Feeling Stuck in Therapy

After leaving my therapy appointment yesterday with K, I was so tempted to just tell her I had plans next week, and I would just call her to schedule. That would be my “out”. I had been in that place before, sitting across from a therapist, pretty much being told, “I’m feeling stuck.”

To me, I guess this isn’t interpreted as an expression of hopelessness, but more of a disappointment, at the end of their rope, I’m at a loss, mentality.

My stomach sunk, I stared out the window. My internal dialogue became louder than K.

“You’ve been here before, with T.”, “Oh, God, what if K is done with me?” “I’ll just cancel my appointment next week, like the day before.” “What did she want from me? Should I lie and say how great I am?”

I got home and it occurred to me that if I had been in this place, twice, then, others must be going through it as well. I did some Google Research, and was not disappointed. One of my favorite quotes I found stated, “I find that stagnation in therapy matches stagnation in life outside the therapy room.” –John Duffy

(http://psychcentral.com/lib/therapists-spill-what-i-do-when-a-client-is-stuck/)

This feels so true currently in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I have a good job, a place to live, a great dog, I feel super blessed and pretty even keel right now. Not much of anything is going on currently, good or bad. I explained to K that I would love nothing more than to come back and say how I had 3:30 snack, and 6:00 dinner, but lately I just haven’t made eating deliberate, so it goes to the wayside.

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My Motto Growing Up Was, “Never Let Them See You Cry.”

                                “I think you grow up feeling shame about the stuff your parents didn’t allow you to talk about when you were little. So anything that a parent  makes ‘off-limits’ – that’s the shit that’s going to make you crazy when you get older. If you want your kids to be normal, let them talk about everything, then they won’t have any shame around it; then it’s just not a big deal anymore. If you grew up with a lot of ‘off-limit’ things, you have to ask people and figure it all out. The more you know, the more you realize you’re not the only one.”  -Brene Brown “I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t)”

                What if I was to tell you that I have read this paragraph at least a dozen times, and each time I do, the truth just rings even clearer.

I don’t think Dr. Brown could have written something any closer to the truth. Some families avoid controversial topics such as drugs, sex, rock n’ roll religion, politics, alcohol, body image. Making it very awkward to talk about later in life, or even confusion in their own opinions and beliefs on the subject.

What if though, “the stuff your parents didn’t allow you to talk about when you were little” was basically everything? I’m not saying this in a hyperbolic way either.

For as long as I can remember, I cannot recall a time where my mother and I sat down and had a serious conversation, of any sort. Granted, she talked AT me, and barked orders. My opinions were her opinions, not being allowed to have any idea or opinion that differed from hers (this was considered selfish, ungrateful, talking back). If we were sitting down to “talk” it was full of shame, belittlement, and ended with punishment.

I was not a sheltered kid, in any way, but I do firmly believe my mom was so wrapped up in her world, that I was neglected normal everyday advice and conversations someone usually has with their child. We never had the sex talk, ever, I learned it from the back of the bus. Every topic had shame around it. Mom called me a slut in high school when I asked if I could go to a football game with friends. Sex Ed was one of the most unnerving experiences of my life, once again, not sheltered, but I was appalled that people spoke so openly about sex. My perception of sex was one based solely on control. After angry drunken fights at all hours of the night, loud obnoxious make up sex was next on the list. This became perfunctory in my little head. People didn’t do that because they loved each other, they did it at the end of a fight. The constant “I love you, I hate you” routine in my life was extremely confusing to me.

Another huge one for me was emotions. I very distinctly remember one circumstance in particular. I was sitting on a railing, my foot got stuck between the bars. As I jerked my foot free I fell forward and bashed my nose on the edge of a bench. Immediately, my mother can running over, yelling at me for being so careless and for not listening. This was typical, as was “stop crying before I give you something to cry about”. I was not allowed to cry, I had no right to be angry.

 If I was proud of an accomplishment, I was either selfish, or I was instructed promptly how it had been done “half-ass”. Feelings were regarded as weak, and unable to control yourself, I would be spanked or punished, and still expected to hold it together. Some people hear the saying, “Never let them see you sweat.” My motto growing up was, “Never let them see you cry.”

It just became so much easier to not say anything at all, then to say or do something that would later on be held over your head or used against you. I made sure to never need anything and tried my best to hide. “Fine” was an emotion. That was the deepest it had gone in years. “You look upset.” “No, I’m fine.” It was practically my name and identity. It wasn’t until treatment that I began to learn feelings, much like a kid in pre school.

 

 

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!!!

Self-Empathy & Compassion

Self-empathy, to me, I feel like this is a brand new topic. One read about in fictional tales, along with princesses with flowing locks of hair and birds that make my bed for me.

