Vulnerability Hangover.

I’ve been feeling generally better over the last month.  I cut my hair short and have been expressing my gender in more neutral and androgynous ways.  It feels lighter and more authentic.  I waited a long time to cut my hair and I don’t regret it.  It’s a pixie style cut and since I got it I’ve felt less self conscious and physically awkward.  I’ve had some days where I felt more confident, less hesitant and less full of self doubt.  It’s felt good.

Since getting custody of my children, after a four year long court battle, there have been slow positive changes.  My kids are happily settled into new schools.  I get to spend more time with them.  Their mental health is generally more stable.

It’s Fall, the leaves have started changing and the world around looks beautiful.

But today I woke up with an intense and familiar feeling: that I’m taking up too much space.  The desire to take up less space is tightly bound together with my battle with anorexia.  The feeling of wanting to disappear or be invisible means that I’m more comfortable when my weight is lower.  I feel internal pressure to be thin, thinner or eat less, not because I care so much what I look like, but because the sensation of taking up too much space becomes unbearable.  I don’t feel like I deserve to eat enough to take up my full amount of space. Restricting food and controlling weight symbolically feels like taking up less space.  I’m not sure how to describe the feeling.  Worthless? Shameful? Self critical?  Useless?  Annoying?

I could go on, but I think you get the point.  It feels awful.

Over time I’ve noticed that there is a pattern to the days I feel this intense desire to take up less space, hide or disappear.  Days when my body feels wrong, too big…too much!  These feelings are linked to trauma and abuse, to my boundaries being crossed and to me pushing myself, challenging myself to do more (i.e take up space).

I posted on facebook today about feeling like I was taking up too much space.  Someone I know referred to it as a “vulnerability hangover” and they were exactly right.

Yesterday, I took on a piece of very personal advocacy work.  I attended a mediation meeting with an organization that has not played a positive role in my family’s lives.  I was scared.  I felt alone.  I felt threatened and scared.  And yes, I felt incredibly vulnerable.  I’m not able to write very much about the meeting, because it was confidential.  But it lasted many hours and I left feeling disassociated and numb.  I wasn’t upset, but I wasn’t fully present either.   I didn’t really want to talk about it.  I just wanted to sleep.

I woke up this morning and I felt like I was taking up too much space.  I wanted to hide and disappear.  I felt like crying through most of the day.  I felt irritable and angry over tiny things.  I felt stupid and useless.  I felt like I wasn’t going to be able to do a good job at anything.  I was doubting my abilities.

The familiar feeling of not being important was racing through my head.  Feeling like nobody likes me, that people merely tolerate my annoying presence.  Like a buzzing fly which someone feels too guilty to swat dead.  I felt too big.  Too much.

It was incredibly helpful for this person, who I don’t even know that well, to point out that the strong feelings were likely related to how vulnerable I was yesterday.  How exposed I felt.

So, today I have a vulnerability hangover.  It feels awful.

But I’m hoping that the advocacy was worth it.  That it was more effective and healthier than staying silent.  I’m hoping it makes a difference in another family’s lives.

I spoke my truth.  It was risky and terrifying, but I did it.  I wanted to run away, but I didn’t.  I faced some fears and came out the other side in one piece.

Just hungover.

How to accept a compliment.

you-are-beautiful

I went to the dance tonight to celebrate the end of an almost 4 year long legal process.  A 4 year long ordeal of leaving my ex-husband.

I danced.  I felt happy.  I enjoyed the music.  I smiled.  I forgot about my problems.  I lost myself in the moves, the beat and my dance partners.  It was a good night.  Swing dancing is an amazing healer.

Friends and strangers alike knew I was celebrating tonight.  Swing dance events usually include a birthday jam, a song where those who are celebrating something or visiting from out of town get “jammed” inside a dance circle.

Tonight, I celebrated freedom and victory with a jam I’ve waited for for almost 17 years.  It felt incredible.

After the dance, someone I’ve danced with over the years came up to me and started talking.  He told me that 3.5 years ago when I started coming to the dance I looked like “someone coming out of a long illness.”  He went on to explain that I looked healthier now and that I’d changed for the better.  He said that I had been much thinner and looked fragile.

It was a genuine compliment.  He was right.  I was coming out of a long illness and a long abusive relationship.  I was going out as a single adult for the first time since I was a teenager.  He was also right that I was thinner then.  I’ve gained about 10-15 pounds from the low end of the weight I’d been hovering around for about 3 years.  He’s probably right that I look healthier.  I am healthier mentally.

But as anyone who battles an eating disorder knows, compliments can be treacherous.  Any comment about a person’s weight, size, shape or healthiness can be interpreted by the eating disorder voice as an insult.

I tried to be present as he gave me this kind feedback about my health.

But inside my head Ana was screaming at me to get away from the conversation.  Ana was telling me…”he thinks you are fat.”  She was telling me “it’s so obvious you’ve gained weight even a stranger can notice.”  She was telling me “you are fat. you are disgusting.  you have no self control. you are weak. you are shameful.  you are ugly.”  She was having a yelling match in my head as this shy man struggled to explain what he’d noticed.

I’m trying to sit with the compliment.

Factually it is true, I have gained weight.  No, I’m not comfortable with it.  Yes, I’m constantly thinking about restricting and exercising and ways to lose weight.  Yes, I put myself down far more than anyone would realize.

But honestly F#@K Ana.

That man wasn’t telling me I looked fat.  That man was telling me that I look healthier after escaping from an abusive relationship that almost killed me.  He was telling me I looked more alive and happier.  He was complimenting me, even if Ana couldn’t understand.

