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*Currently listening to: Michael Franti & Spearhead – Hey Hey Hey*

I have this tendency to write with a specific “flavor of the week” song on repeat (I try headphones so my partner doesn’t feel like he’s being sound-waterboarded lolz.)

Thought I’d start noting them in the case that you have interest in listening to my beats – or relate to the music.

This song’s got me in one of those evening shines.

“You gotta live for the one that you love you know
You gotta love for the life that you live you know”

Oh Michael Franti, you’re a babe. Going to see him June 1st at Red Rocks, which is the most magical music pavilion in all the USA land.

Anyway, I digress.

Last week, NEDA published a letter I wrote to kick off Eating Recovery Center’s #MyRecoveryLetter campaign for Eating Recovery Day. (More details on the campaign here.)

Sometimes, I think one of the only reasons I’ve remained so dedicated to writing is the accountability it forces me to maintain.

I’ve mentioned in a couple social media posts recently that I’m going through one of my lil “bouts” of exercise addiction/bulimia.

I’m not mad about it. Not profound either. It just is.

After 10 years of dealing with this shit, you kinda get matter-of-fact about the whole thing.

And frankly, I truly believe that the more power you give these “lapses,” the longer they stick.

So, I refuse to give this one the power I could.

Truth is: the biggest bullshit we tell ourselves about recovery is that we don’t “miss” our eating disorders.

We do.

Anything you put that much time and effort into – you miss.

Frankly, I love my eating disorder. Of course we do.

It kinda becomes the thing you “know” what to expect. Like a love affair with a predictable ending. But, you keep going back.

And frankly, I’m 4 years into recovery road – and I still love the adrenaline rush of losing weight.

I akin it to heroin. My boyfriend doesn’t know what to say when I do.

But, at the end of the day, I love it because it represents a symbol of some other shit I’m going through.

I love it because people worry.

I love it because I feel powerful.

I love it because I enjoy clothes more. I enjoy putting my hands on my hips.

I enjoy being less full than full.

Relapse is a deranged mother effer.

It’s conditioned beliefs that I now am aware of – and still sometimes choose to indulge in.

Doesn’t make it right or wrong – just is.

I posted a question on my Instagram last night “What’s the biggest lie you tell yourself when you’re in eating disorder brain?”

If you read this blog, I beg you to read these responses.

They’re so fucking relatable.

Duh, of course they are.

We all typically come from the same culture that forces this type of mentality onto us.

And if ever I need a way to remember that my ED thoughts/beliefs are, in fact, not unique: it’s posting questions to y’all and watching your perspectives roll in and remind me that I’m not any different and I’m kidding myself if I truly think “I have to work out to eat,” or “be beautiful” or worthy of a successful, career-driven life.

Thank you for your comments here, and on IG. Relate to each other. Relate to me. Damn, it’s the only way we ever move on – choosing what to read, how to think, when to question – and how to think about all of it afterwards.

Ultimately, I truly believe we have to connect with each other as women, as people – not compare.

Sitting here tonight in a restaurant in the pouring rain, mad gobbling sushi – with my laptop open, my partner at frisbee (yes, in the rain. What a loon.)

I’m thankful I have this community – and that I ever started writing. My sickness is not original or unique. Our eating disorders are so often conditioned by a culture we had no say in – a world we were born into. And a lot of us are women who have been pushed around, kneed into boxes, forced to dress how culture tells us to “succeed” in careers or online dating or whatever the hell. And brainwashed into thin idealism because a few old fashionistas set the standard.

We’re tired. I am tired.

And it’s our choice –  at the end of the day – to fight like hell to both nurture this culture (because it’s ours and all we have) – and fight it as ever diligently as we can.

Relating to each other – and finding a different solution, maintaining compassion.

The world doesn’t revolve around your pain, it doesn’t revolve around anyone. But, man how we can relate and move forward through it.

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I Hid My Eating Disorder For 8 Years - YouTube

This morning, a lil mini-documentary about my eating disorder, and recovery aired on Barcroft TV, and what a unique moment in life.

There’s always something to note (like LOLZ on all the “looking into the distance” shots or HEY check out some of the laughable YouTube comments), but I’ll keep it simple.

A reminder today that:

Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes. My story is common because I am a white, small, cisgender female who grew up engulfed by “diet and beauty” culture, and the insecurity and expectation that it breeds. That is not to be ignored, but there are millions out there who do not have the same background. Men, women, ethnicities, nationalities, class. I am not the sole representation of what an eating disorder looks like, and will never pretend that I could be or am.

You will never be “sick enough.” You deserve help, no matter your circumstances, religion, shame, or weight.

I had a strong support system when I went to treatment. Most don’t (or they do) and it still means that sometimes they go back to rehab a few times before they get their shit straight. I am still working on what that means in my own life.

Recovery is ever-changing, ever-evolving. That’s why it’s flexible.

It is okay to live with an eating disorder. Recovery is accepting its presence in your life, not ignoring it as “fixed.”

Thank you to my best friend Kim Dyer for being in this, and Kristina Doelling for watching it from her apt in Brooklyn. Thank you to my parents Joanna Byers Hall for putting themselves out there, and being vulnerable to millions as parents of someone with an eating disorder. Thank you to The Renfrew Center for inclusion in the documentary, and taking time out of their lives to participate. Thank you to the camera crew and the producer for not making this salacious. Thank you Bradley’s parents for raising a beautiful child. His life has been the inspiration for so much of my recovery. Shout out to my partner for helping me get through that day, and waking up at 6am.

I am feeling many things, as one does when they see their sniffling face on film. Mostly, I am grateful for the life I have led – in all its ups and downs and side doors and mirrors.

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My partner and I have been arguing lately.

We’re at that point in a relationship where “quirky” personality traits have lost their lusty splendor, and humanized into regular, every day irritations that take a sad movie or tragic news event to make you look at that person again and think “Oh, I do love them.”

I was clearing the table after dinner last night.

In my view (which is, of course, the only one), I’d been helpful. The loving, easygoing, “sure, I’ll eat a hamburger even though you didn’t ask me if I wanted a hamburger and just made it anyway you-controlling-fuck” girlfriend.

I was grated, but I hadn’t said so.

Pick your battles, I’m told.

You’re not cooking, I reminded myself.

But, every time I heard the meat sizzle, I reverted:

Who the hell doesn’t get a thumbs up on a meal?

“Shit, did you clean this pan with soap?” I hear from the far side of the kitchen.

The aforementioned double monologue in mind, I gripped down on the white plates that now peculiarly resembled killer frisbees:

“Yes.”

An exasperated sigh. “Damn, okay. This one can’t be cleaned with soap or it ruins the bottom.”

He stared at it like a child grieving ice cream that just fell out of the cone.

I lost it in that beautiful way people sometimes do. Slowly, subtly, and then with a rip-roaring bang.

It’s always easy to consider ourselves even-tempered, however unlikely that ends up being.

One soap washing – and it’s ruined? I asked, with biting sarcasm. Better buy a better pan next time.

He ignored me, purposefully, which I gathered by his effort to look over me instead of at me as he walked past with the soap-murdered skillet.

I acted accordingly: choosing to hurtle the two plates into the sink, and allow them to clank together – leave a thoughtful rattling in their ear-piercing splendor.

He whipped around from his hunchback, introspective stance:

“You don’t have to be so Defensive Diana, Jesus. I’m just informing you.”

This is one of those “cute” things we did months ago – nicknaming our more difficult personality traits to the tune of “Defensive Diana” (me) “Controlling Chad” (him) “Insecure Irene” (me) and “Tone-deaf Todd” (him)

In my awe-struck lust, little did I realize how irritating it’d be to have character flaws thrown back in my face in the form of alliterations.

It’s one thing after the other, I quipped. Now it’s the pans. Earlier it was the knife for the cheese board.

He interrupted. No. I just had a proper cheese knife and thought you’d find it easier to cut through hard cheddar.

He emphasized the word ‘hard.’

I lowered my eyes. And the lights, I said. I don’t turn on your bloody lights correctly.

Never said that, he said. But, I don’t understand why you turn them on FULL BLAST when I have the energy saver that dims them.

Because I don’t know what a fucking energy saver light socket is, I said. And I can’t figure out how which button is which. So there. I’m just a dumb, energy-consuming consumer of America YET AGAIN. Please, oh PLEASE, teach me more. Do I compost correctly? Do I recycle the wrong plastics? Do I eat too many non-organic blueberries?

I stomped off to bed.

In retrospect, I overreacted.

He can be a control freak, but typically in a way where he truly believes he’s helping to make my life easier.

Oftentimes, it does.

Which infuriates me. 

I read recently, in a Tim Kreider book of essays, that if you want to enjoy the rewards of being loved, you also have to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known.

I double-highlighted that line in the book – in my self-affirming, pretentious “I love to identify well written truths” way, but I have since been plagued by the simple question it unsurfaced for me:

“What is it to be known exactly?”

And

What is my mortifying ordeal of “being known?”

Perhaps, my partner and I are at that bridge, wiggling our toes and cracking our fingers as we anticipate the trek.

“Being known” is a difficult point in a relationship for me, and not because it crosses the whole “to fart or not fart around you” boundary (I will never do this, I say.)

But because it requires me to R Kelly Bump n Grind with my over-boding, incessant feelings of inadequacy in life.

Here’s the cold truth when you spend 8 formative years on the eating disorder roller coaster:

It leaves you with very little skills.

At 16, I left cooking to my mom because granola was the only thing “okay to eat” anyway.

At 17, I gave up piano because it wouldn’t make me thin. I started to run, solely to burn calories.

At 18, I sat in classroom lectures counting calories in the side margins of spirals.

At 20, I drank wine on an empty stomach in my house instead of attending free, campus writing seminars.

At 22, I lived in Spain and didn’t learn Spanish because I ran on treadmills multiple times a day. (I did learn, however, how to say “Where is the gym?”)

At 23, I sat at my first desk at my first job – and researched “Eat This Not That” lists while I should have listened to digital marketing webinars.

Basically, I never stuck to anything – except my eating disorder.

I didn’t have hobbies. I didn’t knit or cook or play piano anymore.

I didn’t think about composting or follow politics or engage in environmental sustainability efforts.

I didn’t read most of the classic literature books for my English degree.

I wrote things, only to lose them when my laptop broke.

