Hark! What Light Through Yonder Window Breaks?

I’ve been wanting to update this thing for a while, but haven’t wanted to update it with the depressing shit that’s going through my brain. I even chose not to share at check-in on Friday in our therapeutic writing class, which I always view as a bit of a cop-out. But we had to share a short poem we had written (according to a certain form), and this one wasn’t really suitable for a classroom setting. I’m pretty sure if I’d shared it, my prof (who I’ve already talked to about having a rough semester and needing a bit of leeway on assignments) would have walked me across the street to the counseling center.

scattered / worrying endlessly / white hot pain / what to let go? / retreat

And then another!

stuck / shame spiraling / deeper darker black / where is the light? / gone

So….yeah. It hasn’t been a good semester so far. I was demoted to meeting with my dietitian every week again. I was nearly demoted to meeting with my therapist every other week. I self-harmed for the first time in months. I lost/left my job because I was too damned depressed to move.

Then Jesus decided to throw me a bone. A friend invited me to an improvisational music weekend at a gorgeous retreat center this past weekend. And she paid for the whole thing for me. (At nearly $250, this was not something that was even in the realm of possibility otherwise.)

So we drove to the retreat center on Friday afternoon and chatted the whole way there. She loves God and she is not shy about it. She prayed constantly (out loud), often thanking God for getting us where we were going or the sunset or the lifting of the fog (which really was miraculously timed.) Sadly, we got there so late that we couldn’t get seats together at dinner, so I sat awkwardly amongst strangers, then left after a “reasonable” (?) amount of time.

As I walked back to my dorm, I noticed a friend in her car, chatting out the window with one of the retreat facilitators. Weird. I wave and she finds a place to park and hops out to give me a hug. She lives about thirty minutes away and we had talked about perhaps getting together for a walk before dinner, but the aforementioned late arrival meant we had to cancel that plan.

So instead, she decided to stop by and drop off a little care package for me (and my roommate). What?! A thermos, some tea bags, some fruit, and dark chocolate. Oh, and some delightful lavender soap. Totally unexpected. The next hour spent with her and her daughter were also delightful and her daughter took to my ukulele quite naturally.

To say that I needed this weekend might be a bit of an understatement. Just the first two hour session on Friday night did my heart well. It was an event organized by Music for People, which believes everyone is musical and should get the chance to express it. And it opens wide the gates for things considered music. Honestly, I had no idea that a choir of eight BUNDT PANS could sound so gorgeous.

There are no wrong notes. No wrong sounds. No pressure. I met some awesome musicians who love to just play and it reignited that love for me. All I want to do now is improv!

At any rate, throughout the weekend, my roommate (the friend who brought me) kept giving me little gifts. She brought me some lovely soap and some teas as well. She was clearing out some of her old clothes and brought me sweaters and such to try out before she dropped the rest at goodwill. She offered up a bunch of her old clothes from her practicum because she “doesn’t like to wear black” now and I’m hurting for professional dress.

What the hell? It feels a bit like I have a fairy godmother.

I feel completely unworthy of it all, especially after the past month and a half.

I can’t say I’m totally on the “Yayyyyyyy life! Yay recovery!” train again, but I’m taking this weekend for what it was: Respite. And a reminder that Jesus really, really loves me.

Who Invited Her?

This was said in a joking manner by one of the women I was in a writing group with tonight. Having just shared a toast I had written (to myself), the implication was that I was a good writer and making her look bad. It was a nice ego boost after a long Monday. (Especially since I generally try to avoid sharing my writing because I find it “simple” and “dumb.”)

I’ve been writing a lot more lately – in large part due to a class I am taking on Fridays about therapeutic writing. Keeping a journal is actually part of my homework (how terrible!), but the class is also forcing me to stretch my writing skills. And that, in all honesty, is worth every penny of the $1100 this class is costing me. Each week, we take an hour of class to split into small groups and do a writing practice before coming back to the whole class. Last week, we did “found poetry” and blacked out words from a textbook page to create a poem. The week before, we wrote letters to our great, great granddaughters.

Which means that my journal isn’t met every day with a new hate-filled rant about how horrible I am and how worthless and how I will never make anything of myself. Sure, there are days where that is the main theme, or I spend three pages questioning why I bother living and how much more appealing suicide (by anorexia or quicker means) would be. But there are also prompts where I have acknowledge what I am bringing to this group of writers. Or where I have to write about a time I was proud of myself. Or a description of breakfast.

In expressive arts, we always say that the process is more important than the product. This has been a very hard concept for me to learn as someone who is somewhat perfectionistic and very goal-oriented. And because I am always focused on the product, I haven’t taken the time in over a decade to write creatively. It wasn’t “worth” it because it wasn’t processing and I wasn’t “getting better.” But I’m learning that even those seemingly off-topic prompts teach me a lot about who I am and how I interact with the world.

