Strength in vulnerability.

“Strength in vulnerability” Sound like opposites to you?

I have lived my entire life holding this belief. With the sense that showing vulnerability was demonstrating weakness. How incorrect this belief is.

From the wise words of Brenè Brown:

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy,courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” (1)

This concept is a difficult one, when we have spent our entire lives believing weakness and vulnerability are one of the same.

But for me, I didn’t truly understand the meaning of vulnerability. Why is it such a difficult emotion for us to experience, why do we numb it?

Brenè Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure”.(1) I feel this depicts eating disorder recovery in one sentence, it’s beautiful; and it’s true.

People in recovery are anything but weak, I am yet to meet or speak to someone with an eating disorder who I consider weak. The people I have come across are some of the strongest, kindest, most resilient people I’ve encountered on all parts of my life.

Eating disorders are encompassed by guilt, shame and fear of being vulnerable. Feelings and emotions are viewed as weakness. During recovery, emotions that had been buried, lost or numbed are reclaimed and owned. Sometimes, all at once!! Some days in early recovery it’s a cluster fuck of emotions. Recovery is learning to tolerate these emotions and not numb out. This is embracing vulnerability.

Vulnerability for me has been, fear of being perceived as weak, judged, failure or a disappointment.

My eating disorder numbed everything,including these feelings but at the cost of all my positive emotions.

Exploring vulnerability has opened up my authentic self. I have never felt so vulnerable than these past 18 months, admitting my imperfections, my shadows.

I don’t see vulnerability as a negative now. It’s neither positive or negative, it’s just part of what makes us all human.

“Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.”(2)

Why shouldn’t we show vulnerability if it’s the foundations of how connections are made, creativity and passion is discovered? Connection can overshadow shame.

Yesterday I did something I would have never imagined myself doing, even a few months ago.

I shared my experience with anorexia publicly on my personal facebook account. It’s National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDA) week in the US, which will be followed by the UK and Australasia next week. And So I decided, why not share my most “feared” secret with the hope of encouraging others to seek help, de-bunk myths and stigma and challenge attitudes.

I’m not going to pretend it was easy. It was more terrifying than either of the bungee jumps, sky dives I’ve done. Not nearly as scary as starting recovery, which is why I felt so compelled to do this . I know I am not alone but I am lucky, so lucky I have had help and support. It took nearly 2 decades to seek the help, which is sad, because this is not uncommon.

If my share changes one attitude, helps one person reach out for help then a little bit of fear is nothing. I’m fortunate I have found my voice. Many people remain struggling in silence. I’m not advising everyone to share their stories. It’s taken a long time for me to reach a place of acceptance and resilience. I know there will be some negativity from sharing such. It will come from ignorance. I feel equipped to deal with these because the majority of responses have been positive and most importantly I didn’t do it for the external validation. I am happy enough with who I am, I did it for those who are not. Those battling stigma and shame everyday.

There’s tons of ways to raise awareness for a subject, not everyone will comfortable with sharing personal accounts and that is ok. Have a look at some of the links below, NEDA and BEAT of how we can raise awareness and fight stigma.

For a deeper look at vulnerability, shame and guilt I recommend checking out:

1. Brenè Brown: TED-Ed https://youtu.be/iCvmsMzlF7o

2. Brenè Brown: Book; https://www.amazon.com/Daring-Greatly-Courage-Vulnerable-Transforms/dp/1592408419

3. NEDA awareness week: https://www.integratedeating.com/blog/2021/2/22/national-eating-disorders-awareness-week-2021

https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org

4. BEAT: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/edaw

References:

1. Brene Brown (2017). Daring Greatly : How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group.

2. Brenè Brown: The Gifts of imperfections.

‘Portion sizes’, re-learning to eat like a ‘normal human-being’, anorexia recovery..

Re-learning ‘normal eating’ ED Recovery

I say normal, loosely. Because the majority of the population has some form of low grade restriction going on. Whether they realize it or not, any diet behavior is restriction. This is not normal eating. But it is ‘societies normal’ This is not an option for us.

