In the land of Vikings and sea monsters being highly tuned into your environment is just called survival of the fittest. Have you ever considered what kind of stock you come from? If you are descended from Dog Beard and co. odds are that you could feel the vibrations of a moving sea monster above sea. If you couldn't you wouldn't likely have many descendants around today. The necessity of a having a highly tuned fight or flight system was of complete essence. But all this begs why in the heck are we talking about sea monsters and vikings?
While so much around us has evolved the human body hasn't evolved hardly at all. What this leads us to a body full of systems that are set to survive harsh environments. Those who couldn't feel the vibrations of the sea monsters quickly perished at sea. The response to use fear to attack, to flee, to fight meant survival. But what does it mean today? What happens when you feel the vibrations of the sea monsters? Living off of a full throttle parasympathetic nervous system (the one that helps fight sea monsters) is more than just a little distracting and it leaves us searching for sea monsters to fight.
A sea monster today can be anything that we have decided is out to get us- it's our programming if you have made it from hardy stock. Sometimes it's a sound outside the window. It's a distracting smell. It's a voice inside your head telling you that your pants are too tight. It's a look from someone across the way that you are convinced is about you. It's that nagging feeling you have that someone is going to be disappointed in you. All of those things used to be sea monsters and they were something to fight off.
Most of our fighting today has turned into freezing. Most of us as women were taught that it's not becoming or lady-like to fight. We've learned to freeze and fight within ourselves. We blame ourselves. But what if it's just a programming designed to fight sea monsters in a sea monster free zone.
Sometimes we are closer than we think. Sometimes we exert way too much energy making things way more complicated than they need to be. Sometimes we focus too much on the wrong part of the equation trying to control the outcome. Sometimes all we need to do is to apply a little pressure and follow up with a little confidence. Sometimes all we need is a horse to teach us all these things in less than an hour.
I'm always a little surprised what happens in the arena. I'm a little surprised how hard it is for me to sit and watch waiting for the lesson to happen. That's when I realize how hard it is for me to be a co-therapist instead of THE therapist. I'm grateful that Sparrow humors me. I usually forget how difficult tasks are in the arena for most people because most people haven't spent over 300 days around horses every year for the last twenty years. A simple lunging exercise turned out to be way more difficult and illuminating than I had planned for. Of course, everything that happened was exactly what needed to happen.
Couple dynamics are fascinating. Giving two people something to do that neither have any experience in can bring up all kinds of nasty messages. It's a pretty quick way to see what a couple does in their 'real world' without the censorship of self-report getting in the way. The session starts with a decision to try the task together with the option being to pick one or decide to go at it as a team. Going at it as a team is significant in some obvious ways. Watching to see how hard each works to solve the perceived problem illuminates some pieces that may be a little less obvious.
With the first half of the session the over-functioning part of the couple is clearly over-functioning. Sparrow isn't moving a whole lot and neither is the other half of the couple. It's amazing how hard people will try and get a 1200 pound animal to do something. It takes a lot of effort and energy. The over-functioning side of the couple is also only about three steps from heading in to treatment. You can answer for yourself if she should be the one spending the most energy. She's also not willing to address that she shouldn't be running and dragging a 1200 pound animal. Regardless, it's clearly not working and the over-functioning one feels stupid, depleted, and frustrated. The help she's getting from her team is marginal. While she's focused on dragging Sparrow around she's hardly engaging him and focused on solving the problem as the answer was defined. She keeps looking to the arena for the answer. The answers are rarely that external of ourselves.
At this point ignoring the third party in the room but expecting it's participation is a mistake. You have to learn to take some power over Sparrow if you want him to do what you need him to do. The eating disorder is usually the third party in a couple that no one is really talking about. Facing Sparrow created a great deal of fear- even before the connection was made that he represented her eating disorder. In fear we tend to fight, flight, and freeze. A simple redirection to focus on applying pressure to something if we want it to go away and there is a lot of freezing.