Mostly, they were research about food.

Sure, I did some things non-eating disorder related:

I obsessed over a lot of people; got in a shitload of revolving-door 6-week relationships, which meant I changed identities on the reg.

Sometimes, I was a long-haired pothead’s partner. Sometimes, I was a frat guy’s girlfriend. Once, I was a (very young) professor’s eye candy. Occasionally, even a 34-year old bartenders drink-of-choice special. “The Hall-ways to my Heart” (this is a true drink special, yes.)

I always had a story of some torrid affair – or risky romance – which I thought made me “interesting.”

Sneaky and unsuspecting, I knowingly and unknowingly played dough-eyed boys with my insecurities (“I bet I can fix her”), fed them whatever lines I thought they wanted to hear, and then wrecked havoc like a tornado blazing Oklahoma.

I cheated on every relationship I had from 16-25. 99% of the time with other exes, because giving up someone meant giving up the only form of identity I had.

Sometimes, I was in two unsuspecting relationships. One time, I was in three.

The point being:

I spent most of my formative years as a hot mess.

Who has time to learn how to recycle when you have six boyfriends, a bottle of wine, and a bout of purging to manage?

Why pick up Salsa dancing when I can run and watch calories on a machine?

How could I possibly spend hours writing a novel when I have hours to burn more body fat?

Mostly, why engage with something new and look like an idiot when I’m inevitably not perfect at it?

Those realities plagued me – and still continue now.

I don’t spend my life thinking about calories anymore.

And I don’t spend my life driving/running/biking/metro-subway-riding between 2-3 partners either.

But, I live now with this underlying, blatant inadequacy.

You wanna know how to shove your finger down your throat? Sure, I got plenty of methods for that.

Wanna know which foods have more sugar in them than others? How many calories are in a bag of Cheez-Its?

But, outside of honing manipulation skills, dodging exes at parties, and relaying countless stories of my torrid love affairs around the world  –

I don’t have a whole lot of useful skills to share.

It’s a painful reality, and I’m being hard on myself here, but there’s truth to it.

My last few relationships have been with people who are full of skills – and incredibly knowledgeable about subjects most of us don’t spend more than 10 minutes researching. I look for it. I crave it.

Teach me, I scream internally. I want to know how to grow my own food.

I want to learn how to compost sufficiently.

I need to know what a Roth IRA is.

Teach me how to outfit a Sprinter van for living.

And which pans shouldn’t be cleaned with soap.

I recognize that basic skills are often lost on me – and none more than the kitchen.

A couple years ago, I googled “how to use a skin peeler” because I was too intimidated to skin a potato without looking for direction.

“You cut so slow,” my roommate has laughed.

Unknowingly to her, it stings.

I cut food slow because I didn’t cook. I ate out – or ate nothing – and now I tiptoe the line of “trying new things.” Cooking fills me with anxiety – and not so much anymore because of calories or carbs, but because I have developed very little confidence in my ability to not burn, char, or roast things.

Last week, I melted my partner’s cutting board on the stove.

I still haven’t told him.

What translates from all this insecurity is shame – which manifests in defensiveness, anger, and posturing.

I feel shame that I am a 28-year old woman who has no “insider info” on tasks like cooking, cleaning or hell, the history of Western Europe.

How do you KNOW all these things? I want to ask every person I spend significant time with.

HOW DO PEOPLE HAVE SO MANY SKILLS AND FACTS?

You have so much more than you know, my best friend said today as I summarized this post.

She proceeded to list my “charming” qualities.

Tell those to my exes, I laughed. I bet they’d have a different story.

You’re a hot mess, of course, she said. But, you have more balls than anyone I know. More courage. More relatability.

You’re fucking honest.

We both snorted at that.

Tell that to the dude I cheated on with his co-worker, I said.

She laughed. I’m not touching your relationship history. That is … not your finest attribute.

We agreed, as we do. My relationship tales are always up for a snicker.

But, the fact remains.

I spoke with a coworker recently, who’s in recovery for alcoholism.

Ever feel like you’re behind the times? I asked, as we walked to the gym.

They say the day you engage with your addiction, you become stunted in all areas, he replied.

I have no skills, I said – reflecting after I wrote a majority of this post. It’s like I bumble through the world with no useful knowledge or fact.

He smiled. Know what you mean. I spent a majority of my teenage and early 20s drinking, so I don’t really have a whole lot of other memories.

Right? I said. It’s like I know nothing about anything. I’m still 16 trying to learn how to cook, or be a citizen, or a girlfriend, or fucking how to manage finances.

Totally, he agreed. But, you can’t change what happened.

We parted then, as I headed into the gym.

Climbed onto a rusty, aging treadmill.

Did what I know.

Inserted my weight, my incline, my speed.

Flipped my E-book on, to the essays that someone else is writing – and I’m not.

Ran effortlessly, with a persistent minor pain in my right knee that reminds me I once had stress fractures.

Hopped off after a couple miles. Smiled at the woman next to me.

Changed clothes, examined myself briefly in the mirror.

Walked out, and went to a sushi place I frequent on the days I’d rather write than socialize or engage.

I finished this post, along with two sushi rolls – and edamame.

I googled “which plastics can you recycle?”

Set up a date to check out someone’s outfitted Sprinter Van.

Confirmed a podcast interview for Thursday.

Tomorrow, maybe I’ll take up knitting.

Tomorrow, maybe I’ll buy an e-book on Mayan history.

Tomorrow, maybe I’ll cook that thai peanut rice chicken-garlic-something dish I keep bookmarking, but am too scared to try.

It’s easy to be a pawn to our eating disorder.

It’s sad to know that maybe we have some years to catch up on.

But, we can’t change reality.

This is the only life you have. You don’t have a fucking redo.

So, we can either wallow in our choices, or try to change the monologue.

I get mad at my partner because I’m jealous that he wasn’t plagued by the same shit I was.

I am defensive by nature, because I hate that I wasted 8 years on anorexia and the beauty concept of being thin.

I hate that I fell for it. The whole thing.

Fell for the media and the magazines and the insecurity of being human.

I hate that being beautiful meant more than being informed – or compassionate – or a citizen on a planet that’s not mine.

I hate that I spent formative years, young years, being sad. And being lost in a way that wasn’t building anything.

Be lost so long as it gets you from point A to point B.

This world isn’t yours. It’s no ones. It’s a world we inhabit for a second, and then leave for others.

Learn all we can, right?

Learn every bloody thing we can.

Soak up the god damn world that we know – because it’s the only world we’ll ever know (even if you believe in reincarnation).

We die – and we live ripples.

Have your ripples touch other ripples.

Finishing my sushi, going to walk back to my partner:

We may make it for the long-haul, we may not.

I don’t pretend to predict my life anymore.

But, I’ll hug him tonight.

And then maybe, I’ll google “how to clean your cast iron skillet without soap”

Fixing a lightbulb – which I have no idea how to do
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Alright, first thing’s first:

Smirk at my headline.

IT’S FUNNY.

And took me all day to think of. (Partner currently shaking his head; don’t think he found it as amusing as I did when I snorted into the coffee.)

Anywho, shifting away from PornHub vibes, (gotta watch what I write otherwise pervs on the internet end up finding my blog from “unshaven fetish” google searches)…

Let’s dive in.

We all do it – this lusting over anorexia – so let’s call a spade a spade.

Pondering this post from a plane (God bless the lady next to me: likely reading over my shoulder thinking ‘’what the hell is this woman writing about?”) – and I’m on my way back from a wedding. My dead best friend’s sisters wedding, to be candid – so maybe I’m not much in the mood for bullshitting, and the words pour.

Who knows. It’s beside the point, but I want you to know where I’m coming from so you’re not all like ”whatta asshole.”

Truth is: I’m about to make you uncomfortable… because I’m making myself uncomfortable.

However, four years into this recovery business, I can assert with sincerity that being uncomfortable is half of the process – and in order to navigate this murky world – we have to let it exist.

So, face it with me. And if this post pushes your boundaries, sit with it. You’re making progress.

Last week, I caught myself doing it —

Reminiscing over anorexia like the 1976 class ring a football coach shows to his buds over a beer.

Ever feel like you relive it? Just a taste.

Yearn for it like you’re gonna shiver in your sleep – missing the lifestyle you created around it.

Human beings, eh? We’re destructive mother f*ers. And none more destructive than those of us who develop eating disorders.

I sat in my parents house last weekend, a film crew in my childhood living room.

Spent a whole day reliving that faction of my life.

My dream.

Getting paid to divulge all the horrible shit I did to myself, starting at 15.

When was the first time you threw up?

OH! I was 16… had a chemistry test… was feeling sick, and didn’t want to disrupt my 4.0 average (cause ya know #perfectionist LOLZ), so I went and shoved my fingers down my throat. Wasn’t eating disorder related at all, but it was GLORIOUS. So easy, too. They never tell you that. It’s easy … until it’s not.

… Alright, I didn’t say it THAT casually. (or basic? I don’t really know what I was going for there.)

But, inside, I could feel my emotions percolating. My fingers stating to jump. Possibly a twitch in my eye.

It’s like taking that first sip of alcohol after a hard day. Ahhhh, freedom to divulge.

When did you start to have an unhealthy relationship with exercise?

OH! Where do I start?! Dead-best-friend-and-I-used-running-as-coping? High-school-athletics? Calorie-counting-turned-calorie-purging-through-treadmill? There’s so much I could choose here! I’ve pretty much used it as a calorie purger and self-validation for ohhhh, 10 years?

What nobody wants to just bloody admit about eating disorders – is that half the battle of moving past one – is being self aware enough to not glorify it.

It’s retraining your brain to not believe that it somehow is one of the most interesting things about you.

I continue to learn this.

Spent a whole day with a documentary crew.

Dived in and out of those “stories.” The time I fell off a treadmill drunk.

The lies I told to get to the gym again.

The restless nights with leg cramps and shin splints and fractures.

Feeling bones in the mirror.

There I go again. Reliving.

Like a broken record.

I missed it.

As I do still, sometimes.

I miss the anorexia lifestyle. Not the binges or the purging (hated that shit).

But, I miss the validation at times. I tell the stories sometimes, absentmindedly, out of a need to self-validate.

Or, perhaps, as a way to validate myself through others? As though the “muggles” think some girl who starved herself is a FASCINATING (and OH SO ORIGINAL) story.

