recovery

Goodbye, Little Growing Pains

Dear friends, family, readers, and supporters,

I’ll cut to the chase: I am retiring this blog.

That’s right — retiring. Everything will still be available, but I will not be posting any new content. I will be releasing my domain name, transitioning this blog back to its original host (littlegrowingpains.wordpress.com) where it will live untouched for the rest of time. I don’t know who will buy littlegrowingpains.com in the future. I hope they use it well.

The decision to discontinue my investment in this project is not an easy one, but it does feel like the right one. I no longer feel like this blog is the right way for me to share my writing with the world. I am proud of all I accomplished — entering contests, making friends, building a huge network of supporters, and raising awareness for the mental illnesses with which I was struggling — and I will forever be grateful to each and every one of you for the way you stood by me while I was discovering myself.

So here’s to the next journey. Here’s to the full recovery from anorexia I made while I owned this little piece of the Internet. Here’s to Yeah Write and NaBloPoMo and all the other communities I found, here’s to fodder for the MFA applications I didn’t finish and all the less-than-stellar posts I wrote. Here’s to all of you. I wish you all the best things life has to offer, and I hope your little growing pains lead you to something better than you could have ever imagined. I know mine did.

Love and thirty-second dance parties all around,

Gwen

Who Am I?

I. A daughter

I was born to walk the middle ground, the first child of type A and type B
[and what does that make me?]
Constantly stuck between too small and too tall,
Talks too little, reads too much, sings too loud,
Hips too big, mouth too small,
Needs too little, wants too much, dreams too big.
I am a combination of everyone I’ve ever known,
But mostly I am too much like my mother,
And too much like my father,
[and too torn between the two people I am to really know who to be.]

II. A sister

I had bite marks on my back and my arm in a sling
Because that’s what it means to have your thunder stolen
When your parents decide to procreate again.
[I guess it also means feeling important,
Because someone looks up to you so much
That it makes you want to be better than you would be for yourself.]
And I would have laughed if you said someday I’d be proud
To have him for a best friend,
But the first time he asked for my advice
[because he thought I was wise]
I thought maybe the bite marks were worth it.

III. A friend

I learned more about friendship from the people who didn’t stick around
Than from the ones that did,
Because I learned when to hold on
And when to let go.

IV. A scholar

I’ve been taught to question everything.
[“Don’t be so gullible, Gwen,”
I hear as I fall for another stupid joke.
“Don’t believe anything you can’t prove.”]
I go to class and they tell me,
“Think critically, Gwen. Pick it apart. Find the truth.”
But I don’t think there’s just one truth.
I think sometimes the truth is that you don’t have to question everything.
[my professors disagree.]

V. A writer

My fingers bleed a lot because I pick the skin,
My brain bleeds words because, because?
[because it’s the only way I know how to feel.]

VI. A survivor

Once I thought that to be happy,
My bones had to poke out of my skin,
And my worth as a person was dictated by a number
On a scale
[or the label of my jeans.]
But when I stopped chasing perfection,
I found someone wonderful,
[Daughter, sister, friend
Scholar, writer, survivor]
I found me.

 

Written for the Weekly Writing Challenge. I don’t usually write poetry.

5 Things That Didn’t Happen When I Gained Weight

To someone struggling with an eating disorder, the idea of weight gain is one of the scariest things in the world. I still panic sometimes when I have to step on a scale, even though I actively choose not to look at the number. The words “weight restoration” send shivers of dread down my spine, and on days when I eat “too much” I imagine myself looking like a beached whale. The funny thing is, though, all the reasons I’ve ever had for being so terrified of a few extra pounds are slowly becoming non-reasons, because they simply aren’t realistic. Here are five of my favorite things that didn’t happen when I spent a year and a half gaining weight.

1. I didn’t grow out of all my clothes. I’ve grown out of one pair of pants, and that’s it. Almost everything else I own, I still wear on a regular basis.