It's hard to have confidence when you don't know what's going to happen. It's hard to commit. It's also important to realize that we are closer to the answer than we think we are. Even when we aren't. It's the willingness to commit to believing that makes the difference when we are too often willing to give up after only a few tries. We give up when we are tired, depleted, frustrated, and feeling stupid. We listen to these words more than the words that tell us we are over the hump, close to the end, or more than halfway there. Committing to ourselves takes a lot less energy than trying to control a 1200 pound animal.
I was mindlessly walking my dog this afternoon when I tuned in to what I was saying to myself. It surprised me and then surprised me that it surprised me. I tuned in to being pretty mean to myself about not keeping up with this blog. I ranted a number of blog posts ago about how difficult it seems to be for me to keep up with posting on somewhat of a consistent basis. It isn't about not trying. I make notes in the margins of my client notes from sessions on a daily basis. There are countless nuggets that are completely blog worthy in my sessions. However, at the end of the day, when my brain finally gets to stop firing on all cylinders, I can hardly get myself to put a thought together about much of anything. Every day I'm waking up the next morning gently kicking myself about the things I was 'supposed' to remember to do the night before.
I thought I was listening to the birds. I thought I was listening to the ruffle of the leaves in the trees. I was actually calling myself some nasty names about not keeping up better with this blog. Then I realized exactly what it was that I wanted to write about for my next blog post. Why are we so mean to ourselves? What purpose does it serve? What if we stopped being mean to ourselves all together? Would we turn into lazy people who never did anything? Would we never work hard again without constantly throwing out the whipping stick? As a self-professed meanie, it can be a skeptical thought to think that turning into a nice guy would have a positive effect. At the same time, it does make sense.
If what we think leads to how we feel it begs to reason that changing our thoughts about ourselves might lead to a more positive and happy relationship with ourselves. If I walked around telling myself that I can instead of I can't there are a number of things that will happen. The first of which is a profound impact on my nervous system. The side of my nervous system that is focused on telling me when to fight or flee goes into overdrive at the sound of even one can't. My can't(s) like to participate in what I like to call the snowball effect. One can't can easily become ten can't(s) and my nervous system is starting to short out. I almost get tunnel vision. I'm no longer making eye contact. I'm so focused on my physiological symptoms that I can barely see what is happening outside of my skin. All the input I'm getting is 'my legs feel funny' or 'my stomach feels weak' or a running diatribe of judgments against myself for my weakened state. My body rarely feels powerful enough to do any fleeing! If there was a chance at one of those day turning around comments like, 'hey, I really like those pants!', I'd never see it because I'm busy listening to all the things I can't do. Snappy dressing isn't usually the one I'm known for.
Attempts to offer myself a little bit of belief in myself, a little bit of hope are likely to get a little bit more play when I'm backing myself up with a few I can's. My chest opens up. I can breathe a little bit. With a little bit more breath I feel like don't have to look down. I find myself looking down at those points when I can't bear to have someone even breath my way since I'm also thinking that everyone else thinks I can't either. Can't what who knows- that isn't what matters. When I'm breathing and giving myself a few I can's there's like an anti-snowball effect. It's like a sudden surge of super awesome sand castle building sand thrown at my feet. It comes from refusing to hold my breath. It comes from letting my belly hang out there full of breath and full of power. It come from letting one little I can spark a bigger I can until that one becomes another which grown into another.
So I may not write another blog post tomorrow. I may write a twenty little notes in the margins of my client notes before the next one. I can write another one. Guess you will have to come back to see.
In an addicts world, at some point, you hear the phrase, 'change your playground, change your playmates". It's exactly what it sounds like. Usually the people and places an addict surrounds himself or herself with encourage the addiction. It's hard to keep doing anything that is contrary to those around us. Even the worst behavior feels normal when it surrounds us. So, as someone in recovery from an eating disorder I've done this throughout my life. Obviously different from not going in a bar or hanging out with a sketchy crowd, what does that mean for someone in recovery from an eating disorder.
