Wednesday, April 17, 2013

My Battle With Orthorexia: Epiphanies and Recovery

Since my initial post on My Battle With Orthorexia last month,  I've had quite a few epiphanies and breakthroughs that I would like to share with you. I will warn you now that this post will be a bit stream of conscious as I attempt to explain things.

Thank you sweet sister of mine for sharing this one with me

Allow me to first start off by saying, that this is not an easy battle. I've had highs, lows and everything in-between with a few 'relapses' in thoughts and behaviors along the way. What one must recognize about an eating disorder, whether they are personally struggling with one or know someone that is, is that it is NOT about food.

I know, right?

Just as an alcoholic uses and abuses alcohol as a coping mechanism, a person with an eating disorder uses food whether it be overeating, under-eating/restricting and/or obsessing as a coping mechanism for circumstances and emotions things that are occurring or have occurred in their lives. The actual reasons behind the need for a coping mechanism will naturally vary from person-to-person.

This disorder is powerful and strong. And it can indeed, kill you. Recovery from an eating disorder has one of the highest chances for relapse (or lowest recovery rate depending on how you look it) out of many other disorders/diseases and the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder. Why is this so?

I have a theory on one of the reasons why this may be true...

We cannot live without food. We all know this. An eating disorder is a type of an addiction. And when you are in the thick of any addiction whether it be mental (obsessive/compulsive) or physical (substance abuse etc.), you are in fact, under the influence.  

Imagine if you will, that for an alcoholic to 'recover' they had to learn how to drink 'normally.' Not quit drinking entirely. They had to stop their drinking in excess yet still frequent bars and only have a drink or two. And go to liquor stores on a regular basis but get one case of beer instead of a bottle of whiskey and wine.

Now, I am NOT saying that recovering from alcoholism is not a feat. Wow, it is an enormous life-altering feat. Though it may explain why recovery rates for those with eating disorders are not as promising. Those of us that have found ourselves battling an eating disorder, are surrounded by food all of the time, from culture-to-culture, day-in-day-out and we must learn how to eat 'normally' again.

My Demon, my friend

 

I've named my eating disorder, 'my eating disorder Demon.' But don't get me wrong. This Demon has actually protected me in many ways, has been there for me and provided me comfort throughout a very difficult time. So while I am no actively battling this Demon, I am honoring it at the same time. And understand that it served a purpose.

"I lovingly release and honor the past and joyously welcome the new." - Me

The past is our past but that's just it, it's OUR past. We lived it. We made it through. We learned from it. And we should love it. Honor it. And be at peace with it. Whatever 'it' may be.

I spent a lot of time and energy pushing my past away. The "I've got this," "I'm fine," "Don't worry about me," "I'm tough," "I'm past that," "It could have been worse," "I don't need help, I don't need you, I don't need anyone..."



The reality, is that with a BMI of about 16.5, I was not only classified as underweight, but severely underweight. Now, I am grateful that this had not gone on for years, but it did go on long enough to where the consequences of being at such a low BMI effected me. And the consequences are not only physical but mental as well. I won't delve deep into that topic but the mental implications can also be vast; such as the inability to focus and extreme obsessive compulsive behaviors. You are indeed, under the influence.

So, I came upon some epiphanies over the past week.

Epiphany #1: Control

Life.

Life happens. And for the most part, the majority of things in our lives, are out of our control. And generally, that is OK. Expected. And accepted. But, there are those times that things go completely awry. And then there or those times when go not only awry, but devastated by trauma.

When an event takes place that derails you life to the point where you feel out of control, you latch on to things that make you feel in control.

I am writing this using 'you,' but I am in fact, talking about myself.

Back in fall of 2010, I had series of life events that left me feeling dis-empowered, helpless and completely out of control. I latched onto three main things that enabled me to feel in control. Hence the word feel, in the end, these things controlled me. I didn't actually have control.

Sources of 'False Control'
1) Exercise 

For all of my adult life, I've found great joy in exercise. Whether it be walking, hiking, jogging, lifting, yoga etc., it is, and will remain to be one my favorite things in life.

Though, I started to use exercise in such a way that it actually stressed my body in times where I truly needed emotional support and rest. I exercised/worked-out twice a day 5-6 days a week for over two years. Even when I was sick. When I was tired. Exhausted. Stressed. In pain. And even shortly after my surgeries. It wasn't a release anymore - it was an addiction. An obsession. But it made me feel in control. Little did I know, it was in fact, controlling me.

This mind you, happened gradually over a long period of time. And I have since then, toned the exercising down to allow my body to heal during this process. Which in-and-of-itself, has been difficult to let go and give myself and my body permission to rest.

 
2) Food/restriction/elimination diets

I latched onto the idea that there was a 'perfect' diet out there for me in order to feel my best. I've been writing several posts on this so I won't go into great detail but in essence, I used restriction around ingredients and specific food groups as a way to feel more in control over my life. It was something that I could research, tweak, see and feel results.

