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giving it away. literally.

This past weekend my fiancee’s teenage sister came to stay with us. She’s hit a bit of a crisis stage in her life and needed to get away from the craziness of home (we live about 2 hours away). I went and picked her up on Friday and got her talking a bit about what was going on. Turns out her crisis stems from many things that ring true with what I went through as a teen and in my early twenties (though, thank the heavens, she has stayed away from chemicals and hasn’t developed food issues). We talked for the entire ride back to the house. I relayed to her what has happened to me and what little advice I can pass along to her. I also made sure that she knew I am eternally here for her no matter what is going on and that she always has a place with her brother and I.

We spent the weekend hanging around the apartment, mostly just her and I, watching netflix. We didn’t spend much time the rest of the weekend talking about anything “serious.” The goal was to give the poor girl some normalcy.

Saturday night I had the realization that I wanted to give her something to take back home with her to remind her that I am here for her and thinking of her. A treasured necklace I have from my grandma popped into my head but I quickly decided against it. I wore that necklace for nearly 3 years, during some of the darkest days I went through, and it was a source of comfort. Partly because it was my grandma’s but mostly because it was a mustard seed and the bible verse that goes along with it (“If you have faith the size of a mustard seed… nothing will be impossible for you”) helped me hold on when I couldn’t find any other reasons to keep going.

But I couldn’t let it go. The necklace had done so much for me when I needed it and I haven’t worn it for a couple years since things have been better. I knew she would understand the symbolism and I knew she would appreciate the gift… but I struggled with knowing that I was giving away my grandma’s necklace, that something so important to me won’t be mine anymore, and that she may or may not even wear it (or she may lose it).

In the end I gave her the necklace just before she left earlier today. I decided that the necklace had worked its magic for me and now it was time to pay it forward. It was time for someone else to take what they can from it and hopefully someday she can pay it forward to someone else.

I’m not really sure of the point of this post… I’m not sure there’s a grand “recovery lesson” in here, but what I do know is that it made me feel really good to give her the necklace. It was another piece of giving away what I’ve gotten to help others who are struggling. And it was another testament to my ability to let the past be the past. I’ve held onto the necklace because of all the good it brought to me when I needed it. But the truth is, I don’t need it anymore. I have found hope in day-to-day life, so why hold onto it when it could do some good for someone else?

I don’t know. It just seemed like the right thing to do. And if there’s absolutely no other meaning to her, at least I know that she appreciates that I took the time to be with her this weekend and give her something that means a lot to me.; at least I know that she knows I care about her. That makes it worth it. Definitely.

When One Door Shuts

“When one door shuts, God opens another”

I’m pretty sure most people know the cliche, but it sure is damn hard to swallow at times. Although the traditional form of this saying is fine with me, when I’m trying to reassure myself, I more often prefer to phrase it this way:

“Things *always* work out”

That’s not to say that things work out the way I want them or in the way that I think is best. But every event, every problem, every time we find ourselves in limbo, it eventually comes to some resolution. What that resolution is, though, isn’t up to me. But it IS up to me to accept the resolution so I can move forward with my life.

It would be easy to come back and say, “But sometimes I don’t ever get an answer. Sometimes things aren’t ever resolved. Sometimes I don’t get closure. Sometimes things just hang out there…”

I think all of us have situations like that in our lives. One of the biggest for me is (to make a long story short) the state of 90% of my material possessions that disappeared in 2004 when my “best friend” took off without returning it. There are quite a few things I’ve never had answers for: why exactly she left, why she never told me which storage place my stuff was in, what has happened to my stuff since (I’m thinking a “Storage Wars”-esque auction”), and how my “best friend” could brazenly betray me the way she did.

For years I struggled with these questions, until I could accept that this event wasn’t going to work out the way I wanted. But, if I let it, the situation had resolved itself with the conclusion that I would likely never know the answers to those questions. So it was up to me to let it go and move on. And when I did this I was able to let go of the anguish, learn from the situation, and change how I responded to life in the future.

And this, I believe, is how I have to deal with disappointment in my life. I bring up this topic because yesterday I had one of those moments that, once it resolved, wasn’t the way I had hoped. In fact, I had been REALLY hoping it would work out in my favor. But it didn’t. So, I gave myself time to be upset and disappointed for a bit and then I moved on. Am I still a bit annoyed that I have to change my plans, yep. I struggle with rigidity and needing to plan ahead for things. But I’ve accepted that there is nothing I can do to change the situation as it resolved yesterday and I’ve begun the process of constructing a new plan of attack.

