Day 43 #MyRecoveryLetter

To my former self:

I am sorry.

I’m sorry you didn’t know you were enough. I’m sorry no one ever told you. I’m sorry your mother taught you to be small. I’m sorry she didn’t know how to love herself. I’m sorry she was consumed, and that it consumed you too. I’m sorry you were her collateral damage.
I am sorry treatment hurt you. I’m sorry you weren’t ready.
I am sorry you taught yourself to manage, and to drink, more collateral damage.

I forgive you.

I forgive you for losing your son, for giving him up. I forgive you for using your eating disorder long after we got sober. I forgive you for the times when you could finally see him, and you still weren’t present. I forgive you for lying to your husband.

To my current self:

I am sorry.

I’m sorry it took this long. I’m sorry you’re hurting. I’m sorry this is so hard and you are mourning. I’m sorry you have to do this work now, with two toddlers demanding constant attention, that we didn’t do it before. I’m sorry you are tender-hearted, quick to tears, and quick to anger. I’m sorry you had to ask for help. I’m sorry you have to cook all the meals. I’m sorry you can never take a break.

I forgive you.

I forgive you for being irritable and snapping at your babies. I forgive you for being cold to your husband. I forgive you for not loving your body yet, for scoffing at the mirror, and for keeping that bag of old clothes. I forgive you for being hungry. I forgive you for eating.

To my future self:

I believe in you.

I believe in full recovery. I believe you will know a new freedom.

I am grateful.

I am grateful that I know that recovery is not an end point, but rather, a tapestry woven from time. Each thread a moment, some joyful, painful, significant, or poignant, some ordinary, mundane, tedious, some effortless, and many arduous. And it’s woven alongside its counterpoint, the tapestry of our old life, made from millions of stolen moments. If we are lucky, the former grows forever longer, stronger, more vibrant and more varied while the latter remains unfinished, discarded, tattered, and covered in dust.


Day 21, Ugly, Beautiful, Honest

So, I recently quit my job. I only worked two days a week. It was nice to get out of the house and communicate with adults and still spend the bulk of my time raising my children and running my household. But, my husband’s business continues to grow and so do the children, ushering us into a world where there is no good time for me to be away from home. I’ve been 100% stay at home for a few weeks now and went back to work today for a meeting as I will continue to help out as a substitute when needed. It was also a little bit of a goodbye. There was lunch. There was cake.

I knew it would be so, and I planned to participate wholeheartedly, and I did. I ate the fucking cake. It was fucking good, all kinds of dark chocolate ganache and cream cheese filling good. And I moved through the eating and the sitting pretty easily. I had an hour drive home with no time for stopping as my husband needed to be off to his job outside of the home. My next jobs as mommy and kennel partner began as my feet touched the gravel drive.

I attempted to be present for my children and to hold my recent engulfing irritability at bay. I did pretty ok for 3 weeks no behaviors. I did everything I knew my husband wanted me to do for the dogs even if the thought of it was exhausting, even though as he ticked off his list of things I “could do if I wanted” I was mentally un- checking them, no, not that, not today, how the hell do you expect me to fit that into the general chaos of raising our children? I paused, agitated, turned, and got to work.

I took the boys out to play in the yard, I brought the 3 week old puppies out into their play room with the boys and took videos. I fed the puppies their transitioning food and changed their bedding. Then dinner. Dinner is the most difficult time of my day. My children are picky toddlers, oft turning their cute tiny noses up at anything I set in front of them. If I could, I would eat a bowl of cereal and never cook another dinner. The boys finally, I’ll use this term loosely, agreed on boxed Mac n cheese and frozen veggies. I cooked one box to prevent binging. I fed them 2/3 and ate the rest. I hate feeding them right now. Wasting food makes me feel nervous, I’m easily frustrated by their refusal to eat most things. It is more difficult to get them to eat what I’d like to eat. Except in the case of cereal. I’m quite certain they would be so pleased if I decided we were all going to eat cereal for dinner every day of the week. But I’m trying to improve. And it’s painful, uncomfortable at best, downright torture at worst.