2. I didn’t suddenly become obese. I don’t mean to skim over obesity, because I know it’s a real issue that a lot of people struggle with. But gaining enough weight to actually be classified as overweight or obese would be extremely difficult, especially for someone who began by barely eating anything at all. Besides, my nutritionist is looking out for my health – she wouldn’t push me somewhere just as dangerous as the place I started.

3. I didn’t lose control of my life. I thought that by moving toward intuitive eating, I would sacrifice my agency. That by giving up rigid, restrictive behaviors and obsessive self-monitoring, my life would spiral out of control and there would be nothing I could do about it. But I wasn’t in charge back then – my eating disorder was. Intuitive eating, weight restoration, and self-care are things that are 100% under my control.

4. I didn’t hate my appearance any more than I already did. I thought that when I gained weight I would be even more disgusted with the way I looked. But in the depths of my eating disorder, even when I was emaciated, I thought I was the most hideous person in the entire world. To be honest, I still struggle a lot with my appearance, but weight restoration is slowly making it better, not worse.

5. People didn’t like me any less. If anything, I’ve become a more social person, a much better friend, and a lot more fun to be around. The people that care about me don’t give a shit if I weigh 110 pounds or 160 pounds, as long as I’m confident and happy.

So my fears were unfounded. And you know what? When I gained weight, I also gained a lot of other wonderful things. Things I never thought I’d be able to attribute to something so scary. I gained confidence, control, energy, and optimism. I rediscovered my love for writing and decided to use my story to inspire others. I learned to take ownership of my life instead of always playing the victim. I laugh more and take more chances and worry less and less about what other people think.

A lot of things didn’t happen when I gained weight. But one thing did. I gained myself. And that’s worth every pound.

When Your Words Matter

A week ago, I got an email inviting me to be a Book in Global Engagement Summit’s Living Library. I was flattered, but honestly, a little confused. The premise of this event was that people would come and check me out from the library because they thought the premise of my “Book” was interesting – but I’m not interesting, am I? What do I have to say that is valuable enough to share with a group of people whose influence stretches across the globe?

I expected to sit in my chair undisturbed for two hours. After all, the other “Books” in the library had far better stories to tell. They had made documentaries in foreign countries or been the first in their families to go to college. Nobody would want to waste their time talking to me.

I was wrong, though. Plenty of people took the seat opposite me for a ten or fifteen-minute period. Yes, a couple of them stumbled my way by accident, thinking I was somebody else, and many of them probably stopped by because all the other Books were occupied. But that didn’t matter in the end. Regardless of how they came my way, they did. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past couple of years, it’s that every accident is a wonderful blessing.

Do you know how many people I’ve spoken to, out loud, about my experiences with writing and blogging and recovering from the disorder that has torn my life apart? Not very many. I think it showed. My 1-2 minute opening “spiel” was awkward, erratic, and probably not very much fun to listen to. I felt the people across from me flinch as I said the words “eating disorder” out loud – perhaps I shouldn’t have led with such a jarring phrase. The second it left my mouth, I regretted it. “This was a mistake,” I thought. “This is personal. I shouldn’t be sharing this with the world.”

Should I?

The first person I talked to seemed rather startled by what I had to say. “Oh…” she trailed off as I waited expectantly for her reply. It took her a second to figure out how to respond. “Oh. Wow.” Not the worst response I could have gotten, but not exactly the one I was hoping for, either.

The second person I talked to laughed nervously when I told her what my Book title was. “Um, whoa.” At least the conversation moved a little bit from there. “That’s amazing. I can’t imagine going through something like that.”

I got better at talking the more I talked. By the time the coordinator sat down and said, “got time for one more conversation?” I was an expert in my own subject. Words started pouring out of me, words that I didn’t even know were true. “I have an eating disorder,” I said boldly. “And I was given this shitty, God-awful experience for a reason – so that I could share it.”

