Below is another beautifully written article by one of our alumni. Please feel free to join the conversation about this topic.
“Health” and Meaning: What Are We Saying?
by Sarah Henderson
I think if I hear anyone mention “health” when talking about weight again, my ears will start bleeding.
That’s what everyone says, isn’t it? Don’t lose weight to be skinny, lose weight to be healthy. Or, don’t worry about losing weight, just be healthy!
What does that even mean??
I think perhaps in the drive to be politically correct about not saying the “F” word (fat) and trying to avoid promoting eating disorders we’ve lost sight of what health really is. Is health something measured by doctors, in terms of blood pressure, pulse, and lab work? Is it a balance between your weight and height and how much you eat and exercise? Or is it something less tangible, less definable, something individual to each person?
I remember a time during my eating disorder when I thought “health” was a four-letter word. I thought “healthy” equaled “fat” and anytime someone told me I looked healthier I dove right back into being sick. Years later and and post-eating disorder, I sincerely value my health. I no longer define the word in terms of weight. To me, health is a state of peace; a state where my mind is not at war with my body; where I can tolerate emotions without using symptoms; where my spirit is present in my body; where my Self is present and engaged with life and other people and experiences.
This is what health means to me. What does it mean to you?
Below is a beautifully written narrative from an alumni of Castlewood. Thank you Sarah for sharing about this topic!
Â Hi, my name is Sarah. Iâ€™m Anorexic, Bulimic, and a Cutter.
You could call me these things. But they wouldnâ€™t be accurate. Because I am not these things, these labels. And I am not in recovery from these things.
I am recovered.
From those things, I am recovered. I have bipolar, which requires ongoing management. But you wouldnâ€™t know it if I didnâ€™t tell you. I am not the stereotype, I am not the crazy person we all think of, ranting and raving on some street corner. I am like anyone else, except I take a few pills before I brush my teeth in the morning.
I still catch flak all the time. For the taking meds, for going to therapy, for the eating disorder history, for the visible scars from years of cutting. People comment on them, I’ve lost jobs because of them. It’s like, what do you want? I used to cut myself. I don’t anymore. I used to starve and binge and purge. I don’t anymore. So eat lunch with me and stop looking at me like I’m going to vomit on the table any second. Deal with me as I am now, not as I was then.
And yes, I take medication for a chemical imbalance. Guess what? So do diabetics. Only their imbalance is in the pancreas, and mine is in my brain. That’s the difference that makes people freak. That’s where the stigma lies.
If you ask a poet, he’ll tell you the seat of the soul lies in the heart. If you ask a neurologist, he will rightly tell you that the seat of the soul lies in the brain. And anyone who’s ever experienced dementia will testify to that. It’s very possible to exist in your body without living in it. And it’s possible for the person you love to die long before their heart stops.
I believe that stigma comes from people’s instinctual knowledge that when you mess with the brain, you mess with the soul. It can be disturbing, it can be terrifying, it can be cruel. And most people just aren’t up for facing that. However, when you don’t face it, you also miss out on everything the other side has to offer: healing, resilience, clarity, and courage. And while they are some people who donâ€™t come back from mental illness, the vast majority of us do. The other side is a beautiful place. And if you can get past the stigma, you can join us.
Â© Sarah Henderson 2010
Castlewood Treatment Center is starting a series of blog posts about the recovery process. Specifically the process a few of our alumni have encountered 3 or more years down the line. If you are an alumni of Castlewood and would like to share your journey please feel free to contact Deanna James at firstname.lastname@example.org Below if our first post by one of our alumni!
My Journey to Recovery:
You know, I can recall a time, a lot of times, when I felt that recovery was not possible, that I somehow didn’t deserve to have recovery. Recovery from ED, recovery from anything. I felt I needed to punish myself for what had happened to me in the past, being molested at age 9, and raped at 16. Both traumas I had kept deep inside of me for many years and hid them well. I was the queen of facades. Nobody knew anything was wrong because of my mask that I have always worn. Anyways, I can remember when recovery just wasn’t for me.
I had began restricting at age 10 after being molested. At age 13, I read an article in a YM magazine about a girl who struggled with Bulimia. The article explained what she weighed before and what she got down to, and HOW she did it. Well, I began that cycle of binging and purging…My self esteem, depression and isolation began very young, and continued to get worse day by day. I attempted suicide at age 15. Began my years of laxative abuse at 16.
