Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Smitten by Sally

 

My baby is almost five months old, and the time has gone by too quickly.  I am completely and utterly obsessed--so smitten.  Sometimes I feel guilty that I haven't done a very good job of recording the first few months of her life; but then I remember that I have done a good job of savoring them.  And which is more important?  I'd say the savoring.





I think I have matured as a mother, and this second time around, I'm more aware of how quickly the time goes.  It makes me less frustrated with the hard stages (now I know that they won't last forever), and it makes me more in love with the perfect stages (because they won't last forever either!).  She is constantly growing and changing--so much so that it's crazy to look back and think about what a difference even a month makes in her physical development and the development of her personality.  Oh how I love her.


So here's a quick recap of Sally in the last 4.5 months:

The first eight weeks:  Sally was a very quiet and calm newborn.  She slept so much that it almost concerned me.  She even slept super long stretches at night, and the only signal that she gave me when she was hungry was that she vigorously sucked on her fingers.  I would wake up to that sound instead of to the sound of her crying.  In fact, she rarely cried--occasionally she would have a fussy hour in the evenings before bed, but nothing crazy.  During those months, I loved to rock and nap with her.  Bliss.




Months 2-3: Sally started to get spunkier as she came out of her newborn phase.  She was still a super sweet baby but had some fussy periods most days and became a lot more vocal when she was hungry--no more sucking on fingers, now it was full-on shrieking!

She still slept like a champ at this phase, even giving me some 10-12 hour nights (before you get too jealous, let me add that she doesn't do this anymore).  Since I thought the late-night feedings were dwindling (ha!), I really cherished them.  She was just so sleepy, snuggly, and teeny--and her little head fit under my chin, her warm body curled up against my chest.  I would rock her for a few extra minutes in the night, even after she was done eating.  Can you blame me??


She loved her Bumbo and would sit in it on the counter and watch me while I cooked or while the family ate dinner.  (She sometimes even fell asleep in it!)  We often said she was "supervising" the family.  She has always seemed like a quiet and thoughtful observer to me--alert and interested--wanting to watch us, look around the room, and take in her surroundings.

One day I surprised Ryan when he walked in from work by setting Sal in her Bumbo on the laundry room floor with a little "Welcome Home!" sign.  Seriously, best surprise ever.


 





During this period, she became the queen of "raspberries" and sometimes blew them constantly for like 30 minute stretches, cracking up the entire family.  Often this was a sign that she was getting hungry or tired--so cute.

She started consistently giving big open-mouthed grins around two months and laughed for the first time shortly thereafter.  She is more of a good-natured chuckler than a hearty laugher.  I think it fits her low-key personality.  If you tickle her, she gives you a big grin and a little chuckle, but I've yet to hear her really lose it in a fit of giggles.




She is so happy first thing in the morning, which is the best.  Getting her out of her crib is my favorite thing.  I will hear her cooing or fussing over the monitor, and I will go into her room and see her doing her "ab exercises" (she raises her legs up and down for some reason), and I will say in the most ridiculous mommy-voice ever, "Good morning, Sweetheart!" and she will immediately grin at me with her mega-watt smile.  Melts my heart every time!


Months 4-5: Sally has suddenly become quite the wiggler.  She is so curious and always arching her back to look around.  She won't stay in the Bumbo anymore because she just wiggles around and twists right out of it.  She loves to be held and rocked facing out, so she can see what's going on, and she rarely falls asleep in my arms anymore--just too busy!  I've also found that she gets distracted while drinking her bottle if people are around or if I am talking on the phone or watching something--doesn't she seem young for that?  She has a hard time focusing on her food and just keeps whipping her head around to find where the noises are coming from.


A few weeks ago, she started grabbing her feet whenever I put her on her back (which is just about the cutest thing ever), and her newest thing is rolling onto her stomach as soon as I put her down.  She's been able to roll for a while now, but all of the sudden she is really into it.  She often gets stuck on her stomach and gets super mad, which makes naps a little harder. Overall, her nighttime sleep is not nearly as good as it was when she was younger, but I still can't complain.  She's up about twice a night but goes right back to sleep as soon as she eats.



I'd still say she is a quiet baby--not a lot of babbling or cooing, but a definite awareness of her family and her surroundings.   It's hard to know what is her age and what is her emerging personality, but I won't be surprised if she has a temperament similar to her father's someday: sweet, quiet, thoughtful, calm.  She reminds me of him in that she can only take so much chaos, and she sometimes gets overwhelmed and needs to be taken into another room to rock and calm down (Ryan definitely needs his alone time to recharge)...

