It’s an all-too-familiar story: a brilliant young dancer upstaged by an eating disorder. When Ayla’s illness forced her to drop out of ballet school, she fell into a depression, and her therapist recommended residential treatment.
“I locked myself in my room and I was crying hysterically for like four hours,” Ayla recalls. She credits Jodi Tudisco, Clinical Director of Mirasol Adolescent Program, with saving her life.
“My mom knocked on the door and she handed me the phone and it was Jodi, and Jodi pretty much talked me down from killing myself.”
Ayla reluctantly agreed to treatment, but says she was “a shell” when she arrived.
“My world was so small, and I didn’t really think that anything was wrong with me because I had been sick for so long. I never said ‘no I don’t want to get better’ but it was like ‘I don’t need to get better.’ In the beginning, I found ways to try to manipulate the system because I hadn’t heard a voice in my head that wasn’t the eating disorder for about three years. I didn’t trust anybody, and I always pretended like everything was okay.”
But a month into treatment things began to change.
“Things started coming up, and layers of the onion began to peel away,” she recalls. A visit from her mother reminded her of everything she was missing by being in treatment.
“It was like, ‘what am I doing? I had so many opportunities this summer!’ I was supposed to go to Boston Ballet on a full scholarship. It just hit me that there are better things in life than being in treatment!”
I believe you really have to have a moment where you decide ‘I’m going to let go, I’m just going to see what happens.’ It’s really hard to get up to the top of the mountain, but you can decide if you like the view or not, and you can always run back down the mountain. I really like the view from up here.
And so Ayla began building relationships with other people. She developed a close friendship with another MIrasol client, and they promised each other that they would recover together. She also began creating relationships with members of the staff.
“They’re so open!” says Ayla. “All they want is for you to get better, and you can see it in their eyes, you can feel it when you walk through the door. This place for me has been like a family and a home. Being here has helped me learn that family comes in all shapes and sizes, and that people really really love me.”
Ayla believes a key to her recovery was learning to trust the process.
“Sometimes people just go through the motions until they get to a certain point and they say that they’re better. But I believe you really have to have a moment where you decide ‘I’m going to let go, I’m just going to see what happens.’ It’s really hard to get up to the top of the mountain, but you can decide if you like the view or not, and you can always run back down the mountain. I really like the view from up here.”
Ayla also appreciated the individualization of her treatment at Mirasol. In her case, it was recognizing her love of ballet. She worked closely with her primary therapist and her dietitian to resume dancing on a limited basis at a local ballet school, with corresponding adjustments to her meal plan.
“I thought I would never get back to ballet again, but we took it very slowly. I started out dancing once a week, and began taking a ballet class with other people. And then I did a long day like I would have done at my ballet school. It was just amazing for me to see, I felt so safe and so supported. I have fought my eating disorder so hard to get back to ballet. It’s hard because the profession is a lot about your body. I’m very grateful that I can do what I can do in ballet. And I know it’s not all about your body, it’s about the way you dance, and about how much passion you have inside your soul, and I have a lot of it.”
For the traditional closing ceremony on her last day in treatment, Ayla chose to conclude with the Second Solo Variation from “Emeralds”, the first act of “Jewels”, created for the New York City Ballet by George Balanchine. What a wonderful way to celebrate a dancer’s recovery!
Backpacking is lot like recovering from an eating disorder. It’s a long uphill climb with a lot of baggage. Sometimes things get pretty hot, and you may experience an occasional breakdown.
And so it was the day we left for Mirasol’s second backpacking trip with clients. This time of year, going anywhere outdoors means traveling to higher ground, since temperatures in mid-June here in Tucson were topping 110 degrees. We set our sights on Arizona’s Mogollon Rim, a 200-mile-long wall of sandstone and limestone that slices diagonally across the northeast corner of the state and divides it into two distinct regions. The Rim is home to North America’s largest stand of Ponderosa pine, and also gives birth to dozens of permanent streams that tumbles over the cliffs and water the canyons of southern Arizona. Between the generous canopy of trees and opportunities to splash in an icy stream, we figured we’d be okay to hike, even with temperatures in the mid-90s.
