The Bloated Empath’s Belly

The following is a chapter from my book “The Windows of Awareness: A Spiritual Guide to End Emotional Eating…and Life the Life of Your Dreams!”

“Intuition, nutrition, and digestion are inseparably linked.  Compartmentalizing any of these three results in disconnection and dis-ease.” ~ M.J. Briggs

I went round and round with the writing of this chapter.  Where to begin…what to say…how to proceed?  It was like trying to figure out how to choose foods that would nourish me completely.  On one hand, I didn’t know where to begin, yet on the other I knew completely what needed to be done.  I needed to find the truth about food and why I felt so fed up, full, and completely uneasy about it.  I craved a clarity and wanted to end my suffering.  I was ready to make a change, but simply didn’t know how.  One that would honor what I truly desired to become yet met me where I was in the present moment.

 

For clarity’s sake I will repeat myself by saying this:  “Intuition, nutrition, and digestion are inseparably linked.”  You can, of course, try to compartmentalize these three and the result will be disconnection and dis-ease.  We are all born with intuition.  It is part of our innate intelligence and a birth right to be honored, employed, and enjoyed to its fullest.

My Story

I wanted to eat intuitively, but instead I ate out of desperation and with much destruction.  The nurses, nutritionists, and doctors I saw before, during, and after rehab said intuitive eating would never be an option for me.  Even mentioning it was taboo, a sort of defiance towards my treatment plan, and I eventually came to realize not many knew about the unbreakable link between the three.

Logically I knew I had  a problem with food.  I felt frustrated, fed up, and completely bewildered each time I had to choose a food to eat.  And quite frankly, it was simpler to starve rather than face the pain of choosing what might nourish me.  What baffled me through was why others could eat intuitively and I couldn’t.  Why did I struggle and they didn’t?  I was unbelievabl intrigued by my ability to eat naturally and without frustration intermittently throughout my 25 year battle with food.  This puzzling piece was brought to the surface during m initial intake at Avalon Centers in 2003 and is partially responsible for prompting me to seek the support my body, mind, and soul had longed for.

In November 2003, I admitted myself into rehab.  It was a partial hospitalization program that included intense therapy from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday, and housing provided off-site.  This gave me the structure I needed and the space I desired to grow and explore my unique needs outside of treatment.

Struggling to raise three children in the midst of a devastating divorce and tumultuous custody battles, this was logically not the right thing to do, yet I was dying inside from what I was doing to myself.  I feared for my future.  If I didn’t go to rehab I knew I could die.  Vomiting up to eight times daily was taking its toll on me.  My teeth were already wearing away.  My glands were constantly swollen and the threat of an esophageal tear loomed every time I painfully purged.  Committing to take this big step had just one big risk.  Would I lose my boys?  My ex-husband was looking to leverage anything he could to take them away from me.

I weighed the options over and over again in my head.  Go to rehab and change the course of my life, or stat home and manage more of the same.  Risk losing my boys, or risk losing my life.  In my mind, the idea of losing custody of my three sons was equal to losing my life.

Yet in the quiet of the night some thing simply told me rehab was the right thing to do.  If I didn’t get the help I longed for I knew I’d miss out on the full expression of my life…whatever that was.  I did the math and counted backwards to be sure I was bulimic enough to seek professional assistance.  I binged and purged at least twice daily, and sometimes I could make it through a day without an episode.  To make sure I was absolutely, positively bulimic enough to enter rehab, I painstakingly wrote out the number of times I binged and purged, but never included my worse days which entailed visiting the toilet up to eight times in a single day.  Yet in some small way I wanted to be sure I wasn’t fooling myself.  This is what the page looked like:

Monday =          0

Tuesday =         2

Wednesday =  2

Thursday =      2

Friday =           2

Saturday =      2

Weekly =       12

Monthly =    48

Yearly =       576

I was binging and purging twelve times per week.  This really didn’t seem so bad, but once I saw how often my behaviors took place on a monthly and yearly basis, I knew my problem was serious.

So I decided to play with the numbers.  Tweak them a bit and pretend I only binged and purged three times per week.  Pretending was something I loved to do.  Pretend I could eat as much as I wanted without getting fat.  Pretend I could vomit and act like I hadn’t.  Pretend I was happy when  I wasn’t.  Why not pretend that my problem wasn’t so bad?  So I re-did the math.  Three episodes per week equaled just twelve episodes per month.  Over the course of a full year this was just 144 binges and purges.  The next thing I did was ask myself if a normal person could vomit 144 times per year.  I had no answer for that question, but my guess was probably not.  Unable to fool myself any longer, I knew both intuitively and logically my time had arrived.  And when my heart spoke to me in the quiet of the night I knew my answer.

Initially, I planned to take a brief leave from my job where I worked as a sexual abuse investigator and commute back and forth to rehab.  This would guarantee my secrecy about the dis-ease and would not require I tell any of my family or friends.  But after just two days of treatment, I was exhausted from the commute and nightly responsibilities of caring for three boys after such intense day therapy.  In order to benefit completely, I was going to have to commit fully.  That would entail living at the rehab house and disclosing my whereabouts.  The idea of hiding my admission seemed the same as hiding my bulimia, and created that uncomfortable feeling of secrecy making my stomach churn.

The only real obstacle that kept me from residing at the rehab house was finding a place for my boys to stay.  In a perfect world their father would be my first choice, but since he already enjoyed liberal visitation, including 14 overnights per month, the boys preferred to stay home.  (

End of post #1)

Post #2

So I decided to ask the only other resource I had to rely on: my parents.  They, of course, had no clue I was still struggling with an eating disorder.  Fifteen years had passed since my mother walked out of my therapist’s office, demanding my father follow her to avoid hearing how they ight support me in overcoming this nagging dis-ease.