So I felt exceptionally uncomfortable after dinner. And instead of merely sitting with myself, or playing with the kids, trying to ignore, distract, I did something totally unexpected. I took a picture of the part of me that felt disagreeable. I took two photos of my bare belly. I expected feelings of disgust as I viewed the photos. I was prepared to feel the disgust and process it. I looked, and I felt… Sympathetic? All the feelings of disdain I expected, they kind of crumbled away at the sight of the space where my babies once grew, this piece of a body I’ve been abusing for twenty years. I didn’t feel love, but a kind of kinship for this poor body.

I’m under no impression that I will start loving my body now, that the next time I look in the mirror or take a photo of a body part, I won’t feel the disgust or shame I was expecting tonight. Nevermind that, for a moment I found some kind of beauty in the ugliness that is my eating disorder. So as I lie down tonight I’m holding onto that little bit of light, praying I can nurture it, that someday it may grow into full fledged hope, into some kind of peace.

Challenge for the Day:

Challenge yourself to take a photo of a body part. Meditate on this image with COMPASSION. Focus on what this part of your body has done for you and empathize with its mistreatment.

Day 17, Inside

I was building everything up to this one tiny moment in the expanse of moments, my therapy appointment. It was the first time in 18 years that I was seeking help specifically for my eating disorder. I have not sought treatment since I was released from residential in 2001. So I recently became ready. I honestly could not tell you why, but I am willing to do work and to let go.

To be clear, I have done a lot of work between 2001 and now. I worked on getting good and drunk for a long long time, and then I lost custody of my beautiful boy in 2008. In 2009 I entered a residential substance abuse treatment center, and I have been sober since. Subsequently, I worked intensively with a therapist on the guilt and shame I experienced surrounding my child, my failure to provide a safe home for him, and his absence. The guilt and the shame came in waves of emotions that were at once startling, paralyzing, painful, and welcome. In the beginning I welcomed these waves as a form of punishment, even torture. I’ve come to welcome them as evidence of my love for my child and my humanity.

Throughout my sobriety, I have had a few false starts at seeking recovery from my eating disorder. But in the end I always clutched tighter to it, holding on with all the certainty that to let go would be to fracture into billions of pieces, too small to put back together, dispersing, eternally homeless.

The last few years have been a crazy time. I’ve given birth to two more boys, 17 months apart. They are three and two. My second was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 6 months. I battled and survived postpartum depression after my third. Perhaps because of all of this, maybe I was too busy, maybe because my hormones were crazy, maybe because my body was not my own, somehow, after my 3rd child was born, I had a year’s long reprieve from any eating disorder behaviors and thoughts that I can remember.

This last year, however, it’s been creeping in. Slowly. Sometimes in nearly imperceptible ways. But I recognized it immediately for I have known it well and long. And though it’s been hanging around this past year, I am no longer welcoming its intoxicating presence, it’s promises of, disappearing, oblivion.

This brings me back to the moment I’ve been waiting for since I made the decision to recover. The appointment. The two hundred and twenty five dollar, fifty minute appointment in a non descript office building, the kind with miles of aging, berber carpet, a key to the restroom down the hall. The suite of the therapist with its forced appearance of “serenity”, Buddhist symbols, and an assortment of herbal teas. The intake questions, all the same, the story, my story, my non story of no abuse or trauma, just my maladaptive coping mechanisms and me on the ugly couch in another shitty office building.

And I realized. The power to recover does not lie within the walls of a suite in an office building in Lansing or Grand Rapids or even in Chicago. I will not find recovery in the thoughts and words of the next therapist or the next sponsor. Recovery: regaining possession of something stolen or lost. This is between me and my eating disorder. It is only within this body and this mind, this heart and this fear-riddled soul, that I will find peace, and I will know freedom.

Day 14, 234 nails, a meditation

I was irritable this morning no doubt. We are living in my bedroom and the basement since my living room flooring project is on hiatus. The toddler duo are brimming with energy as mother nature turns her face toward spring. My energy teeters precariously between can’t pull myself out of bed to I’m going to jump out of my skin if I don’t get out of here and do something. I think 14 days, two whole weeks of recovered eating without a program to follow is quietly disturbing me. I mean, I know I could follow the 12 steps as I do for my alcoholism, but let’s be real. It never really worked for me. Perhaps it was my lack of willingness, but my gut says it’s more than that. Something about AA being a program of abstinence. How can you quantify abstinence when you have to eat? Is it a mind free of disordered thoughts? I’ll throw the towel in right now my friends. This brain is louder than an elementary school playground at recess and not nearly as delightful or amusing.