Now there is freedom in writing. I can write about anything and it is still a good use of time. It feels wonderful.

The world, as it were, is my proverbial oyster.

And, for fun, the poem that emerged in last week’s writing group. The page I took was from a textbook on legal and ethical issues in counseling. Poetry is everywhere, y’all.

“self”

a thousand collected lifetime cultures / you meet for the first time / there are more than two people / there are thousands / learn to hear / hear the other voices / exciting, essential inner voices / identity within context

 

Insidious Whispers and Deafening Screams

I mentioned in my last post the the dictator has been whispering in my ear lately, trying to convince me that a relapse into old behaviours wouldn’t be at all a bad thing. I mean, it wouldn’t be a *real* relapse, I’d just restrict and run and life would still run perfectly and I’d have no consequences for my behaviours, I’d just be thin. (Which is totally ridiculous and has never happened to date and, in fact, each relapse is worse than the last, so I’d probably be dead.)

So that has been floating around in my head the past week. Undoubtedly it is related to the stress of the new semester starting, my feelings of utter incompetence when it comes to my chosen field, my highly regimented/probably overbooked schedule, and somewhat overwhelming extracurricular obligations/responsibilities. It has absolutely nothing to do with the food, my body, my weight. Just the stress. (Or so Counselor-Jessica is telling Deranged-Jessica.)

Anyway, that is background for my tale, in which this whisper becomes a wailing siren call on Tuesday. It was the first day of class, so I was already a bit nervous, but our prof for this class is really, really great and very down-to-earth. (She brought brownies! And coffee! And tea! And stress balls!) Early on, she said that she went into counseling because it saved her life. So, ya know, same reason as me.

We were asked to go around and introduce ourselves and tell what drew us to counseling. So I was prepared to just say, “Hey, I’m Jess, I’m a second year CMHC with expressive arts focus and I’m going into this field because counseling definitely saved my life more than once.” For the most part, my cohort (the 15 students I entered the program with last fall) knows about my ED and treatment history and I’m fairly open about it. That said, I don’t generally introduce myself by saying, “Hey, I’m Jess and I’m recovering from an eating disorder.

I was, by virtue of the room layout, the last person to do an introduction. When it came my turn, here is what I said:

“I’m Jess. I’m in the CMHC program with an expressive arts emphasis and I am really going into counseling because it absolutely saved my life on more than one occasion. And I’ve been in and out of a few eating disorder treatment centers and had some really great counselors and some really awful counselors and hope to be one of the good ones.”

So why the mention of the eating disorder treatment?

Competition.

About halfway through the classroom introductions, a young woman explained that she was drawn counseling after her “five year stint with anorexia” (this is actually how she worded it). Alarms started going off in my head. The dictator started screaming.

I needed to defend my ground.

I needed to make sure that everyone knew that I, too, had an eating disorder.

I needed to make sure that everyone knew that it had been so bad I’d had to go to treatment.

I needed to make sure that everyone knew that I’d relapsed and had to go back again and again.

I needed to make sure that everyone knew that I was really sick. (Read: I was thin.)

Because that is just the way the eating disordered brain works. It’s sick and twisted, but my eating disorder still needs to be validated. It still needs that gasp of breath that people do when they hear how much weight I lost in less than a year, that look of pity when I talk about the tube, the almost-jealousy when they hear all the “bad” foods I got to eat freely in treatment to put on weight.

It pisses me off that I feel I so badly “need” this, even after all my time and work in recovery. It pisses me off that some part of me still glamourizes the eating disorder, some part of me still wants it.

I don’t need it and it isn’t glamorous.

It’s hell.

And I need to keep reminding myself of that, but damn if the Dictator isn’t loud these days.

Disjointed Thoughts

I wish I had it in me to write a brilliant, witty blog post. Heck – I wish I had it in me to write a coherent blog post. But time is money or time is sleep or something, so you’ll get the highlights. Low lights. Cliff lights. Cliff Notes. Whatever.

 

*My primary job now consists of watching a two year old boy and his six week old sister. Holy cow. Parents, how do you do this?!

*This has reaffirmed my decision to not have children, but just watch everyone else’s kids and hand them back at the end of the day. 

*Cuddling a sweet baby is the best thing for my mental health. So, friends – keep having babies!

*We are TRYING to decrease my meds, but it’s a slow process. Also, the first decrease made me an anxious idiot. 

*I am terrified at the thought of not having therapy any more. Likely, it’s just two or three more sessions.

*I gained weight. I both care and don’t care. 

*I like eating, but I don’t want to be “fat” (whatever that means).