Something told me they’d respond differently this time.  Still wounded from my parent’s previous rejection, all I ever really wanted was their support, understanding, and love.  With nothing to lose, I candidly invited them oter to my place on the third evening of rehab.  I was sufficiently prepared by the Avalon staff to confidently ask and even perhaps enlist my parents support without escaping into a feeding frenzy to manage my fears.

Whey my mom and dad arrived at my house, we sat comfortably on the couch and I began by simply sharing my decision to get the professional help I had needed all along.  I explained my feelings of overwhelm and told them what I needed.  To this day, 10 years later, I can still see the look on my mother’s face.  She seemed sincerely concerned and gently asked,

“Do you think this place can really help you?” to which I confidently replied, “Yes.”

My father, of course, had a much funnier response.  A tall man with a bit of an oversized belly at times, he wanted to know why he wasn’t at all concerned with his weight when indeed he felt he should be.  And my response to himwas simply a smile.

The next morning I sent the boys off to school and left for Avalon.  It was Thursday and I would be living at the rehab house beginning the following Monday.  My parents agreed to care for the boys on the days they didn’t visit their father and I agreed to return home for weekends.  Life seemed better.  I was relieved and a plan was set in place.

Monday arrived and I was packed and ready to leave for the week.  I knew in my gut this was exactly what needed to be done.  I drove the boys to school, kissed them good-bye, and reminded them that their grandparents would be caring for them while I was away for the week.  When I drove off I felt confused yet proud of myself for taking the time I needed to heal and become free.  My wait was over and I was about to reclaim my health after 25 years of struggling.  But I couldn’t stop feeling ashamed of myself as well.  Shouldn’t I be caring for my children instead of me?  Did I want too much?  What was wrong with me anyway?

The questions that kept popping into my head created excruciating over whelm.  I thought, “Maybe I’mnot bulimic after all.  It’s not like I even have a real diagnosis since Eating Disorder Not Other Wise Specified (EDNOS) was not widely recognized.”   I wanted this mental mayhem to stop, but didn’t know how.  As I searched for relief I entertained the idea ofjust one last binge.  After all, I was making a huge commitment and certainly one last episode couldn’t possibly hurt.  I began to think of all the yummy things I could binge on.  Cookies, brownies, coffee, ice cream, and maybe even some cereal.  Of course, I’d need some liquid to wash it all down in order to bring it all back up again.

Overwhelmed from all the planning and afraid that I’d sound like a fraud once I arrived at the center for my first full week, I pulled my car over, closed my eyes, and caught my breath.  The act of simply allowing myself to “be” kept the feelings of overwhelm from flooding my psyche.  After just a few minutes of presence for myself, I got back on the road and drove to Avalon without worry or incident.

Day treatment began at 8:00 am with breakfast served under staff supervision.  Lunch was also supervised as each patient carefully weighted, prepared, and sometimes painfully ate means.  We each had our own meal plan and the staff was responsible for shopping and stocking the fridge.  Dinner was done differently.  At 5:00 pm, when the treatment center closed for the night, we could do whatever we wanted.  I chose to eat at the off-site house to see if I could duplicate the supportive experience of meal prep I enjoyed at day-hab.

At our nightly dinnertime, the fridge at the house was empty.  The staff left it up to each patient to shop for her own food.  This was good because it gave us a sense of power and control over choosing our foods.  And yet it was also bad since a binge can often begin with a grand plan made at the grocery store.  I didn’t want to run amuck and binge my first dinner away from home, but I was scared and fear tended to create feeding frenzies for me while at the grocery store.

I knew I needed help so before I left rehab for the day I spoke with the staff.  The simple act of sharing my concern started to free me from my fears.  With a specific list and my meal plan in hand, I headed to wegman’s, a local grocery store.  I entered the store with complete confidence and selected foods that were provided to me on my list from at the treatment center.  Pre-cooked chicken, a few cans of tuna, some whole wheat bread, granola cereal, soy milk, canned veggies, and of course my favorite thing, peanut butter.  As I made my way through the aisles of the store, I became anxious.  I kept looking down into my care wondering why I didn’t haved more food.  How the heck could I survive on just these few things?  I thought for a moment that perhaps I should be cooking real foods – things they cook on TV uing fresh, natural ingredients.  The only problem was that I had no idea what was fresh or what was natural, nor did I know how to cook, and no one on my treatment team seemed to address these issues!

With a deep desire to do better, I strolled through the produce aisle.  Amidst the many strands of fruits was a display of tine little teddy bears.  Feeling uneasy already from the overwhelm of choosing foods, I was growing weary and on the verge of tears.  As I proceeded beyond these tiny furry creatures, one little bear stuck out from the rest.  Two inches tall, sporting a little red sweater with the word “Peace” written across its chest, it was enough to tip me over the edge.

Overwhelmed and tired from the slew of decisions and time it took to shop for just 15 things, I fell to pieces!  I picked up that precious bear and held it to my heart, yearning for the feeling of peace my grandmother used to provide me with when she was alive.  Since her passing five years prior, my life had not been the same.  I bought the bear and the items in my cart as quickly as I could and escaped without having to share with the check-out person why I was sobbing so badly.

Once in my ar I tried to regain my composure.  When I couldn’t, I called my mother, hysterical and in tears because I could not find my way.  Shopping, eating, cooking, feeling – it all seemed like such a chore.

(End of post #2)

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