Who knows, really?

All I do know is that it’s like a drug to the brain.

I imagine if you stuck some wires to my brain, you’d see parts of it light up when I talk about the glory days.

They’re easy to get wrapped up in – memories.

We put so much damn reality into them when we were living that way; so much pride, confidence, and false sense of security into the lifestyle.

Back then, it was:

The less I eat = the better I feel about myself

And I think, in turn, we let that same mentality creep in to recovery when we’re not paying attention.

Subtle, of course, but ever-present.

It was there this past weekend: like a buzz when I looked at my best friend in the eye as I told a camera man about high school – and how I called her once, breaking down – having just yakked in a toilet.

It was there: a sense of confidence, glancing at my partner as I showed the camera my food journals and exercise logs.

Perhaps, I still think that he will love me more because I was once “that strong and disciplined.”

Perhaps, I think “I barely work out these days – but I need you to know that there was once a woman in me THAT. WORKED. OUT. EVERY. DAY. AND. WAS. THE. BEST…. do you like me?”

I’m like a dog with his tongue out, whimpering for validation.

It all came to a head though, as it does in my little world of flexible recovery.

There I am, 3:30pm – after seven hours of filming – and my parents take the stand.

That was dramatic. They didn’t take a stand. They just sat in the living room with a big ole’ light in their face and a rolling camera.

I didn’t consider them.

How selfish I can be – to still believe my eating disorder affected only me. Like it didn’t disrupt, disable, and destroy relationships around me.

I often don’t take the consideration of what they went through – both while I was struggling, and now at this point. Years later. Blabbin’ about all this on a blog to anyone who cares to read.

It was sobering, to say the least.

Like a good buzz when it fades into fatigue, and you’re like ‘’wait why am I still at this party – I wanna go home AND NETFLIX IN MY BED.”

Sat on the couch, out of camera shot, and listened to them talk to a stranger. How they felt as parents. When they knew. What it’s like now.

Anger. Confusion. Hurt. Love. Pity. Guilt.

The buzzwords.

Witnessed it all pour out of their brightly lit camera pores.

I sat there – and noticed the anticlimactic shift in emotion.

It wasn’t doing it for me.

Pat my veins.

Another hit? Heat up the spoon.

“As parents, we felt guilty that we missed it for so long.”

WAIT. WHAT. NO.

IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT, DAD.

GO BACK TO TALKING ABOUT HOW MANIPULATIVE AND GREAT I WAS AT HIDING IT.

TELL THIS CAMERA DUDE ABOUT MY BONES. THE RUNNING.

“We didn’t always know what to do – we still don’t.”

NOOOO, STOP. NU UH.

“We’re a close family. We still learn together.”

Like a helium balloon spewing out air, I sat there.

“It’s hard not to feel the guilt.”

Shit gets real.

Shit always gets real.

Interview ended.

Looked at my mom. She half-grinned, somber in her face.

My dad glanced, thumbs up or down he motioned.

Thumbs up, I smiled.

Lessons we learn in recovery – they are vast and many… or as many as we want them to be.

As many as we’re willing to face.

It’s easy to revel in the “good” of anorexia.

There’s something to be said about the lifestyle.

Fuck, you’re acing the American beauty standard when you do.

You have this great (albeit false) sense of security and confidence. And that confidence that comes from our brains telling us “not eating = success” is a drug in itself.

We forget – lemme speak for myself – I forget to invest in the whole reality.

Which is that anorexia, or whatever it is that is your ED sickness, is always nothing more than a few minutes of bliss per day – followed by a lifetime of battle.

A lifetime of fighting the ED mentality, and the severe beliefs in how we think about food. Battles against “eat this or that” and the tough evolution of “how the fuck to have healthy relationships following a pattern of manipulation.”

It’s not all about the physical – these eating disorders. I say that shit all the time.

It’s the beliefs. It’s the boxes you create, and live by.

It’s the maniacal obsessions over calories and food and cardio machine purges.

Listening to my parents this weekend, I was faced with the whole truth again.

The big reality that my eating disorder is nothing more than a tool to keep me boxed into a cruel, but safe reality.

So, what do you do?

Fuck safety.

Hope is turning on the light in a dark ass tunnel that you’re not sure you’ll wade out of.

Let it shine.

Forgive – it’s all you’ll ever hear throughout recovery. And it’ll bug you. And gnaw at your calloused knuckles.

To forgive is never to forget. And it’s not a one-time move. Overtime, it just allows you to come full circle, so you can actually face your shit, hate yourself, forgive again, and wade through the murk.

The only battle truly worth a damn in this life is the one to live in the present, instead of being constantly consumed by the ED dialogue in your head.

Live a true, honest recovery – don’t just dream about it. You’ll wake up 10 years later, and all you’ll want are those 10 years back, so you could’ve done it differently.

Notice –

The way you talk about eating disorders or weight with your friends.

Delete –

Those fucking sick pics.

Find ­–

A  damn hobby. Search for one.

Because you don’t want to talk about this shit forever.

(Irony, coming from someone, like me, who does?)

Writing is the only expression I’ve ever been good at – naturally, at least.

So, if this is what is has turned into – I’m okay with that.

But, you don’t wanna talk about this stuff forever.

I don’t want to talk about my eating disorder forever.

I have a whole other world I continue to create, in spite of my xx amount of new weight.

Don’t get stuck telling the same story over and over. Otherwise, you’ll live it like it’s the only truth you have.

And most truths are interchangeable.

Let your truth be interchangeable, malleable, and free.

Give yourself experiences so raw,  uncomfortable, and unnatural that the whole idea of “truth” or what you believe to be true – is stripped from you in an instant.

Our eating disorders become our base of every story sometimes.

And we have to be careful not to make them our leading lady.

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For the sake of the headline, I left out the ‘read AND listen to‘ because it seemed too long. (It’s the public relations career in me.) So, to clarify, I thought it might be handy if I put a little list together of resources I’ve seen circling around the web this week, speaking to eating disorders and recovery.

I asked some of you who follow my Instagram to provide suggestions as well, so below is a group of responses. Please feel free to comment your own pieces as well!

PODCAST

The Body Love Society: This is a bit of a plug for myself (I’m nothing if not transparent, eh?) but the founders of this rad speaker series reached out and I was lucky enough to be included in the NEVER DIET AGAIN: How to get off the diet rollercoaster, find balance and live a healthy life you actually enjoy.

Get useful advice from 22 of the top body image and anti-diet wellness experts on how to change your relationship with food, how you feel about your body and how to live a life full of joy and happiness that lets you no longer need to wait on the weight. It’s free. Click on the link I provided and sign up for mine (or others!)

Food Psych Podcast: Christy Harrison’s weekly podcast dedicated to helping you make peace with food and your body.

Dearest Oprah: Talli is the host, and she and I just recorded an interview on eating disorders and flexible recovery. Easy to engage with and relate to, I felt like I was fast friends with this lady immediately. Easiest interview I’ve done. Listen to her story – she’s got a good one.

NEWS

$3 Million Awarded for Binge Eating Research Study in Colorado: This one hits home as it’s in Colorado! After receiving a $3M grant through the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in December 2017, EDCare Denver and University of Colorado Denver’s Brain Research Program will begin collaborating on a five-year research study on binge eating.

Running In Silence: For Coaches – How to Help Athletes with Eating Disorders with Paula Quatromoni

BBC: Why Misconceptions of Eating Disorders Can Be Damaging

Salon: How Eating Disorders Became a White Women Problem

HuffPost: Anorexia and Bulimia Are Black Women’s Diseases, Too

CafeMom: Fat-Shaming is the Norm in Our Kids Favorite Shows

BOOKS

Hunger by Roxane Gay
*At its simplest, it’s a memoir about being fat — Gay’s preferred term — in a hostile, fat-phobic world. At its most symphonic, it’s an intellectually rigorous and deeply moving exploration of the ways in which trauma, stories, desire, language and metaphor shape our experiences and construct our reality.

PERSONAL NARRATIVES // BLOGS // ARTICLES

I’m Probably Overthinking This: It’s NEDA Awareness Week So I’m Writing A Thing
^Loved this.

A Therapist Recovered : Heavy post on sexual assault and the correlation to eating disorders. Good read.

Come On, Skinny Love: Loved this. Eloquently takes you through a break up that resulted in an eating disorder – and the way our culture praises weight loss, and how that can fuel an eating disorder.

Cookie Crumbs and Carrot Tops Secretly Still 13: Dealing With Moments of Insecurity

SheKnows.com: Yes, I Had an Eating Disorder, & No, I Won’t Show You Before and After Photos
*I wrote this.

Jess Lauren: Facebook post (full disclosure – I don’t know this person, but someone shared her post with me and I liked it.)

AND NOW… a couple Insta/Facebook posts from Y’ALL!

It’s easy to preach body acceptance when I’m feeling confident. But I have days when it’s freaking hard. I have triggers just like everyone else… getting in a swimsuit, seeing a particularly unflattering photo of myself, etc. These experiences once had profound power over me. They had the power to ruin my day, to force me to stay in instead of going out into the world. They’ve even had the power to lure me into considering returning to a life of starvation, substance abuse and misery—a life of completely destroying my body in the name of tiny arms + visible hipbones. But when I start to consider turning around and running back, I think of who I really was back then. 

When I was sick, I got a lot of attention. People told me habitually how thin I was, & I was completely addicted to the rush I got when I heard it. Comments on my photos became my gold star for the day. And all that attention was fun for a while, but unsurprisingly it turned dark quickly. I became intensely obsessed with how I looked, taking constant pictures of myself to make sure I looked thin enough. I NEVER. SHUT. UP. about calories + skipping meals and when my friends tried to talk to me I couldn’t focus or listen because I couldn’t think about anything other than being thin. As time passed, what once was enough suddenly wasn’t anymore. I needed to be skinnier & skinnier, I needed people to be worried about my size and no longer just complimentary. I was vain, I was self-obsessed, I was selfish. I was impossible to be around. I was miserable. 