Over the past month, I have slowly introduced specific foods that I had eliminated back into my diet. Some worked (grains such as white rice and corn, added sugar, added starches). Some did not. Gluten, did not. For the same reasons that I initially stopped eating gluten (vertigo, exhaustion, stomach rashes etc). Dairy, did not. And for the same reasons that I had initially stopped eating dairy over four years ago now (heartburn/indigestion).

This is how I feel about the gluten and dairy- Sorry for the profanity, but I love this ;)
Most importantly, I branched out. I gave myself permission to eat things that I had not eaten in a long time, even years. And it was scary, but I am also very proud of myself for stepping outside of my comfort zone and I will continue to do so. It's a process.

3) Medicine/Doctors
Similar to my diet, I felt that there was something in my body that needed 'fixed.' Something was wrong. What I failed to recognize, was that the something that was wrong was actually an internal cry for emotional help and support. The something that needed fixed, was on an emotional and spiritual level yet I stayed with the mindset for years that it was on a physical level. Yes, I did in fact have hernias. And I did in fact, have a little Endometriosis but those were not the sole source of my physical pain and symptoms. Not by a long shot.

Countless visits to doctors, tests, procedures, herbs, medicines, supplements and thousands of dollars. It's no wonder that my body was unable to recover and reset back to a state of 'normalcy' as it was constantly bombarded by things that it didn't need or couldn't absorb/breakdown as I was becoming malnourished due to lack of nourishment on both a diet and emotional level. As my nutritionist explains nourishment, there are two types: Nourishment with a capital (N) for food nourishment and nourishment with a lower case (n) for emotional/loving nourishment.

This fixation on 'fixing' something on a physical level also brought to me a false sense of control.

Epiphany #2: Fight or Flight

Do you know what physically happens to animal (including humans) when they are in 'fight or flight' mode?

Well, let me tell you, it's quite fascinating. Below are highlights, but here is a website that explains the fight or flight response in more detail.
  • heart rate and blood pressure increase
  • pupils dilate to take in as much light as possible
  • veins in skin constrict to send more blood to major muscle groups (responsible for the "chill" sometimes associated with fear -- less blood in the skin to keep it warm)
  • blood-glucose level increases
  • muscles tense up, energized by adrenaline and glucose (responsible for goose bumps -- when tiny muscles attached to each hair on surface of skin tense up, the hairs are forced upright, pulling skin with them)
  • smooth muscle relaxes in order to allow more oxygen into the lungs
  • nonessential systems (like digestion and immune system) shut down to allow more energy for emergency functions
  • trouble focusing on small tasks (brain is directed to focus only on big picture in order to determine where threat is coming from)

I can't even begin to tell you how much this resonates with with me. Bullet-by-bullet I nod my head. Yep, experienced that. Yep, experienced that. Dilated pupils, veins in the skin constricted, increased heart rate, low body temperature, trouble focusing... Though, I'd like to especially point the one on digestion and immune system shutting down to allow more energy for emergency functions. Wow, did it ever. Chronic diarrhea and various other immune related symptoms is the main thing that plagued me during this time.


Bottom line, my body quit functioning properly.

To an outsider looking in, I had it pretty together. Living alone for the majority of the time, working a full-time job, eating 'healthy' foods, exercising and generally walking around with a smile on my face. But on the inside, I was full of fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the relationships that I was in and those that I had left. Fear of what could happen. And most of all, fear of what had already happened that I continuously ran from facing.

You see, for years, I was in a chronic state of 'fight or flight.' Why?' you may ask. I didn't feel safe. Simple as that. My sense of safety and security had completely deteriorated. I began to think about this 'fight or flight' situation combined with my lack of feeling safe and secure and as it really soaked in, I reflected back on the times over the past few years that I did feel safe.

I can count them on one hand. And all but one of those times were when I was with my Dad. It didn't matter where I was with him. But when I was with him whether it be on vacation or one of his homes, I was generally symptom free irregardless of what I was eating or drinking. I felt safe. My system relaxed. There was one other time that I can recall and this was when I went on vacation by myself to Bar Harbor, ME (where I am now moving BTW, post to follow). I stayed at a Bed & Breakfast for seven days, right on the ocean, took myself out for meals, ate things I normally wouldn't have and indulged in more wine than I normally would have and I felt great. And was again, generally symptom free. There it is again. My flight or fight response subsided and I felt safe. I allowed myself to relax. To be.

Now, this doesn't mean that I need my dad wherever I go (although that would be kind of cool because he's pretty amazing), but what it does mean, is that I need a balanced life on an emotional, spiritual and physical level in order to establish a sense of safety, security and peace.


I don't have a step-by-step guide on how I will do this, but I am getting there. By loving myself, by trusting myself, listening to my body, forgiving myself and forgiving others. I could go on and on, but those are some of the things that I am currently focusing on to help me in breaking free from 'fight or flight.' Here is another great site on fight or flight.

