Every Day

From Mom Season 3, Episode 18 “Beast Mode and Old People Kissing”:

Adam: Where you going?

Bonnie: We’ve got a meeting.

Adam: You just had a meeting last night.

Bonnie: I know, but then I woke up today and I was still an alcoholic. 

I recently started watching Mom on CBS, and I love it. Of course I love Allison Janney in anything, but I especially like the way the show deals with addiction and recovery. It shows that recovery is hard work, but possible with support. It also shows that relapses can happen, but also that it is possible to get back on track.

Bonnie (the Mom, who is in recovery) has the above exchange with her new boyfriend. He doesn’t understand why she goes to meetings so frequently until she shows him a tape of her drunk and out of control at a wedding.

Just that one line “I know, but then I woke up today and I was still an alcoholic” says so much. I know that for me it is easy to forget that I still have to be diligent about recovery and following a meal plan. I will have a few good days, and then think “see, I’m fine, I don’t need this.” This happened recently when I went on vacation – I was so focused on having a good time on vacation that I put having fun first and following the meal plan second. My therapist said that is like an alcoholic thinking “I can just have a few drinks, I’m on vacation.”

While I know that my therapist is right, it wasn’t until I watched this episode and heard this quote that it really struck me. Every day that I wake up, I am still a person that has an eating disorder. I may be in recovery, but I still need to be diligent about recovery every day. This quote is also a good reminder that while in recovery it is ok, and in fact a good thing, to continue to ask for help, whether that be going to meetings, going to therapy, etc.

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Be Patient

House Season 6, Episode 3 – Epic Fail:

House: My leg’s killing me. Cooking helped for a while. I guess I got bored. My leg started hurting again, then I got worried, and that made the pain worse.

Dr. Nolan: What are you worried about?

House: That nothing’s gonna help. That I end up in the very dark place. I’m fine… Just not happy.

Dr. Nolan: I didn’t let you out because you were happy. I let you out, because I believe you had the skills to cope with that. You tried one thing. It didn’t work. So move on. Write. Play chess.

House: What if nothing works? What if nothing gives me more than a few days before my brain starts looking for the next fix, before my leg feels like someone’s shoving nails into it? What do I do then?

Dr. Nolan: If nothing in the world can hold your interest, uh, we’ll deal with that when we get to it. But you have to trust me, and you have to be patient.

I can relate a lot to how House feels here. Although the last several weeks I have been quite depressed, for most of this year I have been “fine…just not happy.” In fact, I have been pretty miserable. On the surface though, things are fine – I’m maintaining my weight, going to class, going to work etc. I have great friends and a family. But I’m not happy because my brain simply will not shut up.

Like House, I worry that nothing is going to work. In his case he is looking for a distraction from the pain in his leg, in my case I am looking for relief from the eating disorder, depression, and anxiety. I have a new treatment plan that seems to be working well, but it is very slow going and, well, I am not a patient person. Everyone keeps telling me that it is going to take time. After all, I have had an eating disorder for 18 years – it isn’t going to go away with a few months of recovery. I am trying to hang on and trust everyone, but it is definitely quite hard some days.

Giving

“The joy supposedly is in the giving, so when the joy is gone, when the giving starts to feel more like a burden, that’s when you stop. But if you’re like most people I know, you give till it hurts, and then you give some more.” ~ Meredith, Grey’s Anatomy Season 6 Episode 10: Holidaze

I know that personally, I love to give things to friends, to coworker, and to my family. I like to feel that I am being helpful. As Meredith says, you get joy out of giving. It makes me happy to think of a friend reading a card I sent, or seeing them open a present I gave them. Even just giving my time makes me happy – I wouldn’t hang out with my friends if it didn’t give me joy too!

But everyone has their limits, and I personally am very bad at saying “no”. I am definitely getting better, but I still have a ways to go. I was always the first to volunteer to provide extra time on a project, or go to dinner with a friend if they were having a bad day, or feel like it was my job to make everyone happy. If someone did something nice to me, I felt obligated to buy them a gift to show my appreciation, or spend extra time trying to show them how grateful I was. Rather then putting myself first, I put making others happy first. As a result, sometimes I would feel overwhelmed.

I am trying to be better about setting limits, but am still really struggling with feeling like I am not giving enough. I think I am particularly struggling because all of my friends have been giving ME so much as I try to recover. Many people regularly ask me how I am doing, and offer to help if they can. And what do I do? What have I been giving? Nothing. The meds I am on make me sleep like 10 hours a day, and I am generally tired during the day. I try to do as much as possible with work, but I always feel like I am falling short. I am lazy so I rarely call people. I have been trying to work with my therapist on lowering my expectations for myself and allowing myself to say no, but it is slow going.

Rationalizing

ER Season 14 Episode 5: Under the Influence

Janet: You drank? When? Last night. You want to get to a meeting?

Abby: I don’t have time to go to a meeting. I don’t need to go to a meeting. I just I had a bad day, a very bad day, and it was just one time. I’m not going to start drinking again.

Janet: Really? Are you an alcoholic?

Abby: Yes, but..

Janet: Yes, but? All those years that you were sitting in meetings, were you an alcoholic then? Yes or no? OK, keep drinking. Do the research, see what happens.

Abby: I can handle this.

Janet: Just let me know how it works out for you. OK, I’ve got a clinic full of patients.

Abby: Janet, Janet, you’re my sponsor.

Janet: I was your sponsor, but now it’s very simple. If you’ve decided you’re not an alcoholic, I can’t help you. If you are, I’ll be your sponsor again and I’ll support you in recovery. Let me know what you decide.

