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The Trauma Crutch

I’ve been through some shit. If you know me, or have been following this blog for a while, you know the history of my sexual and substance abuse. I group them together this way because they are closely intertwined.

During my senior year of high school, I “dated” a boy, A, who used to hit me, demean me, and force me to do degrading sexual acts for him because I thought this was acceptable, and because I wanted attention. No one knew what was going on, though my parents and therapist might have known he wasn’t good for me, I didn’t tell anyone the extent of how bad things were. We parted ways towards the end of senior year because his other girlfriend, who he doted on, took on expensive dates, and took to the prom, was getting suspicious of me, the side chick, and A valued his relationship with her more than whatever we might’ve had going on.

Throughout this relationship, my eating disorder was at an all-time low. A would call me fat, and compare me to his other anorexic girlfriend, C, and constantly remind me how much thinner and sexier she was, and that she would willingly be sexual with him. He didn’t “have to” force her like he did with me. I was purging multiple times a day, and constantly self-harming. Anything to numb the pain of the dysfunction that had become my life.

After I graduated high school and went away to Eckerd College, A was far from my life, but close in my thoughts. I felt like I deserved all the horrible things he’d done to me. I felt like I must have looked disgusting at my weight because I wasn’t nearly as thin as the skeletal memories of C.

I was anxious about being in a relationship. I met a boy named Jake, who was shorter than I am and always had pot. I had a car and we shared the same taste in music, so it was a match made of convenience. We’d drive to fast food joints, get munchies supplies, and get stoned out of our minds. I soon discovered that being high helped me relax around Jake and other people, and stop thinking about the bad memories from high school.

But Jake wasn’t always around. He had his own issues, and wasn’t sure if he wanted a girlfriend, while I was fairly certain I was a lesbian, and was tired of dating boys with whom I didn’t really click. So, I turned to prescription sedatives. I didn’t know the first thing about drugs. I thought all drugs besides cocaine and IV drugs were like pot: that they weren’t dangerous, and that I could stop anytime I wanted.

Pretty soon, I was taking Xanax “just in case” I got anxious. Still, I was anxious all the time. Eventually, I ran out of Xanax, and I didn’t know how to refill my prescription. I’d had a bad experience on marijuana that resulted in another sexual assault, and had no interest in smoking it anymore, but I didn’t know how to cope without my pills. I threw up a lot, sometimes on purpose, sometimes not. I trembled with anxiety in class, and couldn’t force myself to eat. It was as if A had never left my side.

Finally, my physical body went back to normal, but I had a lot of healing to do on the inside. You all know the story of how I dropped out and went to treatment, and then switched schools. Let’s fast-forward.

At the end of 2016, I was dating Tim, the 40-year-old meth addict who was every parent’s worst nightmare. I was going to AA, but still struggling to stay sober. I’d get blackout drunk once or twice every few months. Tim’s friends tried to turn me onto cocaine, and Tim joked about turning me onto meth, but thank God, I wasn’t that easily swayed.

In December 2016, Tim raped me, and my life fell apart. I went back to drinking and back to treatment, this time for PTSD. I didn’t know how or if I’d ever heal, but I did.

I’ve heard a lot of people at newcomer’s AA meetings say, “If you had the life I do, you’d drink like I do too,” and I used to feel the same way. I used to want to scream at the men who told me to pray for Tim and A and my other abusers, “If you’d been violently raped and hit and choked like I had, you wouldn’t say that. You’d be angry, and you’d drink that anger away, so go #$*^! yourself!”

I never did pray for those men. I am still very, very angry at them for what they did to me and the happiness they stole from me. But at some point, I had to stop using my trauma as a crutch. When I was drinking and drugging over A, I hadn’t seen him in a year or two. He wasn’t buying me beer. He wasn’t forcing the pills down my throat or packing my bowls for me. Tim never handed me a razor and said, “Tear yourself up. You deserve it.” I did all of those things to myself.

I did not choose to have the traumatic formative experiences that led me to these men in my adolescent and adult life. I did not choose to be abused, hit, screamed at, demeaned, or raped. I did not choose to become an addict or an alcoholic. But I took the first steps towards my own undoing, and I have to own up to that. Long after these men were no longer part of my life, I was still writing them into my story, breathing them in with every cigarette, and inscribing them on my body with every cut of the razor.

If your life sucks because of something that happened to you, but isn’t happening anymore, take a look at your surroundings, your actions, your day-to-day. What are you doing that’s holding you back? In what ways do you still need to heal? Where do you still hurt? Let the pain end, and have some compassion for yourself, but don’t allow your mind to be your own doormat. It took a lot of soul-searching for me to stop saying, “I’m like this because I was raped,” and to start saying, “I’m like this because I refuse to change.”

