calm I sit down and really look at the facts again. I remind myself of the science of the body and healing. I reach out to some support group friends and my Mom for encouragement. Now I’m depleted of even more resources.
The next day I’m feeling even more sick from my treatments, but I have a commitment in the evening. I didn’t want to go, but I dug deep and reminded myself of my values. I value commitment and I know that when I serve God in this way I always feel better. So despite feeling sick, tired and weary from the previous days, I go. I thought I was finally going to have a great evening until someone came up to me and asked how me and the baby were doing. I’ve talked about this in another blog post (here), but this is a HUGE trigger for me. I’m already VERY aware of my current recovering body shape. Having someone point it out and remind me of my childless state is a sick form of torture. I quickly funneled through my resources again and decided to take a few deep breathes, was very clear that I was in fact not pregnant and walked away to rejoin the activities. I so badly wanted to run and cry, but again, I flipped through my resources and decided to do the one where I do the opposite of what my emotions are telling me. So I went back to trying to have fun and allowed myself to feel the emotions later that evening after I left.
At this point in the week I’m about all out of resources. I’ve practiced self care, I made decisions based on my values not my emotions. I practiced mindfulness and compassion. I practiced the STOP skill and challenged my thoughts. I’ve gone to therapy and my support group. I self-validated and stuck up for myself. I allowed myself to rest and I did my emotion mind/wise mind worksheets. I’ve texted my support group and called my Mom for support. I’ve tried to practice radical acceptance and I’ve even distracted myself with shopping and serving at church. But I keep getting slammed, I’m not feeling better, and I’ve just about run out of coping skills and the energy to even try them.
Thursday I decided, unwisely, that now was the time to finish cleaning out my closet. I was tired of looking at the old clothes that were left in it and I had the boxes taking up space so I better just get it done. This was SUCH a bad decision. I had no ability or energy to cope with what I was about to do. I didn’t have support around me and didn’t even stop to consider what I was about to try to do. I swung open my closet, grabbed my old clothes and start packing them away into boxes. Within ten minutes I was sitting on the floor, surrounded by empty hangers, sobbing. The ugly ED thoughts in my mind were getting to me big time. How will I ever fit into these clothes again? I cannot believe I allowed myself to get this size. This is so embarrassing. I use to be so beautiful and stylish and now I’m a lump and wearing huge clothes. All the memories of where I wore these clothes came flooding back. Thoughts about the way my body use to have energy and feel fit overtook my mind and I just couldn’t handle it. I wasn’t able to stop and get ahold of my emotions. I wasn’t able to question my thoughts. I wasn’t able to calm down and walk away. I was too tired, too emotional, and all out of resources.
Friday comes and sadly I had been anxious about this day all week. I had a morning photo shoot scheduled with a family I haven’t photographed in three years. All I could think about was how they were going to see my weight gain. There is a huge sense of shame I feel when people see me. I disregard the fact that they hired me for my talent and beautiful photos and instead can only think of what they might be thinking when they see what I now look like. Since I have no resources left to tap into I just force myself to get through the day and shoot. Trying to challenge my thoughts at this point is a joke and would be like throwing a bucket of water on a forest fire.
At this point I’m a goner. My Eating Disorder has fully taken over and I feel completely helpless to fight it. I’m feeling like I need to stop eating. That I will never be ok again. That I was better off anorexic. These thoughts are evil and unhealthy and MUST go! So, there is nothing more to do then take a step back and rebuild my resources.
It is important to realize when our resources are low. First of all, it’s so we can take the appropriate measures to rebuild them, but also so we can wisely navigate our days so we don’t crash like I did this past week. It is SO important to rest while going through recovery. Fighting an Eating Disorder/anxiety/depression etc, while tired and weary is TOO hard.
I’ve vowed to take the next two days and rebuild my resources. So how do I go about doing that you might ask? Well, I needed to allow myself to feel. Sometimes I go through these events and try to cope with them quickly, and just move on. But after a while they add up and I breakdown. So it's important to give each situation the feelings and emotion it is due instead of pushing them down. I needed more time to rest after my treatment so I didn’t feel so sick and dreary. I needed to take the time to journal all my thoughts and feelings about being told to eat more, and get them out of my head. Instead of stuffing my feelings and just trying to move on, I needed to allow myself to cry after being asked if I was pregnant because it hurt! I needed to think wisely before going through my pre-recovery clothes. Had I been in the correct mindset I would have never made the decision to do that by myself after the already bad week I was having.
So the next two days I will choose to rest, take care of myself, journal, and work through some of these problems either alone or with my therapist. Working through the things that happened this week will allow me to free up my mind to think clearly. It will slow me down so I can actually think it through and respond appropriately. I will stop and remind myself why I am recovering and the facts and science of this process. I will challenge my thoughts about what people are thinking when they see me. I will allow myself to be upset about my body, and then mindfully move toward acceptance again. I will eat right so I feel strong and have the energy to keep going. I will spend time in prayer, offering up my fears and hopelessness. I will avoid situations as best I can that can be triggering and deplete me of my resources even more. For example, my husband asked me to go to a movie. I know I always get anxious about the seats. I don't like how they feel when I'm swollen. I know this will just cause more anxiety and frustration so I simply say, "you know what, I'm not in the right headspace to do that tonight, do you mind if we choose another night." This keeps me from adding on more. A friend asked if I wanted a glass of wine. While that sounds really amazing, I know I just need to stay in and get some rest and do some self care. When I do these things I regain energy, I clear the space in my mind that was overtaken by my E.D. and I feel fresh and ready to go! My resource tank will be full again!
My advice to you is, make a list of your resources and also make a list of how to refill your resource tank when it is too low. I've found that when I'm tired, none of my resources stand a chance of helping me. So it's crucial that I take the time to rest or do something mindless like cross-stitching. This renews my energy which in return keeps me going strong! What are resources you can fill your tank up with, and what are ways you can refill that tank when it's getting low?
- Sara -