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My Disease is Always with Me

My disease is a bitch. Even in recovery, there isn’t a day that I’m not aware that I have an eating disorder.

The best way I can describe my disease is it’s the Fast-Eddie-used-car-salesman-older-cousin of The Oatmeal’s The Blerch. It feels like it’s floating next to me, everywhere I go, and I can’t shut him up. For St. Patrick’s Day, I had a constant barrage of thoughts about binging and purging. I felt like my Blerch was hovering next to me saying:

Back to My Old Life: Alone by Rachmanuddin Chair Yahya from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

“Check out all the St. Patrick’s Day goodies. You can have an entire tray of cupcakes with green sugary buttercream frosting. Oh – and a Shamrock shake. You’ve never had one of those. You can eat all the things, and don’t worry about the calories – because you won’t keep it down. It’s win-win. It’ll be great.”

Reality check: When I was in my active disease, forcing myself to binge and purge was not great. It hurt – a lot. Eating that much hurt my stomach, and then forcing it to contract to vomit really hurt. It’s violent, and when it’s over, my head throbbed, I had no energy, and I felt like shit.

Ugh. I wanted to growl, “Shut up shut up shut up. Shut the fuck up!” My disease tried to convince me that it’s not dangerous, that all the literature that binging and purging is hard on your heart and rips your esophagus apart was written by neurotic doctors. My disease said those are rare instances. It wouldn’t happen to me. Reality check: Eating disorders have the highest morbidity rate of any mental illness.

I dragged my fingers through my hair in frustration, then grabbed my phone and sent a single request to two of my confidants: “Tell me again why it’s bad to eat all the things and puke my guts out. My disease is messing with my head.” They both reminded me of the myriad of ways this disease can destroy my health. One of my confidants is also in recovery from an eating disorder. He reminded me of the powerlessness that comes with this disease. Giving in once makes it that much harder not to give in next time (and the next time, and the next).

I asked my therapist if my Blerch will ever go away. He said it might not, but it can get quieter. I likened that idea to Russell Crowe as John Nash in A Beautiful Mind making the decision to ignore his hallucinations, though they seem to always be lurking in the shadows. As he said, “I’ve gotten used to ignoring them and I think, as a result, they’ve kind of given up on me. I think that’s what it’s like with all our dreams and our nightmares . . . we’ve got to keep feeding them for them to stay alive.”

I’m not fond of the idea of living with my Blerch for the rest of my life, but that may not be something I can control. The disease of addiction never goes away. My default setting may always be to self-medicate and self-destruct, but choosing recovery means I don’t have the luxury of indulging these thoughts. Perhaps if I ignore it long enough, my Blerch will finally shut up.

Suicide or Homicide

Every person, when pushed to their limit, is a Suicide or a Homicide. The Homicides are people who take their stress and frustration out on other people who don’t deserve it and blame others for their misfortune. These are people who scream at wait staff, key your car, engage in road rage, and get referred for anger management training. In the worst-case scenario, these are also the people who “go postal” and physically attack others.

Image by eflon (Creative Commons License)

The Suicides are the opposite. When they reach their breaking point, they self-destruct and vent their emotions against themselves. A Suicide who acts out will berate themselves, engage in self-injury or eating disorders, self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, and possibly attempt suicide (accidentally or intentionally). The Suicides are sly because a lot of what they do happens behind closed doors or only in their minds. Outsiders often only get to hear about a Suicide’s process after it’s over. It’s not a public display like a Homicide.

I’m a total Suicide – always have been, probably always will be. I remember being self-destructive when I was just 8 years old. One day, I was really angry about something, and I decided the best way to deal with it was to cross the monkey bars in the backyard 100 times. Don’t ask – it made sense at the time. Around pass 65, my hand started to feel weird but I didn’t stop. Finally, after pass 88 I took my hand down from the bar and saw I had a huge blister that covered my palm that had popped.

Even as an adult, I’m a Suicide. Early on in my relationship with my current therapist, he started to confront me by saying, “Don’t throw the pillow me, but . . .” When I see my therapist, the first thing I do when I get into his office is take off my shoes and make myself comfortable on his couch, usually with a pillow under my head and another one my knees. I started laughing and said, “You know I’m only a threat to myself.” I’m such a non-threat, it would never cross my mind to do such a thing.

One of the ways I knew I was getting healthier in early recovery was when I started to shift from being a Suicide to having appropriate angry thoughts against other when warranted. Such as, when a person cuts me off in traffic, puts pressure on me, or says something rude, instead of wanting to take the negativity out of myself, I had fleeting non-serious thoughts like, “You’re an asshole,” “I’m going to kill you for this,” and “I hope you get crabs.” Remember, I said they were fleeting thoughts and I’m still inherently a Suicide. I don’t actually wish ill-will on others. These thoughts mean I can direct my anger at the appropriate target instead of myself and in a way that validates my feelings and without causing harm. I don’t always deal with my emotions in an appropriate manner, but I’m getting better.