I’m not saying this cured my eating disorder, allowed me to never self-harm again, and that now every day is sunshine and unicorns. However, this attitude did allow me to start the healing process. When I admitted that “It’s not them,” a common AA saying, and realized the problem was me, my maladaptive coping skills, my drinking, my self-harm, my eating disorder, and my desire to cling to it, I was able to make the necessary changes.

There’s a part in the “How it Works” chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous that describes a director trying to arrange dancers who won’t cooperate. As the director tries harder and harder to bend others to his will, his life gets more and more out of control. Sometimes I just have to let people do their thing. This doesn’t mean that I should tolerate abuse, but if someone is mad at me, if I hate my classes or position at work, if my group partners in a group project aren’t doing their part, I can’t change that. The only thing I can control is my reaction to life. Life is going to keep coming at me–nothing can change that. But I can control how I handle life’s ups and downs.

It took me a long time to learn that my emotions are not facts. In actuality, my feelings are often wildly uninformed. After Tim raped me, I didn’t want to press charges because I felt protective of him. I had no reason to feel that way because he didn’t even protect me from his own desires and violence, but I felt that way nonetheless. I wish I had listened to my mom and done everything I could to ensure that he rotted in prison instead of still seeing him around campus and wanting to disappear into the sidewalk. I wish I hadn’t surrendered what little control I had left in that situation.

It used to be hard for me to swallow my pride and say that my feelings were wrong, or admit that I couldn’t make somebody do something, but these things come easily to me now. I am so grateful that I have a spiritual program to work that helps me deal with my day-to-day life. The Twelve Steps are about so much more than substance abuse recovery. They are a design for living that have allowed me to reclaim my life and love who I am today.

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Victory Is Mine: The importance of a good dietitian in ED recovery

Last semester, I took a Human Nutrition course that had a big effect on me. It was taught by Professor Zach Cordell, a young, no-nonsense professor who wears his hair long and a bow tie every day. The class opened my eyes to a lot of the lies that the food industry tries to sell people. For instance: is there a difference between fruit snacks and gummy bears? No, not really. But parents give their kids fruit snacks a lot more often than gummy bears because fruit snacks are next to the granola bars and dried cherries in the grocery store, and gummy bears are on aisle four next to the M&M’s.

I was not in a good place with my eating disorder when I took the class. It was actually the second time I’d taken the class because I’d failed it previously due to some severe slacking and one of my signature mental breakdowns, so I knew a lot of the information, and I was familiar with Professor Cordell’s teaching style. However, for someone in eating disorder relapse, a class that heavily emphasizes weight management isn’t necessarily the best idea.

Now, before I go any further, let me tell you a little something about my feelings on dietitians. I hate them. They think they know everything about food; they think they know what I should eat better than I do, and they have the AUDACITY to tell me how and what I should eat. As someone with SERIOUS control issues, this has never sat well with me. When I was in IOP during my senior year of high school, the program required that I see one of their in-house dietitians. I cycled through pretty much all of them before I found myself in the program director’s office,  being told that I needed to avoid caloric beverages (???), and finally, I proved myself so ornery that she made an exception for me and said I could continue the program without any dietary instruction.

Luckily for me, this all changed last semester. I was doing the work in therapy, but I needed more support with food and meal planning. I switched to a new therapist about six months ago, and while she has a much more compatible therapy style for me, and a better understanding of the trauma I’ve been through, she doesn’t take my eating disorder as seriously as my old therapist (who specializes in eating disorders) because she is less educated about them, and I don’t “look sick.” I was doing a lot of important healing from trauma with the new therapist, but I was also getting away with a lot of disordered eating.

I asked Professor Cordell if he offered private nutritional counseling, and he said that while he does, he wouldn’t have been a good fit for me, and he passed me along to a wonderful woman named Trish Kellogg.

I was a little leery of Trish at first. She’s overly smiley, extremely positive, kindhearted as can be, and very pretty. Clearly there was a catch. I figured she probably ate puppies for breakfast.

Fortunately for me, puppies are not part of a meal plan, and are only for petting. Working with Trish has helped me so much, and I anticipate rocketing even further into recovery as I continue to work with her. At first, we worked out a basic eating plan that included three meals and one snack. Because I hate the exchange system (a common system of meal planning used among people with eating disorders that avoids measuring food and counting calories), Trish outlined the macronutrients I need to be eating and said I could plug them into any meal and snack I wanted, so long as I got all of them in by the end of the day and didn’t eat all protein at breakfast, all carbs at lunch, etc.