My body looks different than it used to. But boy, so does my life. And the girl I see in the mirror now is someone I like a whole lot more. She is open + loving. She laughs without reservation and brings laughter into the lives of others. She no longer fears food but, instead, is thankful for the energy food gives her so that she can love others boldly. She is considerate and generous. She is a true friend because, unlike before, she has the ability to listen when others speak… the ability to care about something other than herself. She no longer hides, she steps out into the sunshine. She finally traded “skinny” for “free”. – MessyKitchGirl

This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. This past Sunday, February 25th, also happened to be the day I celebrated three years free from eating disordered behaviors.
Three years ago, I walked through the doors of a residential treatment center for the last time. I was defeated, scared, and ashamed. I did not trust myself and I did not think I would ever get better. On Sunday, I celebrated three years of no purging, the eating disordered behavior that I struggled with most. Three years of actively choosing life over self-destruction, restriction, and isolation.
I no longer exist on a diet of “I’m sorry”, “I can’t”, or “I’m too scared”. I do not apologize for existing, for taking up space. I am learning to be comfortable with the needing, the wanting, and the go-getting that comes with the life I have worked tirelessly for. When I say “Yes” now, I mean “Yes”. I am learning to stand by my “No” and get reassurance from those I trust when I feel guilty for not being able to do everything and make everyone happy. I start conversations about advertisements that seem to perpetuate the same standards that fueled the eating disorder that practically killed me. If I wake up one day and I don’t feel confident, I don’t lay in bed, or go on a run, or starve or purge myself to confidence. I embrace it. I look in the mirror and tell myself “I don’t feel that confident today but it’s ok because with my bigger body comes a much bigger life”.
I know for certain that my weight does not equate to my value as a human being. I will continue to be an active voice, offering a different perspective for those who want to perpetuate diet culture. I will continue to let them know that although they may want to share, I actually do not want to hear about or talk about their diet. We’ve been culturally conditioned to believe that our appearance and our bodies are the most valuable things about us. They aren’t. Our passions are. Our relationships are. The way that we treat others is. A number on a scale will never define the incredible person that you are. 
I work everyday to be vulnerable and a vigorously honest person. I have learned to speak my truth while allowing myself to be fully seen. I choose to keep being open and willing. I breathe into the tears instead of holding my breath. I no longer stifle my laughter because I feel unworthy of happiness. Rather than minimizing or ignoring my what my heart says, I choose to recognize my needs. I nourish my body and in turn, I nourish my soul. I don’t engage in diet culture or connect with another person over their body, or someone else’s body. I compliment people on their intelligence, wit, or humor, and not on the size of their thigh-gap. I buy clothes that fit my body, regardless of the size. When I find myself struggling with self-acceptance, I apologize to myself. I tell myself I am sorry for not knowing what I know now. I have taken back my body. It was not made for the glorification of somebody else. I have learned that I cannot hate myself into loving myself. For a long time I stubbornly refused to acknowledge that I had any good qualities. I now can own that I am someone who possess courage, resiliency, humor, and compassion. I strive to fully embody my strengths and apply them harmoniously to heal emotional wounds that keep me from fully participating in my life. I understand that eating and keeping my food is, at its deepest level, a fundamental act of love and affirmation that I am deserving of living a life filled with abundance.
To those of you who are unsure if recovery is worth it. I promise you, it truly is. I used to think it was an unattainable goal for me. I wholeheartedly feel that everyone can get better. You have to choose it. Not just once, not just a few times. You have to choose recovery everyday. You have to choose love over fear, acceptance over resistance. – Madison JM
Love this gal @BetteringBecca

Today is the start of National Eating Disorder Awareness week. Last year, I shared my story publicly for the first time, so I thought it would be easy to post about my journey with anorexia today, but it is not. And yet, that’s why I feel I need to share it. There is still so much stigma and shame attached to eating disorders, and I want to be part of the change. 

I have suffered from Anorexia since I was 14 years old. My eating disorder was not a choice that I made, I would have never chosen this path for myself. But it did become my reality, it became my entire world. It started slowly, and then before I knew what had happened- it took over my entire life. By my junior year of high school, I was completely consumed by thoughts of food, weight and exercise. No amount of weight that I lost was ever enough, I didn’t see what other people saw. I thought people were lying when they said I looked sick, I thought my parents were overreacting when they tried to voice their concerns- my anorexia had morphed my view of myself and of everyone around me. I was no longer the goofy, caring Lauren that I had always been, I no longer had the energy to laugh, to be engaged in conversations, or to just be myself. I became depressed and so I isolated myself as much as I could. I couldn’t fathom my life being anything else, I was terrified of change and terrified of food.

By some miracle I graduated high school and thought I could go to college and everything would be fine. 

But my illness was there, every day, slowly killing me. My wonderful parents came to the painful realization that I needed more help, so they sent me to an inpatient treatment center for eating disorders in October of that year. I learned so much in treatment, I learned the deeper purpose of my eating disorder (because it’s NOT about the food, the food and weight are just physical symptoms of an eating disorder) and I began to learn to eat again. I made friendships with people who understood me and who challenged me. Treatment saved my life. 

But that is not where recovery ends, eating disorders are not something that can be “fixed” in a matter of months. My eating disorder had been a significant part of my life for 5 years, it was going to take time and the fight of my life to overcome it. In the 3 years since I left treatment, I have relapsed, I have slipped, I have wanted to give up, I have prayed more prayers through tears and with a broken spirit than ever before. But I have also laughed, and built friendships and graduated from the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, I have grown closer to my Heavenly Father than I thought possible, I have lived my life. 

I still have to choose recovery every single day, I have to go to battle every time I sit down to a meal, but I have something now that I didn’t think was possible 4 years ago- I have hope. 

I am sharing my story with you all today because at least 30 million people in the U.S. are suffering from an eating disorder, and if you are one of them, I want you to know that there is hope. Recovery is real. And you deserve to live. And even if you don’t have an eating disorder, I guarantee that someone in your life does. 

Please reach out, educate yourself. Feel free to message me or go to  https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org – Lauren Downs

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So, your friend has an eating disorder. 

Or, at least, you think she/he does.

You don’t know because it’s not like they’re telling you. I don’t know anyone that just goes and is like “I’m gonna vom now for the x time today. Will you hold my coffee?”

You just sense it.

I say I have eating disorder telepathy. I can watch someone from a mile away, and have this intuitive knowledge if they struggle.

Maybe, that’s the majority of the country and I’m giving myself too much credit.

But, it’s the way I watch their discomfort unfold around food. The way their eyes narrow; breathing appears tighter.

It’s the way they avoid looking at food – or talk to someone a mile a minute to escape having to actually eat.

It’s the slight comments “Oh! I ate before I came.” “I’m not hungry – I’m on a diet.” “I can’t eat that!”

Nobody is the same, so I’m generalizing here.

But, I just … I know.

Possibly ’cause I lived it. Possibly cause someone’s discomfort automatically makes me uncomfortable (It’s the empath in me, I’ll say – as I pat myself on the back for being such a “giver.” lolz)

Anyway, so you think your friend has one?

Now, what the hell do you do?

Do you coddle? Do you ignore it (probably most of us do ’cause it’s uncomfortable otherwise. AND WE HATE DISCOMFORT.)

I was on a UVA law panel on eating disorders last weekend when someone raised their hand. (P.S. shout out to Dr. Colleen Reichmann below and Prosperity Treatment Center)

“What is your advice if you think your friend has an eating disorder?”

All three of us on the panel froze.

The other two looked at me. (I’d generally been the one to answer the “human” aspects of eating disorder stuff.)

“Oh shit,” I laughed – as the room snorted.

“Man, this question is hard,” I admitted. “There’s no one answer.”

How can there be? Our friendships and relationships all look different.

The way people respond to accusations or love or support varies.

I spoke with my best friend, Kim (ya know – that best friend. The one you have since childhood.)

Recently, I interviewed her about her experience being the best friend of someone with an eating disorder. Below is an email interview, along with four tips to walk away with during this NEDA eating disorder week.

Kim and I today
  • As kids, how would you describe our friendship and was it affected by my relationship with food?

You as a child are fairly similar to how you are as an adult. You’ve always been a social butterfly with the biggest smile and loudest laugh. You know that cheesy song by Kesha, “now the party don’t start till I walk in”? That’s you. Your eating disorder never changed that. In contrast, I was more introverted and shy. Now, our friendship has grown into something more relaxed and I do think that is because you allowed us to be so close during your recovery process.

As kids, our friend group still jokes about how you wouldn’t let us to eat the meat in the Chili’s Skillet Queso whenever we would eat out. (That was the cool thing to do back then.) We’d order the Queso to split, and you’d literally throw a fit if any of us dared to eat the meat in the Queso- please keep in mind you did not actually want to eat the meat, you just didn’t want any of us to have it. It was definitely a control thing looking back, and while we laugh about it now, none of us ever thought twice about what it might actually mean. Truthfully, I doubt you did either.

Tip #1: Eating disorders do not look a certain way. They can have similar behaviors, but different ways of manifesting and growing. It’s not your job to know that. No point looking back wondering “how did I miss that?” You don’t know an eating disorder till you “know” it. 
  • When did you begin to notice my eating patterns change?

You always food quirks (Linds refused to eat the ends off of French fries and instead had a pile of sad fry ends on her plate at lunch during middle school) but I knew that by beginning of high school your eating patterns were becoming unhealthy. I mean, you ate an entire tin of Cinnamon Altoids a day.

I have this vivid memory of you calling while I was at a Friday night football game, and when I snuck away to answer, I listened to you break down in tears, sobbing about how unhappy you were and how sick you felt. It was actually the first time we had openly discussed anything close to this and I was blown away. I knew that you were weird about food but I was so wrapped up in my own world that I never thought you could have had an eating disorder. From that point on though, I tried to be supportive but it was challenging since we no longer went to the same school and had different groups of friends.

  • Did you ever feel resentful that I had an eating disorder? (During/After)

I don’t think I’ve ever felt resentful toward you per say that would be incredibly unfair, but I do think there have been times – more so in recovery and when your blog was blowing up – that I have felt like your eating disorder took over our friendship.

When you were in rehab and immediately afterwards it was the forefront of all conversations – And that made sense. I was happy to be there and do whatever you needed. You don’t stay friends with someone for almost 25 years now and not see them as a member of your family.