In Brene Brown’s book, I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t), she goes on to explain the difference between empathy and sympathy. I’m very guilty of using these words interchangeably for years, but now having such a better understanding of the words. I want someone to empathize with me, but don’t want their sympathy. Brenė puts it,

“When they talked about their ability to overcome shame, they clearly pointed to empathy: sharing their feelings with someone who would understand and relate to what they were saying. Conversely, women used words like hate, despise, and can’t stand to describe their feelings about sympathy seeking- looking for sympathy or being asked for sympathy.”

Empathy, is looking for acceptance, and understanding that we are not alone in our experiences.

It has been argued you cannot give what you don’t have, this also including love and empathy, but I respectfully disagree. It is so much easier to give others empathy and the benefit of the doubt. I questioned daily why I was much more able to cut others slack, or be more understanding of others, why I was so hard on myself, and I believe this is a lack of self-compassion as well as empathy towards myself.

I fully believe that everyone has something in their life they are dealing with. Whether it be a sick family member, mental illness, recent death, financial issues, whatever it is, so I attempt to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. That is it though, right there. I don’t know everybody’s story, as much as I love hearing peoples’ stories and hearing how far they’ve come. What if I did though? Honestly, I might be more empathic and compassionate towards them, realizing what they are dealing with on a daily basis. Why is that any different than myself?

I know my story, I know what I have been through. I may not think it is “All that bad” but I know there are people out there who believe I am “brave” “strong” “courageous”. It is the shame of believing the lies I have been fed for years, and internally believing that I am not deserving or worthy. I am much more empathetic and compassionate to those I don’t know their story, than myself.

Seeing Myself In A Student

It is so difficult to compliment myself, brag on myself, or even see myself in a worthy light. My homework from my therapist this week was to “build a court case” against the lies I’ve been fed for so many years.

This is so hard for me, it is not like me to talk about what I have done or accomplished, because I just find that selfish and conceited.

My last post was about owning your story, but at the same time, owning it, doesn’t mean owning the lies you have been told your entire life. That is completely different. In an attempt to placate my therapist, I sat down the night before, and did the assignment she had given me last week. I didn’t put too much thought into it, because that would have been stressful and scary (which I know is kind of the point, to push me out of my comfort zone.)

Well, yesterday, I decided I wouldn’t wait last minute. I got home from my appointment, sat down and began to really think about the assignment and how difficult it would be. To not do it would be giving into the lies, rather than fighting them, but to do the homework meant dealing with the lies and trying to combat them with bragging on myself.

 

So, as I sat there, staring at the paper, it really hit me that this assignment was going to suck.

I began to think of my kids when I worked at a school, and one girl in particular who came to my mind and heart. I missed her, she had a very difficult home life, was hands down, one of my favorites, a heart of gold, and sassy as all get out (A girl after her own teacher’s heart).

So I started the assignment with, “What Would I Tell Alisha?”

  • You have been through so much, and are so strong.
  • Stay loud and loving.
  • Be there for your brother, you guys will be close.
  • You can’t control your parents.
  • None of that was your fault.
  • You are so loved.
  • It is ok to ask for a hug.
  • Be honest.

This is the girl, who was one of the smallest in her grade, yet, with a older brother, she would be out on the basketball court showing all the guys how to shoot. She was loud, sassy, played like one of the guys, but has a heart of gold.

Every day she would come running down the hallway, yelling my name and run into my arms. I was one of the select few who she came to for hugs and compassion, she didn’t want to lead on that she too, was tough, but needed love.

 

The day she came to school with stitches above her eye and scraped up, my heart sunk. The more I found out about her home life, the more I wanted to pick her up and take her home with me. No wonder she was tough and snarky, but I loved her just the same.

 

Reading the list that I would tell one of my students, but at the same time, me, not wanting or asking for help.

Own Your Story

In the words of Anne Lamott, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

I recently met up with my kindergarten teacher, I am now 23. I moved from Maryland to North Carolina when I was 7, and moved to Pennsylvania last year. The two of us got together and had lunch, it was slightly awkward at first, but we got over that real quick.

She began to ask me about life and how everything was, why I moved up here, etc. My mom had kept in contact with her through these years, sending Christmas Cards, school pictures, and other miscellaneous items.

Years ago I would have lied, well, not necessarily lied, but done what I had been taught growing up.
“Do not talk about your family.” “What happens in this house, stays in this house.” These rules were verbally beaten into me, for fear that people might find out we aren’t the picture perfect family we acted like.

So anyway, my kindergarten teacher began to ask questions, and rather than lie, or give the fake convincing smile I had practiced for many years, I was honest. “I guess when you are sending letters back and forth, all you hear about is the great things in our life.” She looked at me slightly curious.

I went on to tell her I had a scholarship, did sports, traveled, voted most unforgettable, (the usual happy and surface deep stuff I would typically tell people.) I also told her that my parents quickly became very close with their relationship to alcohol, I moved out in High school, my grandmother and I were no longer close, and had to go to treatment.

