What I do, Not who I am

Do you remember that old anxiety provoking game of “Perfection”?

Where you were given a time limit to put various shapes in their respective slots before the board buzzed and the pieces you managed to meticulously put in place were then shot into the air and back in your face.

Somehow this “game” feels like the perfect metaphor of my childhood.

Being busy and doing “stuff”, was always regarded as “good”. If mom was vacuuming we were expected to get up and do something as well. It was hectic, and typically felt like we were walking on egg shells. The anxiety and panic my mom could set off, similar to that timer of the game.

Still to this day, when my sister calls me because my mother is stressing out and off in one of her whirlwinds, I just tell her, “Stay out of mom’s way. She will freak out and yell at you if she sees you, so go hide downstairs, or at least stay out of her sight.”

When my parents were gone, I would sometimes arrive home to a list of things to be done:

Vacuum

Empty the dishwasher

Clean the cat box

Fold the laundry

Feed the dog

It was a race against time to get all the tasks done before they arrived home, and god forbid I forgot something on the list.

I was “lazy”, “selfish”, I did things “half-ass”.

I was constantly bombarded with the pursuit of what was “good enough” and because of that became very driven and goal oriented. I found my identity in what I accomplished and how well I accomplished said tasks. My worth was knit tightly with my productivity.

In elementary school these goals and fixation on my productivity started off small, making the honor roll, getting a lead in a play. Later, these became the idea that I had to do it all, and do it with excellence. I’m not sure my story could become more cliché, but if I made a 95 on a test I was congratulated and reprimanded in the same breath, “Well, what about a 100?” “Were there no extra credit points?”.

Somewhere in the mix, I was doing sports in middle school, and staying busy with student government, the school paper and science fairs; dodging the school receptionist and my math teacher because between the two of them they weren’t sure if they had ever seen me eat.

Learning about Eating Disorders in my health class, as if I hadn’t already stumbled across that tucked somewhere in between my mom’s comments about my body, my parents’ drunken fights and taking care of my two little sibs before I could even drive.

For as long as I can remember I stayed busy in school, especially in high school. I would go into school early for a National Honor Society meeting, or a Student Government meeting. I would stay late for practice, or tutoring classmates, then head off to work where I would stay, by myself, until about 11 – if I didn’t have to call the cops because of a hostile customer. While other high schoolers may have been sneaking alcohol and cigarettes, I could tell you the price difference between Marlboro and Pall Malls, and the total the packs would come to, including tax. If I skipped class it was to go back to the weight room and work out, my music kept me preoccupied, I didn’t have to think. I could immerse myself in music and not have to worry about later.

Did I stay so busy because I didn’t want to go home where my parents were probably drunk and screaming at each other, or was it for another reason?

Did I want to be prideful about how I could juggle everything at a young age and still succeed at school?

Maybe – regardless, self-esteem and worth held hands with grades and productivity as they skipped through the freshly mopped aisles of the gas station I worked at.

No matter what I did, I was blamed for the bad, and my mom took credit for the good.

Full ride scholarship to college? Oh, my mom just raised a smart, mature daughter.

Marriage falling apart? I’m the trouble making selfish child.

Softball award? Well, it’s a good thing mom went to all of those games… or, ehhh, one, that one time.

I did anything I could to get my mom to like me. I didn’t understand what I had done wrong, or why nothing was good enough. Voted most unforgettable, holding a job, participating in sports, scholarship, live in babysitter. I didn’t understand why nothing I did seemed to be right, or enough.

I figured if it wasn’t my productivity and accomplishments that weren’t good enough, maybe it was just me.

Maybe I was just “too fat”.

My mom, on a good day, soaking wet, is probably 100 lbs.

I did sports, but I began to run.

And run.

Weight came off, I was still staying busy, and it was another way that hopefully my mom would like me.

It was more or less my commitment, I would run in the rain, in the snow, it didn’t matter if it was 9 degrees or 90.

People noticed, they commented on the weight, or how frequently they would see me run.

Mom disregarded it all together, by that point I was no longer living with them, but still lived in fear of her, and wanted so badly to be loved and appreciated by her.