I began using drugs, Meth and marijuana at 16, after being passed out from alcohol and raped at 16. After that, I was not myself . I hid a lot of stuff that had happened to me for many years. Hid behind my ED, alcohol, drugs, and a mask.
I had been to treatment numerous times by the time I hit 30. On June 15th 2007, while at Castlewood Treatment Center, I was asked (for the hundredth time) “How long have you had your ED?” And after numerous times of saying 20 yrs…this time I again said, “20yrs.” This individual asked how old I was, I said almost 30. They asked how old was I when I started struggling with ED. I said age 10. It hit me right then, THAT IS OVER HALF MY LIFE! I did not want to be 50 and have been struggling with ED for 40 yrs!! Right then and there, I decided no more purging, no more laxatives, and that I would work really hard on the restricting. After that I worked really hard on the recovery process. I came to realize that I do deserve recovery and that recovery could possibly beÂ attainable for me.
The foremost thing I had to work on and still am working toward everyday is the positive self talk; countering the negative thoughts that may pop in. When a negative body image thought or a distorted thought would pop up I can now say to myself things such as … I am beautiful the way I am, I am healthy now, I am OK… I can now counter those negative thoughts when I, at one time, didn’t think that was possible. I still have to catch myself on those distorted thoughts and put into place positive self talk every now and then, but it has truly gotten easier. As I have a few decades of telling myself all this negative talk, I have had to ‘retrain’ my brain, so to speak. I’ve had to learn/realize this doesn’t happen overnight. I have had to fight with the “I want this all done NOW, over with NOW, get through this NOW” mentality, but have had to tell myself what therapists were constantly telling me…its gonna take time.
I have had to let therapists, doctors, psychiatrists into my bubble. Ive had to give up trying to control me, and do it all on my own, and turn some of this stuff into their hands to allow them to help me. I had to give up trying to control the outcomes of situations that I had no control over or trying to control the future. I’ve had to Let Go and Let God. Be willing, not willful, open my clenched hands to HIM. I’ve had to give a lot over to God and put it in His hands. And allow Him to help me, guide me, and sometimes carry me.
I’ve had to give up trying to control my emotions. I would hold those tears inside like nothing else. Quickly wipe away the tears before anyone notices. I wouldn’t cry in front of others, too embarrassing, I had to be strong. I have recently opened up and shed the tears that I have desperately needed/wanted to shed for many years.
I’ve been working on new coping skills to take the place of the old, bad coping skills. Walking my dog, staying busy, wrapping myself in a blanket (comfort), writing pro/cons lists, relaxation (yes, I am doing that as well..something else I thought for sure wouldn’t work for me), listening to music, something to distract me for the time I had urges.
Another step I have had to take in recovery of ED was to step back for awhile from a few friends who were/are still active in their ED’s. It was/is soo hard to do, to step back, but in the early recovery I realized I needed to do that for my own recovery. To keep me in recovery and not slip back into ED’s strong grasp. Because it wouldn’t have been hard to get back into old/bad habits, old/bad routines, back to ED. I’ve had to stop watching model reality shows and would switch the channel for diet commercials for awhile, until I felt I was comfortable and able to watch them without them being triggered.
October 26, 2007, only 4 months after starting my recovery process of ED, I quit drugs. Soo.. I have had to cut a lot of people out of my life, and pretty much had to spread my Eagles wings and fly! Soaring towards recovery of ED and sobriety, while working on trauma and self harm. It has been quite a rocky journey. Boy, it has been 3 long, bumpy, frightening; yet rewarding and the most growing years of my life! I have really grown as a person, as a survivor.
I have truly gotten to know myself, not pretending to be someone I’m not. Be myself, stop hiding from my feelings, my thoughts, myself. Stop wearing a facade, a mask. I still work on that everyday, but it too has gotten easier as I have let a few friendsÂ into my bubble…my world. I have allowed myself to feel joy, happiness, to smile and laugh, a TRUE laugh, not just a nervous or forced laugh, but a true laugh.
Again, there was a time when I didn’t think recovery was ever possible…. I’m here to tell you now that IT IS POSSIBLE!