This plan was a little to vague for me, so Trish broke it down further. She said I needed to have a certain number of proteins, grains, fats, dairy, and fruits/vegetables at every meal and snack. Initially, it seemed like a lot of food. It was a struggle to fit it all in during the day, and I wasn’t hungry for most of it. Trish challenged me to push through it, to eat within an hour of waking up, and consistently reminded me that coffee is not a meal–no matter how much cream I put in it.

Once we got past the basics of meal planning, we started working on some of the more difficult aspects of my eating disorder. Trish challenged me to start eating “fear foods,” foods I’m irrationally afraid of eating, either because I’ve had bad experiences with them, or because I’m afraid they’ll cause extreme weight gain. One of these foods is peanut butter. The first time I was in treatment, I was fifteen years old. Since the center was for school-age children and teenagers, the dietitians there had us eat a lot of sandwiches and wraps for lunch–similar to what we would have brought with us to school to eat during the lunch period. One day, the entire room got peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. I didn’t know a whole lot about nutrition at the time; I was afraid of food, I wanted to be skinny, and that was that. But as I watched all of the other patients cry and have meltdowns over having to eat peanut butter on white bread, I felt a wave of panic wash over me, and I felt there was no way I was ever going to eat peanut butter again.

Looking back, I see now that a few people’s anxieties fueled a huge meltdown, but the irrational fear of peanut butter and other similar spreads (cream cheese, other nut butters, jelly, apple butter, regular butter, Nutella… don’t get me started on Nutella…) stayed with me. When I related this to Trish, she said something had to be done.

I didn’t think these fear foods were really such a big deal. It’s not like I was afraid of all bread, all meat, or all caloric beverages. I could live without ever eating a nut butter again. But Trish told me that no food should have power over me. It’s safe to eat all foods in moderation, and it’s okay to enjoy them. Pretty soon, I was eating peanut butter, Nutella, and even cream cheese on bagels and sandwiches.

Another huge victory I’ve had is with cooking. I moved out of my parents’ house in December, and have since been learning how to cook by trial and error, the advice of my coworker Barbie who is in charge of cooking the free samples at the grocery store where we work, and of course, my mom who has received many a phone call asking, “Mom, how do I defrost chicken in the microwave?” or “Mom, what do we do when the stove catches fire?” My mom is an excellent, self-taught cook, and if I can be half the cook she is, I’ll be in good shape.

Last night, my girlfriend Rebecca was over, so I cooked dinner for her, my roommate Colette, and myself. One of my favorite things to cook is Asian food, and I’ve been tweaking a recipe for traditional Japanese ramen noodle soup I found on Pinterest. The recipe calls for bok choy, which is not something I’d even recognize in the grocery store, so I substituted some leftover kale I’d cooked the night before in an attempt to bulk Colette and myself up in the vegetables department (an area in which we are both severely lacking), and substituted sweet chili sauce for soy sauce because the soy sauce was on vacation and nowhere to be found in our fridge which looks like an archaeological dig site (minus the actual dirt, of course. Hi, Mom!) It came out delicious, if I do say so myself.

Rebecca, Colette, and I all have very different eating styles. I can only imagine what Colette is going through with her eating, and I don’t have much insight into it, so I won’t guess. I do know that she eats very little, and says she doesn’t like to eat. It’s hard to watch. I don’t want to see my best friend suffer in eating disorder hell–if that IS what’s going on, and I don’t know how to help beyond my Jewish grandmotherly role of “Eat, bubbelah, eat,” which I know from experience is NOT helpful. Rebecca, on the other hand, is an avid dessert eater. She eats what she’s hungry for, and with enthusiasm, which I really admire. It’s very inspiring to me to see someone who wholeheartedly loves food, loves too cook, and loves to eat. When I eat with her, I’m not as conscious of my internal ED voice, and I’m able to enjoy food more. By eating with both of them, I’m learning to focus on my own hunger/fullness cues and enjoying my own food rather than obsessing.

It was this newfound focus that allowed me to break three major eating disorder rules last night. Because the recipe doesn’t yield very much, I’d only taken a small portion to make sure there was enough for everyone. After we were done eating, I was still hungry, and I saw that there was some ramen left, so I decided to have seconds, something my eating disorder NEVER used to allow me to do. After that, Rebecca decided she wanted ice cream and a bagel (her two favorite foods), and I was okay eating the ice cream, even though dessert is typically against the rules.

Every week, Trish gives me a challenge, and this week’s challenge was to get food on my hands. I touch food all the time when I’m eating finger food or cooking, but I hate it. I have an irrational fear that I’m going to absorb calories through my hands, which I KNOW is not possible, but it still freaks me out. It makes me feel gross and messy; it’s overwhelming, and I just! Don’t! Like! It! But I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, so Rebecca and I split the bagel, and I spread Nutella on it with my finger. It was a little unnerving, and I felt stupid for being freaked out over something that seems so trivial to a non-eating disordered person, but I’m also learning not to judge my emotions, so I sat with the discomfort, licked the tasty Nutella off my finger, and moved on.