People have been telling me the cliche at the top of this post… and apparently I am supposed to wait for a new door to open, but even that might not be the case. I might just have to be ok with the fact that I was disappointed and that I’m going to have to do something else (something that is not as exciting as what the original thing might have been). But that is ok and I can be ok with that.

It only holds me back if I dwell on what “might have been” or I get stuck in my disappointment. When something resolves itself in a way that is less that preferred by me I can take it as it is and I can do something else. It is never the end of things; it is only a minor roadblock that leads me in a new direction. Its ok. Everything works out.

Its been a while since I’ve been here… I guess I’m not living up to the idea I had for myself when I started this blog (i.e. that I would write multiple times per week). But life happens and the past month or so has been one event after another that have been emotionally and physically taxing. And in the effort to take things one at a time by doing what is in front of me, other things have had to be pushed aside for the time being. And that is ok.

I finished my 4th step and completed my 5th step a couple weeks ago. It was the second time I’ve done one and I learned a lot about myself and events that have happened in my life. It amazed me the value of having an outside perspective on my life; my sponsor made connections and saw patterns that I would have never seen in a million years. And through that I was finally able to fully accept some of the awful things that happened in their entirety. I still have a lot of work to do. Some glaring character defects were exposed and some deep seeded resentments came out that I’m struggling to become “willing” to let go of.

But, as the subject suggests, I don’t want to focus on my 5th step but on the appreciation I gained for a wise, involved, attentive, and experienced sponsor. This is my second sponsor and she is polar opposite of my first. Leah (names are changed) was laid back and let me take the lead; Jane has laid down firm guidelines from the first day I asked her to be a sponsor. Leah was only a couple years older than me; Jane is just about the same age as my mom. Leah listened to my 5th step without saying a word; Jane stopped me on nearly everyone and challenged me to look deeper. Leah started our first meeting by having me tell my story; Jane has learned about me through our meetings and developed a sense of my past through the work in the steps (I’ve never sat down and “told my story” to her).

Neither method of sponsoring is better or worse than the other, it all just depends on what works for the sponsee. And for me, the structure and very specific responsibilities/assignments that Jane gave me worked better. Without the support of Jane, and the preliminary work we did before crisis struck, I would not have made it through my fiancee’s relapse and overdose. Without Jane’s candid stories of her own life I would not have been able to talk about and process through my trauma. Without the ongoing assignments and explicit direction of what I needed to do and when I needed to do it, I would not have learned as much as I did from her.

I was able to stay sober without a good sponsor, but the quality of my sobriety was much lower. I didn’t have a sounding board and I didn’t have anyone telling me that my thoughts were crazy (which most of the time they are). I got into my head and my recovery stagnated. I was unable to move forward on my own, because I didn’t know what moving forward was. This, I think, is the key element of a good sponsor: They are someone who is further along than you and is someone who can show you how to get there.

So, whether a person in recovery decides to go the traditional 12 Step route of a sponsor or a mentor who is living the life we want, having a person who “has what we want” is vital to moving forward in this total reconstruction of our lives.

The Inclosing Reserve

Even before I went into recovery I knew that my lies, shady behavior, and destructive relationships were holding me in my addictions. I was so full of shame for the things I had done, and the things that had happened to me, that I couldn’t admit them to myself let alone other people. I was also incredibly angry. I was mad at people whom I felt had betrayed me and those who had hurt me (mostly men, to be frank). And this made me an intolerably cynical person unable to face my problems and break free from them. Instead they dragged me further and further into despair.

Søren Kierkegaard talks about the “Inclosing Reserve” in his book The Sickness Unto Death.  For me, this perfectly reflects what happened to me as my despair enveloped me and I sunk further and further away from health. There are 2 sides to the Reserve: one describes the grandiose person. It is the person who lives for the moment and gets carried away by their delusions of grandeur; they become mired in material possessions and come to think of themselves as a god. The other side of the Reserve is the depressive person; this person cannot connect with reality, becomes wholly dependent on others and is swallowed up in their depression. Both persons lose their Self, whether it is through the classic thought of the depressive person who succumbs to their misery or through being whisked away by immediate satisfaction on their desires. Both people are despairing, in fact he says that ALL people are despairing – but some people don’t realize it. Kierkegaard goes on to describe the various levels of despair, which I won’t go into because it would get too long, and then describes freedom as presenting one’s self naked and baring our souls to God. Only this, he says, can free us from our despairing souls. Now, for anyone who knows Kierkegaard they know that he was a devout Christian whose writings often aimed at dispelling, what he felt, were the mistakes of the Swedish Church. But, regardless of his leanings (or one’s opinion on some of his conclusions – which often lead back to his faith in Jesus), there lie in his writings poignant observations on the human condition and what will free it.