There are moments when I surprise even myself. That was one of them. Until that moment, I don’t think I fully processed that my voice, my blog, my writing…had saved my life. I don’t think I’d ever realized how much I owed Little Growing Pains, the brainchild that became the life source. I learned that I had a story, a story worth telling, a story that had the capacity to change other people’s lives as well as my own. I learned that everything I’d written was worth more than I ever could have dreamed.

I walked out of the Library that day prouder than I can ever remember being. There’s nothing quite like knowing how much your words matter.

NEDAwareness 2014: Breaking Up With ED

I have a confession to make. I’ve never been in a relationship.

(Big apologies to my tenth grade “boyfriend” for this statement. No offense, you’re a great guy, but I don’t think you quite count.)

I can’t pretend I know exactly what it’s like to go through a breakup, although I think the experience is different for everyone. I’ve watched friends go through them. I’ve watched my little brother go through them. I’ve watched overly dramatic television characters go through them. They’re sort of inevitable. Most relationships end. But they don’t all end the same way. Sometimes things deteriorate of their own accord, when two people realize they’re just not as compatible as they thought they were. Sometimes someone falls in love with somebody else. Most of the time someone gets hurt.

In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which ends tomorrow, I’m going to share the closest thing I’ve ever had to a breakup. I’m going to talk about ending my relationship with my eating disorder.

My ED (which I not-so-affectionately personify as “Ed”) was manipulative and charming. He wasn’t smart, but he was clever. He made me completely dependent on him and used that mercilessly to prey on every ounce of confidence I had. It was a tumultuous, violent, and abusive relationship, and the worst part was that he wasn’t some separate entity. He was a part of me. Leaving him was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

I loved him, even when he was horrible to me. I loved him when I decided I had to let him go. I still love him. I think I always will.

I think about going back to him sometimes. When my life gets too difficult and I feel like there’s no one else I can rely on, all I want is to lean back and have him catch me. How sick is that? I know that all of his words are empty air and that he lives with the sole purpose of destroying me, but I still feel better when he’s there.

Does that sound familiar? I think it might. It’s a breakup. Not a romantic one, but a breakup all the same. When I’m drunk and sad, I’m in danger of “texting my ex,” except for me, that means giving in and using disordered behaviors. Sometimes all I want to do is call him and I need my friends to come over and talk me out of it. I have a box of stuff that reminds me of him – too-small t-shirts, diet cookbooks, running wristbands – shoved under my bed where I won’t be tempted to look for it. It’s been a year, and I’m still not over him.

More and more, I’m realizing that’s okay. Maybe I’ll never be over it. Or maybe in another year, I’ll laugh at the fact that I just said that. I don’t know. What I do know is that we have every experience for a reason: to learn something. Relationships end, but each one teaches you something about yourself you didn’t know before. Every mistake leads the way to better mistakes, and every bad relationship leads the way to great ones. If anything, you learn not to stand for anything less.

I’m not going back to Ed, because I know I deserve better. But I wouldn’t have figured that out if I hadn’t let him break me. Being knocked down was the only way I figured out how to stand on my own.

Break up with Ed. Get out of there. Love him, miss him, yeah, that’s life. Just don’t go back. Something better waits for you on the other side.

Where Do We Go From Here?

It’s kind of funny how hard it is to write when I’m not going through some kind of crisis. In some ways, I feel like happiness is boring; like now that I’ve grown closer to accepting the way things are, I’ve sacrificed some of the things that made me interesting. I worry that without the struggles that defined me when I started this blog, I have nothing worth saying.

I hope that’s not true. I don’t want it to be true. I think “interesting” is the greatest compliment I could ever get, and I couldn’t bear it if someone told me I was boring.

I’m worried that you guys, my readers, my crazy huge number of followers, are only here because of the hard stuff. Because there’s something about my journey through several levels of hell that struck you, or inspired you, or made you feel like you weren’t alone. Believe me, it has been unbelievable to be able to share my experiences with all of you. It has been a dream come true to be able to give some glimmer of hope to people who are struggling. This blog has been everything I ever could have hoped for and more.

