Growing Up Alex: Final Words

I can’t believe this is the final post in the “Growing Up Alex” series. I’m not going to say much, as I want this final post to be all about her, but I just want to thank everyone who has read, commented, liked, shared and been a part of this series. I am honored that this blog was able to be the venue for Alex to tell her story and oh-so-proud of her doing so. She’s an amazing, remarkable, beautiful, incredible, strong and inspiring person and I am lucky to be able to call her my friend.

So thank you Alex for telling your story and continuing to inspire us all. We are so proud of you. XO

On to the final post.

My Advice

THROW AWAY THE SCALE.

That is essential. Have your nutritionist or doctor weigh you blindly if you relapse. The number on the scale does you no good if you are trying to recover from an eating disorder. As an alternative, listen to how your body feels (do you have energy or are you lethargic? Are  you dizzy or do you feel clearheaded? Are you motivated or do you just want to hide away?).

A huge thing for me is just  allowing my clothes to let me know how I am doing. Yes, they may feel tighter if you have just taken them out of the wash…but they will stretch back to normal as the day progresses. I knew I was relapsing last year when my clothes that once fit were hanging off of me. This was a sign for me to take action. In the 2 times that I have made it in to recovery, my clothing never got to tight.

Your body, shockingly, will not magically gain weight just because you are not stepping on a scale every day. Do not let the numbers control you. Cut counting calories as best you can. This is very difficult to do but it does get easier over time and with practice. Base your daily intake on exchanges/food groups, not calories. Do not label ANY foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Food is fuel, and your body doesn’t know the difference [it just may know that some foods contain more nutrients when compared to others] between a muffin or multigrain toast. It just knows ‘energy’. Just keep things in moderation and be sure to have all of the food groups.

Eat breakfast! Yum!!! Do not read fitness magazines as they will tell you that you need to be consuming less than you actually do and, chances are, they will make you feel like you are lazy if you are not working out 2 hours a day, doing all of the latest exercise fads. The best alternative to these magazines is to find a nutritionist you feel comfortable with. They will reality check your distorted beliefs, they will help you structure a healthy meal plan and workout regimen, and if you need to be weighed, they are the best person to do it. Surround yourself with empathic, supportive people.

Repeat after me: Do the best you can with what you have. Progress, not perfection. You can start over at any time. Know in your mind what signs of relapse are for you and tell someone you trust [family member, friend, therapist, doctor, nutritionist, coworker) if you notice any of these signs. Do not be afraid to ask for help. You are not a failure if you relapse and you DO deserve help in regaining your recovery. If you feel faint, dizzy, hungry, etc…eat a snack. It isn’t weak of you to need food, perhaps you exerted more energy than you realized during the day. Some days we eat more than we do on other days and that is okay. Our bodies are very good at balancing out.

I had a lot of support over the years in my recovery and I want to thank these people who have supported me endlessly and have helped to me to recover.

First, my therapist and Dietician in NY who convinced me to finally pursue treatment: Hilary Brodski and Judi Zwang.

My amazing therapist from Montecatini who taught me how to challenge my distorted beliefs and not to worry about other people’s ‘stuff’, Nancy Staycer.

The best therapist I have ever had, who was there for me at the beginning of my recovery: Seanna.

One of the most amazing RD’s I have ever worked with and whom I would recommend to anyone, Shelley Woolsey.

My case manager at CEDC, even though she probably got sick of me after the 3rd time, Whitney Moore.

Some of the kick ass RC’s from California and CEDC. The amazingly strong women I met along the way, whom I will not name, so as to protect your privacy, but you know who you are…my first ever roommate whom loves cats just as much as I, the ‘condo clique’ and ‘Mitzi’, my bestfriend/soul sista, the kickass woman who knows how awesome our ‘mutual friend’ is, she who hails from No’Ho, the girls who shared an odd love of Matty in the Morning with me, the girls who participated in.

And I couldn’t ask for more supportive friends or family: My maid of honor Erin who was beyond supportive throughout this whole experience. Yili, who had only known me for a few months when I learned I was going to treatment and basically took me under her friendship wing full force. All of my amazing and wonderful friends who wrote and visited and haven’t run away (yet, ha!).

The supportive head of my graduate program, Dr Shtayermann.

Mom, Dad, Wendy and Randy for being my mom’s backbone, G&G, my aunts and uncle, the cousins [I left out an important part of my life because it is not my story to tell, but my youngest cousin passed away in 2007 and I think of him daily. I brought his picture to my room in residential], the recovery warriors of the blogosphere (haha!) and my wonderful fiance Steve and his dear son.

Oh, and my cats. They were, and are, the best therapy.