This desire for calm is a bit of a challenge with an extremely extroverted older brother who adores her and gets in her face constantly--I think she is slightly terrified of him (perhaps for good reason).  I can't wait until they can play together!  I think she will willingly follow him around and will no doubt idolize him.  She is one blessed little girl to have such a fun, protective older brother.  He constantly tells people who are holding her, "You can't be aggressive with her!" "Make sure you are being gentle!"  Hmmm...I wonder if he hears that from his mother a million times a day?  We actually had a special family night devoted to trying to teach Noah to be gentler in his affection toward Baby Sally.  We put a diaper on Daryl, his favorite stuffed dog, and we practiced loving on Daryl very quietly and gently.


I wish I could say this activity revolutionized Noah's treatment of his baby sister, but it made absolutely no difference.  Noah is as crazy and hyper as ever.  Good thing she loves him just the way he is...and so do we!





Sally loves to be held and expects attention from her adoring family, which can be hard when I am trying to get anything accomplished during the day (though, honestly, since having Baby #2, I've somewhat given up on getting much accomplished--in some ways, it's made stay-at-home motherhood more enjoyable for me, as I've just embraced the chaos and decided to enjoy my kids instead of obsessing over my to-do list).  She is also fussy in the car because she would prefer to be held or entertained.  When we are at home, she will lie contentedly on the floor or in her play gym for a few minutes, but she prefers to be cuddled and interacted with, which is fine--she's too cute to ignore anyway!



And when Daddy is home, she's almost always in his arms.  Those two are peas in a pod.  Ryan savors his time with her as much as I do.  Lucky girl to have him as a daddy.




Overall, I'd say Sally is an easy baby.  She's not quite as angelic as she was as a newborn, but I didn't expect her to stay that docile forever--I want her to have a little spunk and to make her needs known! She doesn't ask for much; give this girl a dry diaper, a fairly consistent nap schedule, and a warm bottle (she's a snob now and refuses to take room-temperature bottles), and she will be happy.  Deny her those things, and she's likely to completely lose it for a few minutes.  But as soon as you get her what she needs, she calms down again and is as sweet as can be.


Have I mentioned that I adore her??  Truly, I cannot get enough.  I kiss her chubby "bulldog" cheeks all day long and smoosh her soft, squishy little body.  She is still a peanut (13 lbs or about 10th percentile for her age), but she is "skinny fat," as we like to call her.  She definitely has some chub and rolls on that tiny little body--perfect.  


I love when she holds onto my finger while I'm rocking her or feeding her a bottle or looks into my eyes and gives me a big grin.  Pretty much nothing makes me happier.

I love this Baby Girl--so much.  The last four months have been some of the happiest of my life.  I am doubly blessed to have two perfect children to call mine...Noah and Sally, my tiny little people...my miracle babies.

Life is so good.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Sometimes Ryan and I Fight

In contrast to the sappy love letter that I posted last week, I want to admit something upfront to all blog readers: Sometimes Ryan and I fight.

Shocking, right? ;)

We don't fight often, but it does happen on occasion.  I think it happens less often now than it did a few years ago.  The first few years of our marriage, we didn't really fight because we were in total honeymoon phase (um, Ryan got up early every morning to iron my skirt and make me breakfast...?????); then we started to notice each other flaws and weren't mature enough yet to let them go; and then I read this book, which has a terrible title and cover art but truly helped with a lot of my control issues; and now we are in a comfortable phase of our marriage where I feel like we really "get" each other and have both learned enough about marriage/life to know that most things aren't worth fighting over.

But fights do still break out on occasion, as I'm sure they will for decades to come.

Marriage is just like that.  I wouldn't say marriage is hard--I would say it is awesome.  But just like everything else in life that's worth doing, it takes constant effort and tweaking and soul-searching and deciding to put forth the energy to make it great.

To that end, my friend Celeste recently started a marriage blog with her husband, Rich.  They are both so funny, creative, and insightful--and completely devoted to each other and their children.  What I admire most about them is how much fun they have together.  They recently performed a lip synch to Donny and Marie Osmond's 1976 Christmas Special at their church holiday party.  I think this photo will say it all about these two (and I must confess, I stole this photo without permission from Facebook--it's just too great not to share).


Do you believe me now when I say that you should subscribe to their marriage blog because you will be entertained (and also enlightened--I promise)?  Go and do it.