Just recently, I was speaking to another woman in recovery from an eating disorder about why it’s vital to see a dietitian. She was just beginning her recovery journey, and wanted to be her own dietitian. We were speaking in the context of a therapist-led support group, and the other women shared their resoundingly positive experiences of working with dietitians on their paths to recovery. The biggest reason to work with a dietitian is so that you’ll have someone with more experience and knowledge about food than you do. A dietitian knows exactly what your body needs and how to supply it. Trying to be your own dietitian is a tricky path, even if you don’t have an eating disorder. There is so much misinformation about food and nutrition out there, and EVERYONE is trying to sell you something. Dietitians are unbiased, and on your side–not your eating disorder’s.

I am so grateful to have crossed paths with Trish. I’ve made so much progress in conquering my eating disorder, and gotten a better understanding of the things I still need to work on. I’ve come incredibly far in just a few short months, and I’m learning to value my accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem to an outsider. Today I stand tall. Today I am proud of myself.

 

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I Am the Master of My Fate

Things rarely go as planned for me. I’m in my third year of a two-year program at my college. I’m not even at the college I intended to go to. I’ve lost an astounding amount of friends in the past year, and Jon, my best friend from summer camp, lives an ocean away, and I haven’t seen him since high school, despite our haphazard efforts at arranging a reunion. Meanwhile, my body has ballooned instead of shrinking like I always wanted. I don’t grab a couple of drinks at Hamburger Mary’s with a couple of gal-pals like I always thought I would before I turned twenty-one.

These could all be construed as negatives, but it’s really just a matter of perception. Spending more time at Daytona State instead of a traditional college has given me more time to make sure my major is right for me. The main reason I am so far behind my peers in my education is because I was hospitalized almost every semester for mental health reasons. A community college like DSC gives me the flexibility to retake classes, withdraw late from courses I won’t be able to finish, and establish a rapport with my instructors so I can let them know what’s going on with me.

As for losing friends, well, I’ve drifted apart from the clubs I was once involved with at school, partly because of other commitments like work and synagogue (It seems like EVERY event is on a Friday night!), and partly because I’ve grown and changed a lot, and I just don’t vibe with some of the people who used to be my friends. It’s important for me to explore various types of friendships with a multitude of people so that I can determine what does and doesn’t work. Am I a little lonely at school? Yeah, sure. But this pushes me to get outside of my comfort zone, talk to the people in my classes, and it challenges me to be my authentic self, regardless of whether or not people like that.

Jon and I will always be best friends. He stood by me through anorexia hell, multiple rounds of treatment, and even the time I got unhealthily obsessed with a crush for a solid six months and drove him nuts asking questions  about the mystery of the male mind. We email each other all the time, just to share anecdotes about our lives and our plans for the future. Jon is one of those special friends who will always be in my life. He’ll be in my wedding, either as the groom or as my maid of honor. He’ll look so pretty in a dress!

My body? Forget weighing 98 pounds. I’d rather be able to keep up with my kindergarteners, walk across campus, and eat some freaking fries when I want to!

And as far as not going out for drinks with friends on the weekends? That’s my choice. I can decide to start drinking whenever I want to. I don’t know what would happen if I did, and that’s why I choose not to drink.

I went back to school towards the end of March, and I’m taking a very easy class called Managing Your Success. The intention of the class is to teach students how to thrive in college, how to manage time and money, etc. It’s really basic stuff, but sometimes it’s good to get back to basics. My professor recently included the quote, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul,” in one of his slides. Curious, I Googled the quote, and found the poem “Invictus” by William Earnest Henley.
invictusI realized I’d heard the poem before and scoffed at it, but my take on it was different this time. One of the key lessons I learned when I was in treatment at Magnolia Creek was that no one can “make” you feel anything; rather, your reactions are a choice.

I had trouble with this concept at first. I thought it was normal and natural to feel bad about being abused, for example. I thought that “bad” things happened to me, and I had a right to feel ashamed, dirty, depressed, and helpless. In short, I was being a victim. I wanted to feel that way. I thought my abuse “didn’t count” unless I tortured myself emotionally over it.