About 100 miles out of town, one of the vehicles broke down, so we sheltered everyone in the shade with plenty of water while we ordered a tow truck from Tucson and made a mad dash into nearby Globe to rent another SUV. I think most people would have given up and gone home at that point, but we pushed through, and we were rewarded for our perseverance with a delightful weekend in the mountains.
More challenges — and more lessons — lay ahead. In an open pasture under a full moon that night, we were all reminded how important it is to stay close and take care of one another. The next day we trekked to a shady campsite next to a gushing spring. Sometimes the solution is flowing right there at your feet, but you still need to pump it up and take it in!
It was a great trip that gave us many opportunities to practice the skills we learn in treatment, including controlling anxiety, being prepared, overcoming obstacles and taking care of ourselves and others. I hope the memory of that sparkling cool stream will serve as a reminder that there’s a big payoff for perseverance, patience and teamwork.
From Mirasol ED Recovery Guest Blogwriter ~ Hope
For a majority of people with eating disorders, weight gain is the greatest fear, challenge, and roadblock to recovery. I get it. It’s been my hardest battle, too. I hope some of these tips help you cope with weight restoration regardless of what stage of change you may find yourself, whether just considering recovery or actually maintaining progress after treatment.
To lift some pressure to help you get started, you could try approaching your recovery as an experiment. A gain doesn’t have to be forever, but at least give yourself some time to work with the differentness of being in a weight-restored body with a nourished brain before you write it off. Hopefully, you will stick recovery through long enough to find relief. But, in a worst case scenario, you can always go back to your eating disorder. First, though, give yourself a chance.
If your body image is still making you miserable, remember that an overwhelming majority of those who recover agree that healing body image is the longest step of recovery. Be gentle with yourself as it may very well take more time for the mind to catch up than for the body to heal.
Here are 8 suggestions to help you along your way.
1. Remind yourself of why you began recovery in the first place. As time passes, it can be easy to begin glamorizing the aspects of the eating disorder that you liked. Do you want to find yourself in the same pain that motivated you to start recovery in the first place? I don’t think so! If you ever reminisce about the good old days of your eating disorder, you have to complete the picture by reconsidering the awful ones too. Dig deep and get to the ugly. What has your eating disorder taken away from you (hobbies, career, relationships, money, energy, hope, etc.)? What complications have you endured? How does having an eating disorder impact your daily life? Also, ask yourself what you are looking forward to by healing. I once made a gratitude list of 101 things I loved about life. From fresh cut fruit to freedom, what are some of your own gratitudes? Together, these are all motivators for your healing.
2. Come up with a food is fuel mantra that works for YOU, such as, “Food is my medicine right now.” Nourishment is a form of medicine, self-respect, and love. Appreciate the foods you DO enjoy. As I learned more about the medicinal values of various whole foods, I began conversing with food on a whole new level. For example, changing my use of food language allowed me to transform my relationship with healthy fats. When I learned walnuts are shaped like the brain and are a healthy brain food thanks to their Omega-3 essential fatty acid content, I changed my internal conversation from, “OMG, these walnuts are fattening and going straight to my bottom half,” to, “This is fueling my brain to help with clear thinking and stable mood. The fats are vital for my nervous system to function at optimum levels.” When I eat avocados, I still think, “Oh yeah. This is going straight to…the shine in my hair, skin, and nails.” 😉
3. Be prepared to deal with body shape, weight, and appearance comments. Be prepared that many well intended people will want to compliment you on your accomplishment of “filling out a bit” and looking so much “better”, so much “healthier”! Some people will not know better and others may not be able to help themselves because they are so relieved and thankful. For someone still ambivalent about weight restoration, a seemingly innocent word like “healthy” can become a tossed grenade that explodes upon our recovery parade. If this happens, it helps to remind yourself that your eating disorder is confusing enough to you. Imagine how confusing it is to the general population. A little compassion can go a long way as a distress tolerance skill with these unwanted comments. In more valued relationships, you may decide to engage in conversation about how you actually interpret appearance-based comments. In all fairness, what we think at times hardly makes sense. PS. Healthy does not mean fat.