I’m in the mix right now. When I got sober, I went to detox in a mental hospital and straight to a 90 day residential treatment center from there. Nearly every waking moment was focused on recovery. When I finished treatment, I went to at least one meeting a day, often more; I had lost custody of my son, I had nothing else to do. I’ve often wondered if I could have stayed sober just going to meetings and no treatment. Would I have done the work soon enough?

Things are very different for me today, blessings of a sober life. I have a husband who works full time and runs a kennel. I am his business partner. I have two toddlers who are totally dependent on me and a 14 year old who lives 30 minutes from me and has an active high school schedule. I go to one AA meeting a week on Saturday when I can detach myself from the boys. I’m feeling all the uncomfortable feelings of being separated from my coping mechanism with no focused recovery plan. I am literally counting the minutes until my therapy appointment tomorrow.

We have a litter of pups on the ground as they say. Thirteen perfect little puppies survived out of 14. They are nearly 3 weeks old and momma is tiring of them needing her, pawing at her. I get frustrated with her. I have to keep convincing her to lie down and let them nurse. Today though, I understood. I took her out from the puppy room, and I snuggled each little warm, furry, squirming pup, and I trimmed their nails. Slowly, and methodically, ritualistically. I let the boys play in the barn, and I soothed and quieted puppies and trimmed 234 nails. It was a meditation on our connectedness and an exercise in empathy and self love.

Challenge for the Day:

Make a meditation out of an ordinary task or practice. Consider how this meditation can be an act of kindness for yourself and others.

Day 12, Coming to the Surface

We bought luxury vinyl tile for our living room. Our installer began working today. This is the type of floating floor that locks together. I was downstairs with the boys for the first 3 hours just trying to keep them out of his hair. When I took Wayland up for a nap I inspected the work so far. It appeared to me that several of the seams were not locked tightly. This product is supposed to be water proof, due to the locking mechanism. We bought this particular flooring because of that particular characteristic, because we have toddlers and dogs. Needless to say I was obsessing over it. I tried to express my concern, and it’s not that he didn’t listen, but he kept asking me what I wanted to do. I have no fucking idea what to do. I wanted him to be the expert. We tried to fix it together. I have a 2 year old and a three year old demanding my attention at all times, and I’m trying to help you install this flooring, not part of my plan for the day. To increase my level of anxiety, this installer is a friend of ours so I don’t want to hurt his feelings, and I recently became a full time stay at home mom so my husband wants this to be “my project” and doesn’t want to be involved, save for hiring our friend, the installer. We also run a business and my husband works full time. I feel like hyperventilating just writing this.

Why am I sharing this? It is not a Monday night bitch session, or a cathartic venting even. Let me describe for you the process of attempting to make these planks fit together. I would spot a gap in a seam, a tiny gap. My friend would tap a block of wood against the tile with a hammer while I stood on it to weigh it down. We would feel the tiles lock into place and cheer, only to find we opened a gap a couple boards away. Find a gap, beat the hell out of the board to force it into a space that seems too small. Find a new gap, sound familiar?

I was freaking out at the situation, the metaphor, and the fact that my weight had to be utilized as a tool. I at once wanted to be heavier and to disappear simultaneously. I had a full fledged urge to binge. I started rifling through the refrigerator. I wanted to calm all of the voices in my head instantly. I ate a bowl of cereal and stopped. I managed to make it through the evening somehow without unraveling. I called our friend and asked him not to come tomorrow. I called the company we purchased the flooring from and scheduled a phone call with their installation manager. I did not binge. I did not purge.

I told my husband I felt guilty about the money when I’m not working, about incurring more cost with another install. He said something to the effect of “do you think your 2 days a week working was worth you being gone?” I asked him why he couldn’t say that what I do at home is so much more valuable than any other work right now, and he needs me. Why he had to make my prior work outside the home seem so small. I said all this and didn’t binge and didn’t purge.