When we restrict, our body adapts, by lowering metabolism and a whole heap of other changes like disrupting hunger cues. (This is partly why diets don’t work, restriction leads to a response known as ‘hyperphagia’ (increased hunger) to counteract this unnatural behaviour. Our bodies function in equilibrium and so will adapt or correct the perceived famine. For anyone who is interested like me, in evidence or scientific explanations, the ‘Minnesota Starvation experiment, led by Ancel Keys’ is the closest we will ever get to depicting what happens to humans when starved, both physiologically and psychologically. It would never pass an ethics committee today but the evidence still stands. This was a practice changing study from the forties that still helps to shape nutritional rehabilitation. It provides explanation for experiences such as hyperphagia.

In early recovery most of us experience “extreme hunger”, hyperphagia. For me this wasn’t so much physical hunger, for the most part, but it translated more as mental hunger or feeling off. Regardless it’s still hunger, if we are obsessing about food it’s because our bodies are needing fuel. I was constantly thinking about food, when I was next going to eat, what I could eat, worrying about whether it was ok/ not enough, even dreaming about food, obsessing about food, reading recipes the list goes on. It felt relentless and really intrusive. It was hard to think about anything else. During this period, I would also find it hard to leave food on my plate, even if I felt full, I guess it was my brain freaking out, fearing that I was going to return to a state of famine again. I’d feel almost a compulsion to finish everything. I never felt satisfied early on, I would be painfully full but still thinking about food. This has gotten better with time. I don’t feel the need to finish everything in front of me. This obsession with food was different to that in the depths of my eating disorder, where I would obsess over food then. When under the grip of ‘HH’ I would control everything around it, I’d cook for others, but never eat what I’d made. I’d bake a lot at this point, now I bake if it’s someone’s birthday, I’m just not interested or obsessed like I was. This is common I think, now we have a rule in my house if I make it, I eat it. Some days, if I haven’t eaten quite enough, I find my extreme hunger can return the next day, but this is getting less and less.

This is terrifying when it first happens. If it is happening to you, or someone you know, extreme hunger is normal, it’s a healthy response to energy deficit and reintroducing nutrition. It showed up for me months later in recovery, after I got back on track from a relapse. I didn’t experience it prior. Bingeing is normal in this setting. It’s distressing, it feels it’s going against everything the eating disorder believes. But the only way I found it improved was to listen and respond to it. Restriction remains the enemy for this.

Some-thing I still find difficult, is what’s normal. I also think, there probably isn’t actually a normal, because what’s normal for one person is not for another. However serving sizes is a tricky one, I can under-eat some times because I have done so for so long and my perception of what a ‘normal portion’ is warped.

I have found asking for help with this, although humiliating as an adult and at time unbearably uncomfortable, I often run my lunches past my husband and if he tells me it’s not enough, I don’t argue, I add more. I am trying to re-learn normal eating.

Another thing that helped me, although at the time I hated it and argued until I was blue in the face was relinquishing control around food. By this I mean, I was lucky my partner took complete control of what I ate, when I could not make healthy decisions geared towards recovery without ‘HH’ sabotaging. I was not allowed to cook, prepare meals, or enter the kitchen when meals were being prepared. It was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life and there were times when I would argue, shout, cry, throw, he would force me to eat what was in front of me. I was like a child. But worse, I was an adult having a meltdown. But this role was necessary for a short time, because if left alone, I would skip ingredients, make smaller meals, substitute ingredients ‘for healthier’ alternatives etc.

But it was important for me to regain independence quickly (for me and my partner) and the only way I could was to suck it up.

I cannot express the grattitude I have for my partner, I think people who support a person through eating disorder recovery are saints, they see the worst side of a person imaginable, because a caged animal will always lash out. I have apologised more times than I wish I’d ever have to in a life time. I think this is where it’s useful to seperate the person from their eating disorder. We are not our eating disorders, and the non-negotiations are with the eating disorder, not the person being over shadowed by it. This does not give a free pass to be a dick, it’s just to help understand why you have to keep fighting for recovery. Thankfully this wasn’t needed for long.