It’s not my job to decide if the things that happen to me are “good” or “bad.” I can perceive them however I want, but I am only human, thus I have a finite perception of the events and course of my life. Labeling things that happen to me is another example of the myriad ways I try to play God in my life. I’m pretty sure God has this whole “running the universe” thing covered. I don’t think He needs my help with that. I am probably not the literal “master of my fate.” I think that probably falls under God’s jurisdiction. However, I do believe that I have a choice when it comes to how I feel and what I do. No, it’s not my fault that I have anorexia. However, every time I engage in an eating disordered behavior, I’m making a conscious choice to act on that impulse, just as when I overcome a relapse or an ED thought, I’m taking charge of my own mind. If we are responsible for our successes in recovery, we are also responsible for our failures. I certainly don’t want to admit that it’s my fault when I weave an elaborate web of lies about why there are bloodstains on my sleeves and razors hidden in the bathroom. I don’t want to take responsibility when my breath smells like vomit after meals and I’m losing weight. However, I want all the credit when I pick up another milestone chip at AA, when I listen to my hunger cues and eat a snack even though it’s against anorexia’s rules, or when I end an unhealthy relationship.

After a traumatic event as recent as December, I resorted to purging to deal with my feelings of shame and depression. It was symbolic for me; kneeling in front of the toilet represented apologizing to God, the universe, or the person who hurt me for whatever I’d done to “deserve” what happened, while the act of vomiting represented “purging” the painful memories out of my mind. At first, I told myself I’d “just purge once.” Then it became purging once a day. Pretty soon, I was purging as often as I could and eating as little as possible in the meantime. I knew something was wrong when I found myself in the employee bathroom at work while I was supposed to be taking out the trash, heaving up whatever low-calorie morsels I’d had for dinner on my break. Mid-barf, I was being paged over the intercom because the front had gotten busy and my supervisor needed an extra cashier. I had no choice but to finish vomiting, clean myself up as quickly as I could, and drag my shaky, pale, embarrassed self to a register.

It’s not my fault that this is how my brain taught itself to deal with stress. It’s not my fault that I was the victim of a crime prior to this and it caused a great deal of stress in my life. However, it was my responsibility to be good to myself (and to fulfill a duty to my employer), to make healthy choices, and to my best to resist these self-destructive impulses. The ex-boyfriend who violated me was neither directly nor  indirectly responsible for what I did that night. Yes, his actions were inappropriate and wrong, but so were the ways I chose to react to them. He wasn’t “making” me purge. I was doing it to myself.

These days, I have faith in a God that has granted me an “unconquerable soul.” I will never say I am grateful for the abuse I went through. Many people, even a few therapists have told me that I should be grateful to be a victim of childhood sexual abuse, dating violence, and rape because it’s made me so much stronger, and I will be able to use these experiences to help other people going through the same thing. While I am grateful for the outcomes of the traumatic events I’ve experienced, I am not grateful for the road I had to take to get here. However, I am the captain of my soul, and I choose not to dwell on what brought me to this place. Rather, I will look forward and see what the future holds.

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Happy New Year! I don’t really make New Year’s resolutions for a few reasons. It’s primarily because I never stick to them, so I feel like I’m starting the year by setting myself up for failure. I’ll make 4,827 resolutions, which is at least 27 too many, and I get overwhelmed and nothing changes. Sometimes, my resolutions are things that just keep me sick, like resolving to lose weight.

However, I am making some pretty big changes in my life, changes that happen to coincide with this arbitrary measurement of time we call the New Year. This morning (the day before my 21st birthday), I was discharged from a three-night stay in a psychiatric hospital. A few weeks ago, someone I trusted hurt me in a very personal way, and I have not been okay since then. The whole ordeal of contacting the necessary authorities and professionals in the aftermath of the incident was equally stressful, and I do not function well under stress. Within a week, I found myself purging again, and I became very afraid of food. Eating has become a nearly insurmountable task, made tolerable only when I use neurotic food rituals, and I often find myself obsessing about how I’m going to avoid getting caught purging the small amounts of food I do manage to eat.

Even though I had gotten rid of all my razor blades, I was still self-harming. I dismantled household items with which to cut myself, and when that didn’t numb the emotional pain enough, I resorted to banging my head into walls.

I spoke less, smiled less, hardly ever laughed, and carried Ora Nechema, my doll, around

IMG_0978.JPG

Ora Nechema is a handmade ball-jointed doll. My best friend’s mom made her for me. Since this photo was taken, she went to the doll hospital (AKA my friend’s mom’s kitchen table) for a makeover and has beautiful, curly red hair now. Ora Nechema is Hebrew for light and comfort. She typically comes everywhere with me (except work because I don’t want her to get broken), and I do get strange looks walking around a college campus with a doll in my hand, but she is very comforting, and I tell her all the nice things I need to hear but can’t yet say to myself. 

with me everywhere because she reminded me that there is something childlike and in need of protection in me, and I am worth the same care with which I handle a handmade porcelain doll. (She comes to AA with me, and she’s quite popular.)