Author’s Note: Using “suicide” and “homicide” in this post may be crass, but I assure you, it’s not meant to be offensive or minimize the experience of anyone who has been truly suicidal or homicidal. It’s just how my mind works – I process ideas best in unambiguous forms so I can’t overthink them. I think I picked up this idiom from someone else in the recovery community. When I first heard this idea, it made perfect sense to me. If it doesn’t work for you, don’t use it. If you feel suicidal or homicidal, please seek help.

Thank Goodness I was Sober in Law School

My friend Brian Cuban recently wrote a post about his experience of being in law school while being deep in his alcohol addiction and eating disorder. It’s hard to fathom what that must have been like – going to class after waking up with a hangover, getting smashed when he was supposed to be studying, and puking his guts out as he staggered home. Law school is hard enough without struggling with addiction. I’m so grateful I got sober before I went to law school.

I carry two chips in my wallet - my most recent birthday chip and my 24 hour "desire" chip. They remind me how far I've come but also that I have to take it one day at  time.

I carry two chips in my wallet – my most recent birthday chip and my 24 hour “desire” chip. They remind me how far I’ve come but also that I have to take it one day at time.

Actually, it’s because I got sober that I was able to go to law school. I never would have had the courage to apply when I was deep in my addiction. Before I got sober, my self-esteem was fragile at best and I was too afraid of failure to try anything that put my desire to maintain the illusion of perfection at risk.

I had plenty of classmates who drank to blow off steam (and who sometimes drank over lunch and came back for afternoon class tipsy or drunk) and/or used prescription stimulants to help them study. I remember one of my classmates brought of bottle of booze and little plastic shot glasses so he and his friends could drink right after they got out of our Con Law final. (That was a bitch of a final. I understand why he did that. That was the only class where I had doubts about passing.) Being sober, I didn’t have the luxury of numbing my feelings with alcohol and drugs or using anything stronger than coffee to study.

Don’t think for a second that I am/was as pure as driven snow. For full disclosure, I struggled with my eating disorder throughout law school. At the height of my disorder, I binged and purged about once a week, but this was mostly an infrequent occurrence during my law school years.

Throughout my law school career, I was fortunate to have strong connections within the recovery community. I was lucky to have a classmate who was also in recovery from addiction. We would talk during our study breaks to vent about the stress of law school and life in general, and be there to support each other. We experienced the discomfort of law school without the option to mollify our stress with recreational substances. It was pretty brutal at times, but it was comforting to know I wasn’t going through it alone.

As a member of a 12-step program, I have a sponsor, and it was fortuitous that he was getting his degree (different field) from Arizona State University while I was in law school. Both being students in difficult programs, he understood my level of stress because he faced it himself, although he seemed to handle it much more gracefully. There were many times I met with him between classes, to touch base about how I was feeling and to make sure I was perceiving and responding to situations appropriately. Just having him nearby was reassuring.

One of the things I’ve learned in recovery is how important it is to stay connected to others. I’m grateful I had strong connections to others in recovery on my campus. They kept me grounded and gave me a place to vent when I needed it.

I also want to give a massive hat tip to my undergrad alma mater Oregon State University. They established a collegiate recovery community with sober housing for students in recovery from addiction. I didn’t even know I had a problem when I was an undergrad, but I’m glad this is available for people who need/want it.

Self-Preservation for September

Photo by Devon Christopher Adams, used with permission

Photo by Devon Christopher Adams, used with permission

I was laying on my therapist’s couch the other day (yes, I see a therapist and yes, I lay on his couch), when I looked up at him and asked, “What the fuck is wrong with me?”

One of the things I love about my therapist is he will lovingly but bluntly let me have it when such a response is warranted. This was one of those times. He basically said that I am a perfectionistic, anxiety-filled, traumatized, recovering addict who refuses to put self-care above escapism and achievement. And if I keep pushing myself so hard, one of three things is going to happen:

  • I will have a heart attack,
  • He will be forced to hospitalize me,
  • I will learn to cut myself some slack.

Sometimes it’s hard to accept that I am human with limits, and even harder to accept that I am a human with multiple potentially terminal conditions. I have “muscled” through many of the challenges in my life to date, and unfortunately that is at best a temporary solution – survive for now and worry about the consequences and long-term effects later.

Well, now it’s later.