And Demi Lovato, whose music I embarrassingly loved before she came out and told her story. She was in treatment at the same time I was and while many think it may be PR for her, I think it  is wonderful that she is giving a voice to the evils and dangers of this disorder and that she is acting as a healthy and positive role model for young women. It doesn’t hurt that I still embarrassingly love her music.

Stay Strong 😉Photo on 2014-01-09 at 01.34 #2

 

Growing Up Alex: Being in Recovery

I don’t know how I did it, finding my way in to recovery, but suddenly something just clicked. I can’t pinpoint what it was or how I did it. I just realized how GOOD and capable I felt when I ate normally. It felt so good to be able to go out for a meal with my friends. I no longer isolated myself from them. I wasn’t scared of food anymore. I had energy! I didn’t sleep all day or stay up all night. I didn’t label foods as ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’. I was able to work without much stress or exhaustion. It was the weirdest thing. It was as if I’d had some epiphany and it felt amazing and magical and I just wanted to share it with the whole world. I did have a bit of a relapse in 2013 due to some personal situations that occurred but I’ve already shared so much that I’m mainly not sharing these situations out of respect for saving space, ha!

Photo 148Do not give up hope! The end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014 have put me back in a place of recovery. Do I still count calories? Yes, but not nearly as much as I used to, and I try my very best not to do so. Do I still feel guilty after eating? Sometimes. It depends on what it is and how my mood is that day. Do I still exercise? Yes, but very moderately and never on a machine that tells me numbers. Do I still step on a scale? NEVER. It is useless. I listen to how my body feels and how my clothes fit. If you are struggling with recovery, please throw out your scale. If you HAVE to get weighed, do a blind weight with your doctor. Do I still use skills I learned from treatment (kind of like when students ask, will I actually use this math in the real world?) you wonder? Yes! I’m working very hard on using only positive coping skills. When I am upset, I still lose my appetite. When I am angry or hurt I don’t feel like I deserve food. However, I talk myself through the situation and find other ways to deal with whatever it is I am feeling. And I make myself eat a well balanced meal, no matter what. If I am really, really struggling with my appetite I drink supplements.

Why is Recovery Worth it for me?

I feel like I am finally living my adult life. For the first time since I graduated college in 2008 I have an ‘adult’ job. This is a job that is actually related to my degree. Yes! A job in which I utilize the things I learned in my 4 years at Adelphi University! I am employed at a company–that I shall not name for anonymity purposes–in which I work with mostly late adolescents as they transition in to adulthood. They have an array of diagnoses: Downs Syndrome, Developmental Disorders, ADHD, Aspergers, Traumatic Brain Injury… I also, on occasion work with adults with similar diagnoses as they navigate and prosper in their daily lives. I LOVE MY JOB AND THE PEOPLE I WORK WITH.1902079_10203393859676905_104767707_n

As for falling in love…well, it just happens, I suppose. I never thought I’d trust again or find love after what happened with my ex. I have met someone wonderful, however. It’s lovely when it happens and it makes continuing on in recovery much more important to me. Yes, I am doing it for myself, but it doesn’t hurt to want to be the best person you can be for someone you love. I have found an incredibly supportive partner in my fiancé, Steve. He lets me cry when I am overwhelmed by food and doesn’t judge me or tell me I am being dramatic, he hugs me until I calm down, he tells me when my thinking is skewed but uses empathy in doing so, and he even removes the nutrition information from food so that I won’t accidentally count calories and begin to feel guilt if I eat something!

 Growing Up Alex: Final Words will be posted on Thursday 4/10/2014. Make sure to follow the blog to receive an e-mail for when it’s posted or follow it on Bloglovin‘!

Growing Up Alex: Residential Treatment

I was petrified. I didn’t think I was thin enough to go to treatment. I thought I’d be the biggest girl there and that everyone would think I was too fat to be there. I told my treatment team that I’d only go to treatment if I could finish my semester at grad school AND go to California for it. I didn’t think they’d agree. Joke was on me: they did.

On June 9, 2010 I got on a plane by myself and flew out to California to a residential treatment center. I quickly learned that residential treatment had women of all sizes and diagnoses. And while, yes, some women were thinner than I was, there were also women of all different sizes. I started to realize that size didn’t matter AT ALL when a person has an eating disorder. We all had the same unhealthy relationship with food and we all were putting our bodies in terrible danger. We just dealt with our relationship with food differently: some of us restricted our intake, some ate only ‘clean’ or ‘healthy’ foods, some exercised obsessively, some binged and purged, some only binged, some did a mix of Photo 144many different behaviors.