Today, as part of an awesome series on "confronting infertility in your marriage," they asked me to guest post with my advice on how to take care of yourself, your spouse, and your marriage while going through infertility...and I start my article by relating an epic fight that Ryan and I once had.  So if you are interested in less sap and more reality from me, click on over to their blog and read what I have to say here.

And here's a teaser just to get you hooked:

"I wish I could remember what the fight was about.  But as is usually the case with marital tiffs that escalate into blowups, the details of how it all started are foggy to me now.  

What I do remember clearly is that we were in the car on our way to a BBQ at a friend’s house—that I picked the fight and wouldn’t let it go—and that my quiet, sweet, even-tempered husband dropped me off in front of our friend’s house and drove away.  


I felt sick as I watched him speed off, knowing that I had pushed him too far.  I also knew that he would be back in a few minutes, but I still felt sad and alone and confused."


To find out how this argument resolved go to "'Joy Will Return': Taking Care of Yourself, Your Spouse, and Your Marriage During Infertility" at I Believe in a Thing Called Love blog...

Let me know what you think!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Love Letter: The Other Half of You

Ry,

I am feeling frazzled today.  The house is a disaster, and I can’t finish any of the tasks I start—because Noah needs breakfast, the baby wails if she’s not held, the doorbell rings and I am not dressed, a refrigerator repairman is waiting on the doorstep…

I am in the midst of making muffins for a friend who is pregnant and sick, decorating for Christmas, writing a guest post for a friend’s marriage blog, planning dinner, doing laundry…

I feel stressed and a little discouraged—and yet, I keep thinking of something that you said yesterday when you were holding Sally: “How can we freeze time?”

I know you were referring more to the adorable stage that she is in right now than the chaos of our current existence, but your words keep coming back to me today and reminding me that this phase of our life is precious.  Chaos, certainly—but precious chaos.  Thank you for everything you do for me to make the mayhem more manageable.  I don’t know what I would do without you. 

I chatted with a college student the other day on the plane home from Denver.  Somehow this small-talk with a stranger turned into a two-hour heart-to-heart (LOL…I am ridiculous), and he told me that he has a girlfriend but he just can’t imagine getting married anytime soon.

I told him that was obviously a decision to make very slowly and deliberately (the most important decision of his entire life!), but that I fear the young people of today’s world are afraid of marriage and commitment.  I told him that I got married at his age, and I have never regretted it for a moment.  “Marriage, kids, family life—it is amazing,” I told him. “When you marry your best friend, it is all amazing.”

And I meant that.  I wouldn’t trade a moment of my life with you.

We are coming up on nine years of marriage this month, so maybe that’s why all of this has been on my mind, but I discovered a beautiful love song today and it made me think of what we have together.  I think I had heard the song before, but I didn’t realize it was a love song (it is up-tempo, which is unusual for a romantic song), and I had never really listened to the words before.  When I did, it made me think of where we started as those young, college-aged newlyweds and where we are today:

“We are not perfect, we’ll learn from our mistakes,
But as long as it takes, I will prove my love to you.
I am not scared of the elements, I am underprepared
But I am willing
And even better—
I get to be the other half of you.

Tell the world that we finally got it all right,
I choose you.
I will become yours and you will become mine,
I choose you...

My whole heart will be yours forever,
This is a beautiful start
To a lifelong love letter…”

I am grateful beyond words for you—and that I get to be the other half of you.  How lucky am I??

Come home soon and snuggle me.

xo

Your Wife

Then

Now

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Christmas Spirit


A few years ago, I started compiling a list of ways to manage the stress of the holidays and the pressure to be "in the Christmas spirit" all December long.  It can sometimes put me in a really depressed mood that I am "not doing enough" to engage in this month-long holiday because it really is such a special time of year, and I want to savor it and make the most of it--but too much pressure to do so can leave me feeling the opposite of the Christmas spirit (frustration, discouragement, inadequacy).  I totally relate to little Cindy Lou Who in How The Grinch Stole Christmas when she sings "Where Are You Christmas?" because sometimes I feel like something is wrong with me when I'm not feeling ultra giddy and magical during the month of December or filling my days with awesome, festive traditions.

I had forgotten my list of ideas for making December less stressful until today, when my Instagram feed starting filling up with photos of moms doing cool things to kick off the month with their kids.  Looking at those cute photos, I started to feel a little panicked that the holidays are already sneaking up on me, and we don't have a Christmas tree yet, and I don't have any fun traditions planned, and Noah is at the perfect age for diving in to the fun of this holiday and I want to make every moment "count," and there are so many people to get gifts for, and...