Epiphany #3: Deprivation 


Someone asked me not too long ago, not "What do you do for fun?" but rather, "When do you have fun?"

I just looked at him blankly. There was really no answer that I had for him. I pondered this for a bit and came to the conclusion that the only time I really did have 'fun' was on the rare occasion that I was around my family or when I was alone hiking, writing or traveling. Alone. Mind you, I do rather enjoy being alone, but it had gotten to the point of isolation. Depriving myself.

In learning more and more about restrictive eating disorders such as orthorexia, it's very common and almost always the case that the person also restricts (deprives) their lives in other ways.

Why? To feel in control. Safe. Secure.

Like waves crashing in, there was a steady flow of realizations that hit me of other ways in my life that I deprived myself. Laughter, fun, socializing, love, indulgences such as alcohol, rest/relaxation, sleep... I started to write them all down and suddenly my life started to make a little more sense to me. Things became a bit more clear.

Allowing myself to let go and release has been an invigorating experience. There has been fear, no doubt, but it's getting easier. And it makes me smile.


As I am writing this, Sting's 'Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot,' just came on. How very fitting. I think I'll be listening to this song often ;)

Aids in my Recovery Process

Professional Guidance 

I've been seeing both a nutritionist and therapist that work solely with those recovering from eating disorders. They have both helped me immensely in getting to the why behind my eating disorder,  learning how to be gentle with myself, forgive myself, putting things into perspective, understanding what it takes to truly fuel and nourish the human body and much, much more.

Recovery Stories 

 

I am especially fond of this one.

Affirmations



These are posted on my refrigerator


I have countless affirmations saved in my phone and written in notebooks that I look at daily. There are several on my Bodhi Life Facebook page as well.

 

Books

Eating In the Light of the Moon has been my favorite thus far. I recommend every female read this book whether they are struggling with an eating disorder or not. I also recommend that those supporting someone with an eating disorder read it to better understand their condition.

Louise Hay and Crystal Alandrus' inspirational books (and audio recordings) have been a huge part of my recovery and although I have not met them in person- I feel like they are part of my life. You Can Heal Your Life, is another one of my favorites.

Others I am reading: The Passion Test, The Power of Myth and Healing From Trauma.

I adore books ;)

Meditation, Yoga & Metaphysical Work

Meditation, yoga and metaphysical work really could be an entire new post (as all of these could be). So rather than going in deep on this topic, I will simply let you know that all of these combined have not only helped me in my life path and recovery but have been part of a life transformation on a body, mind and spiritual level.

'Lifelines'

When I am struggling with a relapse in behavior or struggling with my Demon in thoughts, I text, email or call one of my friends, my mom or my sister (if I am not actually with them). In other words, I TALK about it. I voice it. The support system that I have is truly a gift.


And with that, I will end this post and say thank you again to those that have helped me along the way and continue to support me. How very blessed I am to have you in my life. 


Peace, 

Ashley

8 comments:

  1. You should write for a living. Nice description of the ordeal you have been going through, and steps taken to overcome. Happy for you that you have people in your life that have been able to help you, and that you are trying to help yourself!!!

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  2. ... And how very, very blessed we are to have you in our life! Thank you so much for this post. It is inspirational on many levels. I will learn from you about ways to address my own issues - whatever they are now and whatever creeps in along the wonderful and yes, often uncontrollable, journey we are all taking in our lives.

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    1. Thank you Susan... that truly warms my soul. What an inspiration you have been to me. And the journey continues... ;)

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  3. Ash, you continue to amaze me with your strength and self-awareness. It takes a lot to admit your struggles, and even more so in such beautiful, clear writing. Thank you for sharing your story. In a weird way, I learned a lot about myself reading this. I'm so happy and lucky to call you my friend!

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    1. That is so wonderful... Thank you for sharing. And I am so very honored to have you in my ,I've and to call you my friend. Much love to you!

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  4. This could be my story - almost word for word even. It's quite scary (and exciting) to have someone living what seems to be a parallel life .... I look forward to reading more of your posts. Question - did you heal your chronic diarrhea (I am currently struggling with this which doesn't help with wanting to eat more food, if you know what I mean...) :-P
    Thanks!

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    1. Dearest Jenny, I hope you are doing well. And, I am glad that you have found comfort in my posts.

      I did heal my chronic diarrhea. It took while but I found some things that greatly aided in the process. This included SIGNIFICANTLY lowering my stress levels (through yoga, mediation, deep breathing etc) as well as some modifications to my diet (lowering hard to digest proteins like nuts and animal protein and increasing safe carbohydrates like fruit, sweet potatoes and rice). I also take a high quality probiotic and broad spectrum digestive enzyme. But first and foremost, it was finding my center ... being true to myself... being honest with myself and seeking help. We HAVE to fuel our bodies. There IS a healthy way to do this :) xo

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