I've worked hard to be able to ignore the magazines at the checkout stand and their thousands of taglines about losing weight and the perfect body. I can quickly delete the email from Runners World claiming to have the magical (and necessary according to them) lose ten pounds. I don't listen to idle chat around the office that has gone from a relatively body talk free zone to a gaggle of body dissatisfaction and wedding weight loss efforts. I've learned to walk away. I've learned I can't let those things surround me as normal- especially when some of those dissatisfied have nothing tot worry about (most of them),
And them came facebook, where the walk away is much more complicated. This is because, in part, you just don't notice. The 'friend' count grew to include high school and college folks. What this really meant was I was losing more and more control over my feed. These were people I no longer really knew. In my small little world of those days I was the only one obsessed with starving myself and changing my body. Everyone else was happy; which furthered my fear that something was wrong with me and it had to be fixed.
Those nearly twenty years later, post babies, our twenties, and whatever else later, I was finding that i had grown to appreciate my body, but seemingly everyone on my feed hadn't. I noticed the beach body posts spoke a little louder, the shakeology posts I lingered on. Until I got mad at where all these other people's dissatisfaction was taking me. They were taking me out of a place I fought for. I fought through a pain I never want to redo
For me shakeology, and these other variety of 'nutritional' shakes mean you are sick. They mean you have to use them because your stomach just can't take eating any more food that has bulk. I have real issue with suggesting that drinking a shake has any place in normalized healthy eating, unless you are in a position to need a dose of extra calories that you just can;t stomach to eat. Because a normal, healthy life with food involves eating all colors, all tastes, all consistencies.
I can't tell you how many people I've unfollowed. There's always one that slips through like happened tonight. And she will be unfollowed too. I wish the best for people. I'm sorry I won't get to see the pictures of her baby as she grows. But, I have to protect my playground by keeping an eye on who my playmates are.
What if we could just say no. What if you could just tell you mind that you weren't interested in what it's selling. That's what the alcoholics do isn't it. They learn to just walk past the bar. They learn to change their playground. They learn to change their playmates. They learn to just say no. The argument has always been that you can't say no to food. It's not the same as alcohol. We need to eat. But, what if we could just say no.
You can't say no to food. For some, saying no to food is what got this whole thing so screwy in the first place. You can say no to your eating disorder. Your eating disorder is just a system of predictable thoughts that have learned to have a system of predictable behaviors. An alcoholic learns that walking in to a bar produces a system of predictable results. On the other end of the bottle are blackouts, fights with family, possibly domestic altercations, losses of jobs, etc.. What's on the other end of the predictable behaviors of your eating disorder?
Follow your thoughts for a minute. I sign up to believe I'm not perfect- let's pretend this is purely a body image comment (even though we know this type of thought is triggered from a real life interpretation of not being perfect at something unrelated to body image). What quickly follows is restriction- an effort to perfect the body. Think about how this done. Manipulation. Isolation. Shrinking life down- or likely there isn't much life going on already. Signing up to listen to the messages of not being perfect lead to what is on the other end.
Saying no isn't easy. It's hard when your mind is yelling at you to not eat that one more bite. It's hard when that one more bite says you won't be perfect. It's what eating that one more bite might also mean. It might mean the end of isolation. It might mean no longer participating in manipulation. It might mean living life. It might mean choices and strength. It might mean a life without fear. Say no.
Don't say no to food. It's not toxic like alcohol. Say no to your eating disorder. Say no to letting your life be controlled by something that no longer has your best interest. Say no to not believing in your own power. Say no to letting someone else tell you how you need to be and hiding behind it. Say yes to yourself. Say yes to your choices. Say yes to believing in your own power. Being empowered is beautiful. Don't let your eating disorder rob you of the opportunity to show the world your power. Be your own superhero.
Children eat up life. They run towards things. They eat them up. Young children aren't typically afraid of saying it like it is. It's the way they talk to each other. It's the way they interact with themselves. They act out what they've learn from their environment with their toys. My daughter will mimic activities I have done with her with her dolls. Almost everything is an experience to be had- even when she says no to something, she's got something else lined up to do instead. While she can lose her voice and be shy in her asking sometimes, she tends to tackle life without restriction.