Do you see where I am going with this?

I stopped myself and remembered my list and went to look at it.  I decided to post it here as a permanent reminder for myself, as well as to solicit advice from all of you.  Please leave your ideas/input in the comments.

I want to start with a disclaimer that this list won't be true for everyone.  This is my "notes to self" about how to make the holidays fun and less stressful for me.  I think it's awesome if you want to do an amazing family activity every day in December.  Please post your ideas on Instagram and elsewhere so I don't have to think up ideas for our family activities and can just copy yours! :)

Okay, so here we go...

Rachel's Notes to Self about Celebrating Christmas

1.  Don't feel like you need to start celebrating the day after Thanksgiving or even December 1st.  You can't maintain "The Christmas Spirit" that long.  It's too much pressure.  It's fine if you wait until 12 days before or one week before to do anything "big" to commemorate the holiday.

2.  That said, in the month leading up to Christmas, do little things to get into the mood.  Talk about Christ as much as possible.  When you are driving around town, point out the Christmas lights to Noah and tell him how cool it is that the whole world is celebrating Jesus during this special month.  Rely on easy traditions that require no work, such as watching a favorite holiday movie each Saturday night as a family or lighting the advent wreath and singing a hymn each Sunday.

3.  On a similar note, do quick things to bring the holiday spirit into your home.  I'm not talking about ultra fancy decorations (which are awesome if you can get to them but not necessary).  Make it a habit to do things like playing Christmas carols and lighting a candle every day during breakfast.  Put up simple decorations--some of which should be focused on Christ and the true meaning of the season.

4.  Shop far in advance (or as far in advance as possible) to avoid last-minute gift-giving stress.  Do not try to make gifts.  You do not enjoy crafts.  You will put off doing them, and it will inevitably take longer than you planned, and you will be hating your life as your decoupage a frame for your in-laws late into the night on Christmas Eve.  (True story.)

5.  Find time to ponder and write about the things that matter most to you.  Set aside fifteen minutes now and then to sit by the lighted Christmas tree after the kids are in bed with a candle burning.  Spend that time writing about Christ, family, your children, your marriage, your blessings or writing thank you notes to those you love. (As a side note, when my older sister read this, she said that writing deep thoughts by the Christmas tree sounded way more pressure-filled to her than spending an afternoon baking sugar cookies!  Bahaha!  I know I am kind of a weirdo.  Do whatever works for you and brings joy and perspective!)

6.  Plan some fun family activities that take a bit more effort--just a few of these are enough.  Perhaps a night decorating gingerbread houses with family, hosting a Progressive Dinner with friends, or lighting luminaries on Christmas Eve.

7.  Actively serve others.  This brings the Spirit of Christmas more than anything else.  Service should obviously be part of your everyday life (whatever month it is) but putting a little more focus on it during December can't hurt! Service doesn't have to be grand--a great idea is this simple "24 Days of Giving."  If you miss a day of service, don't beat up on yourself.

8.  When visiting family for the holidays, focus on being present with those around you.  Focus on serving in small but meaningful ways--jumping up to do the dishes after dinner or engaging in conversation with a quiet relative.  Look around you and notice where there are opportunities to bring joy and relieve stress.

9. Make time for the things that help you maintain sanity in the midst of holiday craziness, including exercise (even just a brisk walk with the family after dinner), conversations with Ryan (even if that means leaving a raucous game night for a few minutes to lie on the bed and talk), and occasional early bed times (nothing leads to meltdowns more quickly than sleep-deprivation).

10.  As much as possible, just be still and let the beauty of this season work its magic.  It's not reliant on you and your fancy traditions.  Stand at the window and watch when snow is falling, or go outside and raise your face to the sky and taste the snowflakes.  Watch the excitement on Noah's face as he points out Christmas decorations in the mall.  Talk to him about Christmas and everything it means.  Snuggle Baby Sally into your chest when you are feeding her in the middle of the night and think about that sacred baby born thousands of years ago in Bethlehem, "born that man no more may die."  Thank Him.  Think of Him.  Let your heart fill with love for Him.


December is a month to love.  I am so excited that it's here.  It's going to be a beautiful, Spirit-filled month with my precious kiddos, my amazing husband, and my wonderful family and friends.  As a wise friend once told me, "Rachel, you are too blessed to be stressed!"  (Thank you, Deborah Tilley!) That is my final note to self as we enter this month of gratitude and giving.  I can't wait!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Living Without My Eating Disorder, Narrative Therapy Part 3

And now it's time for the happy ending. Well, the happy ending that I imagine for myself.