4. Just say no to “Thinspiration!” I know; it’s everywhere. The longer you have had an eating disorder, the more likely it is deeply embedded into your life. You don’t always even have to be looking for it. And it goes way beyond magazines and websites. I’ve been sidetracked on Facebook by someone’s alarming new profile picture, where they have clearly lost weight. Catching the interest of my eating disorder thoughts and with just a few clicks later, I could be perusing through photo albums of others with eating disorders –sucked into the abyss looking for thinspiration. Don’t let your social media support become a weapon of destruction against your hard earned progress. If you find yourself caught in a web of thinspiration, whether online or offline, remind yourself of why you began recovery in the first place. These people likely have very painful struggles they are dealing with, too. Every eating disorder has a shadow. Try not to torture yourself with thinspiration. Instead, fill up your newsfeed with pro-recovery outlets!
5. Avoid excessive body checking. There are so many ways we do this without realizing it. The most obvious way is probably the use of a scale, but some things are more discreet such as seeking your reflection in reflective surfaces or measuring body parts by wrapping around your fingers. Some of us might have certain clothing items we use to reference our body in space, such as a certain pair of “skinny jeans” that we taunt ourselves with. Consider donating or consigning these items. While body checking is often intended to provide some level of comfort or relief, conflict ensues when we are not happy with the number, size, or measurement. There are schools of thought that we shouldn’t know our weight at all and others that suggest using blind weigh-ins at the beginning of recovery and gradual weight exposure over time. If there is no way you are giving up your scale, at least consider putting this quote up on a post-it note nearby, “This scale can only give you a numerical reflection of your relationship with gravity. It cannot measure beauty, talent, purpose, possibility, strength, or love.”
6. Spend time with encouraging social supports. Reduce your exposure to people who are weight or appearance obsessed. Set the tone and ditch the “fat talk” mania. Encourage your social supports to follow suit. Surround yourself with people who are uplifting and encouraging of others. You probably have enough trouble with criticizing yourself. You do not need further exposure to negative chitter chatter! Positive people will more likely help you appreciate both your inner and outer beauty. It’s also helpful to have a body image role model, whether someone who has recovered for an eating disorder or simply owns body confidence.
7. Adopt doable distraction techniques. Distraction techniques will not cure underlying issues, but they will help you avoid behavior use, which is incredibly empowering. You also deserve a break from the eating disorder thoughts and behaviors. Urges are temporary and will pass. While they may return, it lifts one’s spirits to be able to conquer urges when they present. I have used whatever works in the moment when I need a shift in focus away from negative body image. I may choose to read, watch TV, or color a mandala. I often use essential oils as a grounding distraction. Listening to music can change my train of thought quite easily as well. You may wish to call, text, or IM a friend. Snuggle up with your furbabies. Don’t be afraid to spend some time day dreaming about a goal you’ve had. Mental rehearsing plants the seed of success. Or maybe you are a list maker. Do anything other than accept mental torment from ED. J
8. Practice joyous exercise. Exercise can be a touchy subject with regards to eating disorders. If you have a history of excessive exercise, please consider exploring this in a therapeutic relationship, especially before reintroducing exercise into your life. Always seek medical clearance before engaging in exercise. In some cases, you may need a physical therapist to begin physical activity once cleared by your team. Exercise can have incredible benefits when practiced in moderation, including antidepressant benefits. Healthy exercise can also encourage a nourishing appetite, increased energy, and sound sleep – all elements of a balanced lifestyle. When possible, choose joy filled activities such as yoga, gardening, and surfing, where the focus is more likely to be on the activity than the eating disorder. Warning signs of excessive or abusive exercise may include: skipping social opportunities to work out, distress when a workout is missed, unwilling to allow rest days, being driving by obsessive thoughts, using exercise to purge calories, and exercising despite injury.