When I sat down at the dinner table that first night in California—to clarify, this was my first time sitting at a dinner table for an actual meal in over a decade– I was expected to eat 50% of my meal. The next day I would be expected to eat 75% of my meal. The third day onward I had to eat 100%. Depending on how much of my meal I did not eat, I would be expected to drink 1-2 Ensure Plus supplements.

When you begin the refeeding process they start you off at a very low intake. The body can react in very odd ways to refeeding, so they gradually build you up. For instance, during refeeding my phosphate levels dropped below a healthy level. Other women I was with developed edema. On that First night, I ate just enough so that I wouldn’t have to drink a supplement. My stomach was in so much pain from eating real food that I just curled up in a ball and cried on the couch. The nurse kept telling me to sit up straight, she said it would help with digestion. Sitting up straight was not comforting to me. Staff eventually began to redirect my behaviors of curling up by prompting me with the word, ‘Pretzel’ (meaning that I was curling up in to a position that resembled a pretzel, something that is a bit like curling up in fetal position).

The other women in treatment were so nice and supportive. They tried to help me distract my mind from how physically uncomfortable I felt by inviting me to do different crafts with them: making bracelets, making collages, and just talking to me and asking me questions about myself and the east coast.

The Inside Scoop on Residential Treatment

I had read books and heard the horror stories about treatment, but I honestly didn’t know what to actually expect. In treatment, they lock up all of your shower items and other things that they refer to as ‘sharps’ like mouth wash containing alcohol, nail clippers, hair clips, floss, nail polish, etc. The purpose behind this was to prevent women from self-harming. They kept our bathrooms locked except during shower time, which occurred one hour before bed or one hour before breakfast. We could only look in the mirror in the time we were allowed in our bathrooms when we had to shower and get ready for the day or for bed. If we had to use the bathroom  during the day we had to ask for permission and go about our business with the door left ajar. A counselor had to both check and flush the toilet for us. It was very embarrassing, but quite a reality check.

As we proved ourselves to our treatment team [a therapist, dietician, and psychiatrist] we’d be allowed to go in to the bathroom on our own unless it was after meal time. If it was after meal time, we could still have the door shut, but we’d have to count or sing. This is not as easy as it may sound!

They based our meal plans on exchanges, rather than calories. So we’d have x amount of grains, x amount of fat, x amount of protein, x amount of vegetable or fruit. Every other week we went on a meal challenge, essentially a trip to a restaurant. On the opposite week, our challenge would be to eat a dessert. We had to choose our meals which was incredibly scary because it was doing something that you had told yourself for so long was not okay, because it meant you were choosing food and accepting that you would eat it. We also had to be sure to mix it up so as not to develop any new safe foods or meal rituals. I was continuously redirected during meals if I tried to break a sandwich apart. I NEVER bit in to anything and I was forced to change this habit. Other food rituals people have can be chewing very slowly, taking very small bites, eating one food group at a time…to be honest, some of the things treatment centers deem as food rituals could be something very normal to any given person, eating disordered or not, so it could get confusing. Sometimes we literally had no idea we were doing something disordered.

I met my best friend through treatment.

I met my best friend through treatment.

Light exercise would slowly be incorporated in to our treatment plan when our vitals (blood pressure, heart rate, weight gain), a decrease in ritualistic behaviors, and our nutritionist deemed us ready. I was finally granted exercise my last week in residential. They went for leisurely walks on the beach for exercise or did yoga. Did I mention I was in California? Gaining the privilege of going for a walk on a beach in CA was extremely exciting for me and I was rather disappointed that I only got to do it twice.

They took our cell phones and we were only allowed 40 minutes of phone calls a week from a house phone. We were also only allowed to use our laptops to check our email for 30 minutes on Saturdays. This was hard for a lot of us for different reasons, some women had young children waiting for them at home. For me, I was across the country,  so I couldn’t see my family during family weekend or during visiting hours. It was difficult to only be able to communicate with my family by phone for a limited amount of time. We couldn’t read magazines or watch tv. We could only watch movies that had been pre-approved as non-triggering by staff. You get to a point in treatment where you begin to wonder if there is anything that ISN’T going to trigger at least one individual. We got to go on outings on Wednesdays and Saturdays, which we chose as a group. One outing was typically to Target, where we were able to purchase things like nail polish or shampoo or notebooks or other things we might need or use as activities. The other was a fun trip like going to the beach or a bookstore or to a nail salon.

Before each meal we had to rate our hunger on a scale from 1-10 and say an affirmation. After each meal we had to rate our fullness. A typical day was: breakfast, group, snack, exercise for those allowed, lunch, group, quiet time, dinner, group, free time, snack, bed. We had groups such as DBT [my favorite, it presented me with the ability to reframe my thoughts and an array of healthy coping skills that I still use it to this day], CBT [My least favorite], an open therapy group, Art therapy, Nutrition, Spirituality, Mindfulness, etc. We were weighed every morning in a Johnny, and we had to do a check to prove we weren’t wearing anything under the Johnny. We were never allowed to know our weight.