As the final assignment for my "narrative therapy," my counselor asked me to picture a future without my eating disorder in it.  Who did I hope to be?  How would freedom feel?  What would my life of freedom look like?

This is what I came up with.

It is amazing to me that my life today is much closer to this reality than it is to the reality that I described in my last post.  Sometimes my eating disorder thoughts and behaviors still come creeping back to me, and I start to worry that I have made no progress at all--but when I look back at the slow but cumulative growth that I've made during the last few years, it is easy to recognize how far I've come. Sometimes it's still a battle, but I am winning.  I don't plan to lose.

Have you seen the movie "A Beautiful Mind" about John Nash, a mathematician and Nobel Prize winner who suffered from schizophrenia?  The movie chronicles his discovery that some of the key people in his life, including his best friend and his boss, are not real but are figments created by his mental illness.  Near the end of the movie, John has reached a stable place with his illness for many years and requests a teaching job at Princeton University. Referring to John's schizophrenic illusions, his colleague asks him,  "What about the...well, you know...are they gone?"  As viewers, we can see what John sees in his mind, and as he looks over his shoulder, his imaginary friends are there, walking just steps behind him.  He responds to his colleague, "No, they're not gone.  Maybe they never will be.  But I've gotten used to ignoring them, and as a result, I think they've kind of given up on me."  He continues, "I think that's what it's like with all of our dreams and our nightmares...we've got to keep feeding them for them to stay alive."

Now I am not claiming to know anything about schizophrenia, and I don't think that mental illness will just go away if you ignore it.  But I love the message of that scene and have thought about it often and in various contexts in the 12 years since that movie was released: I choose which thoughts to entertain, which dreams and which nightmares.  Some weaknesses and natural personality traits may never completely go away for me--but I can decide not to dwell on them and not to give them power.

I choose not to live with my eating disorder anymore.  I choose to ignore her.  I choose to love myself and my body, no matter what size it is.  I choose to live today in a way that is leading me toward the beautiful future that I imagine for me and my family--to feed my dreams instead of my nightmares.  Even if my future doesn't end up looking exactly as this narrative describes, I am determined that it will include the key elements captured here: love for myself, love for my family, love for my body, love for God, love for others, and love for life.

------------------------------

I am the mother of five beautiful children.  It is a busy, chaotic life, but, for the most part, I am able to keep my cool and mother with love because I love myself.  I am close to my Father in Heaven. I feel His love for me, and I know my worth.  

I am able to take the stresses of life in stride, instead of eating my way through them.  When I do revert to emotional eating, which happens on occasion, I forgive myself and move forward.  My eating disorder rarely comes knocking anymore—she knows there is no point.

I teach my children to take care of their bodies, minds, and souls.  We eat lots of delicious fruits and vegetables—and of course some awesome treats too.  Food isn’t the center of our family and universe, but we aren’t afraid of it.

We get outside and exercise together a lot as a family.  We go for hikes and bike rides.  We go for after-dinner walks around the neighborhood.  A few nights a week, Ryan and I put the kids to bed and have a teenaged neighbor come over and sit with them, so we can go walking or jogging under the stars together, just like we did when we were dating.  We are active and strong.

I take the breaks that I need from mothering my big family, and I don’t feel guilty about it.  I have a sitter twice a week for a few hours, so I can go to a local coffee shop and write.  I also take an evening every week to myself, meeting up with a friend for dessert, going to a bookstore to read, or just taking a walk by myself at sunset to think and pray. Because I want to be present and relaxed for my family and friends, I say “no” to extra curricular activities and responsibilities that will leave me feeling overwhelmed and drained. 

I am someone whom people can call on a whim.  I am available to talk and to help—I am not stressed and overly busy all the time.

I find joy in serving other people, and it’s a big part of my life and the lives of my children.  It is one of the things that nourishes me and fills me.  I tutor underprivileged kids in reading and writing, and I know I am making a difference to them.  I teach my own kids to look for opportunities to serve others, and I help them follow through on their ideas for service.  It gives me so much joy to see the light that comes from service in my children’s eyes.

I am happy.  I am fulfilled.  I am able to see the value and meaning in my life.  I no longer feel stress or self-loathing on a daily basis.  I get enough sleep.  I take care of myself.  I feel my emotions instead of fleeing from them through starvation, exercise, or excess. 

