Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Diane Israel on Recovery

I really like the article about Diane in Westword, and I got quite a few comments about what an inspiration Diane is. I couldn't agree more. In fact, I often feel that if Diane had not stepped into my life, I probably wouldn't be here. At minimum, she helped me through some unbearably difficult times.

Mostly when Daine and I speak on the radio, in public or in a podcast, we try to focus on recovery. I will share just a few key concepts that we both feel are essential in overcoming the illness.

Bits and pieces of the following are from my manuscript, though I changed quite a bit for this post. 

Recovery Concepts
In an interview I did with Diane Israel for my book, I found out that she began having eating problems around age 14, around the same time my eating disorder started. Our discussion around the causes and treatment of eating disorders was fascinating. I always seem to learn something new when I'm around Diane. She sees things so clearly and can define the issues around anorexia so well.

 “Perfection is the core wound of anorexia,” Diane states, “There is an underlying fear of failure that leads most addicts to seek control through other means." Both of us have talked about this idea of how it is when our outer world spins or feels like it is spinning more out of control, we want and try to grab control of our immediate surroundings. Diane suggests that if we can keep our central world predictable, even if it’s painful, it eliminates the fear of losing control. It may not be pleasant, but at least we know where we stand, where we exist.

For Diane, a turning point occurred when, after qualifying for the Jewish Olympics, she had a realization that she was too thin. it's funny how these observations that are so obvious to others can take time to sink in on a personal level. She states, “There were times as an athlete where I would do well, but overall, I was too depleted to consistently do well.” The day before her big race, she was so hungry that she ate a falafel sandwich. It didn’t sit well, and Diane explains that she just blew up in the race. Going in as the favorite and ending up with the bronze medal was not only a disappointment but a slap in the face. It made her look at her life and realize that she had been living in a haze. She admitted that she was going down the wrong path. 
She goes further and explains, “Sometimes the body, mind and spirit line up in ways we can’t explain. Often this occurs when we come close to death. Somehow coming close to the veil of death allows us to have these epiphanies. At these times there is an opening that we are finally able to allow, that can ultimately lead to inviting something else into our lives. For the addict, the tendency is to want to hold on to the addiction at all costs, so it’s essential to allow for the possibility of change when it presents itself, no matter how great the fear.” In my manuscript, I go more deeply into these concepts. 

Both Diane and I are forced to live with great regret. Knowing that we missed opportunities and chances for success due to our addiction is hard to face, yet both of us are growing and adapting. For both of us, our addictions once tended to and sometime still rule our lives, but each day we move more and more toward freedom. 

In terms of living with regret, it was Bobby McGee who reminded me that I needed to start where I am. So often, I jumped back into training trying to be the athlete that I was. He explained it in terms of a train being on a track. The train can't randomly jump to another track. It must start where it is. However, a train doesn't have memory, so it's probably easier for it to not go about regretting all the events that led it to be on the track its wheels are locked on, looking longingly at a different track. What I found was that I was running with all the fatigue of that poor overworked and over-trained girl in my past. Plus, there was just no way for me to step into being the athlete I was after all I had been though. My body was a different body, so I had to face the reality of where I was. It's a similar situation with an eating disorder. Often true awareness comes in the form of some kind of epiphany, breaking through all the denial that was masking a realistic perception of the self. That's when healing can begin.

It's impossible to go back. When I was in the hospital, many of the girls would express the desire to go back to a time when they didn't think about food. I never had this kind of period in my life, but I could somewhat relate, just in terms of my life not being so much like a constant nightmare at one point. Still, the only way out of that nightmare was to keep moving forward. Illnesses like anorexia seem to keep us stuck and spinning our wheels. As Diane points out, it takes courage to overcome the fear that can keep us stuck. Even acknowledging that fear is a step in the right direction though.

Oh! I have to steal the video GZ posted the other day. Wow. This kind of race makes me feel like I've been running flat paved roads my whole life! Jeez. Things like this and ultra running are events I can admire and respect, but would never attempt. Thanks for posting, GZ!


  1. Now that's hard core mountain running! Any running race that needs chains, ropes and a big dose of bravery pills is too much for this furry wombat.

    There was a time when I had regrets (about things I hadn't done in life), but I'm sort of over that now. I'm always looking forward - anticipating exciting things ahead in life keeps me optimistic.

  2. Isn't that race wild!!?? I remember in one mountain race I ran, I was afraid of a big downhill, but compared to the race in the video, it looked like a flat parking lot.

    I think that's a great way to be, Ewen. I'm working on getting to that same place in my life. :)

  3. It would be insane to "run" that. I think the closest I have ever done something like that was a walk out to Angel's Landing in Zion. No way would I run that.

    Impossible to go back ... yes. So, you go forward with your message, gained perspective, and wisdom. Would you ever coach runners?

  4. I know! That race looks insane.

    I don't know that I would make a good coach. I think I'd do better helping people deal with eating issues. You're right about moving forward, GZ. Sometimes that's a hard thing to do, but it's the right thing to do.