When I Lost Myself, I Lost You By Extension

First of all, I want to thank everyone who has reached out to me at all to tell me that they’re diggin’ the blog. As you might imagine, writing some of these things down takes some courage. It’s gotten much easier now that it’s all out there, but it’s still scary! Every kind word and honest conversation that I’ve had has confirmed that I should keep doing what I’m doing, and it means more than you can imagine. So, THANK YOU!

The past week has been strange to say the least. I suppose that for the first time, the effects of my eating disorder and overall emotional instability became too pressing of an issue to ignore any longer. I was broken up with. Or we broke up. I mean, it was kind of mutual. I can’t really put my finger on it.

Brandon and I met one night about four years ago. He was an active alcoholic at the time, and I was unaware. We shared a bottle of rum and fell in love because we both liked Radiohead, and we were drunk. Should I be surprised that things didn’t work out? I’ll skip over the middle part and get to the now. We went through a lot of things together, most importantly, Brandon’s eventual sobriety. He has three years under his belt now, which is truly amazing. Over those three years, he worked diligently to become the best person that he possibly could be. He graduated college and ended up with a job that he is passionate about while admirably devoting his spare energy to helping other men who struggle with addiction. Also during those years, we lived a fulfilling and fortunate life together. We loved one another unconditionally for the most part. We had experiences I wouldn’t have wanted to have with anyone else. We broke it off on good terms which is refreshing. I am already looking back on our past with love and very little resentment.

The past eight months or so, I wasn’t exactly what one might consider “relationship material.” Before then, my eating habits weren’t highly invasive. There was an unspoken rule about not using the bathroom after meals, and my worst days were marked by vocalized self-loathing, but I was physically and mentally functional. I was still myself. When things began their downward spiral, I slowly isolated myself, which left Brandon to take it all in on his own. He was nothing short of a miracle worker during this time. Despite his frustration, he provided me with a ridiculous amount of support. Still, when we hung out, I was often too cold and tired to get out of bed. These “dates” weren’t fun for either of us. At some point, I had taken to calling him at 4 a.m. when he would be getting ready for work to talk about how I didn’t want to live anymore. He would have just gotten out of bed, and I would greet him on the other end barely able to speak because I was crying so hard. Our level of intimacy dwindled to zero at some point, mostly because my body no longer produced any estrogen. I quite literally felt nothing, making any attempt to show affection feel forced and even painful. All of this lead to maintaining a relationship in which no connections were made in months. At a certain point, I didn’t care. I felt guilty, sure, but I couldn’t care because I was spending my time weighing out portions of kale and trying to regain feeling in my limbs. A time came during my recovery in which I realized that I hadn’t had a meaningful thought or conversation in months. Connecting thoughts into words and actions had become something that was difficult for me. After all of this, my condition took its toll on the relationship. Brandon was no longer my boyfriend, but a resource. It came down to an ultimatum some time in December; it was him or my eating disorder. I can’t say that the decision was clear, although it should have been. After begging me to get help, I finally accepted it. I wanted to make it work, I really did.

It’s been roughly six months in recovery now, which is crazy to even think about. I’ve come a long way, which is something we both recognized, but that doesn’t mean that the damage wasn’t lingering. Even more so, it seems that new problems came about. My preoccupation with food and exercise is still very present. For me, this is important. I do still have days in which I practice disordered behavior as I’ve written about. Mostly, though, it’s a relationship [with food] that I’m trying to “normalize” and fit into my daily life.