The thing is, I’m doing well now. My life is pretty mundane. I’m a normal college student, taking a full courseload and working a part-time job. I spend my weekends marathoning TV shows and Netflix or spending time with my wonderful friends. I worry about normal college things, like graduating and getting good grades and finding a job. And being broke. And lamenting the fact that I’m still single. I’ve got a lot of worries, sure, but my health is no longer one of them.

As silly as it is, I wonder why any of you would care anymore. I’m nothing but average now, with nothing remarkable to show for my daily activities. It’s a blessing to be normal, to feel like I belong in the college culture, but as a blogger? Who wants to read about the life of a college math major? Besides the challenges I’ve worked to overcome, what makes me a worthwhile contributor to the WordPress world?

I am terrified that somehow, because I’m “normal,” my life has lost its meaning. That the things I’ve shared are the only things I’ll ever share. That I’ve reached my peak and nothing I do from this point on matters. All I’ll be is that blogger that used to be really insightful but now only talks about her job and her nights out on the town, losing followers left and right because she’s nothing special anymore. (Not that followers define me, but you know what I mean.)

I guess all I can say is that I’m still here. I’m still alive, which is something I never take for granted. I’m living outside of my URL, spending every day pushing toward the next phase of my life, hoping that something I do will matter someday. I still write 1000 words in my journal every day. I still think and wonder and love and cry and everything else humans do. I just don’t know how to say those things to all of you without losing my air of wisdom and courage. Without losing you.

Que sera, sera. What will be, will be. The only thing I can do is live the best way I know how, and I hope that I can take some of you with me along the way. Because God only knows what I’d do without you.

So Thanks For Making Me A Fighter

I’m doing well.

I visited my therapist for the first time since winter break. “You seem to be in a really good place,” she said.

“You sound happy,” a friend told me on the phone. “I love hearing you sound happy.” I love hearing me sound happy too.

I was chatting with my academic advisor in her office, and she told me I had a really great attitude. I don’t think I’ve ever been told that before. I usually have a remarkably disturbing and pessimistic attitude, one that tends to make medical professionals uncomfortable. Twice my therapist has kept me ten minutes after my appointment was supposed to be over because she was worried about something I’d said. Yeah, having a good attitude is new to me.

“Want some chocolate?” one of my fellow interns asked me at work today. She slid the two-pound bag of caramels toward me. “Sure,” I replied. I ate a few. I still ate my entire lunch half an hour later.

I’m happy. Not creepy happy; things aren’t perfect all the time. But relatively speaking, I like my life. I like the people I surround myself with, I like the work I do, I like the hobbies that occupy my free time. I like me.

I think for a long time I was working toward the wrong goal. I spent so much time fighting the eating disorder that I forgot what’s important. I’m important. It’s not about making the ED weaker, it’s about making me stronger.

Eating disorders don’t disappear. The thoughts that drove me to self-decimation still occur just as frequently as ever. I sometimes spend hours agonizing over my reflection in the mirror even when I have better things to do. I still order fish instead of steak at restaurants because I know it has fewer calories. I still get nervous when things don’t happen right on schedule, the way I like them. The eating disorder is strong, and it will probably always be strong. The difference now is that I am stronger.

I write and I know that my writing matters. I study and I know that it does not define me. I sing and it touches people. I goof off and they laugh. Sometimes, just sometimes, I walk past a mirror and I see someone who’s a little bit beautiful. I know that I have the potential to do great things, regardless of whether I meet someone’s subjective definition of “perfect.” Even if it is my own.

Recovery is a lot of really hard work. It’s long days and uncomfortable situations. It’s emotions you don’t want to feel. It’s a battle against something you so strongly perceive as part of yourself that sometimes fighting seems fruitless. It’s not. Because the eating disorder isn’t you, or me. Finding yourself, growing yourself, and loving yourself – that’s the only way to beat it. I had to stand up tall, stare it in the face, and say, “I am stronger than you are.” I had to trust that I was smarter, more important, more worthy.