You’ve made it way too far and worked way too hard to give up now! I cannot emphasize enough that glamorizing the eating disorder only opens the gateway to relapse. Sure, the eating disorder served a purpose for you for a long time, but don’t forget it stopped working, which is why you decided to start your healing. If you find yourself wishing you were thinner or that you had not gained weight, know you are also wishing for all of the pain, struggle, and misery the eating disorder left you. And, you certainly don’t need all of that! You are worth a life worth living.
From Mirasol ED Recovery Guest Blogwriter ~ Faith
Recovery from an eating disorder is complex. It’s full of rollercoasters, intense emotions, radical acceptance, willingness over willfulness, courage, and perseverance. It’s easy to go back to negative behaviors where the eating disorder can calm anxiety and make you feel like you have control. But, in actuality, you are only locking yourself back in the box while the ED destroys your life. Bottom line: Recovery can be very scary. As you continue your recovery journey, you will have to face both old and new fears. By gaining a new perspective of how to conquer those fears, you will build more strength and courage every time you step out of the box and face that fear.
If you have read my other posts, you know that I used to be very athletic triathlete and cyclist. As I move further into my recovery and have begun to work towards reclaiming those passions, I have had to look fear straight in the face. It’s not a perfect road…Some days I can do it; other days I might hang back a little and tip toe outside the box. I have a hard time being patient with myself and remembering that my body is still healing, thus when it comes to biking and swimming, I need to learn to be more forgiving without letting fear take over and quitting completely.
I have recently joined a community center that I can both bike to and swim once I’m there. I felt like a small child holding my mom’s hand when I went to try swimming. Luckily, I chose to face this fear by choosing to go with someone from my support system. It was my first time there actually using the facilities, and I didn’t understand how the locker rooms worked. A swim team was starting, and I hate being cold, which all lap pools are kept at a cooler temperature. I had anxiety just thinking about going. Seeing the swim team was intimidating and brought up old emotions of when I swam on a team. I knew my stamina was definitely not up to par, and fear immediately took over telling me, “You can’t swim, look at those girls, they are in the best shape and can swim forever.” I hovered over the lane edge, knowing the cold rush I would feel as soon as I dove. Half of me was saying, “no, no, no!” The wise mind other half was telling me, “at least jump in, you love swimming and you have to start somewhere.”
With a deep breath I took the dive and immediately began sprinting down the lane trying to warm myself up. I could feel my body maxing out, which was a bit frustrating, but I accomplished a small step towards my larger goal. I may have only done two laps but I didn’t quit, I tried it, and I can prepare myself better the next time. I was a bit discouraged, yet at the same time, I was trying to turn my mind and use it for more motivation.
Now, I could get down on myself and compare doing two laps to two miles. However, the initial goal was breaking the box, and I at least jumped in and tried. The next time, I knew what to expect a little more, and although there is still a bit of anxiety, I try to keep pushing myself and not have any expectations other than getting in the pool and swimming. In time, I hope it becomes therapeutic as it used to be.
Another example of overcoming recovery related fears centers around social situations. After isolating for so long, it’s easy to decline the party invitations, going out for meals, returning to work, etc. This may sound silly, but I was invited to see a movie with my neighbor about a book we’ve been discussing. I tend to experience a panic state going to theatres, so I seldom ever go. I don’t think I’ve been to a movie since Harry Potter. Everything inside of me was screaming no! Then, I took into consideration that this was a social event, very few that I ever have, and I needed to push myself instead of hiding in my apartment or avoiding with other tasks. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face….we must do that which we think we cannot.” I tried using my wise mind, and made the goal that every day I will push myself to face at least one fear, big or small.