Thankfully, as an adult in recovery, I choose what I eat. Nobody is feeding me Pop-Tarts to plump me up, so I choose to focus on good nutrition. Whether or not I have an eating disorder, I believe that nutrition and healthy food choices should be something that an individual devotes a certain amount of time and money to. Brandon saw these efforts as disordered and obsessive. It’s understandable, because it’s still easy for me to get caught up. I am picky about the restaurants I go to, making it quite expensive to eat out. I haven’t attended a home-cooked meal with his family because I would have too many  concerns about my food. He set a rule that I could not talk about food when we weren’t eating a meal. Woah, okay, slow down. I am dating a recovering alcoholic who talks about AA meetings, his spiritual condition, and interactions with sponsees on a very regular basis, and I’m not allowed to talk about food in a positive light? I understand that preoccupation with anything can be exhausting in a relationship – but I had trouble making the differentiation, therefore, I would not comply with this rule. All of the resentment and turmoil on his end was weighing on him, and he explained to me that he no longer felt like himself because of it. With that said, I can’t blame him for his decision.

Overall, I believe that we’re both in a place where we can no longer offer one another what is necessary for a functional and satisfactory relationship. We both ended up removed from ourselves, which made the barrier in our relationship much more prevalent. In the end, I just don’t think we could ignore it. We met when we were kids and we grew up. Now, it’s time to work on me. And I hope that he takes this time to refocus as well.

I’m moving on now. Something shifted that couldn’t be fixed, and I knew it. Naturally, this was all quite gradual, but the shift itself was rather sudden. In the past week, I made a plan for my life that is geared toward me and only me. I’m 21 and I’ve been in community college for a little while now. I was using this affordable means of an education as a way to retrain my brain after blowing off high school entirely. I ended my most recent semester confident that I had learned how to discipline myself academically, and I’m ready to go to a “real” college now. It’s not that this wasn’t in the plan, I just had my doubts. Today, I have none. I’m going to be moving to Washington state by October, and Brandon wasn’t interested in the journey. I’m going to deem this factor the cherry on top. Despite our (now questionable) devotion to one another, the long-distance thing wouldn’t have benefited either of us. More on the whole move later once I figure out what exactly I’m doing, but I am ridiculously excited to begin this next chapter!

So, there’s the short explanation. Also, we broke up at a CONOR OBERST SHOW. I had to laugh when I knew where the conversation was going. I mean, it’s brilliant. It was almost as good as the time we broke up before a Bon Iver show, except there were a lot more tears. Somehow, this time, I don’t feel quite sad. I feel liberated and comfortable with the idea that this is the way things were meant to be. I have been spending time reconnecting with old friends, making new ones, and absolutely loving the ones I see every day. I spent the last two days hiking around, sipping coffee outside, rolling around in the dirt, and running across bridges in the rain. I plan on making the most of my time left here in Pittsburgh this summer, and that simply doesn’t involve all the “what ifs.” Besides the Jack White ticket that belongs to me. I’m gonna fight to the death (or Judge Judy) for that one…

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You Look Great!

A few nights ago, I saw a friend who I hadn’t seen in quite awhile. As I first walked by, his initial reaction to my appearance was shock. He called me over and proceeded to tell me how great I looked. This “compliment” is easier to swallow now that I don’t think to myself, “Thank you, but I’m actually dying and I have literally never felt worse, but hey, at least I look GREAT.” Still, it’s not easy.

A little later on, he stopped mid-conversation as though a little light bulb went off and kindly asked me how it felt to always be told how good you look. I breathed a giant sigh of relief. Nobody ever asks this question. I told him honestly that it felt awkward. He doesn’t know how I got to look this way, and I don’t owe him an explanation. I told him that I would much rather have people spark up more meaningful conversation with me along the lines of nutrition and fitness in regards to my appearance. He seemed to understand, and we had an enthusiastic conversation about food. I try my best to always move in this direction when having these types of conversation in which I don’t find it necessary to explain my recovery.

Last night, I went out to catch up with a few friends. They had apparently been keeping up with my story through social media, so they kind of knew where I was at. To me, that means this blog is working (yay). I was able to have honest and open conversation with them while we talked about cooking and exercise, not just how skinny I am now (though that did come up, too). Later in the night, a girl who was hardly even an acquaintance approached me. I knew her by association, but we had never talked before. She proceeded to explain how she admired my weight loss and appearance. Again, I felt that awkwardness. As I tried to just move with the conversation, I began to feel guilty because I don’t want to be respected for nearly killing myself. Then there’s that line I get, “It’s not that you didn’t look good before, but you look GREAT now.”

