The Struggles of Mindful Recovery

The inspiration for this post came while I was waiting at a bus stop after work. I knew I had about a 25 minute wait for a bus. I knew I was standing not far from a Mac Milk Convenience store. It occurred to me that they had lots of snacks there, including Hostess cupcakes. I wasn’t hungry or longing for any type of snack, let alone cupcakes, but the moment the thought popped into my mind I knew I wanted them, and I knew I would probably go get them. Immediately I started thinking and crafting this blog entry in my head – so I was thinking about how I was feeling compelled to go get these cupcakes even though I didn’t really want or need them, I was thinking about eating mindfully and what that means to my recovery, and I was thinking about talking about this in a blog entry and what I would say when I got home and started writing this out. After about 10 minutes of thinking this out in my head … I went and got the cupcakes.

In my first group meeting when I started my recovery I remember a discussion that was had on addiction and obsession and acknowledging the battle that we were all about to face. On the one hand, some people might not take this as seriously as trying to overcome other addictions, but on the other hand we aren’t able to quit the thing that our obsession surrounds … essentially recovery is learning to have a better relationship with our obsession and addiction. And right now I’m struggling with being mindful of that.

I’ll preface all of this by saying I am not relapsing – no where close. At the base of an eating disorder is the thought process that convinces us to continue the disordered behaviour and I’m not having those thoughts. What I am though is stressed out, over-worked, and burnt out. In the last six weeks my work load has been insane, and though I never work past 5:00 pm, the stress and worry of getting all my work done stays with me. At the same time, between events I was attending and things I wanted to do I’ve over-extended myself most weekends, leading to little to no downtime to relax. This has given way to not being mindful of what I’m putting into my body and how it’s effecting me, and the worry of the uphill battle to combat it.

I’m proud of the progress I’ve made in recovery. I’ve spent a long time trying to retrain my brain on the notion of “good” food versus “bad” food (e.g.: fruits, vegetables, and homemade dinners being better for you than fast food and candy), and I have two specific mantras that help: all food is good food and all food is fuel. That is to say nothing is inherently bad for you because eating is better than not eating (especially with my history), but I find I am now swinging in the other direction with dangerous thoughts. I’ve been so stressed, so pressed for time, so unorganized in things that I convince myself that eating anything is better than nothing, and continually eat food that makes me feel good in the moment but doesn’t sit too well long term. I’m giving my body food that fuels me temporarily and realizing that my previous notion of “eating is better than not” can only take me so far. Perhaps the reason I feel lethargic, sluggish, and unmotivated is because I’m not being mindful of the types of food I’m putting into my body.

Mindful Eating

What a twist.

The idea of being mindful of my food choices was something that was stressed during my recovery. But I was so focused on healing the thoughts fueling my disorder, so focused on the fact that I like only a small array of food to begin with, I completely disregarded this part of my recovery. I spent three years solely concentrating on ending my eating disorder behaviour without paying attention to what to do when I got there. And when I did get there I still had residual issues, so again learning to be mindful fell to the backburner. It was enough for me that I wasn’t having compulsive behaviours and that I was finding better coping mechanisms that I wasn’t as concerned with what went in as long as the motivation was more positive than destructive. At the same time I went through some hardcore emotional upheaval, so as long as I stayed on the recovery side I let a lot of things slide in the name of just get through this.

And I got through it, fairly spectacularly if I say so myself. I am more happy and proud of the individual I am than I ever thought possible, and I’m happily working on understanding myself more and improving the things I want to. But this eating thing … every time I’ve thought about making any significant change to my eating habits or styles I shy away. I’m scared of the effort, I’m scared of failing, I’m scared of disappointing people … which is all to say I’m scared of relapsing. I’m terrified of it. I don’t want to go back to punishing myself for trying to survive, I don’t want to go back to shaming myself for the foods I like, and I definitely don’t want to go back to hateful self-talk that has plagued me most of my life. For the first time in decades I am enjoying food. I look forward to certain meals or certain events because of the food I’ll have and that is a monumental step. But I also can’t ignore that the type of food I’ve been eating – no matter how good it tastes or how much I enjoy eating it – has affects on my body that I no longer desire.

Let’s try an example here: caffeine. My dependence on it is so strong that I can no longer tell you what affects caffeine has on my body because I don’t notice them. It is nothing to me to stop for a tea 2 to 3 times during my work day, and still have a diet soda at home after work. The most I notice is when I haven’t had some in awhile and I get that searing headache. So at the start of the month I declared to boyfriend that I was going caffeine-free for October – no more soda at home, no more stopping during work hours … I’m done. Naturally, I had to “allow” myself to finish the soda I already had a home. And when boyfriend went to local coffee shop in the morning and the server had already made my tea (because I go so often she has my order memorized) it would have been rude not to take it. I broke my promise to myself almost the moment I made it, and I have not had one caffeine-free day in October yet. So while I enjoy beverages with caffeine, I am no longer happy that they are my go-tos over other things. I have tons of longing to change behaviours but lack the discipline to see things through.

All of this stems from the fact that I find anything to do with food overwhelming. Whether it’s from my own making or trying to muddle through insane amount of information online, I have no idea where to start on making these changes without getting overwhelmed or upset. I tend to get a burst of energy and motivation, try to put into words what I’m looking for to research online, but get bogged down by the language or ideas behind things and usually get to a “screw it all” point and going back to what I’ve always been doing. I’m struggling to find a way to change my eating lifestyle (as that is essential what I want to do) without it being a diet, or for weight loss, or to radically change my entire lifestyle. Will eating a more balanced diet help me lose some weight? Sure, and my somewhat tightening clothing will thank me, but that is far from my motivation. I know I’ve put on weight in the last few months and I’m mostly okay with that. I’m not interested in following set eating schedules (unless I create them myself) or having to buy into anything just to follow someone else’s idea of good and healthy eating. But trying to figure out what my own version of good and healthy eating is without much guidance? This is becoming a nightmare and those voices I’ve spend so long working on ignoring are creeping up.

Sadly, this post ends with no resolution. I have no idea where to go from here, what to look for, or how to start. What I do know is that I can’t keep going the way I have been and that something has to give. At least I’m mindful of that.

~ J

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