And now I’m sitting. Sitting and writing. I’m feeling the bruises from all of the days and years and hours of battering my body. Beating it into submission, until it took up less space. Until it could hardly be noticed in a room at all. Just a shadow, an echo of the girl I was before I knew I was too much. I’m tired of being an echo. I think I have 10,000 unborn screams in my throat.

Day 8, Recovery isn’t everything, it’s all things.

Ugh, I have a 2 year old, a 3 year old, and a husband, and I don’t want to cook. My kids don’t want to eat anything I make. My husband is on a diet which leads me to a very dangerous precipice from which I can easily hurl myself into an abyss of numbers, quantities, and labels assigning moral characterizations to inanimate food objects. I just want a break. I made the appointment, I’m not using eating disorder behaviors, not physically. But now that I’ve made this decision, I kind of don’t know what to do with myself. I’m obsessing a little about what my life might look like in the future. I’m definitely not living right here right now. That’s not true either. Some times I am, and sometimes I’m a mess.

Today was all of recovery.

I took my 2 year old out to a Cafe while his brother was in preschool. It was my first time eating anything outside of my home since I decided to kick this. It was oddly enjoyable, watching my toddler watching everyone else, practically climbing over the booth to say hello to the elderly couple on the other side. The bagel was gone, and maybe a millisecond of guilt for having eaten “out”.

I spent 2 hours outside with my Littles only aware of the current moment, their rounded sturdy bodies tumbling down the hill in our front yard. The look of surprise on my 2 year old’s face when he fell, fear turning into laughter instead of tears because we were finally outside on a gorgeous day after so much winter. My 3 year old pushing his brother in his cozy coup, showing off, using both hands because he has Cerebral Palsy and he knows it makes me proud. All this life and love packed into two little bodies, it hardly seems fair. The sun on our faces and bare arms left us nearly ecstatic. Honestly, I did not have a thought during those two hours that wasn’t aimed at enjoying my children and increasing their joy. It was the best part of my day.

Several attempted feedings later with little success left me frustrated. How these tiny people that I love so painfully hard can drive me so crazy is one of the great riddles of my life. Wasting food leaves me feeling uncomfortable; preparing food leaves me irritable. I have recently left my part time job to stay home with the children every day and to help my husband with his business. There are few moments to myself in a day. He actually asked me today, what I could possibly be stressed about. I literally disclosed to him yesterday that I have never stopped struggling with my eating disorder, save for one unexpected and unearned year. I told him YESTERDAY that I was seeking professional help for a disorder he thought I no longer had. He wonders what I could be stressed about.

I completed several business related tasks this evening, the kind of tasks that early in my sobriety would have hung over me, looming, threatening, until the very last moment, driving the drama and adrenaline sky high.

I stopped listening to a recovery podcast and sat with my 3 year old and read to him while his brother napped because he asked me to.

I’ve come to believe that my recovery isn’t everything. Certainly, it’s significant and without my recovery from alcoholism I wouldn’t have my children if anything at all. But, I need my heart to pump my blood just as much as I need to be sober, and without one, I have nothing. So, neither is everything. But I’m remembering today how recovery is all things. All those little and huge triumphs, all those fears, all of the uncomfortability, and the serenity, all of the recovery.

Challenge for today:

Start and end your day with gratitude. I becan my day with coffee and a gratitude list. As I sit here before bed, after having several Nasty thoughts about my husband, I am reminded of his place on my gratitude list this morning. I was grateful for the compassion he showed me yesterday when I came out to him regarding my eating disorder. And so, I will end my day with a gratitude list devoted to him.

Grateful for my husband for: his unending desire to provide for his family, his enormous work ethic, his down to earth attitude, his recovery, and his faith.

Day 7, Laid Bare

My phone rang and I hurried to answer, feeling a twinge of excitement for the first time in days. It was one of the therapists I had called. I had dialed several numbers today and sent several emails and poured over my phone for hours searching for someone who could help me. And still had nothing to show for engaging in this uncomfortable process.

