We hope you enjoy the final of this five-part guest blog series from one of our OPC alumna – sharing a glimpse inside her path of recovery and lessons learned along the way. We are continually inspired by all of our women and are proud to share this post with you, our readers. To read the first, second, third, and fourth posts please visit the preceding links.
A few weeks after I left Oliver-Pyatt Centers, I received a text from my mom, “Martha made reservations at a French restaurant at 6. We will be there at 1 for lunch.” I’d had a stressful week already, and, of course, I panicked. (Yes, that can still happen in recovery.) Work had been especially dull; I was probably having body image insecurity; my parents were driving up for the weekend – and French cuisine is known for its richness.
I began madly texting a friend explaining the situation – mainly I knew the anxiety over it would make me snippy and evasive. I would want to get something “healthier” (read: less caloric) for lunch because of the dinner plans, but my parents would start worrying if I did. I didn’t want to be rude, but that’s how I express anxiety. Especially toward my parents. Then suddenly this crazy plan came to me. It seemed kind of hair-brained, but I thought it just might work. I could tell them the truth, “I don’t mean to be snappish, but I am anxious about going out to lunch at 1 and then going out for French food early.” But, who does that? You don’t expose eating-disordered thoughts. You lie about them, right?
I told my mom and did not get the response I was hoping for. (I am not even sure there was a response I wanted.) But it didn’t matter. I felt better because I had told the truth. I would rather be judged for the reality, which was that some eating disordered thoughts had resurfaced temporarily, than think their daughter is just mean spirited and snippy.
So many of these moments have happened throughout recovery. Times when I would have lied to get out of intimidating social situations, but instead told someone that I was anxious, and went anyway. I am probably the most candid person at work, which makes people want to tell me things. And I have even been open about my eating disorder with a few of them, not because I want them to feel obligated to look out for me (that wouldn’t be fair,) but as a point of connection. To say, “This is what makes me vulnerable and therefore human.”
It is difficult to describe the difference it makes to walk through the world without needing to spin an ever-growing web of lies. Trying to remember how to avoid trapping yourself is exhausting, and the reality is as I tried to remember every little section of thread I’d spun, everyone else could see the web for what it was… a gigantic shroud of deception.
I believe most people with eating disorders inherently are not liars. In fact, I’d say it is the opposite. But suddenly, there is no choice but to lie to cover up this thing you know others would try to take from you if you didn’t. One of the greatest parts of recovery for me was realizing that regardless of how anyone else might react to it I had regained the right to tell the truth.
For more information about Oliver-Pyatt Centers and our newly introduced Embrace, a binge eating recovery program and Clementine,a residential program exclusively for adolescents girls please subscribe to our blog, visit our website, and connect with us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.
For the fourth in our five-part guest blog series from one of our Oliver-Pyatt Centers alumna we are sharing a post on the drive for perfection and the realization that imperfection is perfect enough. We are continually inspired by all of our women and are proud to share this post with you, our readers.
A true perfectionist will always insist that she isn’t a perfectionist… because she isn’t perfect. We all know in theory that perfection is unattainable, nonexistent even, and yet every mistake shoots cortisol through our bodies as if we were being injected with a poison that freezes muscles and makes the blood turn icy cold.
In recovery from an eating disorder, I’ve noticed that the perfectionistic tendencies that I’d previously thrown into calorie counting and watching numbers on a scale get diverted into other things – work, activities, even social interactions. I’ll stay up all night wondering whether I said the right thing, whether my work was good enough, whether I volunteer regularly enough for hospice.
In just the last week, I’ve received both praise and criticism for my work. And I’ve noticed that the praise just bounced off – like a ping pong ball on a brick wall. While the criticism…
It’s hard to let go of the desire to do everything right all the time. What then will make me hold myself accountable for… doing everything right all the time?
I’m far from perfect at being a non-perfectionist. I consider myself “in recovery” from perfectionism, but sometimes just talking about it (indirectly) helps. Yesterday, after spelling a name wrong in an article I freaked out a bit. Then I asked another writer if she sometimes had errors pointed out in already published stories. She laughed and said that it happens all the time. Okay, so that tells me I’m at least normal, not perfect, but human.
We hope you enjoy the third of a five-part guest blog series from one of our OPC alumna – sharing a glimpse inside her path of recovery and lessons learned along the way. We are continually inspired by all of our women and are proud to share this post with you, our readers.
Giving up an eating disorder is, in many ways, giving up an identity. It becomes so all-consuming that it’s inevitable your friends will start to whisper behind your back, “Yea, she’s the anorexic one.” Which is embarrassing and shameful. But, after a while, it becomes familiar. At least you’re something.