I became more and more depressed until I decided I might as well just go ahead and kill myself. I was scared to feel this way, so I talked to my parents, and we all decided it would be best for me to be in a safe place, so they took me to the hospital.

The hospital has its ups and downs. I’ve been there enough times that I know all the nurses, and I feel safe there. I can’t hurt myself there. I’m under 24/7 supervision, and I can’t have so much as a spiral notebook, so cutting myself is out of the question. The downside is that the hospital is just a crisis stabilization and detox unit. The idea is to get you in, get you some medicine, and get you out. There’s really no therapy, and it’s quite boring in there. So, while I was prevented from killing myself, the underlying issues that led me to feel suicidal are still festering. My elaborate cocktail of anti-this and such-and-such stabilizers are actually working quite well. I was doing okay until this most recent incident happened. However, now that I’m dealing with the aftermath of being hurt, I feel out of control and in need of more long-term help. So, I am heading back to residential treatment.

My parents, my therapist, and I are looking into various treatment centers that deal with multiple psychiatric disorders, and trying to find the best fit for me. I might only go so far as Orlando, or I might end up in Boston. We’re not sure yet. But what I do know is that this is my chance at turning my life around. When I was at the Creek in 2014, I made substantial progress, but then I hit a wall and I was kind of stuck. The treatment team there was challenging me to work on deep, underlying issues, not just my unhealthy relationship with food, but what drove that relationship. I couldn’t or wouldn’t do it. I frequently snapped at my therapist there, “I came here to get rid of my eating disorder, and I did. I want to go home.” I did go home, and I did alright for a little while, but within a year, I was unstable and self-destructing.

This time will be different. I am resolving to commit myself to getting better. I’m going to follow my treatment team’s recommendations no matter what. I obviously don’t know how to take care of myself, or else my stomach wouldn’t be empty, my wrist wouldn’t be scabby, I wouldn’t feel like the world is ending if I accidentally make physical contact with a strange man, and my GPA would be higher than a two point something or other. I am turning the care and keeping of Katherine over to the treatment team until I am well enough to take that role back. Someday, I’ll get there. Someday, I will feel like a whole person. Until then, I’ll just continue to do my best.

May you find peace and happiness this year. I know that’s what I’m trying to do.

 

 

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The Small Things

In a perfect world, I would always take care of myself and do what’s right for me. However, I have a self-destructive nature, and I thrive on chaos. Perhaps “thrive” is not the right word because I certainly haven’t been thriving over the past few weeks, but I have a deep-seated need to create chaos in my life so that I will always have a problem to solve. Oddly enough, I don’t usually solve these problems that I make for myself. I stress about them, complain to my friends, worry my family, and let them fester until I end up using maladaptive coping skills and then—what do you know!—I have more problems.
I’m trying to break the cycle.
Recently, Christin and I broke up, and it’s been hard for me. I’ve never had a breakup in which I wasn’t desperate to get out of what was left of a relationship I’d destroyed or that was just not healthy for me. This was different. We parted ways on good terms and are trying to stay friends. We’ve been as open as we can with each other about how we’re doing post-breakup, and we still care about each other, as friends should.
Two days after we broke up, I had a really bad day. I was sad about the breakup, mired in PMS, and did not want anything to do with any sort of positivity. I snapped at my parents, sat on my best friend Colette’s porch and cried to her and her boyfriend (who happens to be Christin’s best friend), and screamed along to my favorite Sleater-Kinney album in my backyard. While I was in the backyard, I received a text from my dad that was intended for my mom. The text said something about how my singing was going to distress our neighbors. My dad was probably right because Sleater-Kinney (like all Riot Grrrl bands) is a cacophonous mess of female shrieking and feedback-ridden guitar wails, and I am quite loud. I angrily texted my dad back informing him that the music made me feel better, and said that maybe next time I’d just do something unhealthy and impulsive to make myself feel better. My dad came into the backyard to say he was sorry, and I took great satisfaction in saying, “You’re only sorry you got caught,” a line that has frequently been directed at me.
However, my dad is a patient, kind, loving man, and he didn’t blow up at me like I was doing towards him. He continued to apologize and said that he and I need to “mend our fences,” because we’ve been distant lately, and when we do talk, I can be a bit of a bitch to him, which is (usually) not deserved, and doesn’t make either of us feel good. He said he loved me, something everyone in my family tells each other frequently, but I started to cry, and he hugged me and said it was okay. We ended up having a really good conversation about my future, school, our relationship, and our family. I love my dad, and I know he loves me. I just don’t show it all the time.
Colette says love is something you practice, not something you have. I am trying to walk in love these days. It is easy for me to tell myself that no one loves me and that I will never be loved, but that is simply not true, and quite melodramatic, I might add.
It’s not just my dad who loves me. I have my brother who took me out for ice cream and compared notes with me on both of our recent breakups. I have my mom who has given me so much good advice in the past week, and is always there for me.