I met some of the most amazing women there and I will always remember them and cherish our laughter and our tears and the amazing support we were able to give one another. I had never been around such supportive people who also understood just how I was feeling. I also will credit my therapist Nancy, to this day, for giving me such a reality check and helping me explore so many aspects of the disorder.

Going Home and Relapse (Trigger Warning)

When I went home [insurance had kicked me out before I even reached my goal weight, My eating disorder was, unfortunately, very pleased by this] I relapsed VERY quickly. I wound up going to 2 different treatment [resulting in a total of 6 residential stays, which just shows you how difficult it can be to recover] centers over the next 2 years. This time, I stayed on the East Coast. The second center I went to after my initial stay in California was just outside of Boston. I stayed there twice and, while I met my best friend in my time at this particular treatment center, I believe this to be the worst treatment center I was in. They made me feel like I WAS my eating disorder, like I was bad. I was sent home for 24 hours in my first week there because I was struggling to finish my meals in the allotted 30 minutes. I had to write a letter stating why I believed I deserved to stay in front of my case manager, the therapist, my father, and the program director. They let me stay, but they later kicked me out of their day program for losing 1 pound. For some reason they took me back a month later with a very strict contract. I had to eat 100% of my meals all within the allotted time and if one bite was left when the timer went off I was out. I wasn’t even allowed the option to drink an entire ensure if I left one bite of my meal due to not being able to finish it all in 30 minutes. The other women in the program were allowed to have a supplement [and often refused] if they did not finish in time. I felt this was very unfair and I think it made me go in to a sort of fake recovery, for example: I wanted recovery so badly that I basically forced food down my throat. I even choked once in attempt to beat the clock. I was later kicked out of the day program, again, for losing weight. I believe this treatment center cared more about success stories than they did with helping people who were truly struggling, however, I know others walked out of there with more positive memories, so maybe I just felt bullied by the staff. Who knows. I did, however, meet many supportive women whom I still call friends in my time there.

My final treatment program was located in Cambridge, MA. This was the least structured program I had attended and, by far, had the worst food and was the least aesthetically appealing. Montecatini [the treatment center in California] and the first Boston treatment center were both in beautiful houses. This treatment center looked like a dorm. It also had more patients than either of the other programs. It could get very overwhelming, with so many people and I knew so much about DBT, CBT, and nutrition at this point that I honestly think I just went there to finish up my personal therapy and gain structured eating.

While in the day program in Cambridge, I learned that my [now ex] boyfriend had begun using heroin, had been caught buying a large amount of it, would be going to court ordered rehab for a year, and that he had been cheating on me with his ex girlfriend on and off for quite some time. I dealt with the breakup and moved back to MA from NY officially. We had been together for 6 years and I foolishly thought I was going to marry him. I was beyond angry, very depressed, embarrassed, ashamed, and my trust was completely shot. Some people deal with these situations by overeating, I just lose my appetite. I was sent back up to residential treatment from the day program and was put in a structured setting where I was forced to eat. I am very grateful to have had this support at this point in my life. However, since my control over food was gone, I began taking my frustration and anger out in other ways. I’d scratch my skin raw because I was used to restricting my food so as to avoid my emotions or to have control over something. I tended to feel like I had to hurt myself in some way if something went wrong in my life, and usually it was through restriction and purging. I still have scars on my left arm, which is shameful. Admitting this publically is actually very scary. Only a few people know where those scars actually came from. When people would ask, I’d say I had accidentally burned myself with my straightening iron. The irony in this is that just a few months ago, I actually DID accidentally grab my skin while straightening my hair and burned the very arm I used to scratch. I guess my flat iron got sick of taking the blame and decided to play a little double jeopardy 😉

For some reason, after bouncing back and forth between the day program and the residential program [at the second Boston treatment center, if your weight drops in the day program they try to support you and help you. If it keeps dropping, they try to get you admitted back to residential treatment to get you back on track. This is why I respect program #2  over program #1. Program #1 has since closed] I was finally discharged from my 6th and final stay in residential treatment at the end of January 2012 after beginning my journey in to recovery in June of 2010. I refused to go to Partial [day program]. I didn’t think it was helpful at all. I wanted to do it on my own. And I did.

 Growing Up Alex: Being In Recovery will be posted on Monday 4/7/2014. Make sure to follow the blog to receive an e-mail for when it’s posted or follow it on Bloglovin‘!