If I didn’t run what I deemed to be far enough, it was twisted as something I could have and should have done better. I considered it a lack of trying, or being lazy, not necessarily listening to my body and what it needed. Skipping a day of running was a lack of productivity, leading to the ever spinning cycle of “fat”, “lazy”, “selfish”. It wasn’t like a tape you see, because tapes have to be stopped and rewound to get back to the beginning. This was an endless loop of judgement based on my actions.

Why I still cling to running is still cloudy to me. Could be because it is something I can still be prideful in, or that is looked at through the disordered glasses of the diet culture as something to be praised.

Sometimes I’m not really sure who I am. It feels more or less like a list of what I do.

I go to work, I take care of my dog, I run and workout.

Who I am seems more uncomfortable.

I am a biochemist, a dog mom, a runner.

The first and last still seem to be closely tied with what I accomplish and how productive I am, not necessarily WHO I am.

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The Angel on my Shoulder Hung an “Out of Office” Sign

I feel like I’d be lying if I didn’t say that for a moment, if only a brief moment, it felt like it was my eating disorder and I against everyone else.
In the cliché scenario of the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other, the angel had hung an “Out of Office” sign, and the devil was none other than the eating disorder I had catered to for an unknown amount of years.
Sitting in my appointment replaying the week over in my head, “I did alright” I told myself. Allowing myself to eat pizza, toast (with butter), and other terrifying foods that sat somewhere between dentist appointment and pap smear on list of things I really wanted in my body.
Then hearing, “I’m concerned, this isn’t good. There has to be a shift.”
At that moment, the devil on my shoulder gave me a high-five and felt ready to tag team the world.
Having to sit and acknowledge the fact that no, maybe running and working out isn’t a great idea right now was enough to bring tears to my eyes; Unable to figure out how I would cope and numb everything if I wasn’t able to lift and go to the gym.
They joke that “Denial is more than just a river in Africa.”
Which is true, to me it felt more like a hot tub, surrounding me with comfort and warmth. Trying to get out of it would be uncomfortable, and leave me wanting to dive back in head first, to what I had grown accustomed to. Much like the parable of the boiling frog, in which a frog is placed in warm water, and the temperature slowly rises to boiling, until the frog is boiled to death.
I wanted more than anything to stand up, I could feel ED tugging on the neck of my shirt. I wanted to let ED ruin this appointment. I wanted to act like a 2 year old, the “terrible twos” – type of two year old, and have a fit. I wanted to tell her she didn’t know what she was talking about.
The dietitian, with more letters behind her name than actually in mine, I wanted to tell her she didn’t know what she was talking about. I wanted to gesture to the waiting room and shout that “I DON’T LOOK LIKE HER! I’M FINE.” Once again, using my weight and my capabilities in the gym as my only standing as to why I am “fine”.
Now, taking a step back, I know that what she says is truth, and I know something has to change. (I’m also glad I didn’t make an ass out of myself yesterday).
It speaks volumes when something as little as trying to take a break from exercising sends me into a full blow panic and fit. Now, trying to remind myself that; not running is an accomplishment for me.
Taking another step back, I realize that if I had the type of body my ED says I should want, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy, or do, the physical activities I want. Plus, then what? I’d be another year or so older, still struggling with an eating disorder, maybe weighing less, but at some point being right back here.
It’s been a reoccurring theme lately from various people, that your heart only gets so many beats, so why waste them on things I don’t enjoy?

Recovery Manifesto

Your body is really nothing more than a pair of shoes.

They start out spotless, like a blank canvas.

They carry you from place to place.

After a time they come out with scuffs, dirt and cuts.

The stories they would tell if only they could talk.

 

I will stop trying to beat an unbeatable system.

You cannot argue with science and biology, as much as you try.

Your body will not thrive on inadequate nutrition just because you want it to.

You feed things you care about, your pets, plants, etc.

This should include yourself as well.

 

I acknowledge there is no room for shame.

Shame says “I am bad”.

I will not beat myself up for being human.

I am human, and will embrace the imperfections that come with it.

 

There is no guilt for having to send for a search party,

Especially when it looks like motivation and hunger cues ran off again holding hands.

