- Sara Mann
I think I have written enough blogs that prove recovering from an eating disorder is difficult. The day to day is such a struggle that it often seems like nothing is ever changing. Often times I find myself so overwhelmed with problems, goals, defeats, mind games that I really don’t notice the little wins. This is especially true when the process is very long. In the beginning of recovery everything is very new. You eat more, the body changes a lot, hormones are all over the place, fear and anxiety is crazy high. You are learning what the E.D. voice is and lots of coping skills to fight it. It seems like you are at the first round of a fight and going all in but flailing around like you have no idea how to fight.
When you get to where I am in recovery, (almost two years into a 3 maybe 4 year process), the changes don’t come as rapid and obvious. So it’s easy to overlook anything that is happening and instead have this insane feeling of being completely lost. In my case, the weight isn’t budging. Eating is confusing. Coping skills have become draining because I have used them a million times. I’m tired and ready for it to be over, but the body is still healing and the mind hasn’t yet raised the white flag. I am far from the beginning but not even close to the end. I feel stuck and it sucks! But I must keep going....
I’m having a hard time maintaining my food intake because my weight is really getting to me and I just want it gone AND I realize that I will not just wake up one morning and have the weight gone. I won’t over night get my muscle back and feel strong. It’s possible but not probable that next week I will miraculously be unaffected by calorie counts on menus. It will take time and all of this can seem overwhelming and defeating. This past week my dietician said I REALLY need to start celebrating the small stuff. It is important to start taking note of the small changes and little steps of progress in order to keep me motivated, hopeful and confident that this process does work! Even if it’s at a glacial pace. I need to do this because if I don’t, I start to slip. I become vulnerable to relapse and that just isn’t an option!
So, I’ve decided sit down and commit this blog to celebrating the progress! First of all, I’m doing this so I can feel hope and second of all, so if you are going through this, maybe you can feel hope too!
This past week I drove to Cleveland so that I could go see the Broadway show Wicked with my mom, sisters, sister-in-law and Grandma. A year ago I would have been frantic about my weight to the point that I would have been in tears getting ready. This year I was not. WINNING! I had some negative body image thoughts, and I didn’t LOVE how I looked, but I accepted what I was for the day, planned out a dress, did my makeup and hair the best I could and moved forward without a tear. I found myself comparing my body to my other family members and starting to feel a bit frustrated, and then remembered, I’m in recovery, this is temporary, it is what it is. I also chose to reach out to a friend from my support group and it was just the confidence boost and reminder I needed to not let my eating disorder ruin this night for me! A year ago these negative eating disorder thoughts would have consumed me to the point that I would not have been able to be present the entire evening or in my worst cases even attend.
We went to a nice restaurant for dinner. This typically triggers my eating disorder behaviors and obsessions. In the past I would have to look up the menu ahead of time to know EXACTLY what I was going to eat. I would be hawk watching everyone else and what they ordered and comparing what I ordered to what they ordered and worrying about what was better or worse. I would be worrying about how fast I ate or if I ate it all would I be bad? I would worry about how big I was at the table compared to everyone else and be scared I was the “fat” one. Well my friends, not this night out! I looked up the menu ahead of time, but it was only because it was restaurant week and my Mom texted to us! I did not enter the restaurant knowing what I was going to order, I chose when I got there. I ordered for MYSELF. Not for my eating disorder and not in comparison to anyone else. I got what sounded good, not what calorie count I thought would be lowest. I ate to fullness and I was proud of myself! When others said they ate too much, I felt confident that what I ate was just fine and my body would use it accordingly! I didn’t feel uncomfortable or HUGE sitting at the table, I felt happy to be out with my fam at a cool place! Did I have some bad thoughts, YES! However they didn’t take over and keep me from eating, enjoying the taste of my food, being present with conversation or allowing myself to relax.
Another little thing I want to celebrate is that I didn’t worry about fitting into the theater seat! I want to make it clear that I suffer from a thing called Body Dysmorphia (another blog for another day). This causes me to see myself as much much bigger then I am which leads to anxiety about all sorts of things like how clothes fit or if I’ll fit into a theater seat. About a week before the show I had some anxiety about it, but the day of, I found that because I had already worked through the fear, when I showed up to my seat I didn’t think twice about it! Literally! I just now realized I didn’t have anxiety leading up to it! There were a few times that I had an automatic thought pop up about the seat, but I just told myself I’m sitting in it and I’m just fine! I’m serious when I say that six months ago I would have had EXTREME anxiety over this. This is progress!
The last win that I will mention from my night out with the ladies was that I actually was in some photos and it didn’t consume me. Now I’m not going to say I looooved being in the photos. I was self conscious and worried about how I would look and whether a bad one would be posted by my sisters on social media. But again, not to the level I use to be. I use to dodge out of a photo and avoid it at all costs. This time I accepted that I was in photos because my sisters wanted to create memories with me. I asked that some not be posted and they respected that but I also was ok with others and posted a few myself. I accepted that I don’t look how I want, and that the photos were meant for more then showing how I look. I even asked our waitress at one point to take a photo of us! Shocking! I didn’t sit afterward analyzing every photo in order to shame myself for my looks. Instead I took them for what it was.... capturing a fun night out with people I love, not capturing a horrible time for my body!
