Tag Archive: Addictions


 

Dear ___________,
agony1

It’s hard to  know where to be
gin because I cant remember where or when the beginning was.  What I DO know is that you’ve no idea how hard I’ve had to work just to keep things balanced.

I want you to stop and shut up and LISTEN.  I’m going to try to tell you about what you’ve done and what you’re STILL doing. It’s a hard thing. Bear with me.

Despite your attempts to poison me and to harm me, I fought to stay healthy. I cleaned your blood, carried it round, battled illnesses, healed up your wounds.

You crossed what had become a very blurry line around ten years ago.  Then the real brutality began. You fought me with systematic, dogged determination; tried to change me, control me, reshape me with the tools of death you fast learned to use.

The irony of the fact it began with a health kick hasn’t escaped me. When you cut out the cigarettes, I was overjoyed! Clean breathing at long last. I’d been clogging up with thick tar, and in some ways, I think I’d resigned myself to the blackness, and to the knowledge that it would continue to seep and creep, until it covered all my tender healthiness.

But you cracked it! And I began to work at cleaning it up, helped greatly by your exercise and your healthier lifestyle. It was so good for a while.

Up until you stopped feeding me.

At first I wasn’t worried. I don’t even know when I first noticed. Those workouts of yours grew progressively harder to sustain. When I began to flag, instead of the little rest I was used to, you pushed me all the harder. After sprinting half a mile, you’d ramp up the speed. For a while, I thought it was normal; y’know, a good technique for burning my fat and making muscle. I trusted that you knew your stuff. I figured you’d stop when I reached my optimum, and I worked so hard for you, did what YOU wanted. Stretched to the limit, I kept going, convinced you’d be satisfied with my performance.  It’s hard to acknowledge just how far you fell from my expectations and it’s quite impossible for me to understand.

Over time, you and I underwent a transformation that nobody, NOBODY could believe. I think it’s fair to say that it simply wasn’t a you that I recognised.

You were brutal.

Whispers of encouragement became barked orders as coach turned to tyrant. I began to dread you.

Your lack of mercy started to take its toll as I struggled to balance your system.

I tried to tell you. I couldn’t help but let you feel the impact of your cruelty. You can’t flog someone half to death and expect the scars not to show. I stopped biting my lip and started to shout, but you lashed me harder, your determination a steel whip, your mission a desperate urge to keep control.

And all this talk of exercise is perhaps an avoidance of the most painful point: that of starvation.

I struggle here.

The louder I cry, the harder you starve. The more I plead, the more you withhold. If I let myself think of food, you give me less, and yet, I’m so hungry, I can’t think of anything BUT.

You’re killing me.

It’s not rocket science. If you don’t take care of something, it’s going to fall apart.  I’m SO tired of having to hold you up. You demand so much of me but give so little; a cruel rider lashing at his horse, numb to the pain of its seared flank; numb to the deep ache streaming down it’s legs, for all that matters is the win and the blinkers of victory blot out the damage.

If I was a separate being, you’d be done for abuse. The cruelty is almost intolerable. You tease me with the broken edges of foods that I crave. You tell me I can have it, then, just as fast, tell me I can’t. I’m starving and you lead me to the fridge fskeleton appleull of food that I’m not allowed to eat. Like an object of worship, you kneel in front of the full shelves, and as I cry that it’s nourishment you only see numbers.  For food has become a mass of calculations that stream through this brain, tangled wit
h the inevitable bargaining script of ifs and buts and onlys… And all the while, my mouth drools.

You’re breaking me. My bones are dry and brittle. Osteoporosis casts shadows on my hips and my spine is wearing thin. I can’t remember how many years since I bore the ache of fertility. This womb dry and cold, no longer fit to feel the moisture of tiny breath.

Every step is painful as bone grinds on stone. Every step is my protest. And yet, you carry on, rising above the screaming soles, too frightened to stop. You run away from me, barely look at me, only glancing to check that your clothes cover your skin.

I am weary, made tired by your disdain. I am weary of being underfed, ignored, tempted, denied.

I am weary of being brought to the brink of health, and then being starved to the brink of death.

I am weary of daring to trust that I no longer have to hunt to survive, then being shot at when I rest.

I am weary of empty promises, of bearing the weight of your illness.

If you continue, we will both die in this civil war and nobody will ever know who won or who lost.

All of me will rot; but, you if you remain, will rise above the webs of half rotted reasons, above the dry dust of me

And it will all

seem

so

completely

senseless.

******************

I didn’t want to seem rude when my very lovely clinician suggested writing a letter to myself. I almost squinted with the effort of holding back on the eye roll, resisted the sideways pull of my lips.

Been there. Done that. Got T-shirts to clothe an army.

