How co-writing my latest book, Trauma Recovery: Sessions With Dr. Matt, nudged me toward overcoming eating disorder relapse
Every significant change in my life since the early 2000s has been documented in published form through characters: I wrote Courage in Patience, Hope in Patience, and Truth in Patience—a teen girl’s story of recovery from Childhood Sexual Abuse, as I went through the same journey. I was able to be much more understanding and empathetic to the main character, Ashley Nicole Asher, than I was to myself at the time. Stepping outside of myself to see the process through her eyes allowed me to let go of a lot of shame.
After finishing therapy–I lost a great deal of weight while in recovery–I subsequently regained a chunk of that weight because I listened to The Biggest Liar–which is that voice in my head that insists I can eat like other people do, AND that food is the ticket to feeling emotionally better when I experience sadness or anger–so I wrote Big Fat Disaster. It’s the story of a girl who is Odd Girl Out in her family. Mom & sisters are Barbie look-alikes and Colby has her dad’s former UT linebacker body type as well as the Binge Eating Disorder he suffers from. They bond through baking cakes, making icing, and eating a lot, and in large part because of that, when her family splits up, cake icing is her go-to drug. She eats to soothe herself as her life is crumbling around her. I sought to tell what it’s REALLY LIKE to be in that mind-space of feeling electrically charged to numb out with food–it’s an impulse that is hard to describe, but I tried–while at the same time, she runs her hands over her stomach at night and prays that some miracle will occur and she’ll wake up and they’ll be gone. I know very much what that’s like as well. I have an advanced degree is self-loathing.
The spark for that story came from me being in a place of practically “popping” awake one day–as if I’d been in this years-long daze–and having the realization of, “Oh, shit, I’m fat again,” and those self-hating thoughts that I’d suffered with my entire life and done battle with in therapy and seemed to have conquered–were back with the same tsunami-force waves of shame that they’d had back in the dark days before therapy. And I realized that I had to question that–really challenge that–because I AM different than I was before I got well. I am fundamentally DIFFERENT, and I fought like hell to learn to love myself, so WHY IN THE HELL WAS IT OKAY FOR ME TO HATE MYSELF AGAIN, JUST BECAUSE I REGAINED SOME WEIGHT?
And I decided that it WASN’T okay to do that. I sought to explore that by writing Big Fat Disaster (the title is in reference to the main character, Colby, overhearing her mom telling her sister, “Colby’s a big fat disaster, eating everything in sight…”)
Spoiler alert: writing the book did not make me buckle down and deal with my shit. Not really. I was roller-coastery about it until this past fall when, as I wrote in When I Made Up My Mind, on the home page of this site, I found myself waddling through the airport, my hips grinding with every step and the realization that the reason bigger people waddle is from pain. That’s when I settled into my gate area, popped open my laptop, and googled “bariatric surgeons” associated with the hospital where my daughter is a nurse.
I’ve never looked back.
But before that momentous day last fall, I co-wrote a book for victims of PTSD (and the people who love them and those in the mental health professions), called Trauma Recovery: Sessions With Dr. Matt.
My co-author is Matt E. Jaremko, and he is also the person who led me through recovery from Childhood Sexual Abuse and my eating disorder, as well as a litany of other issues. The impact he had on my life is immeasurable. He taught me that behavior comes before feelings, and that I need to question my thinking, i.e. separate facts from crap. The thing is, I had allowed myself to become complacent. I was at the mercy of The Biggest Liar.
Many years after I completed therapy, Matt and I decided to write a book that would give insight into the recovery process from the therapist’s point of view through the character of Dr. Matt, who is also in my Patience books and Big Fat Disaster, and through the patients’ points of view, through the members of a therapy group who are all scarred by PTSD and seeking to rebuild their lives. Ashley from The Patience Books (AKA my alter-ego) is in the book, too, aged up to 19 and about to go off to college.
Colby from Big Fat Disaster is not in the book, but an adult named Felicia is, and it was in writing her story that I felt myself moving toward once again taking on The Biggest Liar instead of allowing it to keep running my life. The most consistent trait throughout my battle with an eating disorder is that how I feel about myself–and how I look to myself (I have body dysmorphia, too: it’s just another of my charming features) from my first thought as I rose out of bed in the morning–is how I ate the day before influences what The Biggest Liar says to me. (Note: lest you think I hear this as an actual voice: NO I DO NOT. “The Biggest Liar” is a metaphor for eating-disordered-thinking. Glad we got that out of the way.)