I read The Sickness Unto Death about a year before finding my own desire to recover and when I did find it, it played a large role in my figuring out what I needed to do to get better (as it spoke to me, I needed to do Steps 1-3). And as I began to recover it also told me that I needed to do Steps 4-9 too. Because, until I admit what I’ve done to someone else, I can’t fully process or admit them to myself.

Ok, that was my long-winded roundabout to discussing the 4th Step (the “fearless and moral inventory”, which I have started doing again with my current sponsor. Doing the 4th step the first time I felt very lost. Sure, all the literature (whether it is AA, EDA, or another fellowship) “spell it out” I still was unsure of how to go about being fearless at looking at my past and as a result have always felt very dissatisfied with how it turned out. I voiced this to my current sponsor and asked that we break it down further, which we have. It will probably take a lot longer to finish this way, but already I am feeling like I am doing a more thorough search through my past. And next time I write I’ll share how I am doing it, in case anyone cares. =)

Lately I have also been feeling a lot of fear. I have big changes coming up in my life (I’m moving to another state, starting graduate school, planning a wedding) and in total honesty I am terrified. I don’t like not knowing what is going to happen and I have insane, irrational, thoughts that swirl around in my head.

But I practice letting go of my fear; I have to practice letting it go. When I let go of it and trust that things will be ok (no matter what happens) then I am no longer frozen by my fear and I can go back to living my life one day at a time. I can focus on what is in front of me. I do this in many ways: I pray. I repeat to myself that my worry is only adding to my stress (it does me no good to worry about something I can’t change). I talk with friends and family. I distract myself by doing other things. I make sure to sleep enough. I take time to do things for me. And when none of those work I accept that at this point I am feeling stressed and that is ok.

Acceptance is one of the great challenges of recovery. I spent so many years trying to manipulate the world and make life go the way I want and it only left me despairing in my own misery. Acceptance is letting go. In letting go I drop my arms to my sides, let out a deep breath, and give up the fight. I give up the fight when I refuse to engage with my addictions in my head; I give up when I talk with others and air out the craziness in my head. I let go when I take care of myself. And I let go when I sit in my discomfort and refuse to let it upset my world.

Now, I am not advocating giving up on life when things are crappy. We should always be working to improve our situation, but we can’t be fighting the world. Working and fighting are different. Working involves accepting that things aren’t going to work out the way we planned them (necessarily), but we keep trying to improve our life in relation to those around us. And sometimes our best left in relation to others means that we don’t get what we want or that we have to accept our own discomfort for the betterment of others.

In recovery I learn to let go. I learn to accept. I learn that just because I am uncomfortable doesn’t mean I have to make myself crazy trying to get comfortable. Sometimes we just have to be uncomfortable until things settle down around us.

I couldn’t manage the problems I laid on myself.
And it just made it worse when I laid them on somebody else.
So I finally surrendered it all, brought down in despair.
I cried out for help, and I felt a warm comforter there.

And I came to believe in a power much higher than I.
I came to believe that I needed help to get by.
In childlike faith I gave in and gave him a try
Then I came to believe in a power much higher than I.

Nothing worked out when I handled it all on my own.
And each time I failed it made me feel twice as alone.
Then I cried lord there must be a sure and easier way.
For it just cannot be that a man should lose hope every day.

And I came to believe in a power much higher than I.
I came to believe that I needed help to get by.
In childlike faith I gave in and gave him a try.
Then I came to believe in a power much higher than I.

Yes I came to believe in a power much higher than I.

-Mr. Johnny Cash

 

It is amazing how putting simple words to a melody can make it so much more powerful. I could listen to this song over and over again, especially when I’m feeling sad, depressed, or alone. Its so simple but reminds me that, in my darkest hour, when I reached out for help I found it. And it reminds me still that if I reach out again I will get help again.

I don’t have to do it alone. Actually, I can’t do it alone. The first two lines of the second verse say it all: “Nothing worked out when I handled it all on my own, and each time I failed I felt twice as alone.” Such was the bottomless hole I was digging for myself. It was like quicksand – any time I made a move to try and better my situation I made it worse. And each time I made it worse I felt more disconnected, more lost, and more alone.