Before I became the <whispers> “one with the eating disorder” I was “The Trapeze Artist.” God, I loved that! But when I injured myself and was no longer able to fly, I still so desperately wanted an identity – something interesting and memorable. So, even though I was ashamed of it, I latched on to the all-encompassing eating-disordered girl option.
Choosing to stay in recovery means giving up that title and, at least for a while, being someone who can’t be summed up in a three word packaged tag line. It is harder to describe me now: “She’s the one with the curly hair, glasses, kinda quirky. Talks quickly, from New York or Boston or somewhere on the East Coast where she apparently didn’t like the weather…” That’s how I imagine people describing me, but I don’t really know what anyone chooses to highlight anymore, which is incredibly disconcerting.
It has taken a long time to convince myself that having an eating disorder was never what made me interesting. In fact, it’s what made me uninteresting because I had to do everything the same way every day and I lost my sense of adventure. I was nothing but an empty title – like a pair of ugly sunglasses that have a high-end label, so you wear them anyway for the brand name, ignoring the fact that they make you look like a walking bug.
But in writing this stream of consciousness post, I realized it is kind of fun to try to describe myself in a free-flowing way – not knowing exactly where it’s going to go: “Recovering journalist turned communications writer?” “The 27 year old who wears old lady shoes and chooses to take the train to work and walk from the station?” “The one who’s only been to Hollywood once and never plans to go again?” “The one who unabashedly over-punctuates everything she puts in writing?” “The one who blindly decided to move across the country on a whim without knowing anybody…”
The choices are infinite, and everyone will have a different description – some positive, some negative, and some more apt than others.
But in a way I like that. It leaves room for more possibilities.
We are pleased to share the second of a five-part guest blog series from one of our OPC alumna – sharing a glimpse inside her path of recovery and lessons learned along the way. We are continually inspired by all of our women and are proud to share this post with you, our readers.
I remember lying on the floor, upstairs in Verde at Oliver-Pyatt Centers, staring at the ceiling and listening to a therapist read a guided meditation, and – at every step – I had a snarky thought-response as to why the idea was absurd…“How can my negative thoughts and worries float out the window if the window is closed?” “Why would I be walking in a forest alone and suddenly encounter a brick wall…” etc.
During my stay at OPC, I fought the idea of meditation and positive self-talk because I thought surrendering to it would mean exorcising all of the sarcasm and dark, twisted cynicism that make me… me. How can someone who organized Woody Allen marathons and commissioned her friends (i.e. offered them chocolate) to paint calligraphic snippets of Dorothy Parker poems around her door frame become Zen, calm, and mindful – speak slowly and accept the world around her, cutting off the ticker-tape of both verbal and, believe it or not, swallowed retorts that have become reflexive.
I rebelled by writing “positive aphorisms” such as: “Smile! You’re still smaller than a sumo wrestler” on paper hearts that were meant to be Valentine’s Day decorations. My 6-word memoir was “Frizzy-haired couples should not reproduce.” Basically, I encouraged my innate negativity lest the Lilly Pulitzer wallpaper and compassion they tried to infuse me with every day were to slip insidiously through my pores.
Oy! (Can’t have that.)
But recently, I went to a pain specialist for a chronic condition I’ve had since I underwent some shoulder stabilization surgeries eight to nine years ago. After listening to the laundry list – Kim Kardashian’s laundry list – of things I’ve already tried, the doctor just looked at me and said, “Sounds like you’re stuck.”
He then proscribed a series of biofeedback sessions administered by a trained therapist in the university pain center. Biofeedback is basically a method of meditation in which you can watch how breathing and thoughts affect your stress levels and encourages you to use certain methods of relaxation to get your fingers to produce less moisture or get warmer. I happen to like the temperature method. It makes sense. You’re stressed, so “fight-or-flight” chemicals direct all of your blood flow to your core organs, cutting off the blood supply to your extremities. So when you make yourself less stressed, your finger should get warmer.
One day recently, I was doing the exercise, watching the screen as my finger temperature climbed, leveled, dropped, climbed, dropped, dropped, spiked up, leveled… you get the picture.
And suddenly a thought flickered into my mind, “You’re fat and incompetent.” It came from nowhere, it seemed. (Although doctors will tell you “idiopathic” doesn’t mean that something arises from nothing… it really means, “We have no clue what caused this.”) For me these thoughts are idiopathic – in the real sense. Anyway, my finger’s temperature dropped. I repeated the thought, this time deliberately (I love experiments!) And it dropped again.
So, I thought, what the heck, let’s try something new. I repeated in my head, “You did a great job on that assignment yesterday.” My temperature stopped falling and leveled. I repeated the thought.
