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Becoming Right Sized

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.

The Physical Allergy

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?

Showing Up

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.

Simple little Reminders

I had 2 things happen today that caught me off guard.

First, I craved a drink. But more than that I started to fantasize about going to a club, dancing like a hootchie and getting plastered. THAT is very weird for me. Even when I was drinking I rarely went to clubs and even less frequently actually danced at them (that took time away from drinking!).

Second, I had a horrendous case of body distortion (actually it is still going on right now). I was pretty sure that my thighs were growing larger by the second and that everyone was disgusted by how disproportionately huge I am on my bottom half. Unlike the drinking thing, this sort of distortion (especially as it pertains to my thighs and butt) is not so out of the ordinary.

But what was out of the ordinary was the strength of both these incidents. Some days when my cravings (generally I consider my body distortion to be the equivalent to a craving because it triggers the urge to use symptoms) hit I can brush them off easily. But days like today they nearly take my breath away. Much like jumping into ice cold water, I feel my breath sucked out of my lungs.

And I know that they don’t actually have anything to do with *really* wanting a drink or *really* wanting to compulsively diet. Life is stressful right now and both options (drinking and the eating disorder) appear to me as plausible escapes from the stress. I’m pretty good at pin-pointing that now, but it has taken me a long time to get here. And its pretty clear from the potency of the cravings that I still have a long way to go.

And it is also a good reminder for me that my addiction is a live and well. It is also a good reminder of what I do NOT want to go back to. I felt tortured enough today dealing with these intermittent bouts of my old mindset – thinking about going back to a place where that is ALL I think about makes me shudder. In the moment my head will tell me that it will be so much easier if I just give in to the craving, but the more distance I put between me and my addictions the more I realize how untrue that is.

Today I am grateful for the tiny reminders that keep me moving forward.

I was always the kid who had to touch the burner to see if it was hot. The only way I’ve ever learned what not to do is by doing it first. And this didn’t change when I came into recovery. I, obviously, stopped doing the most detrimental things to myself but I still fumbled around a lot and acted quite immature. I look back now and am stunned at my naivete back then (and I’m sure this will happen again in the future when I look back to now). I knew so little about life and how to live it.

I worked very hard to trust that things were working out as they should and continue to do this today. This is definitely easier when things are going well, but is just as important (if not more) when things aren’t going well. And what I’ve noticed in my meager years of recovery is that everything is part of building up my life. I had to make the mistakes I did in early recovery to learn that I didn’t want to go that route again. The trick I have to keep in mind is to alter my next adventure so that the same thing doesn’t happen and I touch that burner again. Building up a life that has been all but obliterated is hard, slow, work. I make mistakes today that others my age probably think are ridiculous, but the only way I know they are a wrong turn, is by taking it.

Life has become my little science experiment. When one hypothesis yields a poor result then I have to alter a variable and try it again. I might not get it right that time either, but all I can do is repeat the process until I start getting closer to the goal.

Why I need Your Help

To put it simply, I need help from others because I can’t tell the difference between the insanity in my head and common sense. That isn’t to say that I haven’t learned a great deal about how to tell when I’m thinking crazy, but when it comes right down to it I think a LOT of crazy things and I believe them!

I have definitely learned that I can’t drink or use drugs “socially” or “in moderation,” so no matter what reasons my head gives me to the contrary I am able to ignore it. I have also learned that what I see in the mirror isn’t what is really there; my head likes to tell me I’m the size of a small country, but I know that isn’t true no matter how convincing my head makes it sound.

But there are other areas that are much less lucid. Areas that involve having relationships with people, handling stress, coping with anxiety, jobs… well, this could all be summed up as LIFE. These are areas that I generally suck at. The reasons *why* I suck at them could be many… mental illness, poorly developed social skills, trauma, character defects, whatever. And compounding my sucking at them is the fact that it is a regular old looney bin up in my head.

I think crazy things. And thinking those crazy things used to get me in a lot of trouble (whether it was internal or external trouble). In fact I would up an alcoholic and with an eating disorder… obviously following my crazy head wasn’t working so well. Thus I need everyone around me to keep my thoughts in check. When I start to “interpret” the “facts” of my life things usually get distorted so I have to ask someone about it. I relay the thoughts in my head to my sponsor, a close friend, my fiancé or my family and see what they make of it. We then talk it through and I am much more able to make a better decision.

And I am happy to report that the further into recovery I go the better I get at mitigating the craziness. Early on I was very dependent on those around me; often I asked people for reality checks multiple times a day… “Sponsor, remind me again why I can’t drink” “Friend, what does ‘Boy A’ mean when he says ‘X’?” “Fiance, do I really look as fat as I feel?”

Thankfully I don’t often have to check in about most of that stuff anymore, but the fact remains that I am still crazy and I will always need help staying out of that craziness. And I plan to continue asking for help. I need YOU and everyone else around me to mollify my craziness. So thank you in advance for keeping me out of my head.

What is honesty?

the whole concept of being ‘honest’ seems so simple. And it is… as long as we know what living honestly is all about.

When I was first getting into recovery I was stunned when I realized the extent of my dishonesty. I couldn’t belive how dishonest I’d been. Not only to myself. Not only to my family. Not only to friends. Every facet of my being was based on lies and my life heavily revolved around the job of juggling the layers and layers of lies I had constructed and protecting the sanctity of the image I’d cultivated from those lies.

So my natural reaction (given my ‘extremophile’ nature) was to swing to the opposite end when I decided to “get honest.” Looking back my naivete was just oozing out of me as I let my “honesty” turn into a sort of pride over my bad-assness because I’d done x, y, and z. They call it junkie pride in the rooms of AA. And early recovery – whether your drug is alcohol, coke, or food – is saturated with it. But I never would have seen it back then; I thought I was just “being honest.” Telling you everything, down to the dirty details, meant that I was living honestly and admitting what drugs/food had reduced me to.

But the lurking ego that fueled my tirades was drunk of itself. And I didn’t get that honesty needs to be coupled with humility to truly be “honest.” I don’t have to aire my dirty laundry to be honest. All I have to do is own who I am, understand how my body responds to chemicals and ed behaviors, and drop all the lies.

When I don’t spend time juggling the lies it doesn’t mean that I new get to pick up the sordid details and juggle those for everyone to gawk at. I am who I am, my past has influenced who I am, but I am no better or worse than anyone else. I don’t deny what I’ve done and in the right moments divulge information that may help another, but I don’t push it on everyone I meet.

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