How interesting that the words used to describe her behavior will describe our interaction with food. We have an insatiable appetite or will choose to restrict our food intake. How significant is it that restricting our food intake is the same as restricting our 'selves'. Those childlike insatiable appetite 'selves' that are hungry for life- love, friends, compassion, empathy. Restricting our 'selves' keeps us from being hungry for life. We show the symptoms by restricting food- a basic human need just as necessary as love, friends, compassion, and empathy.
A client relatively new to recovery came in expressing fear over the process of re-feeding, where all she finds herself doing is thinking about food. She described this insatiable appetite. I was quick to point out that anorexia is also a life of thinking about food all the time, in a much different way. The quest to live in absence of food creates a relationship that is constantly about food- the avoidance of. It can be a romantic relationship of yearning and longing. As the re-feeding begins and continues it isn't uncommon to constantly think about food. Removing the idea of restriction returns the mind to ideas of discovering wants aside from food.
The depths of the eating disorder shrink down one's world piece by piece until the relationship with it is all that matters. Friends drift away. Social engagements drift away. Hobbies drift away. Life essentially drifts away. When the eating disorder is asked to leave through no longer agreeing to restrict life through the restriction of food it opens up that insatiable appetite. It isn't for food, but for life. For friends. For social engagements. For hobbies. For the self and it's opinions, wants, loves, joys, and pains. It's the insatiable appetite seen only through food that is scary. It's critical to see that the eating disorder teaches us to avoid feelings entirely through communicating strictly through rules around food. Crucial to healing is replacing the communication about food with communication about our feelings.
The insatiable appetite my client described could be traced through her day to numerous interactions with loneliness, but feelings are so far away from how she has learned to communicate with herself that she had no idea the interactions of her day had caused her any pain. They had only caused an insatiable appetite that wouldn't go away and all day she wanted more. She needed more connection, more care, more compassion, more interest, more love. It's the depth of how big the fear of appetite is that can keep someone from recovering. Appetite isn't always about food. It's about learning to live. It's about turning the light back on in the soul and responding to it's needs for emotional nourishment. It's there that recovery can be found.
I'm behind again. That's become a sad truth about my life. I fantasize about having a slow morning to write a well crafted blog post. It just doesn't happen. Most mornings are hitting the ground running from one activity to the next. It would almost sound like I was complaining about that kind of pace. I"m not. It has too much value. While hitting the ground running and moving from one thing to the next can have it's stresses it also is what allows me to feel good and take life's punches. AND, life will punch- whether we want it to or not, whether we are ready for it or not, whether we feel prepared or ready for it or not. The best thing we can do is store up as many avenues for feel goods as we can to absorb the blow.
I'm not sure if it came from being an only child and having to learn to entertain myself or where exactly it came from, but I've always been good at hobbies. I've always been good at finding things to do with my time that interest me in some way. When I was a kid I was crafty. I doodled. I created things. I painted t-shirts. I stitched things. I filled my time. What I didn't know I was doing was that I was also filling my mind with things that kept other thoughts out. By constantly working on a hobby I was directing my mind with a place to go. I didn't have time to worry or fret over the ridiculous that my mind could conjure up. At least for a while.
Eventually my hobbies changed and accessibility affected when I could do my hobby, partially based off of parental transport. I didn't live on a farm and as my hobby shifted to riding horses it just wasn't feasible to be on the back off a horse as often as it was to pull out my drawing pad. As my eating disorder snuck it's way in the desire for hobbies lessened and I was consumed with the ridiculousness of trying to escape my feelings of despair during typical teenage angst (or maybe not so typical) by starving myself in the search for the perfect body. Sounds like a great hobby, right?
The problem, other than the obvious, is there isn't a formula. The odds of putting all your eggs in one basket and having an expectation that it will be the one thing that saves you is never a good idea. An eating disorder is all based off of a formula. Thin = awesome, perfect life, void of all pain. Bullshit. There is too much riding on the success of following the formula. It's impossible to have something always give you positive strokes enough that it can carry you against life's punches. But, we need good feelings. Honest, good feelings... from a number of places.