At this point, I’ve almost entirely detached myself from any pride I once felt in my weight loss. I mean, it’s undeniably a huge part of my identity. First of all, I am at a healthy weight. Since putting on a few pounds over the last few months, I look vibrant and hydrated once again. Nobody is telling me that I look emaciated anymore. Second, it’s a 100 pound loss. Technically, I am much healthier than I was. Just because I owe most of my progress to disordered eating doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a few healthier periods of time. So, do I have to feel so guilty?

Last week, I was having a conversation with a regular customer at the coffee shop I work at. We were talking about something I can’t recall and he asked, “You run, don’t you?” I confirmed that I did, just for fun – no marathons or anything. As the conversation went on, it just kinda slipped out; “Well, I lost 100 pounds, so I just try to stay active to maintain my weight now.” Now I’m reconsidering my detachment. After getting to know somebody, this tends to just slip out. I suppose I kind of like the initial shock assuming the person I’m talking to didn’t know me when I was “fat.” That way, I can feel that pride. To them, I’m just a massive success story. As far as they know, I restored my health, I didn’t destroy it.

Let me clarify, I am not angry with any of these people. One, they are entirely innocent and two, I am extremely sensitive. I guess what I’m trying to ask is how do I talk about my weight loss now? What is appropriate? I believe that was my main objective when starting this blog. I figured this would serve as a fair warning to people on how to approach me if they really felt the need to talk about how GREAT I look. The average woman might thrive on such compliments, but I shrink.  When I’m told how thin I am, my first thought is, “But I’m not.” I don’t want to think about my body. I don’t want to be forced to give advice that I’m unqualified to give. I am conventionally attractive because I starved myself, and now I’m being held accountable.

On a positive note, I went an entire day without thinking a single negative thought about myself. This doesn’t happen often. Actually, it never happens. I sat down on my couch at the end of a long day, and I realized that I didn’t even break out the measuring tape that morning. I also ran my FASTEST mile ever the other day! The most incredible thing in the world to me is the lucid moment while running when you become aware of how amazing your body is. It’s beautiful to be overcome with gratitude for all the things I take for granted; strong, sturdy legs that move me, eyes that can see to take in the view. I’m hoping that things will continue in a positive direction, at least for a little while. On yet another positive note (who knew I could come up with so many?), Pittsburgh celebrated Food Revolution day last weekend. I got to eat tons of free food that was fresh and delicious. It was the only place in the city serving up tacos, sushi and ice cream in one place as far as I know, so it was pretty much a dream come true. Also, BABY ANIMALS. I forgot how joyous petting zoos are! And all for a good cause.

 

 

 

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

To counteract my last quite grim post, I shall write an overwhelmingly POSITIVE one! This seems to be the way life goes anyway. I’m not very familiar with what people refer to as “middle ground.” In fact, I’m almost certain that it’s a myth.

I had the fine pleasure of attending “A Conversation With Michael Pollan” last night. Chef Bill Fuller who owns the Big Burrito chain conducted a casual interview with him which included an audience question and answer session afterwards. I have read most of Pollan’s work at this point, and I owe a lot of this recovery business to him. I first read ‘In Defense of Food,’ which sealed the deal for me. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Could it get any simpler? I fell in love with the idea, and quickly devoted myself to large plates of plants (still, not too much) and a little bit of something else. When you adapt to this diet, after eating processed foods (or nothing at all in my case), the difference in the body is profound. It’s a cure-all. Your brain is fed, and the rest of the body follows in its lead.

I am roughly halfway through ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma,’ which explores the nature of our food chain, and why it’s important that we keep it as short as we can. This is something I have been trying harder and harder to practice, and it’s really valuable. The food also tends to taste and look a lot better. He mentioned during the interview that he had transformed a lot of people into vegetarians with this book, but also the opposite – many vegetarians now realized that they could source meat responsibly and adapted to non-vegetarian diets.