And then there’s Kerry. Everyone needs a gay best friend (or GBFF), and Kerry is mine. On Sunday, I slept in, and my mom woke me up by saying, “Aren’t you going to Blue Springs with Kerry today?”
“No. Why?” I responded sleepily.
“Because Kerry’s downstairs,” my mom answered.
“Oooooh nooooo!” I groaned as I rolled out of bed in my underwear and sought my bathing suit. I suddenly remembered that as I was falling asleep the night before, I’d gotten several messages asking what time I was free to go to the springs, but I’d been too sleepy to comprehend them. I checked my phone and realized that all the calls I’d been ignoring were not in fact from work, but from Kerry and the rest of the gang wanting to know if I was coming on the day’s adventure.
I am so grateful to have friends who go to any lengths to include me in their fun. Kerry is an awesome friend who listens and makes me laugh. At the springs, I happily took in the view of the water and the girls in bikinis, and I was perfectly comfortable (albeit a bit cold) in my bathing suit. I even ate a peanut butter sandwich someone else had made. Peanut butter was once my biggest fear food, but now I just enjoy the protein and delicious flavor it has to offer. No, no one is going to give me a scholarship or a medal for eating a PBJ, but it was a huge accomplishment for me, and I have every right to celebrate it.
After we finished swimming at the springs, we went to a pizza joint, where I devoured tasty pizza and fried ravioli. I didn’t count how many slices of pizza I ate, nor do I care. It tasted good, so I ate it. Eating the pizza was part of the experience of having fun with my friends on a day off from work.

springs
Breaking up is not fun or easy. But Christin and I needed to do what was right for each other and for ourselves. Things are different now, and I have no choice but to accept them. Once I adjust to the changes, I think I will find that things are better. I’d rather not be in a romantic relationship at all than be in one that’s not working. But that’s not to say I don’t have relationships. I have awesome friends, my family, and my internet friends from summer camp who call me their Big Gay Mama. I’m trying to stay positive, and it’s getting easier every day. I’m making a conscious effort to reframe negative thoughts, and to stay busy. I keep telling myself I’ll be okay, and for once, I’m actually right about something.

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Gratitude

Ever since I started experiencing psychotic symptoms, I’ve had a really hard time with religion. Going to temple is just inviting the voices in, and prayer only stirs them up and gets them screaming at me. I don’t even know how to start a conversation with God. I thought God hates me, or even that God isn’t real. I’d basically given up on having any kind of spirituality in my life, which was a big deal, considering I previously wanted to become a cantor. I was recently hospitalized because I was suicidal and having flashbacks to a traumatic childhood event. While I was in the hospital, I had an illuminating conversation with the hospital chaplain. After talking to him, I felt lighter. The chaplain, Tony, told me that God must love me because God made me, and She doesn’t make garbage. God loves Her creations, and God can be whoever I want her to be, so I decided that God is a woman. If God loves me, then She has to understand how devastating it was to be hurt by men. I love women so much more deeply than I could ever love a man; I connect to them; I understand them; I laugh with them; I ache with them. I am sure that God, that my God, is a woman, and She loves me.

As a child of God, I have no right to hate Her creations. If I can love my own creations– my photos and my writing– then I have to be able to love the person that God made me. So that’s it. After a lifetime of hating myself, I’m going to do something about it. I’m going to love myself. It’s hard, and it’s weird, and I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m managing. I am learning not to tear myself down, but to build myself up– or at least keep my head above water. I am loved from all around. My parents love and support me no matter what I do. My elementary school classmates have stuck with me through my very first hospitalization to college; I don’t think they would have done that if I was the bad, worthless friend I thought myself to be. My English professor from last semester stopped me at work to tell me I’m a spectacular writer. I doubt he was doing that just to be nice. I have my friends from GSA who I always have fun with. And of course, there’s Christin, who pours so much love into our relationship that it’s almost impossible to believe I’m not everything she says I am.

I’m learning that it’s painful to love someone who doesn’t love herself, and I don’t want to put people through that pain anymore.