*A lot of times, dietitians will remind recovering anorexics that they aren’t just going to gain weight indefinitely and yadda yadda yadda and become overweight yadda yadda yadda. But I have gone from sick to well to overweight and the thought is a bit scary. 

*Okay, a lot scary. 

*Sometimes, there is this little whisper in my head that tells me I could restrict and run again, but do it better this time – just be thin and numb and no other consequences.

*That is a load of bullshit.

*Instead of running tonight, I went for a walk.

*I found apples and berries on my walk (hello, breakfast)!

*At one point I was walking and thinking to myself how lovely the woods smelled.

*I looked down to find myself standing in a field of spearmint. I sort of wanted to roll around in it.

*I just took some for tomorrow’s breakfast bowl, but sniffed it the entire way home.

*Everyone else on the greenway probably thought me an idiot.

*I don’t care.

*I am, mostly, happy.

 

Grad School, Round Two

My first full year of graduate school is complete! In three weeks, I’ll start all over again, albeit in a more stable mind and body than this time last year. 

At times, it has felt like surviving, at best. The past two weeks I was taking a class that was just HORRIBLE. It was the first time in months that I’ve busted out old behaviours and were it not for some friends, some prayer, and some stubbornness on my part, I would be in a very different place right now and probably on track to go back to treatment. Instead, I am a bit flustered and frustrated, but I survived the class.

Actually, I was sort of proud of myself for how I handled those two weeks. And my therapist was too, though she wanted me to dig deeper into some of the stuff that came up. Herein is where I become really confused about what is left to do in counseling.

There’s obviously stuff. My trauma has come up more than once this summer through the course of classes, and, in the strictest sense, hasn’t really been dealt with. Nine times out of ten, I just refer to it as “trauma” and leave it at that, neglecting to say what really happened. And we dealt with it some last year, but that was sort of out of necessity – in order to have sex, I had to shut that shit down mentally and it always came back a few days or weeks later in force. When I stopped seeing/sleeping with the guy I was spending time with, it wasn’t really a pressing issue any more. 

And when we do try to delve into that stuff or my attachment stuff, I shut down. Not on purpose, really, but my therapist said she is just not going to push it any more. That I’m not ready to go there, that now’s not the time, and everything else is fairly stable, so there’s no reason to meet every week. Or every two weeks. Or even every month. So after September, it looks like I can stop driving to Charlotte on a regular basis. And when I do go, it won’t cost me an arm and a leg. 

I am just really, really scared at this idea. (Not only that, but I feel a bit like some sort of therapy “failure” for not being ready/willing/able/whatever.) It will be the first time in five years that I haven’t seen a therapist on AT LEAST a weekly basis. It will also put me face-to-face with the general lack of nurture in my life. I love my mom and respect her, but I’ve never really felt nurture in that relationship. She’s not someone I can cry in front of, not someone I want to be comforted by, not someone that feels safe enough to do that with.

A has been that person for me for the past two years solidly and I don’t know how I’m going to handle that void. The other person that I associate with care and nurture has just moved six time zones away. And then I start to cry and feel stupid about crying because, HELLO, I’m twenty-nine and shouldn’t I be past the point of needing to be nurtured?

I haven’t taken individual and family development yet, so I’m not sure where that puts me on the typical/atypical development scale. I’ll take it in the spring. I’ll keep you updated on that, but I’m sure it’s related to my attachment issues. 

To some degree, I think grad school is about me becoming self-aware enough to know where my issues are so that I don’t wind up making my clients’ issues worse. 

And to that point – I’ve pretty much decided that I don’t want to be a counselor. 

But more on that later. Tonight, I’m going to nurse this weird head pain, cry a bit, and crawl under the covers with The Catcher in The Rye. 

The New Normal

I’ve been really unsettled lately. Some of this is just life stuff. Grandparents die. Friends move away. Recovery hits a bump. Higher education necessitates debt. But overall, this is the most settled I’ve ever been.

Which is, in itself, unsettling.

Just how unsettling I wasn’t sure of until I was in my car driving this morning and praying for God to break me. I’ve prayed this prayer before – in fact, mere months before the relapse that took me down beginning in fall 2009. I told God I would do whatever it took to be whole “enough” to do missions work. He could break me down, pull me apart, reconfigure me as long as it meant being closer to Him at the end of the process. And break me He did.

The past five years have been some of the most terrifying, painful, and dismal of my life. Even knowing intellectually that God was pulling away from me the things I had used to glue myself together all these years, it was miserable. Even knowing that this pain was out of God’s love and desire to see me truly free, it brought me to utter despair, to wish for death instead of freedom. Even knowing it was an act of truest love, it felt like violence.

It felt like every rape, every assault, every abuse. Every touch turned bruise, every demeaning comment, every time I was told I was not enough. It felt like all of these all at once and I hated God for it.

