Happy New Year! I don’t really make New Year’s resolutions for a few reasons. It’s primarily because I never stick to them, so I feel like I’m starting the year by setting myself up for failure. I’ll make 4,827 resolutions, which is at least 27 too many, and I get overwhelmed and nothing changes. Sometimes, my resolutions are things that just keep me sick, like resolving to lose weight.

However, I am making some pretty big changes in my life, changes that happen to coincide with this arbitrary measurement of time we call the New Year. This morning (the day before my 21st birthday), I was discharged from a three-night stay in a psychiatric hospital. A few weeks ago, someone I trusted hurt me in a very personal way, and I have not been okay since then. The whole ordeal of contacting the necessary authorities and professionals in the aftermath of the incident was equally stressful, and I do not function well under stress. Within a week, I found myself purging again, and I became very afraid of food. Eating has become a nearly insurmountable task, made tolerable only when I use neurotic food rituals, and I often find myself obsessing about how I’m going to avoid getting caught purging the small amounts of food I do manage to eat.

Even though I had gotten rid of all my razor blades, I was still self-harming. I dismantled household items with which to cut myself, and when that didn’t numb the emotional pain enough, I resorted to banging my head into walls.

I spoke less, smiled less, hardly ever laughed, and carried Ora Nechema, my doll, around

Ora Nechema is a handmade ball-jointed doll. My best friend’s mom made her for me. Since this photo was taken, she went to the doll hospital (AKA my friend’s mom’s kitchen table) for a makeover and has beautiful, curly red hair now. Ora Nechema is Hebrew for light and comfort. She typically comes everywhere with me (except work because I don’t want her to get broken), and I do get strange looks walking around a college campus with a doll in my hand, but she is very comforting, and I tell her all the nice things I need to hear but can’t yet say to myself. 

with me everywhere because she reminded me that there is something childlike and in need of protection in me, and I am worth the same care with which I handle a handmade porcelain doll. (She comes to AA with me, and she’s quite popular.)

I became more and more depressed until I decided I might as well just go ahead and kill myself. I was scared to feel this way, so I talked to my parents, and we all decided it would be best for me to be in a safe place, so they took me to the hospital.

The hospital has its ups and downs. I’ve been there enough times that I know all the nurses, and I feel safe there. I can’t hurt myself there. I’m under 24/7 supervision, and I can’t have so much as a spiral notebook, so cutting myself is out of the question. The downside is that the hospital is just a crisis stabilization and detox unit. The idea is to get you in, get you some medicine, and get you out. There’s really no therapy, and it’s quite boring in there. So, while I was prevented from killing myself, the underlying issues that led me to feel suicidal are still festering. My elaborate cocktail of anti-this and such-and-such stabilizers are actually working quite well. I was doing okay until this most recent incident happened. However, now that I’m dealing with the aftermath of being hurt, I feel out of control and in need of more long-term help. So, I am heading back to residential treatment.

My parents, my therapist, and I are looking into various treatment centers that deal with multiple psychiatric disorders, and trying to find the best fit for me. I might only go so far as Orlando, or I might end up in Boston. We’re not sure yet. But what I do know is that this is my chance at turning my life around. When I was at the Creek in 2014, I made substantial progress, but then I hit a wall and I was kind of stuck. The treatment team there was challenging me to work on deep, underlying issues, not just my unhealthy relationship with food, but what drove that relationship. I couldn’t or wouldn’t do it. I frequently snapped at my therapist there, “I came here to get rid of my eating disorder, and I did. I want to go home.” I did go home, and I did alright for a little while, but within a year, I was unstable and self-destructing.

This time will be different. I am resolving to commit myself to getting better. I’m going to follow my treatment team’s recommendations no matter what. I obviously don’t know how to take care of myself, or else my stomach wouldn’t be empty, my wrist wouldn’t be scabby, I wouldn’t feel like the world is ending if I accidentally make physical contact with a strange man, and my GPA would be higher than a two point something or other. I am turning the care and keeping of Katherine over to the treatment team until I am well enough to take that role back. Someday, I’ll get there. Someday, I will feel like a whole person. Until then, I’ll just continue to do my best.

May you find peace and happiness this year. I know that’s what I’m trying to do.



Eating Disorder Awareness Week

It’s Eating Disorder Awareness Week, so I want to talk about the realities of what it’s like to have an eating disorder. There seems to be this misconception among many people–young women especially–that an eating disorder is a quick, easy way to drop a few pounds and look great by bikini season (which is about to start for my fellow Floridians and me). People seem to think that restrictive eating disorders like anorexia are about willpower and strength, and that binge/purge-type eating disorders like bulimia are gross.

The truth is, whether you have anorexia, bulimia, EDNOS, binge-eating disorder, or any other type of disordered eating, it is not glamorous, strong, or easy. When I was first diagnosed with anorexia, I believed that starvation brought be closer to God. I felt “pure” and “holy” when I was hungry. My journal was filled with senseless scribblings like, “Experience hunger as euphoria; experience hunger as nothingness; become nothing, become holy, become clean.”

