Recovery, year 3

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Uphill Battle?

There comes to be an odd point in recovery from an eating disorder where you don’t really know where you are. In treatment and immediately following treatment, you learn to discern healthy voice from eating disorder voice. You learn what an urge feels like for you, and more than anything you commit to following your meal plan and your activity plan as if your life depends on it (because it does). In this time, you eat things you never thought would pass your lips in your wildest dreams, or nightmares, as the case may be. You never, ever, skip a meal. You normalize your eating, in essence. When you leave treatment, you learn how to function in the “real world,” whatever that means. In the “real world,” you figure out how not to rely on your eating disorder to get through your normal day. You work, study, and hang out with friends. You take more challenges than you believed you could, enduring the heart palpitating anxiety and sucking it all up in the name of recovery. By learning to give less than 110%, you actually succeed to a higher degree than when you were busting your butt giving life/school/work every single ounce of your being. In recovery, you realize your full potential. When you get the chance to share your triumphs, you do. In early recovery, you have the full support of at least your closest friends to follow your discharge meal plan, to keep your exercise to a minimum, and to breathe and rest easy in the knowledge that you are still in recovery, so it is normal to be provoked every now and then by the myriad of negative messages that attack you from every corner of your social world. One year, two years… you let the time pass with relative ease, hanging on to the meal plan that works for you, not sweating the urges too much, reveling in your utter wellness. Not many people know what you went through, or they only suspect your prior struggles- generally, everyone is content to let you be well. There are struggles. Of course there are struggles. You can’t live somewhere like North America without people speaking of obesity epidemics and how they really need to cut back. You know, though, that if you divulge the length of your stay in treatment and how recently you were “inside,” (inside rehab. Yes, rehab. Where you had to go when you were 20 years old.) people will generally respect the fact that, unlike others, you actually do have to have that slice of cake. They are, in general, ok with the notion that you have to retain your vehemence in non-meal skipping, no matter how “good” the cause. Maybe fewer understand that instead of worrying about “fitting in” a certain amount of minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week, you have to worry about not surpassing the four hours a week that result in an increased relapse rate. No, early recovery is not easy. It is, in fact, probably the hardest thing you will ever do. Facing the society that shackled you is far from a proverbial walk in the park (a slow walk. And have an extra, while you’re at it.) You’ll find yourself in tears when you accidentally get an endorphin high, biking with your brother through Montreal. You’ll agonize over whether to start eating meat again, and over which choice of lunch is the perfect balance between challenge and complacency. You’ll still follow your meal plan- you are striving, as you knew you would, to be the model of recovery. By all objective measures, you will succeed (as you always do, you little perfectionist you!). Early recovery… has suddenly passed you by. Now you’re living in the real world. Not the “real world.” The. Real. World. Food no longer preoccupies you. Things are more natural, more normal. While you still (yes, still!!) follow your meal plan, there is a sense of ease and fluency- it’s as much second nature as putting on clothes in the morning (oh wait, that’s still sometimes an exercise in body acceptance…). You can attend a dance class and not scrutinize your body. You can attend a dance class at all, and take your extras like a pro, allowing your body to recover. You’re focused on your future. You’ve got your eyes on the prize, and the prize isn’t a number on the scale. But…

There are those days. There are those days where you remember (oh, so acutely) what got you there in the first place. What plunged you into the darkness, what drove you to seek the numb. What sucked you in and wouldn’t let you. There are still those days. Those days usually strike in a moment of anxiety, of stress. Jobs, school, love…

Maybe the worst part about those days is the annoyance they spark. “Should”ing yourself like you do (which you, ironically, shouldn’t do), you think about how this shouldn’t be happening. Honestly, Andrea. By this point triggers simply shouldn’t exist. Three years without a symptom, girl- get a grip. By this point, you rationalize, you should be a normal person.