Tess Marshall, M.A., who specializes in learning how to live a bold life, has created nine tips to face fear in the face so it no longer rules our lives:
1) GET COMFORTABLE WITH FEAR.
Try and do one thing each day that might cause fear and invite it into your life. Let yourself feel it and breathe through it. Every time you conquer a fear, it builds courage and opens up new doors in your life. Such examples I’ve had this week: actually going to the pool, going to a movie, cycling more and building up a commuter bike, and facing strong anxiety that seems to build in the evening with some yoga.
2) MAKE YOUR DOMINANT THOUGHTS POSITIVE.
Give yourself positive mantras, thoughts, and positive energy that generate success, whereas more fearful thoughts will just attract more fear. I have my apartment posted with random quotes and affirmations. Sometimes they get stuck in my head which helps me turn my negative thoughts around.
3) DON’T GIVE TIME, ATTENTION, OR ENERGY TO FEAR.
Take action towards fear and don’t let opportunities continue to pass you by. This can be difficult, but if you continue to be consistent, prepared, focusing on solutions, that energy will further motivate you to conquer what’s ahead. This is a perfect example of facing my movie theater fear. I could decline and lose the opportunity to get to know my neighbor better (and possibly seeing a good movie), but I’m tired of letting fear and anxiety keep me imprisoned and losing out on opportunities to grow. If I don’t like theatres still after, then I don’t really have to ever go again. (Isn’t that what Redbox is for?)
4) NEVER DWELL ON SCARCITY
“Focus your attention on being ready, willing, and prepared for the beauty, wonder, connections, good fortune and favorable circumstances that are yours if you are willing to work and be open to it.”
5) REVISIT YOUR VICTORIES.
Every time you conquer a fear, don’t brush it under the rug. Celebrate it and use it to continue building courage, motivation, and strength. For example, I rode the community center once, I can ride again. I got in the pool, and even though I didn’t last long, I got in and tried to swim a few more laps as well as tried out their therapeutic pool – which is a bit warmer!
6) LIVE VICARIOUSLY THROUGH THE VICTORIES OF OTHERS.
Read or learn about inspiring people, events, things that have occurred when people have faced fear in the face and overcome all obstacles to achieve their dream. Some examples are Walt Disney, Oprah, Robin Williams, etc. Maybe it’s not a famous person or event; maybe it’s a special person in your life. My mom may not be famous, but she is one of the most perseverant, compassionate, and courageous people I know. Do you have anyone you look up to? Why?
7) ASK YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY FOR SUPPORT.
Use your support team to help you overcome fearful moments. The first time when I just wanted to try the pool (after changing about 10 times because I was letting anxiety take over and not wanting to go), my mom came with me and just said, “Jump in and see how it goes.” It was a small step, but one more step of courage I can build upon to do it again.
8) CREATE A SUPPORT GROUP OF FRIENDS OR COLLEAGUES.
Having a strong support team helps build that foundation of trust and more willingness to overcome the fear. Supporting each other can make tough moments easier, and possibly even more fun.
9) PLAN TO BE GREAT
Create a list of your goals and conquer them. Use the SMART goal setting technique so you can celebrate even the tiniest step. The power is within you to overcome obstacles, and let your dreams and happiness re-enter your life. .
No longer do we have to let doubt, fear, and anxiety dominate our lives. Don’t let the ED or fear steal anymore joy, sleep, dreams, and goals. DO NOT let FEAR define your life. You are all strong and courageous! Sometimes we just need to dust ourselves off and remember that “I CAN” reach my goals and dreams.
A few quotes to fight fear with:
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”
“Don’t fear failure so much that you refuse to try new things. The saddest summary of life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have.”
“We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot.”
Do you hear voices?
In case you think that’s an accusation, everyone I know does. I mean right now I hear a voice saying I really should not be writing this in my nightie, since it’s 11am and that is unseemly, or something like that. Lazy. Irresponsible. Hear that inner critic?