It wasn’t a pity party, but it wasn’t fake. She had only heard what mom had told her over the years. This was my opportunity to explain, that like everybody else, we all have something, and my life was no exception.

I consider myself very blessed, having a great job, good friends, a dog, and in recovery. It was not always like that, and I am so thankful I am mentally in a different place.

What I grew up thinking was normal, became apparent that these actions were not only not normal, but in general, were not ok.

 

Trust the Process!

xoxoxo

Worth & Deserving

For the absolute longest time, I was certain that I was unworthy and undeserving- of many things:

  • Relationships
  • Recovery
  • Love
  • Compliments

I believed I was the exception, that serious complications from an eating disorder happened to others, not to me. That others deserved recovery, not me.

 

Being consumed with my inner critic and eating disorder, I fully believed that my worth was based solely on my actions and others’ opinions of me. Yet, it was always unfairly graded and weighed.

Positive that the pleasant compliments were only said to be polite, and maybe even out of pity, they held no truth to them. Yet, when someone was critical or demeaning, I held those comments as gospel and put my worth in my imperfections and short comings.

 

By listening to my inner critic and falling for the lie of being unworthy and undeserving, I was practically saying that I held no worth in who I am.

I would never say this to another person, but yet I found it acceptable to refer to myself as this.

It has taken many, many years, but I am not the exception.

Just like how my body won’t survive on carrot sticks because I want it to.

My worth isn’t based on my short comings because I think that is all I deserve.

 

In a society that thrives on perfection and believes asking for help is a weakness, we become fake to those around us.

It has become taboo to talk about struggles, we portray only the very best side of our life, feeding into the belief that we can’t measure up.

I am a huge advocate for sharing our stories. It is so easy to get caught up with our faults and mistakes and make our identity in them, but yet, I want to hear who you are.

I don’t care about the weather, your car or your job. We ALL have SOMETHING and I want to hear it. What you’ve been through, how far you’ve come, what you learned, and how it made you, you.

So instead of only showing the best side of yourself – be real.

Own your story, it is yours to tell and nobody has the power or authority to belittle it for how far you have come.

Be unapologetically you.

You are worthy of it.

I am worthy of it.

We deserve so much more.

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.

My Trip Back Home

Sometimes I forget how far I’ve come and how much support I’ve had throughout this.

I wanted my family to be my biggest support system, but they aren’t, and you know what? That is ok.

So, I took Thursday-Monday off from work. I left work early Wednesday and headed to North Carolina.

It was a very long, slightly brutal drive, but worth every minute.

During this time I surprised my siblings by stopping by.

I met up with a couple people who are super important to me, and each one had practically the same things to say.

Being also able to go back on my running paths I had been doing for so long before moving. It was nice to go running again in the mountains of my home

I had lunch with the yoga instructor from treatment. She is an amazing, sweet soul, and expressed how proud of me she is and all of the hard work I put in and how far I have come.

I met up with my biggest supporter and advocate through this all, T, we got together twice, having lunch, walking around, getting coffee. It was amazing and I missed her, and her hugs, so much. The two of us got together, I drank a sangaria, ate black bean tostadas, which were amazing, we laughed and reminisced  about how far I had come. She expressed how proud of me she was and how all that I had accomplished, a year and a half ago my goals were 1) a “big girl job” 2) a house 3) and a dog. All of which I have accomplished/obtained, and it feels wonderful.

Grabbed some beers with some old coworkers, we laughed and had a great time. We talked shit, ordered pizza, laughed some more, swapped stories. I missed them a lot.

Went to church Sunday morning, was greeted by many hugs, a few people said they were just thinking about me the other day. It was great to be back in my small knit community.

Honestly though, I think one of the most rewarding conversations and get togethers I had was with an old professor. I had her for a class during the middle of my eating disorder, I wasn’t eating, ran all the time, did pretty well in her class and never let on anything was wrong. That was, until I had to go to treatment. I opened up, told her what was going on, I asked if I could take my final early and she was more concerned about my health and well-being, than the inconvenience of taking my test early. Her and I met up, had a beer and talked about the last 7 months. I told her how I was working as a biochemist and liked my job, and then we began to talk about my eating disorder. I wasn’t embarrassed, or ashamed, I was honest. Told her I went back to IOP for a bit, but didn’t like it, and how I am doing much better, drinking beer, eating pizza. Pretty much kicking ass in recovery.

Dr. B went on to say how she talks about me frequently and how I never asked for special treatment. She was so happy for me and told me how happy and healthy I looked. She was so impressed by all I had accomplished and was even more impressed by my willingness to not only talk about all of this, but to agree to go to IOP up in PA.

 

Overall, this was a much needed trip. It can be so easy to get caught up in your own junk and forget how many people care about you. This was an amazing reminder that there are so many people who believe in me and have faith in what I can accomplish and already are impressed by what I have done and gone through.

 

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.