So: will they be self-hating thoughts or will I kinda like myself today? This past October, when I seriously pursued eating disorder recovery from my long-ass relapse, I automatically had those thoughts and I had to remind myself that I didn’t binge the day before, so can it, TBL.
I am grateful to tell you that when I speak of this morning ritual of will-she-or-won’t-she-hate-herself-this-morning that it is mostly “in remission” at this point.
I’m telling you all this because I am committed to be honest, and, given what I’ve always heard from other people in reaction to the books I write, I am NOT alone in this kind of disordered thinking. And even though I wrote a book (Big Fat Disaster) intended to pull myself out of that shit, and in many ways I did, some stuff is/was just so fucking automatic that it takes/took daily challenging it to make it stop. And, changing the behavior (by not bingeing) that kept triggering the shameful thoughts was part of the way The Biggest Liar calmed the eff down and was less of my morning greeting. True story, though, y’all: I dreamed, and STILL dream sometimes, of eating massive quantities of sweets, and I wake up with those self-hating bullshit thoughts again, and I have to, once again, question my thinking and challenge its veracity.
Anyway, in Trauma Recovery: Sessions With Dr. Matt, Felicia is 34 years old, and she experienced sexual trauma throughout her formative years. She began eating to soothe herself and became trapped in that cycle. When she begins to address the trauma she suffered, she decides she wants to also address the binge-shame-binge-shame cycle she’s stuck in. I know so well what it’s like to be stuck in that place that, even though I felt self-conscious sometimes about pulling back the curtain on an actual binge cycle, I committed to doing it so that others can know they are not alone, AND that there is HOPE. When Matt and I wrote the therapy sessions between Felicia and Dr. Matt, I was influenced by the therapy Felicia was getting, and it nudged me toward the same book Dr. Matt recommends to Felicia, Reclaiming Yourself from Binge Eating by Leora Fulvio.
Writing Felicia’s responses to Dr. Matt’s gentle guidance–her shame that if she told him everything, he would judge her; her absolute fear that this person she had come to trust with her secrets of being sexually abused would find what she was telling him about the way she eats in secret to be a bridge too far, and her fear that he’d stop being a reliable person for her; her doubt, her fear that this would be just another diet, and diets make her binge (like they make me binge), and so on–made me think about the fact that I KNOW there is power in changing my behavior–I’d done it before–I knew I could get to the place again where behavior, not feelings, were running the show. Did you notice how many times “fear” is mentioned in my description of Felicia’s feelings? Fear is a mind-fuck, y’all. It just is.
Even though not everyone who has PTSD has an eating disorder like Felicia has (and not everyone with an eating disorder has PTSD), when I wrote the Prologue for Trauma Recovery: Sessions With Dr. Matt, I was thinking both of how I felt before my first appointment with real-life-Matt, and it is how I think Felicia would have felt, too. If you want to read it, check it out here. You can find out more about the book here: check out the drop-down menu under “About This Book.”
I always learn so much when I write the truth through characters. And, as I always tell people when they ask where I get my ideas, “If I ever get totally healthy, I won’t have anything to write about…” (ha ha attempt at humor ha ha.)
Tomorrow, my surgery is a month old. In keeping with my approach to talking about this stuff, I’m not going to discuss specific weight or “poundage”–because, in keeping with the way it’s always been since infinity, the struggles I’ve had throughout my life with “The Biggest Liar” are not about the number on the scale. It’s about behavior. And this new phase of my journey is no different. For example, some new behaviors are:
Learning a different way of taking daily medications, being mindful of taking calcium/vitamin D supplements 3 times a day and multi-vitamins 2 times a day. I have to take the calcium and multivitamins (which include iron) at least 2 hours apart so that they are absorbed correctly. And, the multivitamins have to be taken with food. I also take a B12 supplement daily that melts on my tongue. It’s hardest to take all the meds I have to take in the morning, including this one medication I have to mix into 1/4 cup of applesauce. I’ve learned the order to take the meds and how to best get them down so I am not nauseated and/or get really, really hot. When I first started taking them, I had to get up super early for work so that I could lay back down for a while because I felt so yicky. But I was just taking them in the wrong order; too much was hitting my empty stomach. I also changed one of my anti-depressants (Welbutrin) from taking extended release to a non-extended release form, and when I stopped taking the ext-release, the nausea & getting hot subsided a lot. I knew I was supposed to change from Ext-Release, but my prescribing doctor told me I could try them to see if they are a problem, since that type of medication is supposed to dissolve in the small intestine, not the stomach.