But the more I starved, cut, and purged, the unhappier I became. I didn’t feel closer to God. In fact, going to synagogue with my family became an eating disorder nightmare. Choosing something to wear that I didn’t feel fat in could take hours, and after the service, the oneg (basically the Jewish equivalent of fellowship) was a minefield of ED thoughts. I couldn’t even enjoy the service because I was too busy doing frantic calculations of whether I “deserved” a slice of challah during Kiddush.

It’s easy to buy into the “fantasy of being thin,” the idea that once you hit that certain number on a scale, that certain dress size, or your “ultimate goal weight,” your life will be perfect. That cute person in your physics lecture will ask you out, your boss will give you a raise, and you’ll gain seven billion followers on Instagram because they’ll all worship your bikini body selfies. I’m being silly here, but once you put your faith in the fantasy of being thin, nothing else seems to matter. Your life is on hold while you put all your energy into losing weight so that you and your life will become perfect.

I tried to tell myself that my anorexia made me a better person, when, in fact, it turned me into a monster. I threw away the lunches my mom made for me every day. I ignored my boyfriend who begged me to eat. I screamed at my parents when they told me I couldn’t get up from the table until I’d finished my dinner. I believed my parents wanted me to be fat, when all they wanted was for me to stop torturing myself and be healthy and happy again. I thought everyone was against me and my quest to become holy through starvation.

When I was in treatment at the Creek, there was a woman named Sara there who’d had her eating disorder for a few decades. She was a devoted wife and mother with a great sense of humor, but at times, we couldn’t stand each other. One day, I made a (hilarious) remark to her that was a little too sarcastic for her taste, and we got into a screaming match that upset another patient who was very afraid of loud noises. The next day, that patient checked herself out of the Creek, and I blamed myself for it. When, Sara and I were talking about our argument, and she said I wasn’t at fault because, “Eating disorders are nasty. There’s nothing nice or tame about them.” I was still pretty peeved at her, and I desperately wanted her to be wrong, and–more importantly–I wanted to be right. I dredged through my brain for evidence to support my claim that eating disorders made us better people. I imagined myself sweetly baking cookies for all my friends and not touching a crumb. Not only was that untrue, but it was sad. Had I not been too terrified of food to bake a batch of cookies, I would have wanted to be able to enjoy them with my friends.

I’m happy to say that these days, I do bake cookies, and I have friends to share them with. Though I may  not have always liked Sara, she was right on that count. Eating disorders do not make you a better person. They do not make you holier, happier, or healthier. Anorexia brought me to my knees and could have killed me had I not chosen recovery. I am grateful for the amazing women I met at the Creek, including Sara, for my treatment team there, and for my family whose unfailing support helped me on the path to recovery. This Eating Disorder Awareness Week, take some time to educate yourselves on the realities of eating disorders. It’s not about strength or willpower. Eating disorders are a desperate grab for control when you have no sense of control in other aspects of your life. But the truth is, only by choosing recovery can you truly regain control of your life once and for all.

Heading Home

Tomorrow, I will embark on the nine hour drive from the Creek back home to Florida. I am so proud of how far I’ve come in the past four months. I couldn’t find an IOP program in my area that is suited to what I need, so I’m just going to try and stay busy in between therapy, psychiatrist, dietitian, and acupuncture appointments. Here’s what I’m doing:

  • I applied to the local junior college, and once they mail me my acceptance information, I’ll be taking classes in photography and cosmetology.
  • I’m going back to work at Publix next week. I called my manager today, and she said she couldn’t wait to see me, that everyone had missed me, and that she’d give me a big hug when I get back. I’m really excited to see all my coworkers, but nervous about how I’ll field all the questions about where I’ve been.
  • I have been obsessively researching DIY terrariums, and I can’t wait to be the mother of tiny green babies! I looked at starter kits on Esty and other places, and they’re all really expensive, so I’m DIYing it. If it works out, I’m going to make a whole bunch and sell them at the local farmer’s market (or turn my room into a greenhouse).
  • Speaking of all things -arium, when I was at Eckerd, I spent some graduation money (that should have gone toward textbooks) on an aquarium, which housed several beautiful fish that did not survive the drive home. Now that I’m staying in one place for the next few months, I want to bring my aquarium back to life.
  • My brother’s high school baseball team needs a photographer, and I have an amazing zoom lens that’s collecting dust in my closet. I don’t like sports, but I love sports photography, and it would be nice to be around people my own age–even if they are a bunch of smelly athletes. (Hopefully my brother can bear my presence in the dugout.)

I’m really excited to go home and see my family and friends. I’ll miss my Creek family, but we all vowed to stay in touch. I can’t wait to see what this next chapter will bring!

Celebration Letter: I’m Graduating!

When I came through Magnolia Creek’s red door, I was lost and overwhelmed. In my first therapy and dietetic sessions, I told the team, “I’m here to get rid of my eating disorder.” I had no idea how much more I would accomplish over the next four months.