However, it was hard sometimes to know how to manage conversations during recovery- were we talking about it TOO much? Was it bad to linger on it? Should I change the subject or would that upset you? I didn’t want to seem like I was dismissing your feelings or making you feel like you needed to just “get over it” already, but there were times where I felt like it was ALL we ever talked about. To me it was more in the vein of “I have nothing else to say, no more supportive and genuine comments on this topic that I haven’t already said. I don’t know what else I can say to be helpful or to make you feel better right now in this moment.”

It has been a learning curve as we navigate the recovery path together. I had no knowledge or education about eating disorders prior to this, so you taught me so much and in turn that helped me learn how best to respond to you whenever you are going through a rough patch.

TIP #2: If your friend has come to you willingly with their eating disorder, do not carry that load on your shoulders alone. You are not a counselor or a therapist. Support, love, and try to look at other options for help – ideally, with them. Openly communicate when you don’t have the words to say – or don’t know where to navigate the conversation.
  • Eating disorders are encompassing. At its worst, did my eating disorder change our friendship?

Your ED changed our friendship in that there were times beforehand where we would go months without talking. Now we can’t go three days without talking (hashtag codependent). Some of this I attribute to us finally being on our own, figuring out who we are, meeting new people and having new experiences. However, it also meant that we didn’t communicate on a regular basis and so I felt like it was easier for you to hide how bad things had gotten. I wasn’t there to witness you at you worst.

There were times after college, when you were living abroad that I knew it was getting really bad. You complained constantly about injuries from running, and whenever we would Skype I could see how thin you were getting.

I’ve always been the “mother” of our group, constantly wanting to nag and nurture. However, with Linds, it’s basically impossible to tell her to do anything, so all I could do was express my concerns and hope that she would want to change on her own. I knew that was the only way it could happen.

It was scary and frustrating and I definitely felt helpless.

  • People often say they feel guilty when they watch their friend go through an eating disorder. Did you ever feel guilty?

You and I are very alike in that we are both INCREDIBLY stubborn and hard headed. So for me, I think I inherently understood that there was only so much I could do for you. You can’t fix someone or change someone who isn’t ready and that was a hard lesson to learn.

I could either harp on you and, in turn, alienate you, or I could be there for you when you felt like talking and hope that you trusted me enough to come to me when you were ready. The guy who gave me my first tattoo told me “hindsight is 20/20” and that has always stuck with me. It’s SO easy to say now what I would’ve done differently but at the time I could only do what I thought was “best.”

  • What was a time you felt like you didn’t know what to do/say?

I remember I saw photos from back when you lived in Europe and my jaw DROPPED.  I can honestly say it was the most shocked I’ve ever been. I didn’t understand how it had gotten this bad. You brushed it off with comments about how you were running a lot and how you just weren’t eating as much in Europe (cue rant about Americans and their portion sizes) and honestly I was just too scared to pick a fight about it. I didn’t push it. If I had, would you have gotten help earlier? It’s hard to say but I doubt it. I knew there were others reaching out, telling you variations of the same thing I was, so I’m really not sure.

It’s a funny thing- people on the outside probably think it’s easy to call a loved one out. You talk every single day, how could you not have done anything? But as a young girl, it was incredibly hard.

Tip #3: If you choose to ask your friend about their eating behaviors – focus on the external rather than the physical. Eating disorders, in some form or fashion, thrive on the “physical” recognition of their manifestation. So, instead of “you look so this or that,” ask “I’ve noticed you’re going through something – you don’t seem happy. How can I support you? What can I do to let you know that I’m there for you?” 
  • What do you wish you might’ve done differently for you? I.E. Would you have taken more self-care in our friendship? Would you have considered your friendship needs more?

I think this goes back to the hindsight is 20/20 thing. Of course now I wish I would’ve asked you to get help sooner, knowing how amazing this entire process has been for you ultimately. I just think at the time I was confused about what was happening. It’s hard for me to place a lot of responsibility on my teenage self’s shoulders. I wanted to be a good friend but I was  younger and had no clue what to do.

Truly, between the stigma of an eating disorder in our society and how accepting our culture was of girls who don’t eat, I’m shocked that you and I communicated about it as much as we did. Unfortunately, it was completely normal for me to eat a bowl of cottage cheese for lunch and nothing else, then go work out or an hour in high school. It wasn’t just me, so many girls at my school were like this! And no one really talked about eating disorders back then, it just wasn’t a spoken issue. The eating disorder community has changed so much and there’s so much more awareness about it now. These stigmas and behaviors that are almost idealized in our culture needs to stop, because I would hate for young girls to think that not eating is acceptable.

  • What advice do you have for anyone who has a friend going through an eating disorder?

Encourage them to open up whenever they feel like it – but don’t kill yourself pushing them to talk. Let them know that you’re there when they want to talk and that you won’t freak out or judge. Check in in a way that lets them know you care and you aren’t just trying to police what they’re doing. Also, don’t be afraid to ask them how they would like you to handle the situation. Lindsey was really good about letting me know what she needed from me during recovery, but not everyone may be able to do that.

As with any relationship, I think open and honest communication is the safest bet. If they try to shut down or push you away, let them know that you love them and want to help them and that they don’t have to go through this alone… but don’t take their illness on as your own.

Your friends can’t read your mind, you have to help them out a little bit. But to someone with an eating disorder – you can’t expect your friends to always have the right words.

Once you communicate together, the support system you’ll have is incredibly important to your friendship.

Tip #4: If your friend is open to your help, ask “what is the best way to support you? Do you want someone to eat with at lunch? Do you want a code word if you’re overwhelmed? What is the best thing I can say if you’re having a moment and you don’t think you can get through it?” At UVA with the wonderful Dr. Colleen Reichmann
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For the sake of the headline, I left out the ‘read AND listen to‘ because it seemed too long. (It’s the public relations career in me.) So, to clarify, I thought it might be handy if I put a little list together of resources I’ve seen circling around the web this week, speaking to eating disorders and recovery.

I asked some of you who follow my Instagram to provide suggestions as well, so below is a group of responses. Please feel free to comment your own pieces as well!

PODCAST

The Body Love Society: This is a bit of a plug for myself (I’m nothing if not transparent, eh?) but the founders of this rad speaker series reached out and I was lucky enough to be included in the NEVER DIET AGAIN: How to get off the diet rollercoaster, find balance and live a healthy life you actually enjoy.

Get useful advice from 22 of the top body image and anti-diet wellness experts on how to change your relationship with food, how you feel about your body and how to live a life full of joy and happiness that lets you no longer need to wait on the weight. It’s free. Click on the link I provided and sign up for mine (or others!)

Food Psych Podcast: Christy Harrison’s weekly podcast dedicated to helping you make peace with food and your body.

Dearest Oprah: Talli is the host, and she and I just recorded an interview on eating disorders and flexible recovery. Easy to engage with and relate to, I felt like I was fast friends with this lady immediately. Easiest interview I’ve done. Listen to her story – she’s got a good one.

NEWS

$3 Million Awarded for Binge Eating Research Study in Colorado: This one hits home as it’s in Colorado! After receiving a $3M grant through the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in December 2017, EDCare Denver and University of Colorado Denver’s Brain Research Program will begin collaborating on a five-year research study on binge eating.

Running In Silence: For Coaches – How to Help Athletes with Eating Disorders with Paula Quatromoni

BBC: Why Misconceptions of Eating Disorders Can Be Damaging

Salon: How Eating Disorders Became a White Women Problem

HuffPost: Anorexia and Bulimia Are Black Women’s Diseases, Too

CafeMom: Fat-Shaming is the Norm in Our Kids Favorite Shows

BOOKS

Hunger by Roxane Gay
*At its simplest, it’s a memoir about being fat — Gay’s preferred term — in a hostile, fat-phobic world. At its most symphonic, it’s an intellectually rigorous and deeply moving exploration of the ways in which trauma, stories, desire, language and metaphor shape our experiences and construct our reality.

PERSONAL NARRATIVES // BLOGS // ARTICLES

I’m Probably Overthinking This: It’s NEDA Awareness Week So I’m Writing A Thing
^Loved this.

A Therapist Recovered : Heavy post on sexual assault and the correlation to eating disorders. Good read.

Come On, Skinny Love: Loved this. Eloquently takes you through a break up that resulted in an eating disorder – and the way our culture praises weight loss, and how that can fuel an eating disorder.

Cookie Crumbs and Carrot Tops Secretly Still 13: Dealing With Moments of Insecurity

SheKnows.com: Yes, I Had an Eating Disorder, & No, I Won’t Show You Before and After Photos
*I wrote this.

Jess Lauren: Facebook post (full disclosure – I don’t know this person, but someone shared her post with me and I liked it.)

AND NOW… a couple Insta/Facebook posts from Y’ALL!

It’s easy to preach body acceptance when I’m feeling confident. But I have days when it’s freaking hard. I have triggers just like everyone else… getting in a swimsuit, seeing a particularly unflattering photo of myself, etc. These experiences once had profound power over me. They had the power to ruin my day, to force me to stay in instead of going out into the world. They’ve even had the power to lure me into considering returning to a life of starvation, substance abuse and misery—a life of completely destroying my body in the name of tiny arms + visible hipbones. But when I start to consider turning around and running back, I think of who I really was back then. 

When I was sick, I got a lot of attention. People told me habitually how thin I was, & I was completely addicted to the rush I got when I heard it. Comments on my photos became my gold star for the day. And all that attention was fun for a while, but unsurprisingly it turned dark quickly. I became intensely obsessed with how I looked, taking constant pictures of myself to make sure I looked thin enough. I NEVER. SHUT. UP. about calories + skipping meals and when my friends tried to talk to me I couldn’t focus or listen because I couldn’t think about anything other than being thin. As time passed, what once was enough suddenly wasn’t anymore. I needed to be skinnier & skinnier, I needed people to be worried about my size and no longer just complimentary. I was vain, I was self-obsessed, I was selfish. I was impossible to be around. I was miserable. 