Another change in behavior is paying attention to making sure I take in at least 64 ounces of liquid each day, and I’m not drinking with meals or 30 minutes before/after meals. Confession: I’m better at not-drinking-after-meals than not drinking before.
I quit caffeine and Diet Coke right before Christmas, so I’m not missing that, but avoiding caffeine like picking up an iced tea when I’m out is a new thing. I just take a Yeti with Crystal Light in it everywhere I go, and I drink it throughout the day at work.
I’ve finally gotten better at eating–and I know that sounds weird, given that The Biggest Liar is a huge fan of out-of-control eating (LOL), but (on the recommendation of my daughter, a successful gastric sleeve patient), I bought some baby spoons for eating, and that helped me take smaller bites. I’m also learning to recognize when my body is telling me to wait before taking another bite–the discomfort when I eat too fast is sooooo unpleasant. Envisioning the food going down helps, too. I can feel now as the food proceeds into the sleeve.
I measure out everything I eat to make sure I’m able to track it efficiently, as well as be able to make sure my eyes are not bigger than my stomach. That was an issue at first; I thought I could make the same size protein shakes I was making before surgery, but I can’t.
I use this app called Baritastic to track everything, including exercise. I can download reports for when I go to the doctor or I’m just curious as to how I’m doing. It breaks down by meal and by day the nutrition I’m getting.
It took me about three weeks to get “regular” about exercise again–and I’ll admit, it’s a challenge right now. I tire easily and it’s very challenging to go as fast as I did before, even though I’m doing the same workout I have for a long time: 45 minutes on my recumbent bike, with varying resistances set by a program. I’m supposed to go at least 11 mph nearly all the time, and most of the time I’m pushing to get to 10 mph. When resistance goes up to 13–the highest this program goes–it’s hard for me to get past 9 mph. My daughter reminds me that I had major abdominal surgery and general anesthesia, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s because my average daily calorie intake at this point is about 800 calories a day. The program I went through does not set a daily calorie goal; they just emphasize 60-80 grams of protein a day (at least) and 64 oz of fluid a day. I’m still in the soft food stage: my stomach is still healing. From what I read on various forums and from doing a little research, it’s normal to not be able to consume much at this point.
I consciously am not putting “progress” pictures on here. There is a pic of me at my heaviest (this go-round, that is), on the “When I Made Up My Mind” page, but you won’t find images of me in a leotard taking a selfie in the bathroom mirror. I’m just not doing it. Not criticizing people who do, but I’m not one to do that. I kind of think it’s from having my body scrutinized and stared at so much when I was growing up. I have no interest in making my body’s appearance the focus of this website. Besides, I’m actually a pretty shy person, but nobody believes me when I say that. My focus is more on getting really healthy and achieving simple things, like hopefully getting to a point my hips no longer grind when I walk or hurt when I sleep on my side. Daily exercise really helps loosen ’em up-that’s for sure.
Oh, hey, one more thing–and this is exciting! I’ve lost enough weight that I no longer have sleep apnea! I put my CPAP machine in the closet today. I’ve stopped snoring and I also don’t stop breathing in my sleep anymore. Whoohoo! Very happy about this sign of progress and getting healthy.
And one no-so-great-thing…but I’m not freaking out, because I know it’s normal and expected and it’ll stop–but my hair is falling out faster than normal. It’s apparently from the shock to the system including hormones and calorie reduction and the surgery and anesthesia, etc. But, seriously, y’all: my bathroom counter looks like Cousin It from The Addams Family shook his head like a model doing a photo shoot. My hair is a few inches below my shoulders. My hairstylist told me I wouldn’t need to get it cut short when this inevitable falling-out happens: it’ll come back. It just may take 6 months. This hair loss thing usually starts at the 3-4 month mark post-surgery, but it can also start at the 1 month mark. At least my hair’s not coming out in chunks or anything…
That’s the latest & greatest, y’all. I began writing these posts just for myself, but I know people are reading this: I can see traffic on this site through my analytics program. So, welcome. I hope that, if you’re on the same journey I am, you have awesome support and people who have your back. I read stories on some Facebook groups I’m in where people are going through this change without the support of their family and friends, and I feel both sorry for them and angry on their behalf. I’m blessed beyond measure to have a rock-solid support system. They were with me on my journey through recovery from CSA, and they, in addition to my friends, are with me now.
You are welcome here.