Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Relapse Drift

Lectures were by far my least favorite part of treatment. This was, in part, because I’d read so many books about addiction that the concepts weren’t new – and in part because the people giving the lectures were better suited to the group therapy they also did than actually lecturing.

Oh, ok -- if I’m totally honest, another reason why I didn’t like them was probably because when they happened, which luckily wasn’t often, they usually were the second half of the evening, when my thoughts had long since drifted to dinner.

But anyway, lectures. The most useful one, which I think may be up there as one of the most useful things I learned there, was about relapse drift. Basically, relapse isn’t an event. It’s a process that usually starts out innocently enough, like skipping small things – meetings, calls, regular grocery shopping, whatever -- that support recovery.

What makes it tricky, of course, is that life happens in recovery – not every time you skip something does it mean anything. But there are all sorts of other signs of relapse drift that are individual to each person – things no one might notice but you, and that may have absolutely nothing to do with food. One for me is when I stop blowdrying my hair, because I can’t be bothered to make the effort. Or I’ve stopped gathering what I need for the morning the night before, so I’m always that slight bit stressed and late leaving the flat. Or – this one is particularly embarrassing – I leave my gym towels on the bench in the locker room for the cleaning staff to pick up, as opposed to putting them in the used towel bin.

How is that last one a sign of anything, you ask? (If indeed you’ve even made it this far.) It’s a tiny thing that makes me feel bad about myself and contributes, even in a small way, to the idea that I’m a bad, unlovable person. Which, of course, is at the heart of an eating disorder. Or at least, it’s at the heart of mine.

I fear I’m in relapse drift. I thought it yesterday morning and on into yesterday afternoon, which is when I started (but didn’t finish) this post because I had to go to my (beginner) tennis course. (If you’re wondering if I have Wimbledon potential, I do, in that my balls are so wildly out of bounds at this point that they could, theoretically, end up there from Chiswick.)

This morning I thought about it more, and it worried me that I wasn’t more scared of it. Earlier this year the mere thought of relapse was terrifying, and I’d have done anything to avoid it.

I thought about how my food has gotten a little messier – and sometimes a lot messier -- than it has been in a year, and how I’ve justified that to myself as recovery from my restrictive side. So tricky to know with an eating disorder, isn’t it? But that combined with these other behaviors, of which there are many, is… worrying.

Because I do not want to go back to where I was over a year ago. I don’t want to buy clothes I don’t like because they’re the only thing that fits. I don’t want to worry about what will fit every morning – that losing battle, where I feel defeated before the day has even started. I don’t want that fear that people are judging me (unfavorably) because of my size and that worry and constant feeling that I need to make up for it. I don’t want to shrink my life again, first with the bingeing and then with the need for everything to be safe in early recovery. I don’t want to feel like I’m not living the life I want because of this eating disorder, which has already destroyed so many things over the years.


I could go on and on. And so I told my counselor today and I’m writing it here. The drifting stops now.  

Thursday, 1 June 2017

A Year in London

A year ago today a friend picked me up at Heathrow off an overnight flight from NYC. She helped me lug my bags (including an enormous suitcase) up five flights of stairs to a tiny studio I thought would be my home for just four months – the amount of time I planned to stay in London. Then we went for a dim sum lunch with a friend of hers who had done the same 14-week outpatient treatment program as she did – the same treatment program I had arrived in London to do.

I’ve thought about that day a lot over the past year, always with incredible gratitude. Overnight flights and jetlag can make everything seem gray, and I was scared enough as it was – would this work? What if it didn’t? Seeing friendly faces made all the difference in the state of mind with which I started, and it also kept me from a binge free-fall before I started treatment four days later.

So many things have changed this year – some of which have been so terrifying that if I’d had any idea about them, I might never have come. And yet here I am. After a couple of months of recalibrating, I am closer than ever with the friend who picked me up from Heathrow -- I think she felt a little invaded for awhile, because there I was in a lot of the recovery groups she thought of as hers. The friend of hers became a good enough friend of mine that I spent New Years Eve at her house. But she disappeared about a month later, as people often do when they slip back into old (meaning bingeing) behavior, which I know she has. Despite a lot of effort on my part, I haven’t spoken to her since – she doesn’t reply to whatsapps or calls. Well over half the people I was in treatment with have relapsed. I know I’m lucky, but I also know I work really hard at it. Recovery is not something you ever really can think you’ll always have, I’ve learned – it’s something you get for the day. Some days are much harder than others.

I only realize now in writing this that I don’t remember my last binge – can’t date it, can’t tell you what I ate. The month before I left for London I overate a lot (huge meals, lots of cake), but there weren’t any binges – it was almost enough to make me question if I were doing the right thing. Almost. I had so much to do that month I think I knew I’d never make it onto the plane if I started bingeing, and I knew I had to get on the plane.