But. This was a bit different. Not a ‘ years from now thing. Not a letter to myself, but a letter FROM myself. More specifically, from my body.

I put it here to remind myself why I need to keep eating. I also put it here hoping that it might be helpful in some way, to someone else.

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

It’s very, very difficult to describe the mental torment that can suddenly twist itself in and around the brain of someone suffering with an eating disorder. I’ve struggled to find the words.

You can perhaps imagine the immensity of my relief when I stumbled across a talk given by an American doctor called Laura Hill. I was searching through TED, looking for interesting talks. when I first heard her. I was amazed when she began to describe ‘the noise’ in MY head, when I am faced with choices about food. I had that overwhelming sense of awe and relief and terror that you get when somebody describes your innermost, thus far unarticulated, maybe even unformed, thought traces… You know the one, right? That whole ‘strumming my pain with his fingers, singing my life with his words’ thing?

What she proceeded to do blew a hole right through me.

She had a tape recording of what she called ‘the noise’. The noise experienced / heard by an Anorexic whenever they have to think about selecting food from a menu, a supermarket shelf, a fridge, freezer, list or lunch bar. She played this raw cacophony of voices, a medley of ordinary conversation, accusatory interjections and deeper inner ‘voices’ commanding, bargaining, questioning.  Listening to it, I feel as though she has somehow wired up my brain and translated every thought, every voice, every snippet of inaudible agony, into words and sentences. It’s the chaos of the calories, the constant mathematical equations, ratios, percentages that need to be calculated in order to work out how much energy is allowed, or NOT allowed. The numbers that fly in and out, unable to find a carpet of reason on which to rest, the foods that fall into the red, the orange and the green zones of safe and unsafe foods; the protein, the fat, the carbs, the fruits; whether I’ve been more active or more sedentary; the form the food takes…. All these factors dart like pinballs across the Anorexic’s mind, making a noise that you could drown in.

It’s noise of the kind that you might expect in the psychotic mind. Noise that, for me,  doesn’t stop unless I make the decision to abstain.

And then

silence

complete peace.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0M-lbItSqk

I tried to put together a video using Dr Hill’s sound clip. It’s not brilliant. I’ve never done it before… But it might make someone else feel understood… or give a little insight into what is happening in the mind of a loved one as they try to pick a snack, or a meal.

It might help somebody understand why it is so very difficult to recover. It’s not just as simple as ‘eat’, because just thinking about eating invokes the noise.

What I have tried to do is to argue with this noise, shout back at it, reason with it… But this is rarely helpful and I have often resolved to skip the food in the desperate rush to close down the clamour.

What I am now trying to do, is to allow the noise to exist without giving in to it. Allowing it to happen but still allowing nourishment of some kind. I hope that the practise of this will eventually afford me a ‘quieter noise’, a lower volume if not complete peace. One day, perhaps they’ll research this illness more and find a drug which will block out the noise and the panic, but for now, I will continue to work towards recovery despite the noise.

Does anybody else identify with this? If so, what helps you and how do you deal with it?

If your default state of mind involves a relentless drive towards perfection.Rebel

If the eye flinching, wincing, mincing voice of piercing criticism carries through veins and synapses

If your head is bent and darkened by the brightness of those around you

If you cannot bear the bird that longs to nestle in your palm, for fear that it will turn and peck your sockets hollow

If your thoughts are spurs and feelings, whips that lash your saddened soul

and your mind set is a thirst that’s only quenched by a glass half full

then hear the call and heed it

Rebel against your own state of mind.

Every so often, I come across a poem or a quotation or a song that holds such a deep, weighty resonance, that I almost feel it in the very bowels of my being. Incredibly, a string of words can have the power to somehow infiltrate me; to bypass the sentry who guards my reason, and speak directly to my soul.

I believe that every human being has had this experience, to a greater or lesser extent. And although it’s a little hard to define, and sometimes difficult to see in some people, I think that human beings have an innate desire to be understood by something outside of themselves. This need is fleetingly and powerfully met when they stumble upon something that, on some level, speaks the words of their muted soul / heart. Sometimes a poem or a song can understand you and make sense of a part of you that, by it’s spiritual nature, cannot be voiced, but is silently woven into the very essence of your being.

Phew! This is deep, perhaps TOO deep!

All this verbosity is really an introduction to a beautiful poem I read recently by American poet Mary Oliver.

Simple in language and in form, “The Journey” spoke to me in the way that I describe above. It is an apt description of where I am on my journey towards recovery.

We all have ‘voices’ / things that try to drag us back, to hold us captive as we trudge along the ‘road full of fallen branches and stone’. For me, the Anorexia screams at me to turn back. For you, perhaps it’s something else. No matter, it is a struggle that many of us experience, particularly as we attempt to shake off ‘the old tug’ at our ankles.

