This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences on their own path to recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors or symptom use. Please use your own discretion. And speak with your therapist when needed.
By Cami Applequist, a former TEP client and woman in recovery
In the midst of eating disorder treatment it is really easy to feel like everything sucks – and that it all sucks really bad. Building an entirely new relationship with food isn’t easy and it involves developing new relationships with family, friends and the way in which we see the world. So it doesn’t just feel like it sucks, it does suck. And it sort of has to suck – because eating disorders suck and all the reasons they exist suck. But know that it is entirely possible to survive all of the suckiness.
It is extremely hard work to dig deep and discover what’s making us feel and behave the way we do and then begin to resolve these issues. And just like any time we are doing hard work we need breaks.
My most successful breaks from what I have dubbed “suckiness” has been to pause and take note of what I call the “happies.”
It started like this. I had an assignment in therapy to write down every negative thought I had for an entire day. Within an hour I had filled a page with things mostly regarding the size of my butt, my own incompetence, my inability to control my food intake, and my certainty that people thought I was a bitch. I figured that was enough evidence to prove my therapist’s point that I needed rewiring so I stopped. In the following sessions we discussed the power of those thoughts.
Soon after, I bought a notebook and began keeping track of things I saw every day that made me happy. I’ve always been one to be easily amused by the world around me, kids and other small critters always make me smile. But just as I had never kept written record track of the suckiness, I had never tracked my happies.
The result of this process was amazing. Not only did it make me pause and officially notice the happy things around me, it pulled me far out of my state of suckiness for that particular moment. I couldn’t be focused on my ‘fat butt’ or ‘state of failure’ while I was soaking in the smile of a baby or the waddle of a pudgy puppy. By making myself write down what I was seeing that made me smile or that warmed my heart I had to place my attention on the ‘happy’ long enough to pull out my pen and write it on my list.
What was even better? I then had a list of happies to pull out and look at when the suckiness crept in later. When I was feeling low or lonely in the middle of the night, that list of happies could bring a memory into my head, and since I had taken the time to be present enough to write it down, the memory was more alive than it may have been had I let the moment pass unrecorded.
The happies started taking the place of some of the suckiness. Combined with the difficult work I was doing in therapy that was helping to unload old baggage and heal old wounds, the happies were making life more comfortable, more tolerable and much more…well… happy.
Here are some simple happies from that notebook:
- A line of fuzzy ducklings walking across the street behind the mom duck by Lake Calhoun and then turning around and walking back again while cars waited
- the baby in the pink hat who made eye contact with me and smiled when everyone else walked by without noticing
- that baby’s pink pompom hat
I still watch for happies all day long – and I still pause to notice them. I am an artist now and many of the happies turn into art. Some turn into essays. And thanks to smart people and technology I always have a camera in my hand so many of these happies are recorded as photos or videos – because we all need happies to help balance out the suckiness.
Suckiness is a necessary part of this process. It’s part of this whole life we all live even without eating disorders. The important thing to remember is that it can’t overtake us. And it won’t. Not if we are present and let the happies in too.
I took a walk with one of my neighbors. She stopped to shake hands with a dragonfly! My other neighbor gave her dog a Mohawk. And my aunt loves to post pictures of the birds in her yard in Costa Rica.
Track your happies! It’s hard to constantly think negatively when you have memories of these moments in your head, on your list or images of them on your phone.
This is part of my personal recovery story. If something I have written affects you strongly in any way, be it negatively or positively, I urge you to take that to your therapist or process it however you see fit. Not everything will work the same for all of us! But SOMETHING WILL WORK and it will be wonderful. – Cami