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.

It takes strength to realize you cannot do this all on your own.

I will trust my OP team, when I feel like I can’t trust my own thoughts.

I will not believe everything I think.

 

Every body tells a story,

At times it may seem like a tragic love story, or even a fantasy that you only dream about happy endings.

Recovery Record showing up for the third time, asking the same question, “Are you going to eat today?”

The teeth marks on the back of my hand reading like braille, trying to remind me why I started.

 

Exercise is optional, eating is not.

I accept that exercising is not like a carpet.

Spot treatment does not work.

I acknowledge that my self-confidence should never be based on what I’ve eaten.

What I’ve eaten should never be determined on how I’ve exercised.

How I’ve exercised should be focused on body kindness and recovery.

 

If muscles are just the result of repeated heavy lifting, maybe I’m sore from figuring out where this self-hatred should fit.

Moving this self-hatred again, like I’m rearranging furniture.

Remembering that I don’t want it, but somehow feeling its necessity, as if it is my license to drive my own body.

Getting pulled over for something ED deems illegal, but showing my license as proof of, “don’t worry, I still feel entirely inadequate and inferior.”

I will realize that my body is mine, and I don’t owe anything to anyone. It may still feel like I owe something to others, but I will learn to not pay for the space I take up in apologies or miles.

 

Young & Twenty

BEING Young & Twenty Submission • Stephanie

 

Yay!! Look guys!!! This makes me happy 🙂

 

capture7

Complacency

It was that awkward moment when I realized I’m not doing as well as I thought I had been.

There was no purging, I was starting to go out more with friends, work was at a steady lull.

I had stopped going to therapy, and had stopped going to the support group. I felt fine, so thought I’d take some time off.

I’d been so busy ignoring my Eating Disorder, that I had neglected to see it had slowly began to crawl its way back into my life. Then, Saturday, it hit me like a ton of bricks. “Holy Fuck. I’m running twice a day again.”

I hadn’t thought about my Eating Disorder, I hadn’t even been thinking about eating, and that was the issue. When I sat down and really reflected, I realized I wasn’t doing “better” I was just neglecting my recovery and becoming complacent. I hadn’t been eating, or even packing breakfast, and lunch was a joke, not packing anything for that either.

I haven’t been fully involved in my Eating Disorder.

But I haven’t been fully engaged in recovery either.

Insanity in Group

“Insanity is doing the same thing

                                over and over again

                                                  and expecting different results.”

                                                                                                –Albert Einstein

This isn’t the first, or even second, time I’ve left group and felt like it was a waste of time, effort, gas, and regretted going all together.

This evening was nothing different. It takes the “same shit, different day” motto to the extreme.

I feel like I have been going for so long that I know everyone, their back story, and what they are bringing to the table every week.

She is sick and feels like shit.

She so desperately wants to be in a relationship.

She sleeps all day, and struggling.

Sure enough, I was right, I even called it earlier when I was in my appointment.  

Not wanting to even go this evening, one of the girls texted me asking me to come. So I threw on my Nikes, put a baseball cap on and hid myself under a comfy hoodie and headed to support group.

If we were all making progress or something, that would be great, beneficial, something.

It just feels like something has to give. Maybe we need a group exercise, or an assignment, something to pull us from the perfunctory routine of what seems to be a whiny venting session. Or maybe I just need to quit going so often, that way when I go, it is something new.

I sat there, trying to listen, be supportive, but it was the same things I had just heard the week before. My ass bone grinding against the uncomfortable chairs, and being able to smell myself since I had yet to shower post run.

The thought was even there, “Text brother, get him to call you. That’s your way out. Answer your phone, and leave.” Still, I was trying to give group the benefit of the doubt. I may have said two words tonight. It just didn’t seem worth it.

Same shit, different week.

I could have bitched about my head hurting.

Whined about work.

Praised my awesome lunch.

Bragged about a delicious apple cake.

Instead, I sat there. Knowing what would happen if I opened my mouth. Not so much praised for the good, but fixated on the bad.