I love and savor life, with all of its ups and downs.

I love and nourish myself, with all of my weaknesses and imperfections.

I am grateful.  I am at peace.

I am free.

------------------------------

To listen to my Power of Moms podcast about what I learned in counseling, click here:
            Unhealthy Stress or Habits? Break the Cycle!

And to see this narrative therapy published on the Power of Moms website, click here:
           The Surprising Way I Confronted My Eating Disorder

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Living With My Eating Disorder: Narrative Therapy, Part 2

Okay, so are you ready for this??

I have published a lot of personal things on this blog.  This, though, takes it to a whole new level.  I am warning you upfront, this might be hard to read.  It was hard to write, and it was even harder to live.

The good news is, my life doesn't even resemble this nightmare anymore.  In fact, as I read over this narrative and look back over my counseling notes, it's sometimes hard for me to believe that my life ever resembled this nightmare.  Was this real??  Did I really live this way??  It all feels like a distant and very bad dream.

I recently shared this narrative with a friend who struggles with her own body image demons, and her reaction surprised me.  I thought she would be shocked and slightly horrified by my description of life with an eating disorder, but she said, "Wait, so all women don't think and feel this way?  It's possible to overcome these types of patterns??"

If you read this and recognize some of yourself in it, please know--you do not have to live like this!  It is not okay for you to feel this way about yourself or to treat your body like this.  And most importantly, it is possible to be free of these cycles and destructive thoughts.  Send me an email at rachel (dot) nielson (at) hotmail (dot) com, and I will tell you more.

Thank you for reading and for being a safe place to share.  It is scary for me to be so vulnerable in such a public forum, but I feel like it's important.  And if you didn't read yesterday's blog post, this one is going to make no sense to you.  So start with yesterday's post here, and then come back, okay?

Deep breath...and here we go...

------------------

Over the ten years that I allowed this friendship to be part of my life, she manipulated me and told me all sorts of lies.  

She told me that I had to run every single day or else I was a failure.  When I had mono and was emotionally exhausted from news of my mom’s terminal cancer diagnosis, she told me that I had to go running with her at 11:30 p.m. when I got home from studying at the library.  If I ever got more than four or five hours of sleep a night, she told me I was worthless and unproductive.  A true friend would’ve told me to climb into bed and be gentle with myself during such a difficult time.

She told me that if I ate more than half a salad wrap at any one time, I was going to get enormously fat.  She told me to stop eating sweets altogether except for once a week—once a week was all I could risk if I didn’t want to be obese.

She made me hyper-aware of what I ate because she was constantly making comments about it: “You’re going to eat a second cookie?  Looks like you won’t be able to wear those jeans that you just bought for very long…”  “Are you really going to order fettuccine alfredo?” I could always hear her critical commentary running through my head. 

The summer that my mom was so sick and I was her caregiver while my dad was at work, she met me every morning on the running path.  In and of itself, a daily jog was not an unhealthy way to cope, but she pushed me to run farther and farther each day, telling me that my run was a “waste of time” if it wasn’t at least five miles.  She would tell me I was pathetic if I missed a day or didn’t feel up to running as far as I had the day before.  Five miles…six miles…seven miles a day…it wasn’t enough.  I often ran eight miles or more in the early hours of the morning, and then went home and took care of my dying mother for the rest of the day.

She told me that she would help me fix the negative emotions that I felt about my mom’s impending death.  She reminded me to stand on the scale every morning to make sure that something in my life was still in control.  The decreasing number on the scale seemed like the only thing that was measurable in the midst of all of the pain. During those months, I did feel comforted by my faith and my family, but I couldn’t bear to just sit with the agonizing grief that I was feeling—so I tried to run and starve it away. 

A few years later, when I started my career as a high school English teacher and got too busy to jog every day, she told me it wasn’t worth running at all.  “What’s the point?” she would say. “At this rate, you’re going to get fat anyway, so why even try?”  When she said this, I felt utter panic—I don’t want to be fat!—and she seemed to love getting that reaction out of me.  She always told me it was “all or nothing.”  I believed her. 

She told me not to go to parties and social gatherings because I wouldn’t be able to resist the food there. I usually ignored her and went anyway, but I spent the entire time telling myself that I “couldn’t” eat any of the refreshments.  I often ended up eating them anyway, which made me feel guilty and weak, so I ate more than I even wanted to because “tomorrow I will start my diet—tomorrow, I will start being ‘good.’”  I left those parties feeling sick to my stomach and awful about myself.  “I told you so,” she would say with a smirk.