I like the artfulness in his work. After all, he did go to school for journalism, not anything science-related. I think that’s what drew me – I love nutrition and wellness, but I hate the strictly scientific approach. I think that we should focus less on how our bodies metabolize sugar and more on the fact that vegetables are good for literally everyone, so yeah… just eat more of ’em, I don’t know. I got a 0% in chemistry once, I’m pretty sure I broke a record with that one. I also love his approach to writing in the sense that he seeks a new experience of his own to report on. He isn’t using someone else’s data, he’s just narrating in the proper manner. As a result, he presents the facts about food and agriculture as they really are from the factory farm to his own kitchen.

During the interview, I found myself nearly brought to tears. Obviously, I struggle with food. I’ve grown to resent it because of my eating disorder. Even more so, I’ve grown to resent industrialized food which seems inescapable. Only the latter is acceptable. Brandon has taken to calling me an elitist with the way I talk about food. We joked that I’m going to make a t-shirt with the word ‘el-EAT-ist’ printed on it. I CAN get a little preachy, but we have to fix the damage of the Western diet one person at a time, one habit at a time. That’s a fact, and there is no denying it. I understood mid-lecture that I feel more passionate about food than anything else. Despite all the turbulence, I know what I want for myself, and that is to reverse this damage and flourish. I want to devote myself to sustainable food, and I want to make a career of it.

Without the struggle I’ve faced, I’m not sure that I ever would have known the pleasures of food that I do now. I know what it’s like to eat a meal that came from within 50 miles of my home. I understand the delicious luxury of an all-organic fruit smoothie. I know the joy of making a meal that is bursting with flavor because I devoted my leisure time to cooking instead of microwaving. I am able to cook intuitively because I have practiced enough to develop a skill. I appreciate the privilege of eating at restaurants whose menus change daily because they are cooking responsibly. I know what it’s like to escape obesity and the disease that inevitably follows. I know what it’s like to be nourished because I eat real food instead of food-like products. As Michael Pollan says, we vote with our forks three times a day. Each of those votes count, and we should not take that freedom for granted. All of that is enough to feel grateful for even if it took some serious anguish to get there.

BUT BUT BUT on top of all that, thanks to my incredibly generous boyfriend who wants to make ~all my dreamz come true, I had the pleasure of attending the Locavore Supper before the lecture. Pittsburgh’s best chefs curated beautiful, responsibly and locally sourced small plates of HEAVEN for me to put in my mouth one after the other. I’m pretty sure Brandon and I devoted the entire hour or so to chewing and saying, “This is SO good” over and over to one another. We had nettle pierogi, kraut, apple butter, grass-fed beef kielbasa, corn chow chow, mushroom pate, some sort of liver, local cheeses, smoked fish, tons of pickled ramps, lamb tartare, asparagus salad, duck pate, sausage puree, cured trout, lacto-fermented knotweed, hummus, fava beans, and a caramel rhubarb dessert. I am surely missing some things! I can only dream of one day of being able to work with food like these people do – it is truly an art. The food was accompanied by delicious rye on the rocks from Wigle Whiskey and Commonplace coffee (my absolute faaaaaaavorite). I am overcome with gratitude, and I am so lucky to be able to have experiences like this. I feel really inspired to get back on track with treating my body well and putting my whole heart into cooking again.

I also got a new hair-do today. It makes me feel like I should carry a brief case filled with bananas because I hate paper work and run for office. Even more good news – finals week is OVER and I managed straight 100% exams! There is always a bright side, and this is it.

FOODrhubarblocavore pollan

 

 

It Feels Like I Only Go Backwards

I’m still maintaining an active eating disorder, and it is not okay.

Over the past few months, I’ve experienced an incredible range of behaviors. For a brief period of time, things were going extremely well. I had spent a month or two adjusting to eating normal amounts – I began around 800-900 calories and slowly worked my way up to around 2,000. Eventually, I even stopped counting. For the first time I felt that I could trust my body to tell me what it needed and be kind enough to comply. It felt amazing. It felt like freedom! I could have sworn I was better. I had found the key to utter bliss as well as optimal brain functioning, high energy levels, good sleep, and no more weight fluctuation. So, where am I now?