It is my hope that, in posting this poem here, it will somehow encourage you and speak some of your unspoken words.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.Image

Hole-In-The-Wall-God?

Although I rarely mention it in my writing here, my faith is one aspect of my life which I think would fundamentally change the very essence of my being were it to completely disappear. In truth, my spiritual journey, much like my therapy journey, has been a challenging mixture of blindness and revelations; of soaring and stumbling; and of denials and acceptances.Image

 I’ve been in places of unshakeable certainty, unable to understand how anyone could ever question such a tangible God. In later life, there have been times when I’ve swallowed bitterly as depression and the weary despair and fatigue that accompanies it, flecked inky pools of indifference and doubt across any conviction that I once had.

At this point on the journey, I stand on a different mountain, overlooking a very different landscape.
A part of me draws some strength from the inner sense that God stands with me.
This acknowledgement of ‘a higher power’ seems to play a crucial role in recovery. AA refer to the ‘higher power’, as do a range of other successful addiction recovery programs; the theory being that as human beings, we are often weak willed and for all our good intentions, cannot free ourselves from the power of ingrained behaviours and habits. We need to draw on a strength that is not ‘from’ us, but is outside of us.

A part of me worries as I consider how God is referred to in the 12 step programs.
Does it not all sound a little bit ‘God-as-hole-in-the-wall’ ish?
I’m not sure.

Image

What I do know is that right now, I find myself knocking on heaven’s door morning, noon and night, asking for supernatural strength with which to fight the Anorexic howling which coarses through my mind interminably.
I pray as I sit down to eat my snacks, my meals and as I battle the urges to spit my food out after chewing it.

Anorexia: A Lifestyle?

AnorexiaMonday’s Telegraph newspaper marked the beginning of Eating Disorders Awareness week with an article about ED websites: More specifically, ‘Pro Ana’ sites.  (For the uninitiated, these sites are sites set up to encourage those who want to starve themselves. They share tips and tricks about hiding food, fighting hunger, effective purging, dealing with interfering parents / loved ones and often sporting photographs of skeletal bodies to give ‘thinspiration’ to followers).

I skimmed Sarah Rainey’s article , too tired of the topic to want to engage with the politics and the emotion held between the lines of the pro ana blogger, the parent of a (nother) very bright, talented ‘whole life ahead of her’ dead Anorexic and a range of ED specialists and organisations.

One thing however, leapt out at me.

This:

“Anorexia is a lifestyle, not a disease”.  (A quote Rainey takes from a ‘pro ana’ blog).

It’s something I’ve heard many times in various forms and generally from sources who, clearly, have no understanding of the pathological nature of Anorexia. Without wishing to state the obvious, I find the implications of the statement upsetting because it embodies the attitude that somehow, Anorexia is a choice one makes.

For me, this is an absurd idea. However, as I have previously tried to explain (here), I think there are different types of Anorexia and it is possible that, for some people, devoting their time and energy to becoming extraordinarily thin, is a lifestyle choice, in much the same way that a total devotion to anything may lead to radical lifestyle choices. All well and good (excuse the irony), and perhaps in this instance, starvation is a choice… just another way of living. But, can a disease be a lifestyle?

Unfortunately, what the article I read didn’t point out, was that if this is a choice, it can’t be Anorexia or Bulimia or EDNOS. A disease, by its very definition and nature, isn’t a choice… Nobody CHOOSES to suffer with a disease. True, it can appear that way with some mental illness’, but nobody makes a choice to become sick. People don’t choose to die from malnutrition any more than they don’t choose to develop leukaemia. And this is where it all becomes very complex… because CHOICE plays a large part in the distortions that characterise this illness so vividly.

A person suffering with Anorexia, believes that they have CONTROL of their weight and their body. They believe in the choice element. They believe that they are IN CONTROL. In fact, the extreme opposite is true. It is the disease that controls them and the disease which distorts their thinking. The disease ROBS the Anorexic of choice. It STEALS their capacity for logical thought about their weight. It DILUTES the ability to rationalise their fear of weight gain and to recognise that they are no longer in control of their mind.

I understand the Pro-Ana blogger’s statement in the light of those who wish to diet, but “choosing an Anorexic lifestyle” is an oxymoron.

One last point, and perhaps the most important: Luckily, there IS some element of choice.

It is reserved for those who are in the grip of an Eating Disorder (or addiction, I think) and it is this: The sufferer may choose to remain in the half life that it forces on them. They may CHOOSE to give up the fight for wellness. Just as somebody who is diseased with cancer may choose to stop treatment, an Anorexic or Bulimic can CHOOSE not to fight the illness.