I would talk about how I ran today, but how I had a black  bean burger yesterday for lunch. It would quickly become a “How often/much are you running?” “Oh, well are you eating lunch every day?” I understand where they would come from, but it just didn’t seem worth it. I may just be being a stuck up bitch, but lately it just hasn’t been beneficial at all, and I don’t think I am getting anything out of it.

I don’t see me returning for a while. Think I’m done re-living the same Thursday of my life over and over.

 

My Faith mixed with the Food and Fear

It’s a question I have been asked several times, but I’ve never actually stopped to dig deeply and dissect the answer.

The question may differ slightly,

“How did I get into Christianity?”

“Why did I choose to stay involved?”

“Have you always been a Christian?”

but the answer inevitably brings me back to a certain time in my life.

I can vividly remember being somewhere around 6 years old. I remember our apartment, the glass table, the beanie babies piled high, the kitchen bar, the stained bathroom floor from when I spilled red nail polish. I never remember church. I remember the park, my neighbor upstairs, my cat, the statue of the panther in the living room. I never remember praying.

Around 7 years old I was dragged along with mom who moved to North Carolina with some strange man who would later become my stepfather. I remember my bus stop, my dog, my teacher. Still no church or praying.

In 2000 my brother was born. At some point, unsure of exactly when that was, it was decided among my parental units that my brother, in order to keep him from being damned to hell for reasons I was unsure of at the time, was going to be baptized/saved/christened. I guess by default, I was volun-told that I was to participate in such religious ritual as well. I remember the smell of vegetable oil on my forehead and how I was sickened that I had some greasy oily stuff smeared on my face by a stranger. Up until that point that was the most religious experience of my life.

In 2004 my sister came into the picture. Somewhere between moving and the birth of my sister we began to make an appearance to a church. We stood up, knelt, sat, knelt, it felt like a bad version of Simon says. I watched as my parents introduced me to people that could be my grandparents. We showed up, smiled, and left. One Sunday morning I was getting ready for the perfunctory routine, I had decided to put on mascara and was instantly ridiculed by my step dad.

This is also when their religion seemed to be found more frequently at the bottom of a bottle than in a church pew.

Being under 13, I remember one night, after they had been praising the bottle again. A fight broke out. I gestured to my brother to go to our room and that I’d be right there. I grabbed my sister from her high chair and was going to take her with me to our room. Immediately, I was spun around by a slurred patron saint of the bottle. “You don’t EVER take my child away from me!” With that, my sister was ripped from my arms.

Another move, and another sibling later, I was in middle school. My parent’s religious worshiping of the bottle increased as did my self-hatred. I wasn’t allowed to speak up, have an opinion that was different from my mom’s, or stick up for myself. I turned all the feelings inward. Turning to self-harming, purging, anything. I was already hurting with all of the screaming and fights, which I was convinced was my fault anyways, so it made sense to punish myself, and simultaneously release some of the built up angst. I was blamed for why my parent’s argued. This logic made sense in my world since I had introduced the two of them by accident. I wasn’t sure if they hated me because of it, and if only I was thinner, better behaved, made better grades, maybe they wouldn’t hate me and their marriage would get strengthen.

Eating less, cutting more, purging when I could.

I had the opportunity to go to Ireland on a student program. I was threatened by one of the leaders that if I didn’t start eating I would be sent home.

A family friend invited us to church with them. We reluctantly began to go. I had learned from my past experience with church that it was time to put on my nice clothes, put on a smile and pretend everything was amazingly awesome in my picture perfect world.

Behind closed doors my family threw stuff, screamed, hated each other. My mother would wake me up at all hours to clean my room, clean the kitchen, whatever. Digging her nails into my arm and screaming, as my brother cried from behind her, “Don’t hit her mom!” My parent’s would scream and fight until the church door. With that, the name calling was suddenly, “Oh sweetie, I love you.”, “I love you too honey.” With controlling displays of affection to show to the church how great our family actually was.

I began to question what I was told about God, and even the very existence of God.

“God doesn’t love me, if he did why would he allow this?” I would question.

My own mother would push me against walls, dig her nails into me, and throw stuff at me. The next morning she would say “I love you, have a great day at school.”

I doubted the very word of “love” and it took years for me to be able to tell her I loved her back.