Mid (late?) recovery is more laden with land-mines than you could have reasonably expected. It’s a surprise! And you aren’t the biggest fan of surprises. Those challenges are different than before- it’s more about figuring out your identity, and your place in the world. It’s about more than just being in recovery- it’s about determining the line between health and disorder. It’s about balancing normal and normalized. Nobody tells you about this part of recovery. You realize, at this point, that recovery is more of a sticky, tricky, elusive son-of-a-gun than you expected. Sometimes you feel like you’re hanging on for dear life. Yes, yes, the important thing is that at the end of the day, you are holding on. Like a cheap motivational poster, you’re hanging in. But it annoys the hell out of you that the burden of being “in recovery” still hangs over your shoulder. Now, more than ever, you have to keep challenging yourself. But now, less than ever, do you feel the “justification” to do so. You’re facing that distinction between a normal, never disordered, eater, and a normal, once disordered, eater. Now, you learn that normalized eating is, sadly, not the norm. You simply have to accept that you might be the only person you know who routinely and mechanically eats 3 meals and 2 snacks, at 3 to 4 hour intervals, every live-long day. You toy with the idea of intuitive eating, and get too scared of restricting to take the plunge. You arm yourself with the best knowledge about the realities of relapse and how to avoid it. You fight back against whatever the newest diet fad is. But you have to (you have no choice!) accept that those things will sometimes eat at you (haha). Sometimes, when you’re arguing with someone about the newest article spouting scientific evidence about the evils of carbs and/or sugar and/or whatever else is currently on the nutrition-outs, you’ll wonder if, now that you’re recovered (period.) you should try out what science is pointing to as your best functional option. Then you’ll reflect to yourself that this is, obviously, a bad idea that is more likely to lead you back to rehab than to the fountain of youth.

I suppose what I’m getting at is that in mid-to-late recovery, you face decisions daily about your health (mental and physical) that no one can decide but you. Maybe you will always (yes, for the rest of your life) have to actively choose to take days that are completely free of activity, despite the news article saying that sitting is killing us. Maybe, you will have to relish that extra slice of bread, though people are trying to convince you that if you went gluten free you would be completely physically healed of all ills that still plague you. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll win someone else over to the recovery side. But you could be in this alone- and you just have to be enough. 

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22 Things I Know To Be True

22 Things I Know To Be True

I had the grandest plans to finish this list for my 22nd birthday… in May. Better late than never?

1.    Life is not a race.

2.    Being thin is not the same as being happy.

3.    If you buy expensive sunglasses, you will sit on them within 24 hours.

4.    Nobody really likes the taste of aspartame.

5.    My mom will always have my back.

6.    Being healthy doesn’t mean waking up at 5am to run on a treadmill.

7.    Baking bread isn’t nearly as intimidating as it sounds.

8.    Being tired is not the end of the world. You will sleep and feel better.

9.    There is a fine line between happy-busy and miserable-busy.

10.   Sometimes you have to wade through a bunch of junk to find gold.

11.   What works for other people won’t necessarily work for you.

12.   There are few things cuter than a dog playing with a blue hippopotamus.

13.   When in doubt, bake cookies.

14.   If you decide you’re going to fail, you will.

15.   More does not equal better.

16.   Putting on a nice pair of boots will make you feel fierce.

17.   Treating textbooks like novels is a grand idea to make school more enthralling.

18.   The cutest boys are around when you’re wearing an old sweatshirt. Rock that old sweatshirt and own it.

19.   Everyone should try therapy at least once. We’re all “messed up” in one way or another. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, clinical label or no.

20.   Car dancing should be an Olympic sport.

21.   There’s no use crying over spilled wine.

22.    Life really is a musical.

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When Life Gives You Lemons…

I’ve come to accept that there will be days when you’re thrown a curve ball and you’re left with that twisty-knotted-angry butterfly feeling deep in your gut.

I’ve also learned about the soothing power of an afternoon spent in the kitchen, just me, some butter and flour, and my Cassis le Creuset.

Life is full of ups and downs, of exclusion and inclusion, of days like these and days like those…

All cryptic-ness aside, I think its fair to say I had a pretty down day. And yet, I’m thankful that nowadays, when life hands me lemons…

I can make (and enjoy a healthy slice of) lemon upside down cake.

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On Not Graduating with the Gang.

Graduation is in full swing up here at the University this week. In fact, it seems that all the Universities banded together and decided that June 13th-17th would be the perfect time for matriculation. In a display of solidarity for universal academia, the caps and gowns have been wandering the green lawns and cobblestones, searching for a final farewell to the hallowed halls of this institution. Many of my friends graduate this week, at various Universities across the province. I’m very proud of my friends, but I can’t help thinking that if I hadn’t taken a year off to recover, I would be joining the ranks of the summa cum laude among them.

This is what academia looks like.