 

I’m finally gaining insight into all the nights I spent crying in my mom’s arms telling her I would do anything to see my collarbones again. She would tell me that I was beautiful as I was, and I’d argue with her because I hated myself so much I couldn’t understand how anyone could see any goodness at all in me. I have learned firsthand that you can’t plant self-love in someone else. That’s why it’s called SELF-love– it has to come from inside. Christin has inspired me to make a change in myself. If she can treat me as caringly and lovingly as she does, then I’m going to return the favor to myself because I am worth that much. I no longer say mean things to myself. I don’t tolerate it. I’ve gained enough confidence and self-respect not to let anyone else talk to me the way I talk to myself, and I’m not going to be a hypocrite and continue to treat myself like trash. I am a good person. I am smart. I am valuable. I am kind. And yes, I am beautiful.

Processed with VSCO with b5 presetHappiness is not getting on the scale and seeing that you’ve lost weight. Happiness was what I experienced today. I went out to brunch with Christin, and we walked on the beach where we tried to feed stale matzah to the birds. On the drive home, we held hands in the car, and I felt truly present in the moment. We had the windows down, and I wasn’t obsessing over my hair getting messed up or my makeup running. Why would I have wanted to think about that when I could have focused on the beautiful girl sitting next to me laughing at my passenger seat dancing and holding my hand? I was grateful to live in such a beautiful place, grateful that God brought so many wonderful people into my life, and grateful to be in love.

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The Island of Ana

At age fourteen, I was a mess of contradictions. I felt like no one cared about me despite the outpouring of love I received from my family and friends. I thought my parents hated me and sent me to treatment to torture me and make me fat, not because they were at a loss for how to help me and only wanted me to be happy and healthy. I thought my boyfriend only liked me for my body, which couldn’t possibly have been true because I was well on my way to emaciation, and he put more than enough thought into my wellbeing.

At the same time, I didn’t want anyone to care about me. I often confided in my journal and to my therapist that I wished people would simply give up on me and let me self-destruct. I wished my boyfriend wouldn’t beg me to eat. I wished my mom wouldn’t confiscate my razors. I wanted people to leave me alone and let me drown in self-loathing and unhealthy behaviors. I ignored the people who loved me, misinterpreting their concern as an attempt to control me, and I was repulsed by any act of care or kindness because  I felt like I wasn’t worth it.

These days, I have a little more perspective than I did when I was first diagnosed with anorexia and depression. Sometimes, I still wish people would just leave me alone and let me self-harm or starve myself. But I’ve also learned that I can’t have it both ways. If I want to have meaningful relationships in my life, I can’t immerse myself in my mental illnesses.

If I did everything alone, or went everywhere with only Ana, things would be different. I could have purged that night at Hamburger Mary’s. But my friends were there, and Oxana followed me into the bathroom. She didn’t do it because she was mad at me or trying to control me; she did it because she was concerned. My little freak-out really scared and upset Christin. She knew exactly what I was doing when I headed towards the bathroom, and she said she felt “defeated,” when she saw me leave. That’s not how I want the people I care about to feel. I don’t get to have it both ways. I can’t care about my friends and girlfriend and not expect them to care about me in return. If the roles were reversed, and Christin were the one with the eating disorder, I would want to do everything I could to help her on her journey to recovery. It only makes sense that my friends want the same for me.

Anorexia is loneliness. It is not strength or hard work. It is a potentially fatal disease that I have to fight. My ultimate anorexic fantasy was as follows: I live alone in my own apartment. I don’t have a refrigerator because I don’t ever buy anything to put in it. My cupboards are bare and empty. I have a coffeepot that I use frequently, and I feed my dog more often than I feed myself. The fantasy never involved any friends, a girlfriend, or even a roommate. Letting anyone get close to me meant that they might care, and having someone care about me meant someone coming between Ana and me. I couldn’t have that. I see now how miserable and lonely that fantasy is. I would much rather have a full life, complete with friends, family, and Christin.

Food is not just necessary. It is fun, pleasurable, and it can bring people together. Today, I have a nasty cold, and when I told Christin that I’m sick, she offered to make me some soup. She loves to cook, but I told her not to bother with all that because I didn’t feel like I was worth the trouble. I was self-conscious at the thought of my girlfriend seeing me in sweatpants and a t-shirt, and I had been too tired to even take a shower. I fell asleep, and the next thing I knew, she was at the door with a container of homemade soup. If I was still my fourteen-year-old self, I would have been terrified that someone cared about me that much, but today I was just happy to see my lovely, gourmet-cooking girlfriend. I ate the soup without a second thought, and it was delicious. Ana was nowhere in sight; she wasn’t whispering in my ear that I needed to purge as soon as Christin left, or  that I wasn’t allowed to eat dinner if I ate the soup. Sick people should have soup. It’s a fact of life. When someone I care about cooks for me, I want to be able to enjoy it wholeheartedly, and not obsess over calories and the like. That’s exactly what I did today. I can only hope it means Ana’s grip on me is loosening.