Sometimes I need to remind myself of that. And a lot of times a song can do it better than I can.

Trigger warning in both the article and my post (just an fyi!)

Bulimia Laid Bare: http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2011/06/03/bulimia-laid-bare/#dsq-content

This young woman is absolutely right. We don’t talk about bulimia when we talk about eating disorders. Sure, we have objective comments on it, but people don’t actually *talk* about what it is like to have bulimia. Those who have never had it probably will never fully understand and those of us who have had it are too ashamed to tell anyone the ugly truth.

I know that is true for me. I am, overall, pretty open with talking about my history with eating disorders. But I find myself glossing over the bulimia. Why? Because I fear what others will think of me and because I have the convenience of multiple eating disordered behaviors and because when I was bulimic I also happened to be severely underweight (all the easier to blame it on anorexia). but mostly, I gloss over it because I KNOW that some of the stuff I used to do is, to the normal brain, absolutely disgusting… It is not easy to tell the details of bulimia because to truly get at the essence of the torture that the bulimic goes through we *have* to tell those things that are absolutely disgusting. We don’t like to say it and, at least from what I’ve found, even people who DO want to know my story don’t *really* want to know the gruesome details of my bulimic phase. There is still an air of glamour to an eating disorder, this illusion the general public has of the tortured starlet who starves herself down to skin and bones and the apparent “control” she has gained by not eating.

Sure, I can talk about some of it. I’ve been able to talk to a lot of people about how I maxxed out my credit card buying binge food. I can talk about how I hid food in my room, in my car, in my back pack. How the binges/purges happened upwards of 7 to 10 times per day. I can talk about how painful it was to wake up in the middle of the night with stomach acid burning my esophagus. Hell, I can even make jokes about the first time this happened and I panicked and called the paramedics. I can talk about these things because I can create room between the ME I am now and the person who did all those things. I can disconnect and just report “the facts.”

But here is what I don’t like to talk about…

I don’t like to tell people about the insatiable hole that was inside of me. I don’t like to talk about how I tried desperately to fill that hole with food and then, overcome with guilt and fear of gaining weight, I would force myself to vomit. If the vomit wouldn’t come up, I would drink water, swoosh my stomach around to “mix it up” and try again until I felt empty.

I don’t like to talk about how it stopped mattering to me *where* or *how* I binged and purged; it only mattered that it happened. I stole food from stores, from roommates, from my parents, from the cafeteria at school, from the community refrigerator at work. I puked in toilets, in trash cans, in plastic bags. I climbed out my window in the middle of the night when I still lived at my parents house and puked outside in the woods in the back of the house.

I don’t like to talk about how I would lock myself in the bathroom at work, sink to the floor, and cry. I don’t like to talk about the black outs when I stood up, the shakiness after an especially violent purge, the bruises that started appearing all over my body.

I don’t like to talk about the nights I would lay in bed praying for my heart to give out while I was sleeping. Or the fear I had each time I leaned over the toilet and thought *this* was going to be the time that did me in. I dont’ like to talk about the envy I felt over my cat’s ability to eat and then stop when she was full (yes, I did say my cat).

I really don’t like to talk about what it did to my relationship with my family and friends. Basically, I had no friends and I isolated myself from my family because of my shame. I moved into a studio apartment to die. I didn’t want to bother people and I didn’t want them to have to watch me kill myself… but I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop eating. I couldn’t stop puking. I couldn’t stop weighing myself. I couldn’t stop counting my bones and putting up “motivational” signs urging me to go lower and lower and lower in weight…

I don’t like to talk about the obsession, how bulimia took over my brain and how it was all I thought about. I couldn’t make it through class without thinking about where and when my next binge would be. I couldn’t stop making mental notes of ALL bathrooms in all the buildings I went into. I couldn’t stop even when I knew that I was on the verge of a heart attack. In the end, not even death could make me stop. It stopped being a choice as to whether I would binge or whether I would purge. It became my entire existence. I became the embodiment of bulimia.

Even these things that I don’t like to talk about don’t give an accurate picture of bulimia… I don’t know how to put it into words, and maybe I never will be able to. What I do know is that the woman who wrote the post I cited above is absolutely right when she says that anyone who has had bulimia would never wish it on any of their enemies.

Bulimia is living hell. You exist in limbo between life and death. You are a shell of  a human, a machine designed only to consume and then rid itself of food. Nothing else matters. Nothing.

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