However, I am not. I still have another year of hitting the undergraduate books. I’m both happy and sad about that fact, to be honest. The University I attended for my first two years of study is a giant blur in my memory- a smudge on my life story, an incoherant misfortune of epic proportions. I didn’t get involved in any way other than with the gym’s grungy old treadmill, I barely made any friends other than the squirrel that lived in the wall of my apartment and the grocery checkout girl who asked me why I was crying. In short, ED and I lived in marital bliss during my first two years of University.

Resultantly, I made a big effort to do everything completely differently after my transfer. I refused to stress overmuch about assignments and exams, I made eye contact with people on campus, I reached out to friends when I needed to, I lived at home rather than on my own, and I did many things other than academics, nurturing my passions along the way. The year flew by, the grades stayed up, and my head, my heart and my body stayed healthy and happy.

I also baked a lot of muffins, but that's neither here nor there...

While the year in between has been discussed ad nauseum on this blog, as has my appreciation for what treatment and recover mean for the manuscript of my life (not smudge free, but more gently handled, less dog-eared). If you look at it objectively, the year off set me back one year in terms of academics. If you delve under the surface however, what I gained from the year in terms of personal growth is immeasurable. You don’t graduate from recovery wearing a cap and gown, but you earn your stripes nonetheless.

Hear me roar.

So no, I’m not graduating with the other 22 year olds in my life. But I know that when I do, it will be in a healthy place- a place of security in the knowledge that I am going somewhere great, no matter where that is. Knowledge that surpasses that which one can read about in 200$ textbooks, though with a fair amount of useless and useful knowledge of that ilk as well.

And when the time comes, I’ll cross the stage with a smile on my face.

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It’s alive!

During the worst thunderstorm I’ve seen in years, I made the most gigantic loaf of raisin challah bread. For some reason, the yeast just grew with the thunderclouds.

That's one giant slab of bread.

What the experience made me think of, besides the fact that I’m looking at days worth of excellent french toast, is that sometimes you set out to make or do something, and it doesn’t turn out exactly as you expect. And even though you might initially look at the result and think “this isn’t quite as beautiful as I’d hoped”, if you sit back and look at it from another angle you might realize that what you’ve made is indeed spectacular.

Realizations such as these are evidence to me that I am well on my way to freeing myself from perfectionism. I think I’ll always have that gut reaction, that initial sharp intake of breath when things don’t work out as planned, but little by little, I’m seeing the beauty in mistakes. When you think about it, most inventions originated as mistakes. Many happy accidents lead to fantastic discoveries. Life is funny like that- rarely are things in nature perfect.

Over scrumtious oversized challah french toast this morning I basked in my delicious imperfection, and thought, not for the first time, of how grateful I am for recovery, which has allowed me to make such lovely discoveries. And while my eating disorder was never really about the food, I can find joy in drawing paralells between recovery in eating and recovery of life. Both taste, feel, and look imperfectly wonderful.

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Sweet Cherry Pie.

The other day I was discussing one (and possibly the only) downside to my job. The upside, however, is the ability to work from home when it suits me. Besides the obvious side-effect of this permitting me to lounge on couch cushions and edit etc. from said couch cushions if the desire strikes, I’m also able to indulge a passion of mine: baking.

Pie to be.

Because I work best when I’m up and moving around every now and then, rather than trudging through mountains of paperwork all at once, baking provides an excellent during work- or schoolwork- project.

In the ove.

So on Tuesday, while I hashed out edits on a lengthy essay, I also whipped out my mixing bowl and spatula, and a hefty dose of butter, and set out to create in the kitchen.

Sweet cherry pie

Resultantly, I gained not only the satisfaction of a full day of work but a delicious smelling pie and double productivity.

As tasty as they look

And some rhubarb raspberry tarlettes to boot, to bring with my lunch on Wednesday.

Multitasking at its finest.

Yes, I love my job.

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Fear

Fear, fleeting,

Cuts to the quick.

Tearing up rationality and reasoning…

Unkind.

Fear, transitory,

Never feels that way.

Piercing through stony resolve to catch a glimpse of uncertainty…

Inexplicable.

Fear, consumptive,

Clings to my shirtsleeve,

Working its way up to my ear and nestling…

Stubborn.

Fear, haunting,

Speaks in tongues and riddles,

Muddling and meddling in gray matter…

Messy.

Fear, pervasive,

Casts its doubting net,

Unintended dolphins of doubt floundering under its pull…

Cruel.

I won’t be fearful for long,

Though the shadows of uncertainty cloud the sunny skies that surround me,

Fear is stubborn,

But has yet to crush my conviction.

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