She told me I never deserved to have time to myself.  “You are so selfish,” she would say when I felt too tired to participate in a service opportunity organized by my church.  When a student seemed to need extra help on something (whether or not he or she had even asked for the help), she would tell me, “If you want to be a good teacher, you need to give up your lunch break to help that student.”  I would often go an entire day without eating anything, only to realize at 3:15 when the students left my room that I was ravenous and utterly drained.  

Despite my fatigue, I stayed at the school until 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. every night, grading papers and planning lessons—working, always working.  During those long afternoons and evenings at the school, she brought me candy bars from the vending machine.  “You’re tired, you’ve been working hard,” she would say to me. “This candy will make you feel better.”  In those moments, she seemed sweet and supportive, but it was always her underhanded attempt to make me feel reliant on her and bad about myself.  I sometimes ate two or three candy bars to make it through those exhausting work sessions.  Slowly, just as she knew it would, the weight crept on.

She told me not to go to baby showers and parties because I was overweight and embarrassing, and everyone would judge me. I usually went anyway, but I spent the entire time feeling self-conscious and loathing myself.  Sometimes, I actually listened to her and stayed home.  I even gave up the opportunity to go visit the kids that I love in an orphanage in El Salvador one summer because she told me that they would all make comments about how much weight I’d gained.  I knew she was right that people in El Salvador are blunt and make comments about people’s weight—and I didn’t think I was strong enough to smile and bear it. A true friend would’ve said, “Those kids love you for you, not for what you weigh or look like!  You should go!!”

She told me that I must be disgusting to my husband with the weight I’d gained.  “I bet he doesn’t find you attractive at all anymore,” she would say.  This sometimes made me cry when Ryan and I were together, because I was sure that she was right.

When I was struggling to get pregnant and going through infertility treatments, she started hanging around even more.  She would wait in the car after my appointments, and as I drove away from the clinic, my heart breaking and numb, she would say to me, “Well, if you can’t have a baby, at least you deserve to have a dessert.  Dessert will make this feel better.”  She encouraged me to stop at the grocery store and buy myself a mini pie, or go home and scour the refrigerator for something to temporarily numb the pain—chocolate frosting with graham crackers, ice cream…foods I didn’t even really like or want, but that she assured me would make things feel better.

In the midst of my fertility treatments, I was also going through the adoption process, and when I was corresponding with expectant mothers who were considering adoption, she was always the first to remind me that things were uncertain.  “Don’t get your hopes up, Rachel,” she would say.  “Remember the last three birthmoms you communicated with?  They all changed their minds.  I'm sure this one will too.”  Her words filled me with anxiety that never really went away, no matter what I was doing. I tried praying and reading scriptures, I tried going out with friends—all of those things helped, but the stress and pain still gnawed at me from the inside.  Always, always there. 

Months later, when my miracle son finally arrived to us through adoption, things didn’t go as smoothly as I’d imagined they would.  My son had colic and cried most of the day, and I was filled with inadequacy, loneliness, and desperation.  Instead of encouraging me that things would get better, she told me I was a terrible mother.  She told me I hated being a mother.  She told me the rest of my life was going to be miserable.  Then she’d say the inevitable: “Here, eat these brownies.  After all, it’s the only thing you have to look forward to, and you’re never going to be skinny again anyway, so you might as well.”

She told me to lie to my husband, something that I never thought I would ever do until she infiltrated my life.  She didn’t want me to be close to him—she wanted to be my only friend and confidant.  “He will think you are a failure if he knows how much you eat,” she would say.  “He will realize that you can’t follow through on your goals and you are weak and unworthy of his love.  You should only make cookies when he isn’t home and then throw away the evidence. And you better make up a reason to leave the house instead of telling him that you want to go get a treat.”  After a long day stuck at home with a crying baby, I would tell Ryan that I was running an errand but instead meet up with her to indulge in a dessert that she assured me would help me feel better about my life; but even as I was eating it, I knew she was lying. I would silently resolve to be rid of her, starting the next day.  “This is the last time I will ever hang out with her,” I would tell myself, “so I better live it up now.” Sometimes we’d stop at multiple drive-thrus to get various treats in one evening, because nothing was making me feel better so I had to keep trying different options.  A few times I felt so physically sick and so full of self-loathing when I got home that I made myself throw up before I went into the house. 

