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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.

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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.

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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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No, I’m not talking about losing or gaining weight. Becoming right sized means that we present ourselves to the world as we actually are. It means becoming humble.

Humility in turn means that we snuff out our ego. It means that we realize we are not in charge; the universe does not revolve around us and most of the rest of the world is so consumed in thinking about themselves that we aren’t even a flicker on their radar. Conversely, it means that we don’t put ourselves lower that we are either. We are not scum of the earth, we are not worthless, we aren’t supposed to be consumed with shame and disgust at ourselves.

In the middle of my addictions I oscillated between grandiosity and believing I didn’t deserve the space I took up. Externally I had it all together. I pretended like my entire life was under control. For a time I acted loud, obnoxious, and basically like I was “tough shit.” I acted as if the world owed me something and that, if it didn’t give it to me, I was going to take it. Later on I swung to the other end of the spectrum… I hated myself so much that I feared going outside. I didn’t want people looking at me for fear of what they were thinking. I was terrified that the truth about my worthlessness was oozing out my pores and everyone could see it the moment they looked at me.

Becoming right sized allowed me to stop the charades. I didn’t have to pretend anymore and I didn’t have to sink into despair. I am a human being, just like anyone else. I am no better and no worse. I have strengths and weaknesses and it is up to me to make the most of them in service to others.

It definitely was not easy letting go of the images I had worked so hard, and for so many years, to create. But when I am viewing myself as right sized I am able to work to remove my shortcomings and become the best person I can be. But each day I have to work to keep myself in balance and keep my perception of myself right sized. When I see myself as I really am I am most able to be of help to the world and doing that frees me.

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I never quite understood the concept of the “physical allergy” to alcohol. I mean, I understood it in a way, but it always seemed to me that it was equivalent to the mental obsession and the phenomenon of craving (the other 2 aspects of alcoholism, according to AA, in case anyone is wondering). But then the other night it was explained in a way that actually made sense to me.

An allergy, this person said, can be explained when something gets into your body and it doesn’t react in a way that coincides with the norm. Thus, an alcoholic has an allergy to alcohol not in the sense that the body rejects (and causes a rash, or closes the lungs, etc.) it but because it causes an abnormal reaction… that of the mental obsession and cravings.

The three are equivalent, rather the physical allergy causes the effect of mental obsession and a craving.

So, as an alcoholic, when I drink it flips the abnormal switch in my brain that causes me to obsess about getting high and finding the next high and then produces the craving when the drugs/alcohol leave my body.

Alcohol/drugs easily fit into this description, but I’ve always maintained that the eating disorder is the same as a substance addiction in more ways that not. And with this I maintain that an eating disorder has the same elements: a physical allergy, mental obsession, and craving. However, the content of these three elements are a bit different.

the mental obsession is easy to see (at least for those of us who have an eating disorder) – we fixate on *anything* that has to do with food, our weight, and our body as a whole. It is literally all we think about.

The phenomenon of craving is equally as prevalent – for those of us who binge (and/or purge) we all understand that need, desire, urge, to consume as much food as possible in as little time as possible. The need to ingest food regardless of hunger, taste, or cost becomes our sole focus whether it is triggered from emotional stimuli or physical (when you’re body is starving there comes a point when you just have to eat). And those of us who restrict food crave the high we get from starvation; that illusive feeling of a weightless euphoria that extreme restriction brings.

But how does the physical allergy fit into this definition? In the case of an eating disorder it is very misleading to say that we are allergic to food, obviously, since keeping food *out* of our body is exactly the problem for some of us (and the rest of us still need it to live!). In the eating disorders case, I believe, our physical allergy is more ellusive and obtuse but it is nonetheless still there. Our ‘drug’ IS the entire package of the eating disorder. Our drug is how we eat when we’re with the eating disorder; the allergy arises when we eat ‘with’ the eating disorder. And eating ‘with’ the eating disorder entails all behaviors, thoughts, and compensatory behaviors that accompany our eating (or not eating).

