Three Things I Learned From the Return of ED

 
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"Here’s the thing: eating disorders are often sneaky illnesses. In recovery, they can try to subtly claw their way back into someone’s life. Think of an eating disorder as an abusive partner, who will say anything to try to get you back into their grasp." - Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C

When I read these words, I felt a deep shift. I felt seen. 

I have no idea how I landed there - on that page. In that moment.

Fully triggered. Unable to speak. Deep in the darkness. Completely shut down. 

Feeling broken. 

And. It was exactly what I needed to make sense of what the hell had just happened.

THIS. THIS. THIS is what happened, my voice inside screamed.

Still unable to articulate. To say it out loud. I passed my husband the phone and asked him to read it. 

And then I curled up in a ball and started sobbing. 

Progress.

Handing him the phone. Asking him to read it. Giving myself permission to release emotion.

Those seem like small things. Yes. And for me - progress in so many ways. 

Because somewhere along the way, I subscribed to the bullshit belief that crying was bad, wrong, weak and dramatic. 

Because somewhere along the way, I subscribed to the bullshit belief that asking for help was weakness.

I felt relief. For the awareness. 

I felt defeat. For being back here. Again, all these years later.

And, I felt Shame. 

For letting ED back in. For ruining Rob's birthday.

For not being strong enough. For not knowing better. 

For not trying hard enough.

At least that's what it tried to tell me. 

And, I'm calling bullshit.

//

{Here's what really happened.}

//

June 9th. Hubs' birthday.

We were up visiting my parents - just outside of Boston - after my induction into the Bay State Games Hall of Fame at Fenway Park earlier that week. The timing was ideal to sneak away for a more formal date night - free babysitting on a Saturday night? Yes please!!

So off we went. Enjoying the beautiful sunshine, ocean views and time with each other.

Exhaling + Being.

Until we walked in to the waterfront restaurant.

noise.

people.

crowds. 

In that instant, I felt myself fly out of body. 

My vision went. The sounds got so loud.

I felt trapped.

Triggered.

We were seated outside, so I slid on my sunglasses and tried to come back into my body.

Rob noticed right away.

I rejected his first attempt to help. Just try harder, the voice said.

The waitress came by to drop off the menus. 

As I squinted to read the writing on the menu, I knew I was triggered - losing my vision is one of my signs. 

Another voice came through.

One that is painfully familiar. One that had been gone for so many years. 

You can't eat this stuff. There's nothing here you can eat. Good. You shouldn't eat. 

{Not eating is winning according to ED.}

As I silently wrestled with the toxic talk inside my mind, Rob declared that we were leaving. He could see me in pain. Tears streaming down my face. Words unable to come from my mouth. Eyes vacant.

Again, I refused. 

It's been almost five years of living with PTSD. We've come a long way on this journey of healing + growth - identifying what's working and what's not - and adding tools and language to our toolbox.

{It's truly been a team effort. And, I'm so grateful for his willingness to show up in that way.}

And. This time felt so different. 

Because, ED told me I needed to suffer.

Except, I had no idea it was ED's voice - until I read this article explaining how 'clean eating' is a dangerous walk for those of us in recovery from an eating disorder. 

{To back up a bit... }

In January, I made the decision to pull gluten + dairy from my diet for mental health reasons. The normal highs + lows women experience over the course of a month were becoming wildly out of control. My highs were getting manic-y. My lows were getting scary. After talking with my support team of professionals, we made this decision.

It changed everything for me. My cycles normalized. My highs + lows stabilized. I felt like me again. 

And.

The 'I can't eat certain foods' can make eating out tricky on a day when my coping skills are fully in tact. It blows opens the door for ED.

Trying to navigate that space when triggered?

This was a first for me.

Which is exactly why ED came roaring in. He's an opportunistic + manipulative beast.

I've never thought of myself as someone in recovery. I've always talked about my eating disorder as something I conquered. Because, truthfully, it's been sixteen years without ED in the driver's seat. His voice reemerged during my struggle with postpartum depression - beyond that, I haven't really heard from him.

Until that night. 

Underneath the beating, was the real me. Scared. Sad. Disappointed. Embarrassed.

And, SO ANGRY that I got triggered 'just' by walking into a restaurant. 

Here's what I (re)learned from the return of ED: 

Our smallest choices compound over time.

The timing of all of this fell in the middle of the chaos that is the end-of-school with four kids + entrepreneurship + LIFE. Meal planning + prepping + even sitting down together as a family got lost in the whirlwind. I fell back into old ways of pushing + grinding + just.doing.more.

And with it, I slowly started to lose my way.

The daily rituals that lifted me from the rubble of my life four years ago, slowly started to slip away. Making space for old voices to re-enter. Specifically, the voice of ED.

//

There is no arriving to a place free from struggle.

We are going to fall down. It’s part of being human.

We can fall AND still be strong. 
We can fall AND still be enough.
We can fall AND still be healing.

All of it true.

And when we lose our way, we CAN find our roots + rituals and come back home.

There is no trying harder that will take us to a place of 'perfection.' 

//

We can choose love or we can choose judgement.

I can’t control the who / what / where / why / how's of triggers.

I can’t control if / when ED starts to chirp.

I can choose my response. 

Meeting myself with judgement and leaning in with anger only serves to keep me down – stuck in the hell that is victimhood + helplessness + shame.

And, burying myself with shame only sends me deeper into the darkness - it does nothing to help me rise.

Refusing help IS a choice.

I can sit in shame + judgement beating myself up for falling

- or -

I can meet myself with compassion and rise.

I can revisit the daily rituals. Come back to the foundation of Self.

I can choose to nourish. Nurture. Honor. My WHOLE self. 

I can celebrate my ever-growing awareness + compassion + grace.

And, that's exactly what I've chosen.

Because, freedom comes with awareness + courage + compassion + resilience. 

Muscles that grow stronger over time when we meet ourselves with love, not judgement.

 This journey is just that – a journey.

When we’re able to release the grip of ‘having to be perfect’ - we’re able to own where we are and embrace the opportunity for growth. Without berating. Or belittling. 

Leaning in with love, not judgement.

How would that feel for you? 

//

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Samantha Arsenault Livingstone is an Olympic Gold Medalist, high-performance coach, transformational speaker and mother of four girls. She is the founder of Livingstone High Performance, LLC. and the online coaching course Rise Free Academy. 

Samantha helps women cultivate the habits, mindset and skill set needed to unapologetically step into their light - so they can achieve their own gold medal moments - AND - open the door for freedom, balance and joy that transcends.

Samantha candidly shares her battles with her inner critic, depression, perfection, PTSD and parenting as a working mother because she believes in the transformative power of story – and the strength that comes from knowing we are not alone. She is on a mission to pay forward all that she’s learned to help others find joy and live free.
  
A mama of heart warrior and mama of twins, Samantha and her husband, Rob, live in the Berkshires with their four girls. You can learn more about Samantha at www.samanthalivingstone.com