I don’t pretend that I’m an expert, because I’m not. I’m just happy. And that’s something I never thought I could be. Imperfect, but still happy. I am not a supermodel or a movie star. I am not a genius or a comedian or Beyonce. I’m just me. That’s all I ever have to be. And that’s okay. I can live with that. I can be proud of that every single day, because it’s more of an accomplishment than anyone will ever understand.

Ed

Crippled at Camp: A Love(?) Story

The first time I was wounded at summer camp, I was eleven years old. It was my fault, of course. I was on a sailboat with a couple of other kids, being as obnoxious as you might expect a kid on a sailboat to be, when the swinging boom whacked me full-force on the side of the head.

I don’t remember this event very well, probably as a result of minor head trauma and major embarrassment. I do recall a very panicked teenager who scooped me up in her arms and sprinted to the infirmary. And that the nurse gave me three blue freeze pops while I waited to see if I was going to die.

The summer I was fourteen, I came down with a disgusting stomach flu the night before we were going on an awesome overnight trip. I spent two days in the infirmary that time, watching really terrible movies on a very small TV instead of making s’mores in the woods with my friends. I secretly hoped someone else would get the flu so I would at least have some company. It didn’t work out.

My luck only worsened once I started working there. When I was sixteen and training to be a counselor, I wound up with head lice and a staph infection that had pretty much eroded my flesh from the knees down. When I was seventeen, I got stung by an entire hive of bees. And at nineteen I spent too long standing on the hot sand during lifeguard training and suffered from massive, horrible second-degree burns on the bottoms of my feet. Alright, that one wasn’t all bad; it did necessitate my supervisor literally carrying me wherever I needed to go, which amused the campers a great deal and made me feel like a princess.

In 2012, when I was finally on the leadership staff, I shared this story with my coworkers. We were gathered inside one of the boys senior end tents late at night, watching the candlelight dance on the canvas flaps and talking about what camp meant to us. Our stories were supposed to be meaningful. Mine was about getting maimed.

But they understood what I meant. My story was about strange and improbable injuries, sure, but it was also about deciding that getting hurt wasn’t enough to keep me from going back to camp summer after summer. It was about the knowledge that no matter how tough it got, no matter how many legitimate reasons I had to run away, it was always worth it to stay.

That summer, 2012, had its own share of misfortunes. During the three months I was there, I was caught in a violent downward spiral of anorexia that wreaked havoc on my physical and mental health. And it took me so long to recover from that nosedive that I couldn’t even consider the possibility of going back in 2013.

Three weeks ago, I submitted an application. Today, I called the camp office for an interview. Even after the personal hell I experienced a year and a half ago, I’m going back.

My parents are baffled. And worried. A lot of people are worried. You know what? I’m worried, too. But every year that I’ve been knocked down, I’ve come back stronger. I’m a champion for a cause I love more than anything. Something about it will always be tough, and I might not always come out on top. But as we who have worked there know, it is always, always worth it to stay.

The Old Year, The New Year, and a 30-Second Dance Party

my 2012 resolutions

my 2012 resolutions

There are less than eight hours left in 2013.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the past few days (and weeks, and months) worrying about what I’m going to do in the future. How I will continue to move toward a healthy lifestyle and a full recovery. How I will repair the damage I’ve done to my relationships. How I will push myself to conquer that which I simultaneously crave and fear. How I will manage to complete my college degree in a way that is meaningful to me. Constantly running forward, trying desperately to keep up with all the things I feel like I should be handling. 2013 has been, in short, a year of constant motion – working toward recovery, getting reinstated in school, entering and exiting a brief but significant relationship, earning (and being proud of) my first college B – without a lot of stagnancy.