In this light it is not the food that we are allergic to. It is not even the act of dieting or wanting to lose weight that we are allergic to. The allergy develops when we cross an intangible line from health to compulsion; the allergy develops when we hit that point where we can’t stop. We are unlike normal people in that once we start going to the extremes (that is, when we start listening to what the eating disorder says) we can’t stop it. Our binges become larger, our restriction more exclusive, our exercise routines longer, and our purges more violent. In a normal person, when they restrict their food to levels too low to sustain eventually give up; when they have a night where they overeat they feel guilty for a few hours and then go on with their life; when they over eat they don’t purge; when they exercise they don’t chastize themselves if they miss a day…. but we do.

Perhaps these thoughts are a bit rambled and not clearly thought out. This was my first attempt at explaining it. I’ve experienced the difference between dieting in the eating disorder and losing weight with the aim of health behind it and do not in any way believe that people in recovery can’t diet because they are “allergic” to dieting. I’ve also struggled through attempts at limiting my meal plan to avoid foods as well as allowing myself to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it and I do not believe that people in recovery have* to limit their food choices to stay away from “trigger” foods. We aren’t allergic to food or even dieting. We are allergic to the eating disorder.

*I say ‘have’ because there are those who have had years of successful recovery avoiding certain foods or food groups, and who am I to say that isn’t right if they have found themselves to be happy, joyous, and free doing it?

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It has been a very difficult past few weeks. My grandpa has been ill for over 10 years with Parkinsons but the past couple of weeks we knew it was the end. Things happened very quickly and he passed away yesterday.

I am, obviously, upset. He was my “Big Norwegian Grandpa.” He taught me about who I am and where my family is from; he funded sending me to Norwegian camp for 9 years, sent me to study in Norway, got me in volved in Sons of Norway, hooked me up with the Norwegian ambassador whom I nannied for, etc. He was quick to crack a joke, was a social butterfly and had a flock of friends from all over the world. He was a very stoic individual, detached from emotions or “mushy stuff.” But in his own quiet way I always knew that he loved and cared for me. He actually was one of the big reasons I started working on recovery. I remember clearly one day (when I was very ill) when him and my grandma were leaving my parents house and he very quickly came over to me, gently squeezed my arm and said “you take care of yourself, now. We want you around for a long time.” Then he turned and left.

That was his way. He never had to say much but there was always much weight in his words.

Even when the parkinsons had gotten bad he never lost his sense of humor or his love for singing. In fact, he was singing up until they day before he died – it wasn’t melodic, he couldn’t pronounce any words, but I know he was singing because he only made the attempt to make noise when we were singing to him.

I spent nearly all of my time with him the last 2 days. I was at the care center with my mom and grandma talking to him, holding his hands, putting cold wash cloths on his forehead to keep him comfortable despite the fever of 105. I also spent a lot of time crying. Often I couldn’t make it through a song without getting choked up and I had to give up on keeping the mascara from smearing around my eyes. He died peacefully yesterday, May 6 2011 at 12:32pm with my grandma, my mom, and me by his bedside. He was peaceful.

I am exhausted now. My sleep has been less restful and more catatonic as my fatigue over takes me. But I wouldn’t change anything about it. I got to BE there. I experienced his passing fully and in the moment. I showed up and I walked through the pain. I did what I needed to do to support my grandpa and the rest of my family. And I got to do it without drinking. I did it without numbing myself.

Recovery is what gave this to me and perhaps is one of the most profound experiences I have thus had. I am eternally grateful that my grandfather got to see me after my life was turned around and that he didn’t pass away wondering. He saw me go from the edge of death to a healthy, happy, young woman who graduated from college (he always placed a lot of emphasis on schooling) and was about to start her life with a young man that she loves.

Before he passed I got to tell him everything I needed to. I got to thank him for what he’d given me, apologize for worrying and hurting him and my grandma, and I got to sing “Nidelven” his favorite Norwegian folk song about the river that runs through his hometown of Trondheim in Norway. I promised to carry on his legacy and watch over my grandma for him.

Showing up, though, wasn’t just for him and my family. It was for me. It was healing and brought the closure that I didn’t think was possible when a loved one died. Although I am sad I am at peace with how his passing was. I am happy that I showed up.

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