I answered, relieved to hear her voice on the other end. She wanted to ask me about what, specifically I was seeking help for. I had been speaking loudly and clearly seconds ago, but instinctively and suddenly my voice be came barely audible. I mumbled that my fourteen year old was in the next room, and I went downstairs where he wouldn’t hear me.

Now this is my son who was five when I entered a residential treatment center and sobered up. He has sat with me through AA meetings and functions galore. He knows my history, knows that I went to jail. He knows my drinking is why he doesn’t live with me. He knows everything. I have never hid any of this from him. But now I was deliberately moving out of hearing range to admit over the phone that I have an eating disorder. I would like to say that I was surprised by this, but I’m not. I have always been more ashamed of my eating disorder than my alcoholism. It is in the same way that I am never just a bulimic, I am quick to let the professionals know that I am also prone to restricting and compulsive exercising.

It seems there is nothing that illicit more shame from me than the admission that I binge and purge. And I know why. It means I’m weak. I can’t just starve myself. I take the easy way out. These are the lies that I have been telling myself and believing for so long that I have rarely, if ever, been completely honest with anyone regarding my eating disorder.

I finished the phone call feeling at once both lighter and also burdened. It is a heavy toll taken from lying for so long, even if only by omission and minimization. My husband knew only that I had been to treatment for an eating disorder in my twenties. I never told him about my ongoing struggles. But, I had an appointment, and I told the therapist on the other end of the line that I was ready to recover.

So when my husband came through the door today, I asked him to watch the boys for an hour so I could see a therapist next week. He agreed without a lot of fanfare. And this evening, after the kids were in bed, I laid bare my dirty secret. And he never stopped loving, not for one second.

Challenge for the day:

Come clean about something you’ve been hiding. Today, I was more honest than I’ve been in decades, and I feel an easing of tension.

Day 6, Dazed & Confused

I was struggling today. I didn’t want to use any eating disorder behaviors really. I didn’t have to put off a binge or wait until the obsession to purge subsided. I struggled to get interested in making dinner, or to find anything I desired to eat. But I ate. I didn’t drive out of my way to buy any binge food, nor did I make unhealthy choices while I was grocery shopping. I didn’t feel excited.

I was listening to Sharon Zimbler, CEO of Montecatini Eating Disorder Treatment Center in Southern California on the Recovery Warrior Show. She was discussing her own experience recovering from both substance abuse and an eating disorder. She talked about a turning point when her sponsor in Alcoholics Anonymous expressed her belief that if she was utilizing her eating disorder, she wasn’t sober. I have to admit, it was not unlike a punch to the gut hearing these words spoken out loud; to be clear, they have often rolled around in my mind settling like a fog over every recovery milestone. After the initial jolt, I continued to listen with ambivalence. I felt the gravitational pull towards this idea as I typically feel towards any truth in recovery, right alongside an automatic repulsion. Who wants to admit that nearly ten years of sobriety weren’t exactly that? I know that I have much to be grieving, but I’m not really feeling it yet and wonder if or when I’ll be blindsided. And then there are the NEDA website pages exclaiming recovery is nearly impossible without treatment. Again, I experienced completely conflicting ideas. I won’t call them emotions, since I’m feeling rather clinical. I went to an eating disorder treatment center at a time when I really needed it and I gained weight, but left as unwhole as I arrived. Now I have made a decision to stop using eating disorder behaviors after one year of abstinence and one year of mild relapsing. I feel like I’m not sick enough. And that sounded really fucked up, even in my head. So I looked up numbers for professional help near me.

We took our boys to the playground tonight and I watched my fourteen year old on his skateboard attempting tricks and patiently helping his two year old brother ride. I remember so distinctly when he started riding. He wanted to be so good before he ever practiced. He would ask to go home when there were a lot of older kids skating at the park, even when they were generously trying to encourage him and teach him. He wanted to be perfect before anyone saw him. He wanted to be perfect without ever failing. He wanted to hide his imperfections from the world, to practice alone in a closet and reveal his achievement to an audience that would never know he wasn’t always good. He stopped skating. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen him on a board, and I don’t know if I ever saw him that happy doing it. He doesn’t care anymore about making mistakes. His desire to learn has outgrown his fear of failure. He does not care to hide himself out of fear that someone might SEE him.