I use June 4 as my one-year marker only because the night before I went to a dinner party and drank a lot, which was forbidden while I was in treatment. Plus, I can’t quite remember what I ate. I know I took a cab home, so there wasn’t any post-dinner-party binge.

I had this idea that I wanted to be in London for my one year without a binge, and then the opportunity came up to be in New York and be able to stay in my own apartment, before the new subletter arrives – a pretty narrow window of time. I want to do some clearing out I didn’t have the headspace to do before I left, maybe to drum up some work, and to see people. And yet I was trying to arrange it so I was in London on the 4th.

Then the invitation arrived for a friend’s kid’s first birthday party on June 3, and it seemed like a sign. I have missed a lot of milestones in my friends’ lives while I’ve been here. And I have lived all my life I can remember ruled by this eating disorder, with it dictating where I would go and what I would do. It seemed fitting, at the end of a whole year without bingeing or starving, not to let it rule even how I celebrate its absence.

Three hundred and sixty two days (at least) without a binge.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Easter

Why, I wondered, was trying to decide upon clothes to bring for three days at a friend’s parents so extraordinarily difficult? Then I realized: I still pack like I’m going to binge.

It’s been more than 10 months since my last binge, and yet still packing isn’t just a question of weather – incredibly variable this time of year, particularly in the country – but of what might still fit and when. I can easily bust out of clothes in a weekend, particularly at my current size, which, by my estimates, is separated from the next one up by maybe half a stone. (Side note: Why can there not be fewer pounds between sizes when you’re bigger and probably most need the thrill of a smaller size to keep pushing forward?)

I talked myself out of bringing a bigger pair of jeans, but I did bring a backup outfit for Sunday, when the plan was to wear a fairly unforgiving sweater dress.

I ate a little chocolate when it was offered, which is to say, approximately five times a day. I had layer cake and crumble (with custard and cream) and biscuits, also when they were offered. I didn’t exercise (apart from a little walk on Sunday). Only once did I eat something sneakily: an extra mini egg with caramel. And every day I could wear the outfit I planned.

Coming home yesterday I felt such a huge relief not to have to be fighting the urge to keep bingeing (and likely losing) as I know I’d have done if I’d been bingeing all weekend. I got back at lunchtime and felt slightly too hungry to first go to the supermarket and get proper food. And then I realized if I ate something hodge podge I’d spend the whole afternoon regretting it and replaying it and wondering if it were enough or too much. And so I went and got my prick-and-ping lasagna. My jeans felt a little bit tight, but not panicky-tight.

I threw out the Easter chocolate I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like (um, in my as-yet-unwritten book, “lime” and “caramel” should not be in the same sentence). As I did laundry, I had a little fight with myself about retrieving it from the bin. But I didn’t.

This morning, the urge to eat chocolate at every legal opportunity (basically, for every snack and after every meal) lingers, but I know it will pass. This, for me, is one of the biggest differences between life now and life pre-June 4 – the near-total lack of panic when I want to eat off-piste or to binge. It’s the ability to sit through the discomfort and to trust – really trust – that it will end. It will return, of course – usually at incredibly unwelcome times – but then, if I sit long enough, it will go again.


Three hundred seventeen days without a binge (or according to my trusty app, 10 months, 1 week, six days, 23 hours and 30 minutes).

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Stretch Marks

(Warning: This post contains adult content. If you’re offended by the idea of consenting adults engaging in casual sex, normally scheduled programming will resume… um, as soon as I have something to say. Which I have struggled with of late.)

“Did you pick up some disease in all the places you traveled?” B wanted to know. B is a former journalist and now photographer I met on Tinder, where I went – possibly ill-advisedly – after the unpleasant end of a 3.5 month relationship last week.

Last night, B cooked me dinner, which sounds really nice until I tell you that he did it because he didn’t want to pay for dinner out. (He told me this, even going to so far as to go into the costs.) My plate included half a baked potato. (“Do you really need a whole one?” he had asked me while he was cooking. It was somewhat rhetoric, since he didn’t actually have a whole potato for each of us. Anyway, I am not exactly the best judge of portion sizes, not that he knew that.)

If you’re already wondering why I stayed one minute past dinner – let alone ended up in bed with this man – you haven’t been 41 and single. And also in need of some distraction and adventure.

So back to this morning in bed. Or maybe it was last night. There was a lot of red wine involved.

After he made the disease comment, he mentioned that he could do without catching whatever it was, and still I couldn’t tell where this was going. And then – I can’t remember the exact wording of it – he mentioned that I had a lot of “weird lines” on my body. 

Stretch marks.