This conversation between Abby and Janet reminded me of an internal dialogue I have with myself a lot – debating whether or not I really have an eating disorder, and thus whether or not I really need to follow my meal plan. My therapist often likens restricting a few exchanges to an alcoholic having one drink. Much in the same way that Janet responds to Abby, if I restrict a little she tells me that I need to get back on track ASAP, that it is a slippery slope. Too often though, I rationalize, just like Abby is doing here. I say that it’s not a big deal, that it could be worse, and that I’ll get back on track tomorrow. Kind of like Abby, I say “yes, but…”. There is always a “but.”

Sometimes though, the rationalizing goes even further. I’ll convince myself that I don’t really have an eating disorder – I’m not underweight, I’m eating enough, I’m not overexercising or purging etc. Then, the logic goes, if I don’t have an eating disorder, why do I need to follow this meal plan? Why do I have to keep eating even when I’m full, or make sure to be diligent about meals/snacks? Normal people don’t eat the same amount every day, so why do I have to follow this meal plan?

The problem is, as Janet points out, this doesn’t end well. As she says, “do the research, see what happens.” Just like an alcoholic eventually starts drinking more than one drink, I start restricting more than one exchange. One exchange becomes two, two becomes three, and then those three never come back. I think Janet’s point to Abby is that she has to recognize that she has a problem and that she has to take certain steps (perhaps going to a meeting), to overcome it. In the same way, I need to stop rationalizing and accept that I need to follow my meal plan in order to achieve recovery.

To the Bone

I watched the new Netflix movie To the Bone, which is about a young women with anorexia. Contrary to what some people said about it, I don’t think it glamorizes eating disorders. I think they made her struggle look painful – they show her compulsively doing situps, running up and down the stairs despite being out of breath, and passing out in a train station. I do take issue with the fact that the lead actress, who has a history of anorexia herself, lost weight for the role, as it feeds into the stereotype that everyone with an eating disorder is underweight. However, when she goes to treatment, there are people there with a variety of body sizes, which hopefully helps to combat the idea that one needs to be severely underweight to seek out residential/inpatient treatment.

What I take issue with is the portrayal of the treatment process. I get that the place where is goes for treatment, a residential place run by a psychiatrist played by Keanu Reeves, is supposed to be “nontraditional.” However, I really doubt that any treatment place would employ some of the methods used by this place. For one, meals are completely unsupervised. The patients just sit at the table with a bunch of food, and are allowed to eat as much or as a little as they want. One patient almost exclusively eats peanut butter from a jar too. Although I know that some treatment places ultimately have patients practice intuitive eating or get to a point where they prepare their own food, most places have patients start out with supervised meals and meal plans. They basically make it look like treatment is living in a nice house, going on some field trips, and engaging in a group or two. I worry people who watch the movie will have an unrealistic view of just how hard residential/inpatient treatment is.

Furthermore, towards the end of the movie the main character has a revelation/near death experience, and then is shown going back to the treatment center, more willing than before. It is implied that now she will be compliant and get better. Although I have never had a near death experience, I know many people that have and continue to struggle. It’s not that simple. It is a daily, sometimes hourly, sometimes minute by minute, difficult decision to continue on the path to recovery. I wish they would make a second movie that documents her struggles now that she is going to be cooperative in treatment – because that’s when shit gets hard.

Although I did not personally find it triggering, that doesn’t mean that it is okay for anyone with an eating disorder to watch this movie. I know that others have found it triggering. If you are considering watching it, talk to your therapist or another professional first to make sure it is in your best interest.

My Brain Works Differently

I’m an alcoholic. I don’t have one drink. I don’t understand people who have one drink. I don’t understand people who leave half a glass of wine on the table. I don’t understand people who say they’ve had enough. How can you have enough of feeling like this? How can you not want to feel like this longer? My brain works differently. ~ Leo, The West Wing, Season 3 Episode 10 – Bartlet for America

I was watching this episode yesterday in anticipation of The West Wing Weekly podcast about it, and this quote really stuck out to me. Leo is talking about his experience as an alcoholic, but I can relate this very much to the eating disorder.

For most people, restricting their food intake is an adverse experience. They don’t have a chance to eat lunch or a snack one day, and they feel like crap and think “I am definitely going to make sure I have that tomorrow.” However, for me the opposite happens. I get this sort of high, and think “I want this feeling to continue.” I want to keep feeling that hunger, that emptiness. As Leo says, my brain works differently.

This is also why restricting is such a slippery slope for someone with anorexia. Just like Leo cannot have one drink, I cannot have one missed meal or snack. It just leads to more restricting. There are many days were I want to miss a little, and think it’s not that big of a deal. But if history is any indication, pretty soon that one exchange or one meal becomes two or three, and it just keeps on going. Why? Because as Leo says “My brain works differently.”

Being Alone

They found this guy in Maine who had been living completely alone in the woods for 30 years. They called him the last true hermit. 30 years without the warmth of human touch, without conversation. The hermit felt more lonely when he was out in the world, than he ever felt in the woods by himself. Surrounded by people, but drowning in solitude. That kind of loneliness can swallow you whole. ~ Grey’s Anatomy, Season 11, Episode 10

I am very lucky that I have a great support system. I have a great treatment team, a great family, great coworkers, and great friends. However, there are times when the eating disorder makes me feel completely isolated. I’ll be out to eat with someone or a group of people, and everyone else is laughing and talking, and I’m sitting there calculating how many calories are in what I’m eating/drinking. I’m sitting there drowning in thoughts of self-doubt, poor body image, and racing thoughts about calories consumed.

When I think of recovery, I think of being able to be fully engaged in these situations. I think of the eating disorder not making me lonely and isolated, even when surrounded by people. That would be true freedom.