For a short while, I followed the principles from Gwyneth Olwyns, homeodynamic recovery. I like evidence and this is evidence based. I will link this below. I do not count calories and find doing so to be detrimental, however this principle sets minimums and it helped me for a short period when trying to become independent again.

One thing I’ve accepted is, comparing what we need to eat in recovery to someone who has not just waged war on there body is never going to be helpful. We need more than most people to heal. Healing doesn’t end at ‘weight restoration’, we still have a nutritional rehabilitation, inner repair, mental healing beyond this. Who knows how long this will take. This, Is hard for someone with a restrictive eating disorder, but I believe it’s true and giving yourself permission to eat whatever, whenever and often ‘more’ than people around you is an important step. Letting go of the judgment. I’ve only recently gotten to this point, I used to find it really really hard to eat in front of, or with others. That’s isolating and something a lot of us have to overcome. So ignoring comments about food is important, hard but totally achievable.

1. The Minnesota Starvation experiment: https://archive.wphna.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/2005-Mad-Science-Museum-Ancel-Keys-Starvation.pdf

2. Gwyneth Olwyn, Homeodynamic Recovery Method: https://edinstitute.org/blog/2013/3/31/homeodynamic-recovery-method-guidelines-overview

SHOULD, is not a nice word..

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Should has no place in most daily language, but especially not in eating disorder recovery

Should implies rules, an obligation. That word is the reason I’m sat on my ass writing this. I was looking forward to going for a run, or joining my husband at boxfit tonight. However throughout the day at work I started to feel tired and that what I probably needed was to chill out with the cat.

Then that sneaky SHOULD word crept into the foreground. I heard my thoughts say “you should go tonight, you’ve not done anything all week”

That was the point I decided I will not exercise today. Exercise should be a priveledge/ pleasure, not a punishment.

This “SHOULD” demand was from my eating disorder, “HH” thinks I should exercise today, but that’s the very reason why not. A few months ago, I would have acted on this demand, the next day I would find it harder to eat or I’d feel more anxious about what I was eating.

Now I move my body because I want to, because it feels good, not because I feel I have to. The discomfort I used to feel if I missed a day of exercise was insurmountable before. I have to really listen to where the intent is from, whether it’s my voice, or ’HH’s.

I’m feeling proud, I can sit here and write this, instead of dragging my butt out to torture myself without enjoyment. Because I know when I truly want to move/ exercise it’s for me and not for the service of ‘HH’.

I have been a runner all my life. One of my favourite things even a a tiny child, before the days of my eating disorder was to go outside in the rain. As I got a bit older, if my athletics session was a wet session it was like Christmas for me! I loved the feel of the rain and being hot and the smell of it on the track or grass. Then ’HH’ showed up some years later. And my running, exercise was no longer for me, for the fun. It was all about targets, shifting goal posts that I would never be satisfied with.

It would be like the world ended if I had to miss a day, or I’d exercise when I was injured, sick and obviously that’s not fun. I’ve had to work really hard in my recovery to re-kindle my healthy relationship with movement, channeling that child who loved running in the rain and not the crazy person running in gale force winds/ all weathers all hours.

I took a period of abstinence, but not an extended period. I had a good support to help me workout where the intent was from. Some days I had meltdowns when I knew it wasn’t my healthy self and had to abstain. But doing that has got me here. If it feels wrong it is wrong. Exercise/movement is never meant to feel shameful, guilt driven (pre or post), like a chore. It’s a pleasure/ priveledge. Today was a day I know it was not for me, rather for ‘HH’. One day by continuing to listen to my healthy voice over and over, ‘HH’ won’t suggest I move when I don’t want to. The voice will be gone.

Challenge, Practice, Repeat…..Recover I hope.

Today was definitely helped by ‘Recovery Warriors” resources. Check out The Recovery Warriors app, website. They are currently holding a ‘holiday special” with lots of useful resources and videos etc. https://www.truewarrior.me/holiday-support

https://www.instagram.com/recovrywarriors/

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