I’m at the point in my life and my recovery that not taking care of myself is probably not an option. I wouldn’t be surprised if I am one of those people who should be on a massage table or an acupuncture table once a month, not as an indulgence, but as a necessity. And it’s not that I don’t know about self-care; I just suck at consistently applying these principles to myself.

Did I mentioned that, because of our conflicting travel schedules, I don’t get to see my therapist again for nearly a month? It’s not that I can’t go that long without seeing him, I just don’t like to. Looking at it from an optimistic perspective, this is giving me the opportunity to take on more responsibility for taking care of myself and to rely more on my support system (because I also suck at asking for help too). I think this will also be a month of more – more music, more sleep, more gardening, more exercise, and more hugs – less mindlessness, more mindfulness.

A friend suggested that my default answer for the next month should be “No.” I appreciate her advice, but I know that can’t be a hard and fast rule. There are too many awesome opportunities, things that I really want to do. My challenge will be being thoughtful about the opportunities that I accept.

Day 91/90 – Two-Speed Life

Day 91 of the 90 Days of Awesome is in the bank! What made today awesome? I had a good day living at two speeds.

I warned you I’d do the 90 Days of Awesome until the end of August.

Gorgeous Photo of Me by Devon Christopher Adams from earlier this summer.

Gorgeous Photo of Me by Devon Christopher Adams from earlier this summer.

My life tends to oscillate between two speeds: full-speed ahead and crash-and-burn. Moderation is a foreign concept for the most part without deliberate thought and diligence. I was up at 5am and literally hit the ground running today, which got me on a roll of activity:

  • Ran 4.2 miles – it feels good to see myself building up endurance.
  • Visited Rev. Patrick – I appear and disappear at will at CCH.
  • Bought potting soil at the nursery for the patio garden.
  • Went to the market for paprika and vegetarian bouillon.
  • Made Terry’s lentil soup – love this recipe! I use extra broth instead of wine.
  • Boiled chicken for Rosie – yes, she gets chopped chicken with every meal. She’s spoiled.
  • Planted broccoli, cucumbers, and greens beans on the patio – peas and parsley will be planted later this season.

By 2:30, I was exhausted and felt a massive headache coming on despite being conscientious about drinking water throughout the day. From warp speed to full stop – I popped two acetaminophen, threw The Perks of Being a Wallflower into the DVD player for background noise, and collapsed onto the couch for a nap and woke up about 90 minutes later. After I woke up, I still had a few items to crank through on my to-do list, mostly house chores that didn’t require too much mental capacity. Thank goodness for that because my body woke up significantly earlier than my brain.

Practicing moderation is part of my recovery, but until I get better at that, I’ll have to keep doing the up-and-down lifestyle. Thankfully, my life has the flexibility to allow me to take naps when I need them most days.

In case you missed it: Day 90 of the 90 Days of Awesome – Celebrating the Life of Atticus VanSlyke.

Day 86/90 – Celebrating Sobriety

Day 86 of the 90 Days of Awesome is in the bank! What made today awesome? I got to help a friend celebrate their sobriety anniversary.

Serenity Prayer

Serenity Prayer

The people I’ve met are incredible, and they come from all walks of life. I really appreciate it when I meet people like me – people in their 30s with 10+ years of sobriety. We’re in similar phases of life professionally and in terms of our recovery. I can relate to most people in regards to their program, but it’s special to have friends with who I share so many other similarities as well.

One of those friends celebrated a sobriety “birthday” today. She’s biologically younger than me, but in regards to the program, she’s “older” than me. I love it.

In case you missed it: Day 85 of the 90 Days of Awesome – I’m learning how to be an urban gardener and grow vegetables and herbs on my patio.

Day 63/90 – Lunch with Sobriety Siblings

Day 63 of the 90 Days of Awesome is in the bank! What made today awesome? I got to have lunch with two of my sobriety siblings.

My Chips Live in a Dish

My Chips Live in a Dish

One of the key aspects of recovery is building a supportive community around you who will support you and hold you accountable. It’s also the part of my recovery that I tend to suck at, especially given that I am busy, introverted (yes, I’m way more introverted than most people realize), and struggle with low self-esteem. Part of focusing more on my priorities has also meant that I’m putting more energy into my recovery and hanging out with people.

Today was great – after a meeting, I got to hang out with two of my sobriety siblings and meet their dogs. (I’m not using their names to protect their anonymity.) It was relaxing and awesome just to catch up – so much different than networking meetings.

This summer has provided many reminders that I have people in recovery that I can call if I’m having a bad day and want to vent or just to talk with someone who “gets it.” It’s also really interesting to hear other people’s interpretations on what the 12 steps and the various lessons in the Big Book mean. Today, everyone at the table had 10+ years of recovery and all of us had a different perspectives on the program. All that mattered is that it’s one addict helping another, trudging the road together.