My body looks different than it used to. But boy, so does my life. And the girl I see in the mirror now is someone I like a whole lot more. She is open + loving. She laughs without reservation and brings laughter into the lives of others. She no longer fears food but, instead, is thankful for the energy food gives her so that she can love others boldly. She is considerate and generous. She is a true friend because, unlike before, she has the ability to listen when others speak… the ability to care about something other than herself. She no longer hides, she steps out into the sunshine. She finally traded “skinny” for “free”. – MessyKitchGirl

This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. This past Sunday, February 25th, also happened to be the day I celebrated three years free from eating disordered behaviors.
Three years ago, I walked through the doors of a residential treatment center for the last time. I was defeated, scared, and ashamed. I did not trust myself and I did not think I would ever get better. On Sunday, I celebrated three years of no purging, the eating disordered behavior that I struggled with most. Three years of actively choosing life over self-destruction, restriction, and isolation.
I no longer exist on a diet of “I’m sorry”, “I can’t”, or “I’m too scared”. I do not apologize for existing, for taking up space. I am learning to be comfortable with the needing, the wanting, and the go-getting that comes with the life I have worked tirelessly for. When I say “Yes” now, I mean “Yes”. I am learning to stand by my “No” and get reassurance from those I trust when I feel guilty for not being able to do everything and make everyone happy. I start conversations about advertisements that seem to perpetuate the same standards that fueled the eating disorder that practically killed me. If I wake up one day and I don’t feel confident, I don’t lay in bed, or go on a run, or starve or purge myself to confidence. I embrace it. I look in the mirror and tell myself “I don’t feel that confident today but it’s ok because with my bigger body comes a much bigger life”.
I know for certain that my weight does not equate to my value as a human being. I will continue to be an active voice, offering a different perspective for those who want to perpetuate diet culture. I will continue to let them know that although they may want to share, I actually do not want to hear about or talk about their diet. We’ve been culturally conditioned to believe that our appearance and our bodies are the most valuable things about us. They aren’t. Our passions are. Our relationships are. The way that we treat others is. A number on a scale will never define the incredible person that you are. 
I work everyday to be vulnerable and a vigorously honest person. I have learned to speak my truth while allowing myself to be fully seen. I choose to keep being open and willing. I breathe into the tears instead of holding my breath. I no longer stifle my laughter because I feel unworthy of happiness. Rather than minimizing or ignoring my what my heart says, I choose to recognize my needs. I nourish my body and in turn, I nourish my soul. I don’t engage in diet culture or connect with another person over their body, or someone else’s body. I compliment people on their intelligence, wit, or humor, and not on the size of their thigh-gap. I buy clothes that fit my body, regardless of the size. When I find myself struggling with self-acceptance, I apologize to myself. I tell myself I am sorry for not knowing what I know now. I have taken back my body. It was not made for the glorification of somebody else. I have learned that I cannot hate myself into loving myself. For a long time I stubbornly refused to acknowledge that I had any good qualities. I now can own that I am someone who possess courage, resiliency, humor, and compassion. I strive to fully embody my strengths and apply them harmoniously to heal emotional wounds that keep me from fully participating in my life. I understand that eating and keeping my food is, at its deepest level, a fundamental act of love and affirmation that I am deserving of living a life filled with abundance.
To those of you who are unsure if recovery is worth it. I promise you, it truly is. I used to think it was an unattainable goal for me. I wholeheartedly feel that everyone can get better. You have to choose it. Not just once, not just a few times. You have to choose recovery everyday. You have to choose love over fear, acceptance over resistance. – Madison JM
Love this gal @BetteringBecca

Today is the start of National Eating Disorder Awareness week. Last year, I shared my story publicly for the first time, so I thought it would be easy to post about my journey with anorexia today, but it is not. And yet, that’s why I feel I need to share it. There is still so much stigma and shame attached to eating disorders, and I want to be part of the change. 

I have suffered from Anorexia since I was 14 years old. My eating disorder was not a choice that I made, I would have never chosen this path for myself. But it did become my reality, it became my entire world. It started slowly, and then before I knew what had happened- it took over my entire life. By my junior year of high school, I was completely consumed by thoughts of food, weight and exercise. No amount of weight that I lost was ever enough, I didn’t see what other people saw. I thought people were lying when they said I looked sick, I thought my parents were overreacting when they tried to voice their concerns- my anorexia had morphed my view of myself and of everyone around me. I was no longer the goofy, caring Lauren that I had always been, I no longer had the energy to laugh, to be engaged in conversations, or to just be myself. I became depressed and so I isolated myself as much as I could. I couldn’t fathom my life being anything else, I was terrified of change and terrified of food.

By some miracle I graduated high school and thought I could go to college and everything would be fine. 

But my illness was there, every day, slowly killing me. My wonderful parents came to the painful realization that I needed more help, so they sent me to an inpatient treatment center for eating disorders in October of that year. I learned so much in treatment, I learned the deeper purpose of my eating disorder (because it’s NOT about the food, the food and weight are just physical symptoms of an eating disorder) and I began to learn to eat again. I made friendships with people who understood me and who challenged me. Treatment saved my life. 

But that is not where recovery ends, eating disorders are not something that can be “fixed” in a matter of months. My eating disorder had been a significant part of my life for 5 years, it was going to take time and the fight of my life to overcome it. In the 3 years since I left treatment, I have relapsed, I have slipped, I have wanted to give up, I have prayed more prayers through tears and with a broken spirit than ever before. But I have also laughed, and built friendships and graduated from the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, I have grown closer to my Heavenly Father than I thought possible, I have lived my life. 

I still have to choose recovery every single day, I have to go to battle every time I sit down to a meal, but I have something now that I didn’t think was possible 4 years ago- I have hope. 

I am sharing my story with you all today because at least 30 million people in the U.S. are suffering from an eating disorder, and if you are one of them, I want you to know that there is hope. Recovery is real. And you deserve to live. And even if you don’t have an eating disorder, I guarantee that someone in your life does. 

Please reach out, educate yourself. Feel free to message me or go to  https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org – Lauren Downs

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So, your friend has an eating disorder. 

Or, at least, you think she/he does.

You don’t know because it’s not like they’re telling you. I don’t know anyone that just goes and is like “I’m gonna vom now for the x time today. Will you hold my coffee?”

You just sense it.

I say I have eating disorder telepathy. I can watch someone from a mile away, and have this intuitive knowledge if they struggle.

Maybe, that’s the majority of the country and I’m giving myself too much credit.

But, it’s the way I watch their discomfort unfold around food. The way their eyes narrow; breathing appears tighter.

It’s the way they avoid looking at food – or talk to someone a mile a minute to escape having to actually eat.

It’s the slight comments “Oh! I ate before I came.” “I’m not hungry – I’m on a diet.” “I can’t eat that!”

Nobody is the same, so I’m generalizing here.

But, I just … I know.

Possibly ’cause I lived it. Possibly cause someone’s discomfort automatically makes me uncomfortable (It’s the empath in me, I’ll say – as I pat myself on the back for being such a “giver.” lolz)

Anyway, so you think your friend has one?

Now, what the hell do you do?

Do you coddle? Do you ignore it (probably most of us do ’cause it’s uncomfortable otherwise. AND WE HATE DISCOMFORT.)

I was on a UVA law panel on eating disorders last weekend when someone raised their hand. (P.S. shout out to Dr. Colleen Reichmann below and Prosperity Treatment Center)

“What is your advice if you think your friend has an eating disorder?”

All three of us on the panel froze.

The other two looked at me. (I’d generally been the one to answer the “human” aspects of eating disorder stuff.)

“Oh shit,” I laughed – as the room snorted.

“Man, this question is hard,” I admitted. “There’s no one answer.”

How can there be? Our friendships and relationships all look different.

The way people respond to accusations or love or support varies.

I spoke with my best friend, Kim (ya know – that best friend. The one you have since childhood.)

Recently, I interviewed her about her experience being the best friend of someone with an eating disorder. Below is an email interview, along with four tips to walk away with during this NEDA eating disorder week.

Kim and I today
  • As kids, how would you describe our friendship and was it affected by my relationship with food?

You as a child are fairly similar to how you are as an adult. You’ve always been a social butterfly with the biggest smile and loudest laugh. You know that cheesy song by Kesha, “now the party don’t start till I walk in”? That’s you. Your eating disorder never changed that. In contrast, I was more introverted and shy. Now, our friendship has grown into something more relaxed and I do think that is because you allowed us to be so close during your recovery process.

As kids, our friend group still jokes about how you wouldn’t let us to eat the meat in the Chili’s Skillet Queso whenever we would eat out. (That was the cool thing to do back then.) We’d order the Queso to split, and you’d literally throw a fit if any of us dared to eat the meat in the Queso- please keep in mind you did not actually want to eat the meat, you just didn’t want any of us to have it. It was definitely a control thing looking back, and while we laugh about it now, none of us ever thought twice about what it might actually mean. Truthfully, I doubt you did either.

Tip #1: Eating disorders do not look a certain way. They can have similar behaviors, but different ways of manifesting and growing. It’s not your job to know that. No point looking back wondering “how did I miss that?” You don’t know an eating disorder till you “know” it. 
  • When did you begin to notice my eating patterns change?

You always food quirks (Linds refused to eat the ends off of French fries and instead had a pile of sad fry ends on her plate at lunch during middle school) but I knew that by beginning of high school your eating patterns were becoming unhealthy. I mean, you ate an entire tin of Cinnamon Altoids a day.

I have this vivid memory of you calling while I was at a Friday night football game, and when I snuck away to answer, I listened to you break down in tears, sobbing about how unhappy you were and how sick you felt. It was actually the first time we had openly discussed anything close to this and I was blown away. I knew that you were weird about food but I was so wrapped up in my own world that I never thought you could have had an eating disorder. From that point on though, I tried to be supportive but it was challenging since we no longer went to the same school and had different groups of friends.

  • Did you ever feel resentful that I had an eating disorder? (During/After)

I don’t think I’ve ever felt resentful toward you per say that would be incredibly unfair, but I do think there have been times – more so in recovery and when your blog was blowing up – that I have felt like your eating disorder took over our friendship.

When you were in rehab and immediately afterwards it was the forefront of all conversations – And that made sense. I was happy to be there and do whatever you needed. You don’t stay friends with someone for almost 25 years now and not see them as a member of your family.

However, it was hard sometimes to know how to manage conversations during recovery- were we talking about it TOO much? Was it bad to linger on it? Should I change the subject or would that upset you? I didn’t want to seem like I was dismissing your feelings or making you feel like you needed to just “get over it” already, but there were times where I felt like it was ALL we ever talked about. To me it was more in the vein of “I have nothing else to say, no more supportive and genuine comments on this topic that I haven’t already said. I don’t know what else I can say to be helpful or to make you feel better right now in this moment.”