So I added, “You did really well on that assignment, and you’re good at your job.” My temperature rose a full degree. The weird part is that I’m not sure if I believe the positive comment or the negative one, all the time – but it doesn’t seem to matter…
I’m someone who is always looking for evidence… and here it was, plain and clear. (God I was annoyed…) But, I mean, it’s only one degree. The difference in temperatures between Boston and Los Angeles in January can be 70 degrees. So does it matter?
No idea. But it’s food for thought, I guess.
We are honored to share the first of a five-part guest blog series from one of our OPC alumna – sharing a glimpse inside her path of recovery and lessons learned along the way. We are continually inspired by all of our women and are proud to share this post with you, our readers.
A few days ago, a colleague – who is significantly older than I am and more senior in the organization – stepped into my office, closed the door and started talking about life. Nothing that made me uncomfortable, but certainly more important than her weekend plans or arguments about the serial comma (I’m vehemently against it.) This happens a lot to me – partly prompted by the sign on my door that says, “Knock if You’re Interesting” – but more, I think, because colleagues seem to trust me, so they confide in me.
To backtrack, when I left Oliver-Pyatt Centers I returned to a job on the East Coast – a job I absolutely hated! I stuck it out for six months, but when I was offered a new position in California, I took it. On a whim. Knowing nobody… It could’ve been a disaster.
But, so far, it hasn’t been –
Largely, I think, because it was the first time in almost a decade that I made a major move based not on my eating disorder’s alluring whisper that going to a new place would allow me to sink deeper into its grasp – but more because I was excited about the prospect of going somewhere different (warmer but without Miami’s humidity.) Somewhere in which I could create a new identity based on me as a person… not on me as a sick person.
And it worked –
Until one day I was talking to that same colleague – at 6:30 pm on a Friday when everyone else had been gone for hours – and suddenly I felt compelled to say, “Last year I spent five months in residential treatment for an eating disorder.”
I was shaking – because here I was, a normal size, seemingly high-energy and competent (albeit kinda quirky) – telling her something I had so badly wanted nobody to know.
Brene Brown said:
“Our stories are not meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege, and we should always ask ourselves this before we share: “Who has earned the right to hear my story?” If we have one or two people in our lives who can sit with us and hold space for our shame stories, and love us for our strengths and struggles, we are incredibly lucky.”
I realized in that moment that – throughout my life – there would be people whom I wanted to know my story. Sometimes for my own sake and sometimes for theirs. Often, though, for both.
Having an eating disorder is boring; anorexia does not a good story make. It creates a life of monotony, rigidity – asphyxiating sameness that strangles you slowly without your even noticing it because, in that state, you can’t notice anything at all outside of whether or not the grocery store still has your brand of plain yogurt.
But what you do with it after is interesting. People in my office call me an “old soul,” which I think is funny, because my story is really not that compelling. I’ve lived a privileged life, never suffered any great losses and been generally well supported by caring friends and family. But, more and more, I’m understanding that my “old soul” has been shaped by the stories I heard from other patients at OPC and how – no matter how horrific they seemed compared to my own – they resonated with something in me.
And now I’m able to use those glimmers of connection to relate to things in other people. I have flipped the equation from being the flakiest, least reliable (at my sickest, I lost nine car keys in a week) and least trustworthy (i.e. pathological liar) to being the confidante. Recovery will do that to you, whether you’re ready for it or not. I can see things in people that I never previously would have noticed – how posture and voice inflection reflect how people see themselves in the world. How a person’s response to one (calculated) question will tell me whether it’s worth befriending them. How a single comment about a man’s father’s pancreatic cancer was the only thing that mattered to him in the span of a 20-minute conversation.
Or how to recognize when someone’s high-energy baseline has crossed the line into mania and that I need to invite them to coffee or tell them about something inane that happened on the train that morning…or else they will inevitably do something impulsive, uncharacteristic and regrettable. (A situation I can identify with all too well.)
And, thank god, there are a couple of people here who can do the same thing for me.
One of the greatest perks of recovery is being seen as trustworthy again…and perhaps I’m an even better listener, who is able to connect to people because of my own experience. Do I think it was necessary to have had (and made huge headway in recovering from) an eating disorder to achieve this status? Of course not!
But, having been on both sides, I’d much rather been the one whose door is always beckoning people to come in, close it behind them and tell me something real.
We are honored to share a personal view of recovery from one of our amazing alumnae. Her story exemplifies the unique and brave path of recovery that many are working toward.
After almost twenty years of struggling, I was finally ready to say goodbye to my eating disorder. About three years ago, I walked through the doors of OPC. My eating disorder had dictated my every move for far too long, and even though I was ready to part with it, my recovery had not been easy. Deciding to check myself into OPC was the best decision I have ever made. It was the best gift I’ve ever given myself.