In case you missed it: Day 62 of the 90 Days of Awesome – I got to hang out with my friend and partner-in-crime Jeff.

Day 61/90 – Not So Awesome Day

I’m glad I’m doing the 90 Days of Awesome, but if you haven’t noticed by now, not every day is stellar.  I had some awesome moments working with my clients today, but I’m also processing a lot of emotional issues too which is painful and draining.

Alone by Lee J Haywood from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Alone by Lee J Haywood from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

For me, being a trauma survivor means going to 12-step meetings, being in therapy, taking medication and constantly being aware of depression, anxiety, and escapist behavior. And when I’m not avoid my feelings through escapism, I actually have to feel them. That can be really uncomfortable and painful for me – emotionally and physically painful. We were processing my feelings in therapy today and at one point I was shaky, curled up on my therapist’s couch, and feeling like a lumberjack stomped on my sternum. Needless to say, I was pretty drained after that, but it’s part of the process.

When I got home tonight I saw a post on Facebook that my friends got some really bad news. My heart goes out to their family.

On top of all that, I haven’t been sleeping well lately for several reasons. Last night I was so pumped and energized after being on News Now that it took a while to wind down. Even though I got to bed late, my alarm went off at its usual early hour and it was back to the grind. Thank goodness for coffee.

So what’s my plan for the weekend? I hope to take it easy. I have some chores, errands, and a bit of work to do, but for the most part, I hope to keep things mellow.

In Case You Missed It: Day 60 of the 90 Days of Awesome – I got to be on Fox 10 Phoenix News Now!

Day 40/90 – AA Under the Stars

Day 40 of the 90 Days of Awesome is in the bank! What made today awesome? I went to the Fellowship Under the Stars Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting.

Tempe AZ - Tempe Town Lake 10th Birthday by Dean Ouellette from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Tempe AZ – Tempe Town Lake 10th Birthday by Dean Ouellette from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I’ve been in recovery for a few 24 hours, and my therapist recently suggested that I go to more 12-step meetings. I was feeling of bit lonely tonight, so I jumped on the Phoenix AA website to see what meetings were in my area. On the list was a meeting that I had never heard of: Fellowship Under the Stars. It’s an outdoor meeting that meets on the north bank of Tempe Town Lake.

Sometimes it’s nice to go to meetings that I’ve never been to before. On one hand, it gives me a way to be quiet, shy, and avoid connecting with people (behavior that is not encouraged by my therapist). On the other hand, when I go to a new meeting, I get to just be a person. Nobody knows what I do for a living, my talents, or my accomplishments. I’m just another guy in the program. When I go to meetings where people know me, I get to connect more; however, people also ask me about my work and my projects, and it’s too easy to get caught up in talking about what I do rather than how I feel. And one of my challenges is allowing myself to be a human being, rather than a human doing.

The meeting was fabulous. I loved that it was outside in the fresh air and under the increasingly darkening night sky. It’s a speaker/discussion meeting, one of my preferred formats for AA meetings. We kept the bugs away with awesome smelling citronella candles, and some people brought their dogs. I really enjoyed it. The next time I go, I hope I can bring Rosie.

In case you missed it: Day 39 of the 90 Days of Awesome – I Love My Clients!

Day 30/90 – Real Conversations

Day 30 of the 90 Days of Awesome is in the bank! What made today awesome? Having real conversations with my friends.

My friends are awesome.

My friends are awesome.

Even though these are the 90 Days of Awesome, I have had a few rough days lately with a substantial amount of physical and emotional pain at times. I’ve been a little MIA – mainly because I haven’t been suitable for human consumption.

When I have the days like this, I’m lucky to have so many wonderfully supportive friends, especially in the recovery community. When they ask, “How are you?,” they want to a real answer. And we can have real conversations – even if we are doing it over email or online chat – and we’ve been having them lately. I love that I can say that I am sad, angry, irritated, anxious, pissed off for no apparent reason, and none of them try to “fix” me. They also get it when I’m struggling and need keep my life as simple as possible. They know to stay out of my way so I can just focus on one thing at a time unless I ask for help. My friends know that I’ll be there if they need me, but that they have to get on my schedule unless it’s an emergency.

My friends are awesome. I am grateful that we can have real conversations without it being a big deal. On two separate occasions in the last few months, two different friends randomly asked, “How’s your heart?” It’s not something I talk about a lot because there isn’t anything new to say, but I appreciated that they asked.

Sorry is post isn’t more upbeat, but sometimes that’s just how life is. I am on the mend and will bounce back eventually.

In case you missed it: Day 29 of the 90 Days of Awesome – Indie Week Lunch at Fez!