I thought about how he had undone my entire life’s reading of women’s magazines about how men are so excited to sleep with you that they don’t notice things like that. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to say something funny, but instead I looked at this man – who, let it be said, had a bit of a stomach, had lied about his height, and was by no means a male model -- and said: “I lost a lot of weight.”

“Oh,” he said. “I thought maybe that was it but I didn’t want you to be embarrassed.”

Um, then why bring it up in the first place? And ask in such a bizarre manner?

I’m actually not remotely embarrassed or even offended by this – I just find it hilarious, which I think is as much a sign of recovery as any other. Nine and a half months (288 days, to be exact) without a binge.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Peanut Butter Dreams

One thing I looked forward to so much this morning I practically dreamed about it: peanut butter on crumpets.

It’s what I’ve eaten for breakfast almost every day for the past seven and a half months, except for a couple of days in Paris in September – and the past three days, where I had room service at a five-star London hotel. (I did not complain that the smoked salmon and eggs were, as I can hear my grandmother saying, “ice cold,” but I was tempted to.)

I spent most of the past three days with a (British) guy who lives in Germany. I met him a couple of months ago, and have spent more of the intervening time than I care to admit whatsapping him. Things are not going according to the script in my head – when do they ever? – or really, in any way that could be termed a forward direction. He’ll be here at least another three days and I’m not at all sure I’ll see him again, which is not a great feeling.

I’m trying to remember that whatever happens, it was a mostly fun three days, and – more to the point of this blog – it was nice to just be able to eat and drink whatever without too much stress. (One of the nights, for example, we went for pie and mash, because it’s something he misses that he can’t get in Germany.) I also skipped the gym without fearing I would never go back again.

It also occurred to me this morning that for the first time in maybe as long as I can remember, I didn’t (and haven’t) automatically assumed that the problem is my weight – that things would be different if I were thinner. In a strange way, this is harder to deal with – to sit with – than just assuming weight or my body is the problem. I don’t know what the problem is, and so I can’t even try to fix it, even if I wanted to. (Leaving aside the issue that the problem may not even be me.) My brain runs through everything I said and did and wants to find fault with it – to find fault with myself. This, I know, is what’s at the bottom of my eating disorder – that food, as they say, is the symptom, not the disease. Eating more (or less, or exercising more) won’t change this feeling. I hope eventually I figure out what will.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Resolutions

It wasn’t until New Year’s Eve – when someone else mentioned her resolutions -- that I realized it hadn’t occurred to me to make any.

A chunk of my resolutions usually relate to diet or exercise or weight. I don’t want to mess with the first two, and so I can’t do anything about the last one.

Seven months it’s been without bingeing, overexercising, or restricting. Seven months in which I’ve eaten a lot more lasagna and – oddly, because I can eat anything – a lot less cake than I ever could have predicted. Until last Saturday, when a friend and I learned Britney Spears dance routines (my Christmas present to her – it was, as she said repeatedly, her “dream”), I tried exactly zero new workouts.

Some days have been easy; others have been ridiculously difficult. For the past few days I’ve been going through a hard patch, where – despite lasagna and peanut butter and spaghetti Bolognese in the same day -- I feel like I’m starving (something I’ve only felt very, very occasionally since the first month, when I felt it constantly). I’m trying to remind myself it isn’t always like this, though when I’m in the middle of it it’s hard to envision that it will shift. I’m not asking for suggestions about what to do about it – I know I can eat more, and sometimes I do.

And that, some days, makes things even harder. I know to dismiss the voice that suggests bingeing is the answer, but I have to entertain – or at least consider -- the voice that suggests more. I’ve started plenty of binges in the past having just a little bit more of something, and then being unable to stop.

There is an app I use on my phone to log days without a binge, and it makes a satisfying ping when you check in, which on hard days I do repeatedly. The ping is like the gong in yoga, or the chimes at the end of a massage I once had at an Indian spa. It brings me back to the present, back from spiraling out of control from the fear that things will always be this hard and that I cannot do this any more. And eventually – sometimes only with repeated check-ins within hours – it passes.

Seven months without a binge is longer than I ever thought it possible to go but not long enough to forget what it was like being unable to get through a day. And to be honest, I don’t want to forget. And so I will remember this: I would sit in meetings listening to people talk who had done what I simply could not, which is to put one foot in front of the other, one day at a time, and just not do the thing they really, really wanted to do. Jealousy would well up. Also anger: Why could I not do this thing? Why did one day seem so unbelievably long? (Frankly, when you want to binge, the 10 seconds it can take a cashier to fumble with your change can seem like a year too long.)

I would vow to do it, maybe after just one more binge. And I couldn’t.


I don’t know why I can do it now or even really how. But I’m grateful.