It was in the midst of that final nightmare that I decided that I had to break off my friendship with her.  I wasn’t sure how to do it, so I recruited help.  I prayed and plead with my Heavenly Father for strength.  I sought help from a professional counselor.  My husband, my family, and a few trusted friends were at my side when I told her to get away from me.  Get out of my life.  I told her that I never wanted to speak to her or see her again.

She didn’t take the news well, and she was slow in leaving.  There were times when she knocked on my door, and in a low moment, I let her in.  We’d sit on the couch and talk, and she would start feeding me lies again, and sometimes I would listen, but it wasn’t like before. I never really let her back into my heart. 

Now her visits are few and far between.  Sometimes she still knocks.  I look through the peephole and see her standing there—sometimes she even tries to talk to me through the door—but I generally don’t respond.  I may hear her words and wonder if they are true, but I don’t respond to her, and I don’t let her in, and I think she is starting to get the hint.  She comes around less and less often these days.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe that I allowed myself to be abused and manipulated for so long.  It makes me feel sick and a little embarrassed to think about the years I wasted on her.  But it also makes me proud to realize that I have almost broken free, and it makes me feel hopeful to realize that she has left a big space in my life that I can fill with relationships that actually nourish me, instead of leaving me empty, alone, and in pain.

------------------

Part 3, "Life Without My Eating Disorder," (yay! the happy ending!) tomorrow...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Meeting My Eating Disorder: Narrative Therapy, Part 1

I have been thinking about eating disorders again.  I am recording a podcast for Power of Moms this Friday about what I learned when I went to counseling for an eating disorder, so I've spent a lot of time this week preparing and attempting to organize my thoughts on this complex and personal topic.  Going back through my notes and the books that I read during my counseling has been awesome and gratifying.  It has reminded me of how much I learned and how far I've come in my relationship with food.  I am a dramatically different and happier person now than I was when I was trapped in destructive cycles of dieting, negative self-talk, and obsessing about food/exercise/body image.  Man, am I glad to be free of all of that.

As overwhelming as it is to condense a year's worth of counseling and self-reflection into a 40-minute podcast, I am so grateful for the opportunity.  I can't wait to record it, and I can't wait to share it once it airs.

As part of my preparation for this podcast, I've revisited something that I wrote during the "narrative therapy" component of my counseling.  For this exercise, my counselor asked me to embody my eating disorder as a character in a story--a person separate from myself whom I could interact with and analyze.  She told me to write about how my eating disorder and I met, what our relationship was like, and what my future looked like with or without him/her in it.  I did this in three different portions, over the course of three weeks, and we discussed the insights I gained from each chapter as I wrote it.

This was a super interesting and eye-opening exercise, and the finished product is pretty heart-wrenching to read.  I've decided that I'm finally ready to share it on this blog.  I've been contemplating doing so for over a year but have never had the courage.  I share it now in hopes that it will help someone who might be feeling alone, trapped, and desperate.

There is hope.  You can change.  I know this because I have been there and I am not there anymore.  As I wrote in a blog post back in May, I can only share this now because it is so very far from my reality today.  That can be true for you too--I promise.

I will publish this in three parts over the next three days.  Today's portion is Part 1: How I Met My Eating Disorder.  

And here we go...

----------------------


She came to me one night when I was out for a run under the starry skies of Provo, Utah.

She pulled up beside me in running shorts, falling right into stride with me--as if she knew me, as if she’d been waiting for me.

“You could run faster than this, you know,” she said, matter-of-factly.

“Huh?” I asked, vaguely confused about who she was, but so taken by her nonchalance that I almost felt like we’d planned the meeting.

She repeated herself.  “You could run faster than this.”  I didn’t respond, but I didn’t have to.  She hadn’t meant it as a question.  “And I hear your mother is dying,” she continued.

Again, it was a statement of fact.  And as we plodded along in side-by-side silence, breathing heavily, taking in the night air, I didn’t say anything more. 

“It’s okay.  I’ll be here for you,” she said simply.  “I can make it better.”

These runs, which had started just a few months earlier when I’d left home for my freshman year of college, had never been about running fast, or burning calories, or counting mileage—they had been a time of solitude and peace, a time to think and to try to make sense of my vastly changing life.

I wasn’t sure I wanted company.  

But I didn’t tell her to leave. And as we reached my dorm hall and I watched her padding off into the night, her long blonde hair swinging with her steady stride, I knew that I would be seeing her again. 

----------------------

Part 2, "Living with My Eating Disorder," tomorrow...