I continued to put on a happy face when we went to church, and was criticized by my parent’s when I wanted to go to church on Wednesdays for youth group, being asked, “Don’t you have anything else you could do besides go to church?”

I went into High School, from moving so much I knew almost everyone in my class. I told myself I would never drink or smoke weed, I didn’t want to be anything like my parents. I began to drink, and would smoke during the off season of sports.

I don’t remember a lot during this time. I went to school, did sports, was on student government, had a job, didn’t eat. Did anything I could to not go home.

Being told that what happens in this house, stays in this house.

My math teacher is the reason I actually became involved and plugged in. During Senior year I moved in with my pastor and his wife. Being told once again that I am the reason their marriage is so rocky, so if I moved out for a while…..

I changed my number, paid my own bills, went to church. Pastor and his wife actually gave me curfew, and I was thrilled someone actually cared about me and where I was. I was diving deep into Christianity, my devotional, and church in a way I hadn’t. We talked, like a family, prayed, like a family, went on trips. There was no yelling, and I realized what I had lived in wasn’t normal.

My parents left the church, I was eventually forced to move back home, and continued to stay at that church for as long as I could, refusing to ever go to church with my parents again.

My math teacher would pray for me and with me. I had convinced myself that if I don’t talk about what’s going on at home, then it’s like it doesn’t happen. After the cops were called, I began to open up to my teacher who invited me to her house, prayed with me, shared books and articles with me, and invited me to Fellowship of Christian Athletes. She spoke of her mistakes, I told her about mine, but it was never from a criticizing or demeaning place, but one of hope and love.

After graduation, I moved out, again. Found a church which I attended regularly, as well as a girls college bible study that my teacher led up. It was a safe environment. Learning about mistakes, love, forgiveness for not only ourselves, but others. There was something peaceful about the entire thing, a sense of belonging and security. How faithful God is and all He has in store for us and our future.

During all of this, my self-harming would come and go, and I was consistently struggling with my Eating Disorder. I was told by several people, that someone must have been looking out for me.

Deep in my eating disorder I would eat under 100 calories a day, and was running and lifting. I was taking diet pills, laxatives, and going to the gym. I have sustained injuries because of it, but when I look back, it is crazy to me that nothing severe happened. There is no reason that I shouldn’t have collapsed during a run, or seriously damaged my body.

I can only think that God has something in store for me, for keeping me around.

I continue in my faith for many reasons. It is one step further away from becoming my parents, every person I admire and look to are strong in their faith, and just the pure honesty that is spoken and how I feel after digging into my devotional.

Trust the Process!!!

College and Eating Disorder

First, I wanted to apologize.

The days of class I skipped.

The days I couldn’t pay attention.

Or, the days when I would skip your class, and you would catch me running around campus walking back to your office.

It wasn’t that I didn’t care, it was that I was just more consumed with burning calories and making my Eating Disorder happy that I didn’t want to sit in class.

I didn’t want you to take my struggle as apathy or anything like that, and for the professors that did know about my struggle, I’m thankful for all that you did.

It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to go to class, I physically didn’t have the energy to be there. I was freezing, exhausted, and all I wanted to do was go out and run this anxiety off. Running was more important to me than school, studying, or any sort of life.

Classmates would comment on how athletic I am, and how impressed they were at the distances I was running and how often I went to the gym. (Little did they know I had eaten an apple in maybe two days, and the violent shakes were from the Hydroxycut, not the coffee like I told people.) They didn’t see the girl who laid in her bed crying because of her electrolytes and her legs were locked up again, or the girl who ran to the toilet at 2 am because I had taken the laxatives too early and was up in the middle of the night.

College just seems like one big blur to me. Life was a half-hearted perfunctory routine of get up, run, go to class, run, go to work, maybe go to the gym, and start all over again.

Recently, I had the opportunity to catch up with one of my professors. I had her class during the semester that I left for treatment. We sat outside, laughed and caught up on all that we had missed. She told me that I looked happy and she was so proud of me. That, was what I needed to hear. That I didn’t disappoint her, or had somehow failed at being a “normal” college student.