So back to present day – why exactly am I praying for this to happen all over again, you might ask? I cannot even lie and say that I followed that request for brokenness with “because I want to be nearer to you and more Christ-like, God.” Not even a consideration (my spiritual life has been lackluster these days). I just thought, “God, you’ve got to break me because I don’t know how to do this.”

“This” is settled. Stable. Thriving.

The last time I was really stable and doing well was fifth grade. And I have been in a near-perpetual state of crisis since I was fourteen. Every day has been fight-or-flight. I haven’t had the opportunity to work on things like social skills or life skills like setting up gas and electric service or what to do when somebody runs into your car in the parking lot. I’ve just been trying to survive. And for the most part, doing a fairly decent job of just making it from one day to the next. Surviving.

But the little nuances of day-to-day were lost on me for nearly the past two decades. What do people do with their time if they’re not running obsessively or spending hours a week in therapy or staying out all night to avoid having to lie? What happens when I’m not in school any more? What the hell is this “career path” everyone keeps going on about? What do people talk to their friends about if not this treatment or that or this slip-up or that? What does a prayer look like when you’re not begging God to kill you?

So now, at 29, I’m having to figure these things out. And it’s HARD. I just bought a vacuum for the first time in my life. And was damned excited about it, too. I remember my reusable grocery bags about 50% of the time. I’ve had to deal with obnoxious neighbours without my usual self-flaggelation and let other people own their stuff. And I’m having to imagine life at 60, 70, 80. I’m having to dream.

At least once a day, I half-heartedly wish for one of my addictions to take over. I know how to do crisis. I’ve gotten good at crisis.

But what do I do when there are no fires to be put out?

I’m stable and that’s unsettling.

 

 

 

It’s My Party…

and I’ll tell you to shut the fuck up if I want to, okay Dictator? Good. Glad we’re clear.

My eating disorder is being insanely loud today. Which is particularly obnoxious for two reasons: 1) I haven’t had to deal much with ED thoughts and urges lately and 2) It’s my birthday. And so far as birthdays go, this one isn’t terribly exciting (I worked, then came home and read for fun – a book on the Rwandan genocide). But I’m NOT IN TREATMENT.

Let’s be clear. Treatment saved my life. More than once. I’m glad I went. And I’m glad I’m enjoying my birthday in freedom this year.

But I do wish The Dictator would stop trying to leave his mark on this birthday, too.

Five years ago: The Dictator lies in wait while I go out with my best friends for drinks and a night on the town. It will be the last time we are all together. From here on out, I am not-so-mysteriously absent. The Dictator pokes at me when my friends share pictures: Nice triple chin there, Jess.

Four years ago: I have therapy, one of my last sessions before A goes on maternity leave. I go to Trader Joe’s to get dinner on my way to see a friend. They don’t have the one wrap I’ll eat, so I drive and I cry – upset that they don’t have that wrap and upset that I’m letting my eating disorder get in the way of my birthday.

Three years ago: I have been in treatment for six months, am still in treatment. A friend texts me on my birthday to tell me she can’t be friends with me. I go to an appointment with my outpatient dietitian and fight back tears over the weight that is necessary. I go out to dinner with my church group, trying to salvage what is left of the day and celebrate.

Two years ago: Center for Change, take one. The girls on the unit make me a huge birthday card, which is still in my box of memories today. We have art and I have to begin my emotional self-portrait. I look at the body tracing and burst into tears, telling the therapist how “deformed” I am. I cry for most of the remaining day, but do my best to put myself back together before evening snack. My friends from home have sent a “birthday in a box!” complete with leis, fake mustaches, and a ridiculous plastic goblet for my water.

Last year: Center for Change, take two. The girls on the unit have made a huge banner that says, “Happy Birthday, Jess!” I want to cry when I see it I am so overcome with emotion. My mom has flown into town for the weekend and we go out to dinner, but I make sure I am back in time for our Friday Night Snack and movie. I am so glad to spend my birthday with these girls. I can almost forget the fact that I just hit my goal weight.

Today: I have eaten probably half a chocolate cake over the past five days. The family I have nannied for all year made my favourite meal (baked macaroni and cheese) for dinner on Tuesday and presented me with gifts: a painting from Jbug (complete with tiny easel!) and a Zentangle mandala book. They know me well. By the end of the night, they know me even better as I share my story with them. My actual birthday (today) is a bit lackluster, as I work, then walk, then sit at home alone. It’s lonely and I wish my friends could be here (or that I could be there) to properly celebrate. We will – next weekend.

The point is: Tonight, I am not in treatment.

Tonight, I am eating a cupcake and chatting with friends online and free to do, basically, anything I want.

Twenty-eight has been one hell of a year. In the best of ways.

Bring it on, twenty-nine. You’ve got a lot to live up to.