People in recovery from eating disorders might always interpret compliments about their health or their body in a negative light.  Generally it’s safer NOT to talk about a person’s weight or size.  It can be a trigger and very uncomfortable, especially in early stages of recovery.

But for tonight, I’m happy that I’m still alive.   My body is okay.  It allowed me to dance for almost 3 hours tonight, despite my chronic pain issues.  My body has been through so much.  It’s okay to give Ana a break once in a while and just appreciate the steps I’ve taken towards health and recovery.

Your body is okay too. Whatever your shape or size.  You are beautiful and strong and you deserve to love yourself.

Banish body shame.  It’s okay to accept the compliment.  You are worth it ❤

On Valentine’s Day, Celebrate YOU!

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Valentines against white supremacy
By Kate Madeira

On Valentine’s Day this year celebrate yourself!  It’s perfectly okay to take a day to acknowledge yourself and all the work you’ve done.  Celebrate yourself and all your awesome qualities!  Feel proud of the fact that you are a survivor.  You are surviving like a boss.

I’ve been doing a lot of self reflection and taking a long hard look at my life recently.  I’ve been confronted with accepting the fact that it’s not my abusers standing in the way of my recovery (at least not entirely).  What is standing in my way are my own negative, self hating, self-destructive core beliefs.  If I don’t believe that I deserve recovery, health and happiness, then I can’t expect those things to just fall into my life with the wave of a magic wand.

I’m not ready to let go of lifelong core beliefs.  Not yet.  It’s going to be a long journey.

But that journey is beginning with a single step.

Acknowledging that maybe, just MAYBE, my core beliefs aren’t true.  Maybe, just MAYBE, there is another option for me.  Maybe, just MAYBE, I could live a life where I do celebrate myself, I do believe in myself and I do believe that I deserve good things.

This Valentine’s Day, I hope that you find love.

Trust me, self love will last a lot longer than that box of chocolates.

Though you deserve chocolates too!  Buy them for yourself tomorrow, they’ll be 50% off!

 

Love letter to my body

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April 22, 2004

To My Body,

I resent that you make me so uncomfortable.  I hate it when you trigger me. I hate it when you feel unsafe. I’m tired of feeling unsafe.  I wish you would just disappear or leave me alone. I don’t like it when you feel fat and dirty. I resent that you have power over how I feel. I’m fed up with you. You’ve caused me so much pain and suffering. I’m angry at you for making me feel ugly and unattractive.

I hate it when you feel too big and out of control.  I hate it when you feel too small and out of control. I hate it when you feel average. I want you to feel average. I want you to be a safe place to live. I resent that I can’t leave you behind.

I’m angry that you attracted abusers to me. I’m angry that you allowed yourself to be abused. I’m angry that you didn’t run away or fight back.  I’m tired of blaming you. I’m tired of not being able to forgive you.  I hate it when you cause me painful memories. I resent that you remember everything. I resent that I can’t replace you. I hate it that you feel dirty and broken. I want to be able to wash that feeling away.

I hate that you’ve had so much control over my life. I’m tired of you getting in the way of my happiness. I’m angry at your scars. I’m angry that you’ll never look normal. I’m angry because you make me hate myself.

I feel sad that you have been so badly hurt. I’m sad that you were violated. I feel awful because your boundaries were disrespected. I feel disappointed because you are permanently damaged. I feel hurt because you have not been respected. I feel sad because I have caused you so much pain and suffering. I feel awful because I blame you for everything. I feel awful because it wasn’t your fault.

I want to be able to forgive you. I feel afraid that I will never forgive you. I feel afraid that you will never heal. I feel afraid because you are vulnerable. I’m afraid I will abuse you again. I’m afraid someone else will abuse you again.  I wish I could protect you. I wish I could keep punishing you. I’m afraid that you will never feel whole again. I’m afraid of your suffering.  I feel awful because I know you are suffering.  I feel awful because I have never given you the chance to heal.  I feel awful because I don’t know if you can heal.

I’m scared of you.  I’m scared of the way you look.  I’m scared of the way you feel. I’m terrified because of how powerless you are. I’m terrified of how powerful you are.

I’m sorry that you have been abused. I’m sorry that I couldn’t protect you.  Please forgive me for the years I’ve spent abusing you.  Please forgive me for torturing you, scarring you, poisoning you and starving you.  I didn’t mean to destroy you.  I’m sorry that I still want to destroy you.  I’m sorry for all you’ve been through.  I’m sorry that the past cannot be erased or forgotten.

Please forgive me for not protecting you. I’m sorry that I don’t respect you. I’m sorry that others have not respected you.  Please forgive me for blaming you.

I’m ashamed of you, I hate you and I’m sorry.  I wish I could make you disappear so you wouldn’t be hurting anymore.  I wish I could take away your pain.  I wish I could learn to respect you.  I’m angry and sad that I feel so resentful.  I’m tired of being ashamed.  I’m so sorry for all these years of abuse.

I love you because you remind me that I have survived.  Thank you for the pain, thank you for reminding me that I’m alive. I understand that you are hurting. I want to let you grieve.  I forgive you for being sensitive and still in pain.  I understand that you need time to heal.

Thank you for not giving up on me. Thank you for giving me a second chance and a third chance and for not abandoning me.

I understand your pain. I hope that one day I will begin to forgive you.  I’m angry because I don’t trust you and because you don’t feel safe.  I wish I could learn to trust you. I hope one day you will feel safe. I feel sad because you don’t feel like you truly belong to me.  I’m sorry I haven’t forgiven you.

I’m angry that you are still alive.  Thank you for still being alive. I love you for that.  I hope one day you can find peace and safety.

-Me