She went on to say that she talks about me frequently, how I never asked for special treatment, and did continue to show up and do well in her class. The only thing I ever asked was if I could take my final early, (I was admitted on finals week).

I was honest and told her that while I was in her class I was consuming more diet pills and laxatives than actual food, she shook her head in a concerning way.

The most difficult was a male professor, only because my senior research also included a food log, which I was sure would lead to me failing my senior research if I didn’t have any data to actually document. He was very understanding, and I missed half of the following semester since I was still in treatment. Returning in March to his Biostatistics class, he was shocked and surprised to see me walk in the door. I had three tests to make up, multiple practicals, and I was determined. He was willing to work with me and said I could take an incomplete and finish the semester when I was feeling better. I told him I was supposed to graduate this semester, and I wanted to catch up.

I did, I finished school on time and graduated on time, missing half of a semester of Biostatistics, Virology, and Biochemistry.

I am very thankful to have the support I did through my academic career. Both of those professors actually wrote me letters of recommendation. They believed in me, even when I didn’t think I could.

Who, Not What, Are You.

Who are you?

If someone was to ask you who you were what would you say?

Would you identify yourself with your flaws?

Would you identify yourself with the size pants you wear?

“I am _______.”

How would you fill that?

The world has told us to fit molds, stereotypes and to hold certain expectations.

As if your importance and worth in the world is somehow based on how you look; and God forbid we are open about our struggles and flaws, which could somehow make us less human or less worthy.

Who you are is not:

                What you do.

                A label set by others.

                A diagnosis.

                Mistakes you made.

Why would I accept a label set on me by others?

                I don’t walk up to someone and say, “Hi, I am a recovering anorexic.”

“Hello, I am anxious.”

                                “Good afternoon, I am depressed.”

Honestly, to me, this doesn’t sound bad. It would be more real. People may stop hiding behind the taboo shame that comes with these labels.

But, these labels, regardless of what they are, are not WHO we are.

I’m gonna say that again for the people in the back….

                Regardless of what these labels are, THEY ARE NOT WHO WE ARE.

1 Corinthians 10:12

1 Corinthians 10:12

“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”

Over the course of being in recovery, I have had the same goals.

1)      Be “normal”

2)      Find a healthy balance between working out and eating

3)      Be able to help and share with others

Some of you may read these, especially number one and think, “Come on, what even is ‘normal’, that is such a vague idea.” Others of you, I know because I have talked with others, are sitting there thinking, “Holy shit! Yes! She gets it!”  I’m not saying I want a job, a husband, a dog, a house with a picket fence, 2.5 kids. I already have two of those… I’ll let you guess 😉

What I am saying is I want to eat like a normal person, eat when I’m hungry, eat when I’m not hungry, put cheese on food, not count calories like a fiend. Eat cold pizza for breakfast, have hot chocolate, you know, what NORMAL people would do, and not think twice about.

While I am so thankful that I am not where I was, I know I have work to be where I want to be. (Even though you guys can’t see it, I’m finishing up a tofu taco salad- delish!) I still struggle with the morbid sense of wanting to be sick, and wanting to be back in treatment. At the same time, lately I have been able to take a step back and realize, “ok, I’ve been there before. Nothing will be different, so why do I want to go back?”

At this point in my life, I am 23 years old. Living in Pennsylvania, by myself, moving from NC to PA after graduation to pursue my career in Biochemistry. I feel fortunate to have a career with benefits, PTO, and in a field where I have my degree. So why would I want to throw that all away to go back to being weighed everyday?

I have made friends going to the support group, and through that I have had lunch, and gotten coffee, with some of the girls. It is eye opening that at times, I am the oldest one in the group, and I am not ok with this. I do not want to be tied down by this thing. Recently, I have reached out, getting to know some of the girls, and I want to be a support for them to reach out to.

I have been reminded of this verse lately, “So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.” This is huge to me. I don’t want to reach out to help, if it may completely undo the progress I have built. I want to help and pull others up without worrying about being triggered or being dragged down. I pray this a lot, especially when I hang out with the girls, hoping for the best, for the right words to say and to remember to be careful.

 

Trust the Process!

xoxoxo