It has been a learning curve as we navigate the recovery path together. I had no knowledge or education about eating disorders prior to this, so you taught me so much and in turn that helped me learn how best to respond to you whenever you are going through a rough patch.

TIP #2: If your friend has come to you willingly with their eating disorder, do not carry that load on your shoulders alone. You are not a counselor or a therapist. Support, love, and try to look at other options for help – ideally, with them. Openly communicate when you don’t have the words to say – or don’t know where to navigate the conversation.
  • Eating disorders are encompassing. At its worst, did my eating disorder change our friendship?

Your ED changed our friendship in that there were times beforehand where we would go months without talking. Now we can’t go three days without talking (hashtag codependent). Some of this I attribute to us finally being on our own, figuring out who we are, meeting new people and having new experiences. However, it also meant that we didn’t communicate on a regular basis and so I felt like it was easier for you to hide how bad things had gotten. I wasn’t there to witness you at you worst.

There were times after college, when you were living abroad that I knew it was getting really bad. You complained constantly about injuries from running, and whenever we would Skype I could see how thin you were getting.

I’ve always been the “mother” of our group, constantly wanting to nag and nurture. However, with Linds, it’s basically impossible to tell her to do anything, so all I could do was express my concerns and hope that she would want to change on her own. I knew that was the only way it could happen.

It was scary and frustrating and I definitely felt helpless.

  • People often say they feel guilty when they watch their friend go through an eating disorder. Did you ever feel guilty?

You and I are very alike in that we are both INCREDIBLY stubborn and hard headed. So for me, I think I inherently understood that there was only so much I could do for you. You can’t fix someone or change someone who isn’t ready and that was a hard lesson to learn.

I could either harp on you and, in turn, alienate you, or I could be there for you when you felt like talking and hope that you trusted me enough to come to me when you were ready. The guy who gave me my first tattoo told me “hindsight is 20/20” and that has always stuck with me. It’s SO easy to say now what I would’ve done differently but at the time I could only do what I thought was “best.”

  • What was a time you felt like you didn’t know what to do/say?

I remember I saw photos from back when you lived in Europe and my jaw DROPPED.  I can honestly say it was the most shocked I’ve ever been. I didn’t understand how it had gotten this bad. You brushed it off with comments about how you were running a lot and how you just weren’t eating as much in Europe (cue rant about Americans and their portion sizes) and honestly I was just too scared to pick a fight about it. I didn’t push it. If I had, would you have gotten help earlier? It’s hard to say but I doubt it. I knew there were others reaching out, telling you variations of the same thing I was, so I’m really not sure.

It’s a funny thing- people on the outside probably think it’s easy to call a loved one out. You talk every single day, how could you not have done anything? But as a young girl, it was incredibly hard.

Tip #3: If you choose to ask your friend about their eating behaviors – focus on the external rather than the physical. Eating disorders, in some form or fashion, thrive on the “physical” recognition of their manifestation. So, instead of “you look so this or that,” ask “I’ve noticed you’re going through something – you don’t seem happy. How can I support you? What can I do to let you know that I’m there for you?” 
  • What do you wish you might’ve done differently for you? I.E. Would you have taken more self-care in our friendship? Would you have considered your friendship needs more?

I think this goes back to the hindsight is 20/20 thing. Of course now I wish I would’ve asked you to get help sooner, knowing how amazing this entire process has been for you ultimately. I just think at the time I was confused about what was happening. It’s hard for me to place a lot of responsibility on my teenage self’s shoulders. I wanted to be a good friend but I was  younger and had no clue what to do.

Truly, between the stigma of an eating disorder in our society and how accepting our culture was of girls who don’t eat, I’m shocked that you and I communicated about it as much as we did. Unfortunately, it was completely normal for me to eat a bowl of cottage cheese for lunch and nothing else, then go work out or an hour in high school. It wasn’t just me, so many girls at my school were like this! And no one really talked about eating disorders back then, it just wasn’t a spoken issue. The eating disorder community has changed so much and there’s so much more awareness about it now. These stigmas and behaviors that are almost idealized in our culture needs to stop, because I would hate for young girls to think that not eating is acceptable.

  • What advice do you have for anyone who has a friend going through an eating disorder?

Encourage them to open up whenever they feel like it – but don’t kill yourself pushing them to talk. Let them know that you’re there when they want to talk and that you won’t freak out or judge. Check in in a way that lets them know you care and you aren’t just trying to police what they’re doing. Also, don’t be afraid to ask them how they would like you to handle the situation. Lindsey was really good about letting me know what she needed from me during recovery, but not everyone may be able to do that.

As with any relationship, I think open and honest communication is the safest bet. If they try to shut down or push you away, let them know that you love them and want to help them and that they don’t have to go through this alone… but don’t take their illness on as your own.

Your friends can’t read your mind, you have to help them out a little bit. But to someone with an eating disorder – you can’t expect your friends to always have the right words.

Once you communicate together, the support system you’ll have is incredibly important to your friendship.

Tip #4: If your friend is open to your help, ask “what is the best way to support you? Do you want someone to eat with at lunch? Do you want a code word if you’re overwhelmed? What is the best thing I can say if you’re having a moment and you don’t think you can get through it?” At UVA with the wonderful Dr. Colleen Reichmann
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As we wrap up the first month of 2018,  the cliche remains: “Where did the time go?”

How are we so shocked when we look down at the screens of our phones and realize we’re 31 days into a new year.

Where were we the last 31 days? Did we go into a mindless Instagram vortex and disappear?

OR… do I just tell myself  that because right now, in this moment, I’m feeling that way.

ANYWAY. I detract.

I know it’s “new year, new you” and all that crap, and many of us are off starving ourselves or worshipping new gym memberships or trying to stick to the belief that are bodies “are fine as is” even when we want to act out… regardless where you’re at, there’s an aspect of these “life changes” that doesn’t get acknowledged or valued enough. And that’s the loss.

The loss of the life you were leading. I know we’re supposed to be all like “YAY recovery life. I don’t want that old life back.”

But, as Mark Manson says, you can’t change or grow without losing a part of yourself. And that loss, even when it happens for a good reason, it hurts. It shapes.

And that’s not even getting into losing something or someone for a bad reason.

It’s terrifying.

Out of the hundreds of emails I read each month seeking recovery or ‘what next’ advice, I’d say nearly 50% relate to loss in some way. Loss of an eating disorder. Loss of a relationship. Loss of family. Loss of career. Loss of friendships. Loss of identity. “Who the hell am I without X?”

I’ve been there. Sometimes, I’m still there.

I went on a run last weekend in Boulder.

Boulder happens to be where both my exes (that I’ve documented periodically on this blog) reside.

While both relationships are over and done. The envelope sealed – the future plans discarded– I am always bemused by how easily I can still feel loss when back in their territories.

Ran along the path, through the creek.

Passed a rock overlooking the water that I sat with one of them. We had empanadas that afternoon – 9 months in. We talked about the flood of 2013.

I ran through the city center – past the Illegal Petes and that back alley I made out with one of them in when we were new and tipsy and had just played arcade games until midnight.

I stopped off at a coffee shop when I was done – waited in line for a vanilla latte.

“Linds?”

I turn.

One of them stands there, half smirking.

“Ah,” I think I said. I had a feeling you’d be here.

What an odd thing to admit, in retrospect.

He cocked his head. Stalking me?

More or less.

We caught eyes.

Why are you here? he asked.

Meeting, I lied.

Of course I lied. There’s someone else. He’s in Boulder too. My ex probably assumes that, knowing my history well.

He didn’t push.

We had coffee for 20 minutes. He asked me to read over a new blog post.

Some pains are better left unstated until they are direct.

If this becomes more serious, this new relationship, I will tell the truth the next time.

But in that moment, I don’t know that I was ready to establish the new chapter.

I left the coffee shop. And in that fundamental ex moment, I turned in the frame of the door.

He was looking – his head cocked to the side again.

Smiling in only a way I knew what he was thinking.

These are my ass pants, I announced, pointing towards it.

He nodded.

Don’t lose weight.

Images of us in that same coffee shop, months prior, locking ourselves in a private bathroom.

I grinned back.

He waved, softly.

I felt that faint sort of sadness; grieving, then, over a tiny loss of myself— the two people we were that day were now gone. And they would never come back.

Were we really not meant to be together?

Were things so ‘bad’?

I covered this recently in my last blog post, but a big part of recovery is identifying what ‘needs’ to be lost, implementing a plan, and then somehow getting over the losses and establishing a new identity. That means filling your life with new meaningful relationships or hobbies or adventures or beliefs where the old ones used to be.

I struggle with this. A lot of people struggle with this. As a result, we spend a lot of time feeling lost – or being pulled back to the known.

Pulled back to the known.

Relationships. Anorexia. Alcohol.

There’s a negative and a positive to all of those things – hence, why we have such a hard time staying away from them.

What can I say? We’re human.

When something is lost – no matter if it’s the anorexia, drugs, alcohol, person, job, city – it’s gone. And it will never be the same, no matter what you do. And this, in a real psychological sense, destroys a small piece of you. A piece that must eventually be rebuilt.

I always liken my eating disorder to my relationships. Probably because anorexia is a relationship.

Like my ex, anorexia wasn’t all bad. We had good times. Or at least what to me felt like good times.

No one would be anorexic or voluntarily be in a relationship if there wasn’t something positive (or at least, something that feels positive) coming from it.

And it’s that that pulls us back. We don’t want to accept the loss of that positive feeling – whatever it may be – because then we partially lose something about us – and have to rebuild it – or ‘fill’ it –

And that’s actually fucking terrifying.

What if we never find that ‘thing’ or ‘person’ to fill it? Or what if we never rebuild?

What if we will always live in the anorexia or bulimia days like a football coach who can’t get over the 1976 state championship?

What if we will never feel ”as good as” our anorexia days?

What if we just feel empty?

Sounds exhausting, even to me. And I’m 4 years into this evolving methodology.

This feeling of emptiness—or more accurately, this lack of meaning—is usually known as depression.

To quote Mark Manson again:  Most people believe that depression is a deep sadness. This is mistaken. While depression and sadness often occur together, they are not the same thing. Sadness occurs when something feels bad. Depression occurs when something feels meaningless. When something feels bad, at least it has meaning. In depression, everything becomes a big blank void. And the deeper the depression, the deeper the lack of meaning, the deeper the pointlessness of any action, to the point where a person will struggle to get up in the morning, to shower, to speak to other people, to eat food, etc.