I spent a year at OPC – seven months in their comprehensive program and five months in their intensive outpatient program. Through these programs, I was finally able to see myself for the amazing woman that I am and not the unlovable and unworthy person that I saw through the lens of my eating disorder. The staff at OPC taught me how to feel not only my emotions, but also how to intuitively listen and trust my body.
The last two years have been a roller coaster. The inner strength that I developed at OPC, and have continued to foster with the help of my amazing outpatient team, has helped me in more ways that I can ever describe. Most significantly, it has helped me put the last piece of the puzzle together and finally work through being abused as a young child. About three months after I left OPC I started to have memories of the abuse. As you can imagine, this was a very confusing and frightening time for me. And even though I was able to retain my strong sense-of-self, the emotions at times were so strong that they started to manifest into bodily reactions. My physical reactions helped me realize when I was emotionally checked out. They continue to indicate that I need to stop, take a break, and check in with myself.
Recovery isn’t always easy, and at times I didn’t think that I was strong enough to sustain it; but I was, and I am. Living a life free from the grasp of my eating disorder is more incredible than I could ever imagine. To those of you who are currently struggling, please know that recovery is possible. You too can break away from your horrible and debilitating disease. Everyone’s recovery is different, and things that work for one person might not work for another; however, here are the top ten things that have helped me sustain recovery.
We are honored to share a guest blog post from OPC Alumna Kate Peoples today. She shares her story, her struggles and triumphs, and her view of recovery. To read more from Kate, please visit her blog Small Steps Upward.
I spent three months, during the summer of 2012, as a patient at Oliver-Pyatt Centers. I’d been stuck in the cycle of relapses and higher levels of care since my first hospitalization in 2006. I could recognize how miserable my eating disorder made me and how my health was deteriorating. I wanted a future for myself but had a difficult time envisioning one outside of my eating disorder. Recovery was a nice concept, but I didn’t fully understand it nor did I know how to go about it. OPC was not my first treatment center but I was determined to make it my last and that meant doing treatment differently than I had before, it meant actually participating in my own recovery.
The three months at OPC were a constant exercise in stepping outside of my comfort zone. I pushed myself to speak in groups. I initiated conversation at the table during meals. I volunteered to share in psychodrama and art therapy. I wrote journal entries my therapist assigned. I shared my poetry and writings and artwork during my treatment team meetings. I set boundaries. I confided in people. I disagreed with people. I ate foods I liked and allowed myself to enjoy them. I paid attention to my hunger cues. I formed meaningful relationships with the staff and girls and let people get to know me. I began to explore who I was outside the realms of my eating disorder.
Eventually, my time in Miami came to an end and I returned home. I felt a nervous excitement. The work I did at OPC was meaningful and rewarding and I felt ready to return to life. I knew the transition would not be easy and while part of me feared relapsing as I’d done times before, I had a great deal more confidence in myself.
It would seem that it goes without saying that life in the “real world” is very different from life in treatment. But, I quickly learned that recovery in the “real world” is very different from recovery in treatment. Treatment was not without its challenges, but it was done in a safe environment with trained staff, heavy structure, and little outside responsibilities. Life in treatment is contained. Life outside treatment does not follow the same set of rules.
Recovery never felt simple, but the complexity of it intensified. Outside of OPC, I realized how many facets of my life my eating disorder had wedged its way into. I was learning how to exist in an entirely different way than I had for the past decade. The process of life is trial and error, and recovery is no exception to that.
When I left OPC, I was not “cured.” I did not maintain complete abstinence from behaviors. I still had moments where life felt too overwhelming and I retreated to the comfort of my eating disorder, but over time those lapses decreased in frequency. I may not have left treatment entirely better, but I left with the tools that would eventually get me to that place. The hard times didn’t give me an excuse to quit, like they had so many times before, but rather an opportunity to pick myself back up and move forward.
As I gained distance from my eating disorder, I began to discover a voice that had been long overshadowed by my illness. With my confidence growing in my ability to fight during difficult times, I stood stronger and spoke louder. I rediscovered old passions and fostered new ones. I built a life for myself outside of my eating disorder, and as that grew, the importance of numbers and weights and self-destruction diminished.
Eventually, recovery stopped feeling like an everyday battle with myself. The voices in my head settled. I no longer had the nagging self-doubt and criticism at every meal and snack. I stopped turning to old, eating-disordered behaviors as a means to deal with stress, depression, conflict, oversleeping for a class, a bad hair day, etc. I don’t even consider it to be an option these days. The people who told me it would get easier were right.
Life after treatment was a great deal more difficult than I thought it would be, but I was equipped to handle such challenges. Recovery is not achieved in a treatment facility, but it can serve as the beginning of that journey. The real world is a wonderful, stressful, messy, beautiful place. It provides ample opportunity to continue to learn and grow and evolve. I am doing just that.