Month: May 2013

Recovery and Relationships

One of the most devastating and heartbreaking truths of my life is the incompatibility of my eating disorder with human relationships.

I mean, in the most obvious sense, when I devote all my energy to something as demanding and isolating as an eating disorder, there’s simply not enough of me left to devote to the people around me. As an introvert, I spend a good deal of time on my own anyway, but in many ways that made it much easier for anorexia to steal me away. But there’s more than that. An eating disorder becomes a relationship – a separate entity in itself that requires consistent commitment and sacrifice. In fact, in therapy it is often compared to an abusive partner. Everything I did was suggested or approved by the unsatisfied voice in my head. If I didn’t follow its instructions or disobeyed the rules it set for me, I was riddled with guilt and forced to endure an agonizing period of penance.

Relationships are always difficult. They require the dynamic balance of give and take, otherwise they become dangerously unhealthy. I mean, my eating disorder loved telling me that if I followed its guidelines, I would be happy and beautiful and desirable, but I almost gave my life to anorexia and not once did I ever reap the supposed benefits. And I think the reason I was so susceptible to its deception was because I had never known a completely healthy relationship.

I’ve always had issues with my self esteem. Like every middle school girl, I was self-conscious about my appearance and awkward in my interactions with others. I went through a period of time when I didn’t have a single friend to my name, and when I finally found people who were willing to spend time with me, I was completely confounded as to why they would want to do that at all. Through the years, my friends were split distinctly into two categories: the givers and the takers.

The givers were the people I leaned on when I was going through a hard time. There were not very many of them, and I didn’t admit to needing them very often, but they were there. But when I didn’t need them, I avoided nurturing a relationship with them because they were a constant reminder of my detestable weakness. I hated myself for placing such a burden on them.

The takers, on the other hand, were plentiful. Those were the friends who leaned on me when they were going through a hard time. I often took on these people’s problems at the expense of my own well-being – dropping everything for them, taking phone calls in the middle of the night, neglecting my own emotions in favor of theirs. In these friendships, I felt no guilt because I was selflessly working for the betterment of others. I sought out the brokenhearted and lonely, hoping that by devoting myself to them, I would be able to separate from the unpleasantness in my own life.

My eating disorder was just another taker. It confirmed my fear that no one truly loved me and convinced me almost fully that I didn’t deserve givers at all. Finally, instead of constantly worrying that I wasn’t worthy of love, I knew for a fact that it was true. My efforts became focused on simultaneously punishing and improving myself through this ridiculous set of rules, because I was promised that when I was done I wouldn’t have to feel guilty anymore.

Because I’ve been thinking this way for a very long time, I know it’s not going to change overnight. I don’t know how to magically maintain awesome friendships any more than I know how to magically cure myself of the urge to restrict my diet. But I’m slowly learning. I try to spend more time with the givers, sitting through the guilt long enough to start to realize that they do truly care about me. I try to set boundaries with the takers, allowing myself to take a break from other peoples’ issues in order to deal with my own. Someday, I’m hoping the relationships worth saving will settle into a pattern that is both comfortable and healthy. Some relationships may not survive, but that’s okay too. I’m coming to terms with the fact that I’m allowed to need support, and that doesn’t make me any less available when others need it too.

I’m lucky enough to have a huge amount of people in my life that love and care about me. I am grateful every day that I have those people to make me laugh, pull me through the rough patches, and make me feel important. All of these people are deserving of healthy, give-and-take relationships – and you know what?

So am I.

I can’t have it both ways. It’s either anorexia or the group of beautiful people that show me how strong and good the human race can be. Living the right choice in my daily life is incredibly difficult, but the choice itself is a no-brainer. And it is absolutely and doubtlessly worth it.

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Change is a Beginning

“All endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time.”
Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven

When it comes to change, I am an incurable pessimist.

At the age of seven or eight, my parents told me that I had the chance to redo my bedroom. I was going to have the opportunity to choose what color I wanted my walls to be, to pick out my own border, and to sleep in a double bed. My brother, as it turned out, had outgrown his crib and was poised to take over the daybed I’d been sleeping in since I was a toddler.

The prospect of such a redecoration was exciting to me, but at the same time made me oddly uncomfortable. I liked looking through the books of borders, and I made good choices regarding the decor (I still approve of the way it looks even at the age of 21). But the day my new ceiling fan was installed, I started to cry. I remember climbing down the stairs that night and rummaging through the garage to find the light that no longer hung above me while I slept, and feeling suspiciously like I’d just murdered my best friend.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my ceiling fan. In the summer, when it’s unbearably hot, I turn it on high and lay sprawled on my back until my evaporating sweat gives me delicious shivers. I just didn’t love it right away, because I felt too loyal to the light I saw when I woke up every morning for years. The day it was replaced, my world was robbed of consistency, and I was afraid.

Maybe it’s stupid. You know what, I admit it’s pretty stupid. After all, it was just a ceiling fan. Besides the room I slept in, my life remained exactly the same as it always had been. But that was the first moment I felt my sense of self being disrupted by a transition outside of my control.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that leaving that light behind enabled me to move forward and appreciate the benefits of having a ceiling fan. Sure, I missed the way things were. But now, more than fifteen years later, I don’t miss it at all. It seems silly that I was so upset over such a minor change, and I can’t imagine my life any other way anymore.