I was talking to a friend about this yesterday at an old favorite coffee shop, while my unintentional tears dripped slowly into my too-hot mug of tea. She smiled at me. “Gwen, you need to give yourself a break. Stop for a minute, look around at all the things you’ve accomplished. Be proud of yourself. Have a 30-second dance party.”

I, of course, had no idea that she was referencing a Grey’s Anatomy clip, which you can watch here if you’re curious. Basically, a surgeon manages to do a difficult repair, and before she takes the final steps toward finishing the surgery, she makes her dumbstruck interns join her in a “30-second dance party.” I think I would be kind of mad if a surgeon were to do that while I was lying wide open on an operating table, but that’s not the point.

Like most people, I don’t take a lot of time to celebrate the small victories I accomplish on the way to my larger ones. There’s always something else I feel like I could be improving; a new task to work on. I stitched the heart, now time to close the chest and move on to the next surgery. No time to waste being proud of myself when I was just doing my job, right? I ate dinner today, big deal, everyone eats dinner. Why should I be proud of that?

I always enter the new year with a list of resolutions I want to tackle, and the list is always too long. More often than not, it gets me into trouble. I get discouraged when I’m unsuccessful, or I get so focused on one goal that I forget about all the other important things in my life. Balance is hard for me, and it’s hard to achieve balance when you’re never satisfied with the way things are.

So this year I have just one resolution, and it is this: have more 30-second dance parties. I want to celebrate when I do something I’m proud of, even if it’s for a short amount of time. I want to say, “You know what? It was really hard to let myself enjoy that piece of pumpkin pie, but I did, so I’m awesome.” I want to stop sometimes and look around at my apartment and be proud that a person who wasn’t allowed to flush her own toilet in October of 2012 cooks and cleans for herself in October of 2013. For 30 seconds, I don’t want to be thinking about all the ways I could still be a better person. For 30 seconds, I just want to see that I already am one.

Bring it on, 2014. My dance moves are ready.

My Reverse Disappearing Act

I remember running my fingers over the bones in my ribcage. Trying to hold on to the feeling of emptiness, of open space, of nothing. Stroking the hardened curve of my hip as it guided my hand down into the valley of my stomach.

I never thought of myself as a junkie, but I was. I was addicted to nothingness. My energy was drawn from hunger pangs; my self-worth unmistakably correlated to how little space I could occupy. My meals got smaller, my clothes got smaller, my world got smaller. And then one day all that remained were bones and hollowed eyes and a deep disappointment that I hadn’t disappeared altogether.

Addictions don’t just go away. They take an unbelievable amount of effort to overcome. Alcoholics pledge sobriety; gamblers avoid casinos. But what do you do if you’re addicted to being empty?

It’s so easy to just say “today I hate myself, and maybe
if I just don’t eat dinner tonight, then
I won’t take up so much space.
And then everything will
be okay. Just this
one time.”

But then when there’s nothing left, when you’ve shrunk into a half-person, when your highest high crashes into your lowest low – then you can’t string two words together or walk up a flight of stairs. You waste away and you disappear. Isn’t that what you wanted? To feel nothing? To want nothing? To be nothing?

I’ll never be empty enough to satisfy my craving. Human beings are made to feel and love and be; it is our blessing and our curse. There’s no good way to disappear, no matter how many bones you count or sizes you drop. There is too much of me, of everything that I am, to be confined to such a tiny corner of the universe.

It’s not about taking up less space. It’s about giving meaning to the space you already take up.

It’s about
slowly branching out
and sharing your space with
the rest of the world, letting yourself
expand into a deluge of everything you have to offer.

You can’t quit emptiness the way you can quit smoking or drinking. There’s nothing to stay away from. But you can choose to fill your life to the brim, with people and places and things that you love, until being hollow is no longer an option. You can choose to let all the crazy facets of your humanity matter.

I want to have a bigger brain and a bigger heart. I want to do bigger things and make a bigger impact on the world. I can’t be small. It’s time to grow.