I don’t sleep very much at all anymore. When my body was first adjusting to higher calorie intake, I would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night absolutely RAVENOUS. So, I’d have something light with protein – banana and PB, hummus and crackers – and head back to bed. It was obvious that my body was craving it for a reason, so I listened. At the time, those disturbances weren’t very invasive. On any given night now, I wake up at least three times. Out of instinct or habit, not quite lucid, I eat. Usually I do this all three times. I get back into bed and I cry. I feel completely helpless. Most nights, I end up vomiting. Every morning, I wake up drenched in sweat. My throat is sore, my face is swollen, my entire body is dehydrated and puffy with water.

I immediately get out of bed and measure myself. My tape is located directly underneath of my bedside table. Before anything, I take hips, waist, thighs in that order. Usually, this brings me to a fit of tears. I use the bathroom and I hop on the scale. More tears. Because of all the night eating and purging, my weight has 1) actually increased and 2) fluctuates in a 10-15 pound range. I have tried to have the scale hidden from me, but I always find it.

Sometimes, I try to start over. At least I used to. Now I don’t bother. It takes me too long to start my day now to eat breakfast or even exercise most times. I actually did go for a run the other day, followed up by some light leg work at home. I felt sore in the MIDDLE of my exercise – not even the next day. And I am someone who has been moderately active 3-5 days a week for a few years now. I wake up in a strangely crippled state. My whole body feels like it’s been stretched against its will, rendering me unmovable. As I recall the night before, I feel even more hopeless. I lay frozen and panicked until everything subsides.

As a fairly busy and productive person, I don’t really have time for this. I work two jobs, I just finished a semester of school alongside a weekly carpentry class, and I tend to have other projects at any given time at home or volunteering – whatever keeps me busy, really. Fortunately, I’m forced out of my funk each day when I go to my job. Sometimes, it’s nearly unbearable though. I am usually so exhausted from the lack of sleep I’m getting. I skip breakfast, lunch, sometimes dinner. By the middle of my day, I’m running on empty. As soon as I start to feel okay for a moment, my reality sinks in. I am overwhelmed by my lack of control. I feel this deep sense of shame that makes me want desperately not to be me at that moment. And it’s agonizing.

All of my waking thoughts are intrusive and cruel. I am constantly battling against myself. I pinch at my sides and my belly all day with disgust. I go to the bathroom often just to perform “body-checks” in which I see if I look any different than I did an hour ago (I don’t). I cringe when my thighs touch. Every thought about food is followed by confirmation that I don’t deserve food.

Some days are better than others, really. Lately, they’ve mostly been bad. Really, it seems like my own fault. I don’t know how I ended up where I am now, but it’s easily one of the worst cycles that I have ever experienced. Everything around me and within me is unbearably loud and forceful, making it impossible to suppress all the negative energy with anything. I live in a house that doesn’t feel like home, and I sleep in a bed that doesn’t feel like my own.

I feel like I’m running out of possible solutions, which only makes me want to work harder. I want SO badly to be happy. I want to be emotionally stable enough to be present in my relationship. I want to feel physically well again. I want to enjoy the cooking I do. I want to practice what I preach, and the simple truth is that it’s not that easy. I’m struggling, and I’m going to remain accountable for my actions.

Things will get better. Fortunately, I had a refreshingly beautiful evening with friends who make all of this weird, horrible, self-loathing a whole lot more bearable. We went to a happy hour where our bartender served us our drinks with a history of their decade. Kate thought he was pretentious, but I found him rather charming. I mean, like, I wanted to marry him. Later, we spent the evening outside sipping fresh juices mixed with gin playing really captivating covers on guitar ranging from Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ to Miley Cyrus’ ‘Party in the USA.’ It was a much needed break from my daily routine. And it’s the weekend!

 

 friiiiends