Man, I'm jumping into all kinds of controversial issues with my posts lately. I guess I have some things on my mind. I put the political rant on hold for the time being, mostly because I feel that this blog is or should be more about eating disorders, running and recovery than politics. Plus, Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow seem to do a good job of saying what needs to be said and usually in a much more entertaining way than I could. I do occasionally stray off topic, but my focus tends to be on running and recovery, even though nobody is monitoring. Still, it's nice to stick to a theme when it comes to blogging, and recently there have been plenty of subjects related to eating disorders circulating.
Later this month, there will be a lecture in Boulder given by Jenni Schaefer, an expert in eating disorders. Actually, I read in one article that she's an expert, but when I went to her website, all it said was that she recovered from an eating disorder and then wrote a book about it. In that case, I suppose I'm an expert as well, though I would never actually claim to be and want to make it very clear that going through something does not qualify me as a therapist. I'm happy to give advice, as long as people realize it's just that. My undergrad degree is in psychology with an emphasis on behavioral neuroscience, and I have studied eating disorders in depth. I have also worked closely with professionals in the field. Still, I don't consider myself an expert, because I lack the appropriate documentation (e.g., a master's degree, Ph.D or certificate). In order to make my book more complete, I included expert advice from certified and credible therapists, coaches and athletes.
That said, there's something about having gone through hard times that makes a person understand it, at least on some level. I have noticed great compassion in those who have struggled with an eating disorder. One message my book conveys is that we each have to find our own way out of illness. Getting ideas and tips from others on how to do that is advisable, but one always has to come back to the self for guidance. Methods that work for me may or may not work for others. Exploring options is always helpful. You never know when the right words will be heard at the right time. What really helps is having a better understanding of the forces that drive the disorder.
I admit that I have not read Jenni Schaefer's published works yet, only excerpts. I'm a little leery, because the description of one of her best-selling books is as follows:
I have never been married, but I am happily divorced. Ed and I lived together for more than twenty years. He was abusive, controlling and never hesitated to tell me what he thought, how I was doing it wrong, and what I should be doing instead... Ed is not a high school sweetheart. Ed is not some creep that I started dating in college... Ed's name comes from the initials E.D. - as in eating disorder. Ed is my eating disorder.
This concerns me, because it suggests that the eating disorder is an entity outside herself. I can't help but think it's a little bit creepy too, but as people already know, I get spooked easily. I know having an eating disorder can sometimes feel like your life is being run by an outside force, but the truth is that we create the disorder. It is a coping mechanism. I'm not opposed to role play, but this seems a bit beyond that.
In my own case, I felt that it was important to take responsibility in my life, take responsibility for my recovery and also for my past behavior that was hurtful to others and myself. Some guy named Ed did not do anything to me; I did it to myself. It was important for me to accept this. My sister played a big part in helping me recognize my choices, both how they affected my past and how they could affect my future. It took retraining my thought patterns, behavioral modification and loads of self acceptance in order to embrace recovery, but mostly I had to understand why I was so incredibly self abusive. I don't think personifying the disorder would have worked for me, because I needed to play an active role in getting well. Though my eating disorder often felt like it was a separate part of me or sometimes even unrelated to me, I discovered that certain situations caused they symptoms to manifest or continue. Initially, I had to figure out a way to be present despite knowing my unhealthy thinking was, at times, overwhelming. It's important to note that a lack of proper nutrition contributes to distorted thinking. We shouldn't blame that aspect or genetic factors on a manifested being. It is my opinion that we have to embrace both the dark and the light in ourselves. We must consciously integrate and accept our shadow side. There shouldn't be any shame in knowing that troubling behavior comes from within, because we do it as a way to deal with that which seems overwhelming or out of control in our lives. Blaming some guy named Ed discounts the parts of us that need understanding, compassion and change.
I appreciate that Jenni's experience with giving her eating disorder a name helped her realize and distinguish healthy and unhealthy thoughts. Rather than giving a persona to my unhealthy thoughts, I opted to recognize which thoughts were life sustaining and which were not without any role playing. Doing that allowed me to acknowledge more fully all facets of myself.
Our eating disorders and addictions are symptoms of something deeper. We need to ask in what ways this is so. Only then can we confront the issues. One of the best exercises I know of in treating eating disorders is to ask how your eating disorder has served you. Genetics aside, there are emotional and mental aspects of the illness. Whether we are too sensitive, feel out of control or need attention, the illness has filled a void. What's important to realize is that it's possible to move away from behaviors that no longer serve us by finding new ones that support life and health.
In the end, Jenni and I are both trying to get the point across that recovery is possible. I believe that there is no one right way to get there, so if what she says helps others, that is certainly a good thing. I know the two of us are not alone in realizing that recovery is possible. From her blog:
"I want people who struggle with eating disorders to know it is possible to move from being 'in recovery' to being 'fully recovered,'" she says. "I want them to get into life and follow their dreams, not be stuck in or defined by an eating disorder."
I hope to attend the free lecture Jenni is giving. I would like to hear more about her ideas on recovery. I think more people are realizing that it takes rediscovering the self in order to get well, and I noticed that Jenni points this out on her blog and in the excerpt I read in one of her books. I fully agree with her that it takes self discovery in order to facilitate healing from an eating disorder. There are many books on the topic. I found this one very good. It came out in 2007 and, at the time, was somewhat revolutionary: Regaining Your Self.
For anyone who would like to attend the free lecture, here is the information:
The Conference on World Affairs Athenaeum will host a free public talk “Perfectly Imperfect: Eating and Body Image” with internationally known eating disorder expert Jenni Schaefer on Wednesday, November 28 at 7 p.m. The talk will take place in the University Memorial Center, room 235. This event is free and open to the public.