I think I’ll call that number tomorrow.

Challenge for the Day:

Set aside what you think you know about yourself to remain teachable. Today, I set aside some assumptions about myself, at least enough to start researching outside professional help.

Day 5, Opting in

Occasionally, I feel like an adult. I’m forty-one. Today, I canceled our satellite internet service. We live in the sticks where internet service is scarce as hens’ teeth. I saw that idiom on the internet and thought it appropriate given the acres of farmland outside my window and the clucking hens scratching in my yard. We decided to get into this contract after we had difficulty uploading photographs for our business using our phones as mobile hot spots. However, Netflix soon became another addiction for me. I would binge on Grace and Frankie until 2 or 3 am knowing my toddlers would be up at 7.

It was hauntingly familiar to me, this compulsion to binge, to numb. I remember after I had left a boyfriend, I was renting a room from a co-worker. Candy was a single, grandmotherly woman who had a bridge club and drank riesling. I would wait for her to go to bed, turn on the food network, and raid the kitchen, gorging until the first sign of daylight. This Netflix binging left me feeling similarly hollow, painfully inadequate, and emotionally and physically drained.

Today, I found that we were utilizing our allotted data in the first week or two of the billing cycle. Although we initially entered this contract to support our business, I knew that my real resistance to canceling the service was the prospect of losing the possibility of watching an entire series in one or two weeks, losing time, mentally blacking out. But today I remembered how dirty I feel after I stay up all night indulging in my need for escape, and I canceled the service. I will save a sizeable chunk of money each month and more significantly, hours upon hours of time to sleep or engage with my children. Today, I decided to opt out of my internet contract and opt into my life.

Challenge for the day:

Submit to one suggestion or recommendation that you have resisted in the past. I wrote positive affirmations on my bathroom mirror. I have always resisted doing positive affirmations. In fact I don’t believe I have ever engaged in an exercise utilizing positive affirmations before today. Today I am willing.

Day 4, In the Grey

So I went to a meeting today with a friend of mine; I consider us both low bottom drunks. First off, we found the meeting in the book, got to the place, no meeting. There were two men who also showed up, but no keys. So the venue for this particular meeting was a township hall which happened to have picnic tables. It’s nowhere near a safe bet in March In Michigan, but it was relatively warm, and by relatively I mean my teeth were chattering and I couldn’t form my words correctly by the end, but we handled it. So we had a meeting, my low bottom drunk friend, me and these two dudes who were evaluating their relationship with alcohol because they occasionally embarrass themselves. And it occurred to me, I may have overreacted. Ok not about the booze, that’s a done deal, low bottom, lost custody of my kid, worked for years through the guilt and shame, that one’s a wrap. But this food stuff, was it really that bad?

See, as these guys talked, I felt bad for them. It’s a tricky spot to be in when you don’t know if you really have a problem. It’s not as easy to surrender to a new way of life and thoughts. And the I thought, I feel just like them right now. There was a time when my eating disorder had put me in the hospital , a treatment center, out of my mind. I could maybe have conceded then, but I didn’t. And then it went on, not as overtly threatening as the alcohol, it took an insidious back seat. Then the focus was on the alcohol, and it had to be because I was dying. It was always there in the background every single day. But after my last pregnancy, there was that year, that miracle of a year with no eating disorder behavior, no binging, no purging, no obsessive exercising and then poof. As suddenly as it had arrived, the reprieve had vanished, leaving me acutely aware of its value and my loss. But it didn’t go back to the way it was. I’ve been left in this hazy fog, a steady shade of grey. Sometimes I purge, not all the time. Sometimes I run a lot. Sometimes I don’t exercise at all for months. I try a lot of fad diets. Sometimes all I eat is candy and energy drinks. I don’t know where I belong today, but I sat with my girlfriend who is going through a break up and listened to her. I sat with her instead of going to the Dollar General for my fix. I didn’t binge. I didn’t purge. And I ate dinner with my family to celebrate a birthday. So I am going to try to take the advice we gave to the gentlemen in the meeting. I guess I’ll stick around for awhile.