Life is full of changes. Some are small, like replacing the lighting in your bedroom, and others seem insurmountable, like moving halfway across the country for college. Personally, I don’t discriminate – I hate all change equally. But that doesn’t stop it from happening. It merely turns the situation into a fight against fate, a battle that I will always inevitably lose.

The thing is, I’m missing out on a lot by choosing to look at every change as an ending rather than a beginning. It ensures that I remain constantly in the past, nostalgic for things that may or may not be as wonderful as I remember them. It ensures that I never allow myself to give 100% to the present and the future. And most of all, it ensures that I will never really be happy.

I’m coming up on a pretty big change. Moving into my own apartment in a town a thousand miles away from home is a scary prospect, and I can’t help thinking that I will soon become an exact replica of my mother. Sure, it’s kind of the end of my “childhood” in that I will be responsible for all of my own cooking and cleaning for the first time ever, but it also allows me an enormous amount of freedom to grow into the person I truly want to be, separate from the pressures of my family and friends. It is the end of the girl who needs to be taken care of and the beginning of the strong independent woman that can take care of herself (but who also knows when to ask for help). Change is scary. But it has the potential to be something wonderful.

I refuse to remain a pessimist. I can no longer stand to live in my guilt-ridden past, and I shouldn’t have to. Some things are about to end. Some things have already ended. But with every ending comes a chance to start over again, to let myself seize the moment and adapt to a situation that may very well be better than any of the ones I’ve experienced before.

The 10 Weirdest Dreams I’ve Ever Had

1) Harry Potter and the Evil Gym Teacher

In this thrilling mystery, I was assigned to assist Harry Potter in solving a crime at the local high school, which we both attended. Shrek, who was the gym teacher, played a very convincing villain. At one point I opened my locker to find a severed human leg sliced at the knee and ankle.

2) The Revenge of the Teddy Bear

I was given a teddy bear for my birthday, but it was not as innocent as it seemed – the second I went downstairs, it transformed into a real bear and chased me out of the house and into a mattress store. Unfortunately, I had uncontrollable compulsions to lie down on every single mattress I passed, which made it easy for the bear to catch up to me and swallow me whole.

3) Whose Baby Is It, Anyway?

One warm and breezy spring morning, I woke up eight months pregnant. I was fairly terrified, for good reason, considering that even in the world of my dreams I was definitely not having any sex. But no one believed me when I said the baby wasn’t mine! (The next day I had a newfound understanding of how the Virgin Mary must have felt.)

4) The Other Neighborhood (Recurring)

This semi-weekly saga began with a casual walk around my neighborhood, but then the scenery would change dramatically and I would find myself in a slightly darker version of my natural surroundings. In this “alternate neighborhood,” my parents were serial killers and I was constantly on the run from my alternate self, a psychotic bitch who was frighteningly skilled at wielding a crossbow.

5) The Contest

Tired of being the oldest staff member on camp that had never been kissed, I decided to hold a Bachelorette-style competition to help me figure out who would deflower my lips. After several grueling rounds of awkward dates and painful eliminations, I finally had my Drew Barrymore moment on stage in front of all the kids. (There are SO many reasons why this is messed up and should never happen.)

6) My Brother, the Fairy

In this tragic tale, my younger brother was transformed from a child into a fairy. I entered his bedroom to find his Hot Wheels set abandoned and a tiny winged creature floating by his window. After saying a tearful goodbye to my only sibling, I opened the window and let him fly freely into the heavy twilight.

7) You Can’t Save Everybody

A story of true love and the inevitability of destiny, this dream had me jumping through time during a romantic relationship. Early on, I found out that my lover would die in a shootout, and I went to desperate measures to prevent this from happening. However, each time I saved him there was another casualty – sometimes I died, sometimes a whole school full of kids died, and actually one time I was pregnant and my unborn baby died. In the end, I had to learn to let him go and realize that sometimes horrible things happen for a reason. (This plotline felt oddly familiar – has someone made a movie about this before?)

8) The Number 41

I was repeatedly forced to stand on scales which all read “141.” I swear this was like a three-hour dream, and all I did was step onto various scales the entire time.

9) Camp Armageddon

It was the night we were all dreading – the night the world was going to end. I was up at Camp Calumet with my friends and my mail carrier, and we sat at the arts & crafts table making tissue paper flowers silently until the rapture took my mail carrier to heaven and left everyone else behind.

10) Memory Check

On an innocent visit to my high school’s performing arts center, the director announced that as a surprise pre-show act, the cast of the 2009 competition play, Flowers for Algernon, was going to perform. Everyone else remembered their lines (FROM FOUR F*CKING YEARS AGO, WHO EVEN DOES THAT) but I couldn’t even remember my character’s name. I was then laughed off the stage and as I ran crying into the wings, I realized I wasn’t wearing any pants.

Daily Prompt: Unconventional Love

In my life, I’ve loved a lot of people. I’ve also been lucky enough to be loved by a lot of people.