RECOVERY or NOT is the choice. A lifestyle of recovery is agony, but a lifestyle led by the choice NOT TO recover, is to submit to the power wielded by this dreadful disease.

The other day I woke up with the word ‘VIM’ in my head.

Quite why this was the case, I have no idea, but there it was, pinging round as I showered, dressed and ate my customary bowl of Branflakes.

It’s not really a word that you hear nowadays: vim. Like the Lemon Syllabub, once the darling of the dinner party, it has fallen from fashion and is possibly only really used in a strike of linguistic sadism by an evil cruciverbalist (to most of us, that’s ‘Crossword Complier’)  I had to look it up. Learn something new everyday.

Image

Anyway. Point is, this ‘vim’ is exactly what I’m lacking at the moment, hence the long gaps between posts here.

I lack the energy that writing demands, let alone the immense effort needed for continued recovery. How can I possibly encourage others when I myself am failing to practice what I preach.

Recovery takes VIM. It takes a robust energy, something I believe that comes from within, which is a good thing because Eating Disorders very often result in a weak or fragile body.

When we lack the spirit required to spur us on, instead of just stumbling on with our eyes shut and our fingers in our ears, we need to take time to CONSCIOUSLY (some say ‘mindfully’) focus our efforts, remember our goals and recall the reasons why life without an ED or addiction is worth aiming for, suffering for.

If you have experienced anything like this, please take a moment to share your thoughts here.

Politician Frank Field says of Christmas;

“It is my favourite festival because it reminds us that we can always begin again”…

…A sentiment I like because it’s rooted in hope. Now, perhaps you are one of those enviable types whose boundless optimism shines forth, making you a beacon for desperate souls like me (who experiences hope in a short rush

Sand-Hand-1309326

which passes the mind through like sand from a loosely clasped fist).

Perhaps you are a glass half full sitting on the sunny side of the table.

If so, great! You can probably look over your shoulder and give a grateful nod to those who brought you up (controversial point, I know).

If like me, you struggle to keep a faint ember glowing, this post is for you!

When I started writing this blog, I wanted it to be about HOPE. I wanted it to be a small ray of hope streaking through the darkness of cyberspace.

Candle-calendar

If ever there was a time where we see the little lights of hope, “Advent” is it.  And I want to say that Christmastide, although an incredibly tough time for people like myself and perhaps, you, is also a time where there is a sense of something new… and not just the ipad or the SatNav in your stocking, but in the way that we can live our lives and make small changes in the ways we react and respond to people or situations.

Hope is intrinsically linked with change: something I’ve never really thought about before, but seems so relevant to those of us who struggle with eating disorders or addictions. It’s so easy to give up. Sometimes it’s easier to say; “I’ll never make it”; “I can’t change”; “my ED is stronger”;”my problems run too deep”.  But the painful truth is, believing these ‘despair-mongerous’ statements (okay, so I made up a word), is putting a jamjar over a flame.

And we’ve all done it. We all give in to the nagging despair. But it doesn’t have to be like that. We can fight for the life we want, or to be the person we want to be. Where there is hope, there is light and life. Christmastime can be full of angst and grief and despair. It can be a time of immense loneliness and suffering. But, as in the real Christmas story, there can be moments where hope is born.

The hope that we can make it… that we haven’t blown it.

“Who is this?”  I was phoning an unnamed number after someone left an alarming message on my mobile. Turns out it was an ex colleague who had phoned the wrong person in a moment of ethyl-sodden desperation.

I listened for the next ten minutes as he told me parts of his story; his descent into the pit of alcoholism; his tentative exploration of methods of recovery. As he spoke, his words painted a picture of a broken man, one arm outstretched, the other still grasping the bottle.

“AA?”, I tested. Careful.

“Tried it. Couldn’t get on with all the Higher Power stuff”

And suddenly, I saw the light! – How difficult it is for a person struggling to recover to open your mind to something different.

People who battle addictions, OCD and Eating Disorders so often have rigid patterns of thought, unbending ‘rules’.  Without realising it, our minds can be so closed to new ways of thinking, of seeing our world, of experiencing other perspectives. We give up quickly and often dismiss possibilities; “I’ll never be able to…”  “Other people might manage that but I can’t…”   “All that fluffy stuff… it’s not for me… I’m not LIKE that…”

It’s that dismissive thinking, that hopelessness, that makes the addict’s recovery process so difficult. Just like a horse with blinkers, the world is so small, so narrowed. How much do I miss when I refuse / can’t open my mind?

There’s a whole world out there, one which is, as yet, unfamiliar. We need to step through the wardrobe… A different world to the one in which we lived before, lies in wait.

Why not chance it? Dare to consider it? Risk NOT dismissing it?

Hold On – Paul Brandt.  Continue reading