I've been lucky. Riding horses has stuck with me. I've also managed to develop a healthy relationship with running and weight training. I have a family that I adore. While there are stresses to balancing all of those things, they are my feel goods. And let's be honest and real for a minute. They don't ALL always feel good. I've been through injuries that have taken out running. My journey with my horse has been a roller coaster ride. There are times when I need a break from my family. I also make jewelry and have a career. Both of which energize me and drain me. The point is that while any of those things can be doing well; there is an equal chance that some of them are doing terribly and fall under those things in life that punch at us. If any of those things were the only thing I was counting on for my feel good I wouldn't be able to handle life's punches and that terrible side of it. It would fee like too much.
Feel goods are necessary. Essential. They are the things that get us through when we need to feel good and life is handing us a bunch of lemons instead of lemonade. And for those of us who suffer from depression and anxiety type symptoms they are the lifeline that may hold us together on the dark, dark, dreary days.
Persistence. I'm not sure what that webster guy would define persistence as. I do know that it is hard to keep it. Persistence seems fleeting. Persistence seems like something that 'those' people have. You know, those 'other' people. I see myself as a relatively determined and hard-working person, in some things. I'll admit to gladly taking the easier road on occasion. Although, the easier road is a great deal subjective. Persistence. Persistence seems to me like something only to be explained by Yoda.
I've thought a lot about what persistence is. I had a dog in high school that I would define as persistent. He knew how to get your attention. He would come up and nudge your hand hoping you would slip your hand on top of his head. Inevitably upon first, second, even possibly third attempt, he would get dismissed. He never quit. He would keep returning until you gave in. He would get those ears scratched. His persistence paid off.
It's interesting to consider where I've been persistent in my life and where I've fallen short. How does persistence tie into what we perceive as success? How do we value whether or not our persistence has paid off? I've worked to jump the biggest, run the fastest, be the thinnest. While I may have achieved some relative success, each of those efforts was set up to win some sort of external recognition or accolade. None of them had the internal effect I really needed or desired. So, what was missing?
Persistence exists intrinsically and defines success through an internal barometer. Having to look inwards to define how hard I need to work for something allows me to make my own decisions about success and to create a persistent effort in taking care of myself. I don't have to jump bigger, run the fastest, or be the thinnest. The consequences of trying to meet the expectations of a moving bar are toxic. That's a game changer.
I get it, right. Everyone has hard parts of their day. I'm lucky. I really enjoy my job. Sure, I don't want to go sometimes; but, I really enjoy what I do. I'm always glad to be in the room. The hard part of my job is having been there.
Some cases hit closer to home than others. While having had an eating disorder, I can relate to parts of what most people bring in, there are those cases that just really stare right back at me like a mirror. I love those cases. It reminds me why I do what I do. It also reminds me how F%$#ing hard it is to battle an eating disorder. The cases where I end up going toe to toe with someone else's eating disorder are rewarding and exhausting. It's most of the time mitigated by the fact that I have multiple people on different parts of the journey at any given point. Those that are further along remind me that there is healing. Having been through it, without seeing others, I would begin to feel like an unlikely anomally.
And then there are those who are a mirror of my past. It's a deep, dark, twisting road of a past. Listening to how desperately they want help, to be told the magic fix, I'm reminded often how hard it is to let go. I remember going to my own therapy appointments and coming home. I was angry that they couldn't fix it. I don't know how my therapists felt back then. I am clearly aware that change isn't about control, willpower, or motivation. It's about the buy-in.
The buy-in is what the eating disorder promises. We are used to hearing if I weigh less I'll be happy. That's the buy-in. For some even it's the idea that if we gain enough weight we can disappear. It's sitting across from someone listening to their stories that they tell themselves and remembering the exact moment that I believed the same things they are telling themselves. It's knowing the pattern they are doing with food is the same pattern I used to do. I'd hold myself to the same punishment. It's knowing that I fought back against my eating disorder. Somehow. Someway. I stood up. It's knowing that they will too. And it may not be with me and it may not be today; but, through the tears in their eyes and the holding back of my own, I know that they can recover.