The good thing is that right now, I’m just not listening. I’m listening to another voice inside that is asking me to focus on what you as a reader might need right now, and how to approach today’s topic.
“Good for you,” you might be saying to me. “But what if I can’t stop listening to the critical voice?”
That would be one of the most important questions you could ask. Especially if you suffer from an eating disorder. Because I know that learning how to manage those inner critical voices is a key to your recovery.
You probably have developed very articulate inner critics who tell you that you don’t look right and don’t have control over yourself. Then these voices shame you for objecting to what they’re saying, and then tell you how messed up you must be because you’re listening. And on and on.
Anne Lamott, one of my favorite authors, says this is like being tuned into station KFUK.
So how do you change the station?
The Flying Lesson for Life that’s relevant here is Lesson 5, Communicating with our Inner Controllers. If you think of the aviation metaphor, you know that controllers are there to keep pilots and passengers safe. It’s their job to sit in a tower and spot you on a radar screen and keep you separate from nearby traffic.
The tricky part is that when you’re a student pilot, you’re sure the controllers are gods in the sky who are out to bust you. Because sometimes they do. If you’re at an airport and you cross a ‘hold-short’ line without permission, they are like police. If they are guiding you into a busy airport and you don’t stay at the altitude they told you to keep, they’re going to yell at you.
But here’s the deal. Since they aren’t in the pilot’s seat, they aren’t the ones who are responsible for the airplane and the safety of those inside. So if I’m taking off and a controller tells me to turn left and I see another airplane in the way, I’m going to say, “Cannot comply.” I’m not going to obey when it’s not safe.
Here are some simple but powerful tips to put you back in the pilot’s seat with your hand on that radio dial:
1. When you hear a voice criticizing you, ask it who is speaking. Ask how old it is.
2. If the voice is the voice of a younger you, treat her as you would a treasured child. Give her a hug and tell her you’re in charge now and you will keep her safe.
3. If you can’t hear anything but static, simply STOP and breathe. See if you can quiet your body and listen. The hardest thing is to just sit with the feeling and remember it is just a feeling.
4. Ask inside to hear the ‘voice’ of an energy inside you that is positive and loving. They’re there. We all have an archetypal Great Mother inside, a Queen, and a Heroine. See if you can find those.
5. “Clean up the cockpit!” Clio, my flight instructor, would advise me when there was static. Simply change the frequency. Get up and do a yoga pose or jumping jacks. Put on some music. Call a friend. Ignore the tyrant.
6. Get some help with the voices. There are so many wonderful therapies for this uniquely human problem. (When was the last time you heard a lion criticize itself?)
7. Congratulate yourself every time you practice one of these interventions.
8. Mostly, don’t feel crazy or alone. We all have critical voices and they are part of human suffering, and definitely part of eating disorders. But we can learn to manage what we listen to. We can learn to change our thoughts. We can learn to believe that we’re all right, exactly as we are.
Honestly, it’s just a matter of practice.
~Pamela Hale Trachta (Guest Blogger)
Top 10 Eating Disorder Blogs of 2015
Eating Disorder Hope Award
- Orthorexia: The Dirty Downside of “Clean” Eating September 23, 2015
- Changing the Brain: Neuroplasticity and Eating Disorder Recovery September 15, 2015
- Partial Hospitalization (PHP): Myths, Misconceptions and the Mirasol Alternative September 11, 2015
- Ayla’s Finale September 8, 2015
- Tori’s Story August 18, 2015
- Elder Eating Disorders: Is Recovery Possible? August 10, 2015
- Mirasol Clients Give Back August 10, 2015
- “Kick Your Eating Disorder’s Butt!” July 29, 2015
- Take-Aways from Our Time in the Wilderness July 21, 2015
- Beyond “He” and “She”: Teens and Gender Identity July 20, 2015
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