A few other things that come to mind for me to celebrate progress in are...
- I had seven photo shoots last week. Based on how my body has felt in the past year I was expecting it to be incredibly painful and hard. After it was over I was in pain and a bit tired, but nothing like the first few photo shoots I did when I went back to work! This means my body IS getting stronger.
- This next one is a little personal, so I’ll keep it vague, but I’ve had progress with some health issues that I haven’t seen in months. A very clear sign of change.
- My “pregnant” belly seems to be getting a little bit smaller! I still have days of major swelling and I can’t wait for the day it is completely gone and healed, but for now I’ll be happy it’s not as swollen.
- I’m celebrating that I am going to be changing support groups! It’s bittersweet, but the one I was in for over a year I have outgrown a bit. I needed it so badly when I started. I could barely eat a fear food, much less a whole plate of it! I now no longer have a hard time eating the meals. My fear of certain foods isn’t as strong. I find myself unable to relate anymore to the girls that are unsure about recovering and having a hard time eating. I love them and I have been where they are in recovery, and I’m simply just further along now!
- I’m still swelling, but not as much. I mentioned the belly, but my swelling actually happens all over my body. I’ve been having some treatments to try and help this and I’m seeing now that I have days that I actually feel O.K. and not bad! It’s not great, but I’ll take it! Progress.
- I am really working hard to learn my hunger cues and eat accordingly! In the beginning of treatment I was simply following meal plans, learning about food, fighting fears, overcoming my ED voice and convincing myself to eat. My mind and body were SO disconnected that it was impossible to even feel hunger. Now, I am learning how to notice I’m hunger and eat accordingly. It is very hard and something I will write about soon, but it’s major progress that I actually hadn’t sat back and celebrated!
- My new way of thinking about food/diet is definitely starting to take over my old way of thinking. It is very hard to overcome the diet/restricting/cutting out food groups mentality. ESPECIALLY in a culture that is heavily diet driven. I’m finding that my mind has shifted. When someone talks about cutting out carbs, instead of getting triggered I get angry. Knowing how detrimental that was to my health has now become what I think about instead of how much that would help me be thinner. I don’t know when this shift happened, but it has happened. I think it’s been slowly over time. Challenging my old thoughts about diet has little by little turned my perspective.
- I no longer have an intense fear of food. I still have a lot of judgments about it and am not completely convinced of the whole recovery process. (I’m a true, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” type of gal.) Yet I can walk into a room and eat pizza with way more ease then I did even six months ago. In fact, a couple months ago I even ordered out a pizza for my husband and I for the first time in probably ten years! The hubs is happy, I didn’t have to cook and it was one more step towards freedom.
- My anxiety over being seen isn’t as bad. There was a time that I was afraid to leave the house because of my weight gain and new body. The shame and embarrassment I felt and the fear of being seen was overwhelming. I still feel a little anxiety and worry I might run into someone or a person might make a comment, but it’s not what it once was. The anxiety I feel over this is still there, but it’s not as strong. I have coping skills that I’ve done enough that they actually work. My mind has shifted to empowerment instead of shame. If I run into someone I feel a little embarrassed, but I very quickly at this point am able to challenge those feelings and find a place of acceptance and strength. My mind set now is, I’m recovering, this is what that looks like, judge if you want to....
- My acceptance level is higher. When I first started out on this journey I could not and would not accept the changes. I fought back HARD. I could not accept my body for how it was healing because I thought that meant I had to be o.k. with it. I’ve learned that acceptance isn’t loving what is going on. It is more like, I can be upset about whats happening, but not let it consume my every emotion thought and experience. I don’t like my weight, and I’m going to get dressed and hang out with my friends anyway. It acknowledging how painful and frustrating it all is, and not letting that pain and frustration hinder me from living life.
These are just a few things that I’m celebrating! There are many more! I just get so wrapped up in the hard and the frustrating that it actually feels good to sit back and say, “Hey! There IS progress! Be proud of yourself!”
My recovery isn’t sunshine and rainbows. Will there be a day that I can’t stand a photo of myself and it makes me cry. Yes! But it’s not going to keep me from celebrating the time this past week where it didn’t. I still struggle a lot, but these are little signs that things are working. That recovery is possible. That I need to just keep going.
None of these things happened over night. I didn’t one day fear pizza and the next be happy to order it out. It took a lot of hard work, and I’m seeing that hard work, slowly, over time, be fruitful.
Let’s celebrate the progress! Let’s notice the little things! Let’s take a step out of the hard and instead take a minute to pat ourselves on the back and say, “Dang! Your doing it!!!”
- Sara -