The healthy response to loss is to slowly but surely construct new hobbies, relationships, careers, exercises and perspective evolutions that bring new meaning into our lives. We come to refer to this as “a new me,” and this is, in a literal sense, true. You are constructing a “new you” by adopting new habits to replace the old.

So, here I am. All blah blah blah at you. Babbles McGee, people call me.

But, four years into this recovery business – what can I really tell you that I’ve found to be true? How do I actually go on with said above facts staring me in the face.

Lemme take a shot at this.

Hard truth: our minds have a tendency to only remember the best qualities of our past. This most definitely includes our eating disorders AND relationships. In fact, I’d say those two things top my list of “reframed memories.” We delete the tedious and monotonous and just remember the highlight reel.

Our memories aren’t accurate.

Our brain always thinks that there’s these ‘things’ that will make us happy. We want our instant fixes, which comes in the form of people validation, a meal skipped, or ‘weight lost.’ And in the same impulsive way, we ignore the ‘glazed’ over truth.

But in both cases, our mind is simply reaching for something to remove it from the present.

Relationships don’t end because two people did something wrong to each other. Relationships end because of two people are something wrong for each other.

Most of the time, we don’t leave bulimia or anorexia because it’s killing us (although the media likes to portray it that way.)

We leave it because it is something wrong for us – stripping us from being present or alive to every moment. Allowing a blanket to hide behind so that we never truly live or feel anything.

Starting recovery is full of grief.

You can ra-ra cheerleader dance all over it, but it’s still a loss of something.

It’s a loss of some part of you.

And loss is bloody uncomfortable at best.

People like to see growth as this euphoric, joyous thing. But it’s not. Real change brings a mixture of emotions with it— lingering sadness mixed (eventually) with a tangible presence.

And yes, an ability to feel content and joy. And grief again. And sorrow. And spontaneous happiness.

And new people into your life because you build a life that allows more people to find you.

I saw my ex again last night, dropping off a shirt to my best friend (his roommate, as it goes).

I was late to a date.

I’m buying land in Wyoming, my ex announced. I’m going to build a tire-bail house and live in it off the grid.

I stared at him – fights flooding into mind. We hardly agreed on anything, in retrospect, outside of our attraction.

It all seemed clear again. But, I could still love him for him.

The mushrooms are rooted and growing too, he exclaimed, showing me his mushroom garden in the den.

I smiled.

We hugged.

So am I, I thought – turning away.

I am growing, too.

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As we wrap up the first month of 2018,  the cliche remains: “Where did the time go?”

How are we so shocked when we look down at the screens of our phones and realize we’re 31 days into a new year.

Where were we the last 31 days? Did we go into a mindless Instagram vortex and disappear?

OR… do I just tell myself  that because right now, in this moment, I’m feeling that way.

ANYWAY. I detract.

I know it’s “new year, new you” and all that crap, and many of us are off starving ourselves or worshipping new gym memberships or trying to stick to the belief that are bodies “are fine as is” even when we want to act out… regardless where you’re at, there’s an aspect of these “life changes” that doesn’t get acknowledged or valued enough. And that’s the loss.

The loss of the life you were leading. I know we’re supposed to be all like “YAY recovery life. I don’t want that old life back.”

But, as Mark Manson says, you can’t change or grow without losing a part of yourself. And that loss, even when it happens for a good reason, it hurts. It shapes.

And that’s not even getting into losing something or someone for a bad reason.

It’s terrifying.

Out of the hundreds of emails I read each month seeking recovery or ‘what next’ advice, I’d say nearly 50% relate to loss in some way. Loss of an eating disorder. Loss of a relationship. Loss of family. Loss of career. Loss of friendships. Loss of identity. “Who the hell am I without X?”

I’ve been there. Sometimes, I’m still there.

I went on a run last weekend in Boulder.

Boulder happens to be where both my exes (that I’ve documented periodically on this blog) reside.

While both relationships are over and done. The envelope sealed – the future plans discarded– I am always bemused by how easily I can still feel loss when back in their territories.

Ran along the path, through the creek.

Passed a rock overlooking the water that I sat with one of them. We had empanadas that afternoon – 9 months in. We talked about the flood of 2013.

I ran through the city center – past the Illegal Petes and that back alley I made out with one of them in when we were new and tipsy and had just played arcade games until midnight.

I stopped off at a coffee shop when I was done – waited in line for a vanilla latte.

“Linds?”

I turn.

One of them stands there, half smirking.

“Ah,” I think I said. I had a feeling you’d be here.

What an odd thing to admit, in retrospect.

He cocked his head. Stalking me?

More or less.

We caught eyes.

Why are you here? he asked.

Meeting, I lied.

Of course I lied. There’s someone else. He’s in Boulder too. My ex probably assumes that, knowing my history well.

He didn’t push.

We had coffee for 20 minutes. He asked me to read over a new blog post.

Some pains are better left unstated until they are direct.

If this becomes more serious, this new relationship, I will tell the truth the next time.

But in that moment, I don’t know that I was ready to establish the new chapter.

I left the coffee shop. And in that fundamental ex moment, I turned in the frame of the door.

He was looking – his head cocked to the side again.

Smiling in only a way I knew what he was thinking.

These are my ass pants, I announced, pointing towards it.

He nodded.

Don’t lose weight.

Images of us in that same coffee shop, months prior, locking ourselves in a private bathroom.

I grinned back.

He waved, softly.

I felt that faint sort of sadness; grieving, then, over a tiny loss of myself— the two people we were that day were now gone. And they would never come back.

Were we really not meant to be together?

Were things so ‘bad’?

I covered this recently in my last blog post, but a big part of recovery is identifying what ‘needs’ to be lost, implementing a plan, and then somehow getting over the losses and establishing a new identity. That means filling your life with new meaningful relationships or hobbies or adventures or beliefs where the old ones used to be.

I struggle with this. A lot of people struggle with this. As a result, we spend a lot of time feeling lost – or being pulled back to the known.

Pulled back to the known.

Relationships. Anorexia. Alcohol.

There’s a negative and a positive to all of those things – hence, why we have such a hard time staying away from them.

What can I say? We’re human.

When something is lost – no matter if it’s the anorexia, drugs, alcohol, person, job, city – it’s gone. And it will never be the same, no matter what you do. And this, in a real psychological sense, destroys a small piece of you. A piece that must eventually be rebuilt.

I always liken my eating disorder to my relationships. Probably because anorexia is a relationship.

Like my ex, anorexia wasn’t all bad. We had good times. Or at least what to me felt like good times.

No one would be anorexic or voluntarily be in a relationship if there wasn’t something positive (or at least, something that feels positive) coming from it.

And it’s that that pulls us back. We don’t want to accept the loss of that positive feeling – whatever it may be – because then we partially lose something about us – and have to rebuild it – or ‘fill’ it –

And that’s actually fucking terrifying.

What if we never find that ‘thing’ or ‘person’ to fill it? Or what if we never rebuild?

What if we will always live in the anorexia or bulimia days like a football coach who can’t get over the 1976 state championship?

What if we will never feel ”as good as” our anorexia days?

What if we just feel empty?

Sounds exhausting, even to me. And I’m 4 years into this evolving methodology.

This feeling of emptiness—or more accurately, this lack of meaning—is usually known as depression.

To quote Mark Manson again:  Most people believe that depression is a deep sadness. This is mistaken. While depression and sadness often occur together, they are not the same thing. Sadness occurs when something feels bad. Depression occurs when something feels meaningless. When something feels bad, at least it has meaning. In depression, everything becomes a big blank void. And the deeper the depression, the deeper the lack of meaning, the deeper the pointlessness of any action, to the point where a person will struggle to get up in the morning, to shower, to speak to other people, to eat food, etc.

The healthy response to loss is to slowly but surely construct new hobbies, relationships, careers, exercises and perspective evolutions that bring new meaning into our lives. We come to refer to this as “a new me,” and this is, in a literal sense, true. You are constructing a “new you” by adopting new habits to replace the old.

So, here I am. All blah blah blah at you. Babbles McGee, people call me.

But, four years into this recovery business – what can I really tell you that I’ve found to be true? How do I actually go on with said above facts staring me in the face.

Lemme take a shot at this.

Hard truth: our minds have a tendency to only remember the best qualities of our past. This most definitely includes our eating disorders AND relationships. In fact, I’d say those two things top my list of “reframed memories.” We delete the tedious and monotonous and just remember the highlight reel.

Our memories aren’t accurate.

Our brain always thinks that there’s these ‘things’ that will make us happy. We want our instant fixes, which comes in the form of people validation, a meal skipped, or ‘weight lost.’ And in the same impulsive way, we ignore the ‘glazed’ over truth.

But in both cases, our mind is simply reaching for something to remove it from the present.

Relationships don’t end because two people did something wrong to each other. Relationships end because of two people are something wrong for each other.

Most of the time, we don’t leave bulimia or anorexia because it’s killing us (although the media likes to portray it that way.)

We leave it because it is something wrong for us – stripping us from being present or alive to every moment. Allowing a blanket to hide behind so that we never truly live or feel anything.

Starting recovery is full of grief.

You can ra-ra cheerleader dance all over it, but it’s still a loss of something.

It’s a loss of some part of you.

And loss is bloody uncomfortable at best.

People like to see growth as this euphoric, joyous thing. But it’s not. Real change brings a mixture of emotions with it— lingering sadness mixed (eventually) with a tangible presence.

And yes, an ability to feel content and joy. And grief again. And sorrow. And spontaneous happiness.

And new people into your life because you build a life that allows more people to find you.

I saw my ex again last night, dropping off a shirt to my best friend (his roommate, as it goes).

I was late to a date.

I’m buying land in Wyoming, my ex announced. I’m going to build a tire-bail house and live in it off the grid.

I stared at him – fights flooding into mind. We hardly agreed on anything, in retrospect, outside of our attraction.

It all seemed clear again. But, I could still love him for him.

The mushrooms are rooted and growing too, he exclaimed, showing me his mushroom garden in the den.

I smiled.

We hugged.

So am I, I thought – turning away.

I am growing, too.

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