What is a conventional love story? Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl, boy and girl live happily ever after? That’s certainly the story that 98% of romantic comedies teach us. Either that or one of them dies at the end (although generally those movies are less comedic).

I’ve never had a love story like that. I’ve never had that kind of love at all. Unless “spineless girl pines for boy she’ll never speak to” is a fashionable new branch of romance.

A great deal of my time has been spent wallowing in the woes of my sad, sad love life. I feel as though that’s a pretty normal rom-com “girl” thing to do. I mean, Drew Barrymore did it in Never Been Kissed, and then she got Michael Vartan in the end, which is a spectacular end to an almost comically depressing story. But is that really conventional? No, she was a journalist masquerading as a high school student who ended up falling in love with her teacher – not exactly the most banal of circumstances. Even our “conventional” love stories are still pretty atypical. You want to know why? Because conventional love stories are boring. My parents, for example, met in a textile engineering graduate program, fell in love, and got married. I don’t see anybody making a movie about that. I mean, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t watch it even if they did. It sounds like it would include a lot of science, which I’m not very good at, nor do I particularly enjoy. But that’s not the point. The point is that the love stories we hear about on the news and watch on TV are all unconventional. That’s why they’re so beautiful and fascinating. That’s why people pay attention.

Unconventional love seems exciting. I’ll admit that it would be a pretty incredible story if I were dying of cancer and became romantically involved with my oncologist, or if I fell in love with the subject of my magazine article while trying to scare him away from me (I’m looking at you, Kate Hudson).

But those stories also kind of suck. I mean, for one, I don’t want to get cancer. That seems like a pretty big downer, and I don’t think I could seduce anybody if I were bald because my head is very oddly shaped. But even in Never Been Kissed, Josie had a seriously horrific high school career. I loved high school, and I would not choose to go through that even if I knew I’d get Michael Vartan at the end (although I might seriously consider it for like a second because that man is insanely attractive). Somehow, the situations are always dramatic, scary, or sad, even if they’re downplayed in a sort of comedic way.

So maybe I wouldn’t watch a movie about my parents’ relationship. But I would choose a love like that over a lifetime with Matthew McConaghey’s rock hard abs. Not everything about them is conventional, obviously, because nothing is ever exactly the same in any two relationships. But while my parents have been married for almost 26 years, nobody bothers showing you what happens after the couple makes out for awhile and the credits roll. Give me convention. Give me stability. Give me unconditional, unwavering love. No games, no unrealistically witty banter, no unethical situations. I mean, I guess if it turns out that way, so be it. I like a good story as much as anyone, especially since I would love to write about it. But I don’t care if there isn’t some wacky situation or overdramatic proposal. Just give me real, 24-karat, genuine love. And I’ll be beyond happy with that.

The Best Summer Ever

WATERFALL

Summer 2009.

Everything went perfectly.

It rained for two weeks straight, but I was out of program so all I really had to do was sit in my tent with the flap just barely open and watch the rain as it created these little mud lakes everywhere. Some kids grumbled when they saw the puddles, but others strapped on their rain boots and jumped. I mean, I learned a lot from those kids. Even if things aren’t going the way you want or expect, all it takes is a little faith and a little courage and a little jump to get something great out of it anyway.

I sucked it up and learned from other people, trusted other people, and trusted myself. I really let myself be open to all the little things that those around me had to teach me, and it taught me more than eleven years of schooling ever could. I was the authority figure, the one with all the responsibility, but that didn’t mean I had to act like a grown up. These kids made me remember what it was like to be twelve or thirteen, so incredibly self conscious and unsure and trying desperately to figure out who they were. But even with all that heavy stuff weighing on them, they were still kids. Underneath the front they put up that made them seem more mature and collected, they were the kind of innocent that I remember being. They really loved each other, without any hesitation or petty reasons not to. They were incredibly open to every possibility the world had to offer them. They could go from building a blanket fort among the bunk beds and sneaking chocolate when they thought I couldn’t see them to having a serious conversation about love and loss. And most of all, they accepted me not only as their counselor, but as their friend. They let me crawl underneath their blanket fort with them and share silly stories; they gave me makeovers with their zillion color eye shadow palette. When I shared my experiences with them, they would gaze at me intently with their wide eyes, soaking up every word I had to say. Things I said made sense to them, because they knew that I had been exactly where they were and that I’d gotten through it, even the times that seemed the most messed up and hopeless. They were suggestible but not stupid; they had very good judgment (although they pushed the envelope at times). They allowed me to become a part of their lives just as I allowed them to become a part of mine, and I am positive that both parties came out better for it.

I spent time with my best friends, solidifying old relationships and forging new ones. We escaped to the lakeside on days off, sharing sunscreen and stories and having stupid diving competitions. We pushed each other through lifeguard training at the beginning of the summer and cried together on the last night, laying with our heads in the sand and watching the full moon as its reflection shimmered on the lake for the last time in 2009. We introduced ourselves to The OC and Avatar: The Last Airbender for the first time and became completely addicted; we spent one Tuesday night watching Titanic on a tiny computer screen until 3:30 am.

Everything was absolutely, positively perfect.