At first, I was determined to keep my secrets. While I had no problems talking about how my life was crumbling at the hands of my eating disorder and self-harm, I refused to acknowledge the impact trauma was having on me. But as I watched the strong women who surrounded me share their stories, I began to open up. It was painful, scary, but I did it, and it helped. On the days I insisted I was to blame for everything that had happened to me, there were people to lift me up and help me carry my burden. Gradually, those days waned, and I was able to ease the burdens of others.

I remember telling Christa (my therapist), “I’m not a perfectionist. I never do anything right,” and I remember her smirk as she invited me to challenge that statement. As it happens, I am a huge perfectionist, or at least, I was. One of the biggest challenges to my perfectionism was the idea that recovery is not linear. It’s loopy, swirly, and sometimes scary. But after the initial shock that comes with the realization that I can be truly healthy and happy, recovery is joy. It is growth and change; it is getting my life back and learning to love it.

Cooking Group was always the highlight of my week here. One particular group I remember was the day we made brisket. I shared how this traditional Jewish dish was tied to so many happy Hanukkah memories, and John (the Creek’s chef) shared this bit of wisdom with me. “Eating is a celebration.” At first, I took this to mean that food brings people together, which it does. But now, I also know that when I eat, I am celebrating the body God has given me. I am celebrating all the ways it keeps me healthy and all the things it lets me do. I do not believe that I have the authority to hate something made in God’s image, nor do I want to live that way.

When I came to the Creek, I was a shadow of the woman I am today. These past four months have made me stronger, healthier, and happier. As I head home and start the next chapter of my life, I am confident in my ability to write it. Thank you to all the amazing women who guided and supported me on this journey. I am proud to say that today I am happy, healthy, and hydrated.

Where Have You Been?

I haven’t posted here in a while, and honestly that’s because there have been other things on my mind besides recovery. That’s not exactly how things should be here in treatment. The team has been pushing me to open up more and “go deeper,” but I’m not exactly sure what it is that I need to be sharing.

Meanwhile, a lot has happened in the past few weeks since I last wrote.

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Every Saturday, the Creek takes us on an outing. A few weeks ago, we went to Painted By You, a pottery studio, and I painted this funky little mug. I keep it at the apartment and drink my morning (decaf) coffee out of it.

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Since I’m eating regular meals and drinking water, I have more energy and more creativity! I’m back to drawing comics and writing more short stories. This is a character from a comic I’m working on about a potato and a flower who fall in love.

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One day, it warmed up enough for me to wear my jelly shoes and new dress! About a month ago, I went shopping at Urban Outfitters with some friends from the Creek, and I feel a lot more confident in my new clothes. Weight gain is a really hard part of recovery, but getting clothes that fit my healthy body helps me accept it.

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I also got a pair of combat boots that I’m obsessed with. I just really like taking pictures of my feet, okay??

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It’s been a real struggle to follow my meal plan when I’m on my own for dinners, breakfasts, and evening snacks at the apartment, but when I do it, I do it well! This is French toast and turkey bacon I made one morning I woke up early and had extra time.

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I devised a recipe for avocado rice, and it’s my new favorite dish!

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I dyed my hair blue, but it’s faded to a gross green color. My dad just got elected as a circuit judge and has an investiture in January, and I assured my parents I would dye it back to brown before that.

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We went back to Painted By You last weekend, and I painted this little cow.

We got three new clients this week, so that’s been exciting and challenging. I’ve been here so long that the techs ask me to help with meal preparation and fill the new clients in on the meal guidelines. I’m looking forward to getting to know the new people, but I miss the women who were here when I first came in.

I’ll actually be home soon! It’s just temporary, but I’m going home on a pass so I can celebrate Hanukkah with my family. I’m really excited to see my parents and brother, as well as the rest of my family, and Colette, my neighbor. I’m hoping that being home will give me the chance to put recovery into practice and see where else I still need work.

Letters to God

My experiences at college are comparable to day and night. In the daylight, I was studious, intelligent, reserved, and sensible. I never skipped class; I always budgeted time to do my homework; I kept my dorm clean; I was on good terms with my roommate. I might have had a cigarette (or ten–let’s be real, I chain-smoked.) during the day. I probably consumed more caffeine than calories between breakfast time and dinnertime, but overall, I was on my best behavior.

Nights were a different story. After dark, I had a tendency to wander campus alone and barefoot, a cigarette between my lips and plenty more in my pocket, dizzy with hunger and dehydration. I had a favorite swing where I would sit and listen to music, letting my depression overtake me. Under cover of darkness, no one could see how red my  eyes were after my friends and I got high. We would smoke outside and then amble through campus, jumping and skipping like children. It was nighttime when Jake and I laid in a hammock, arms around each other, inhaling each other’s pot breath as we exchanged kisses. We saw a shooting star. It was a good night. The next time we got high we smoked with a stranger, and it was not so good.

Sexual assault is not easy to talk about. It was not easy to experience. It has not been easy to work through in treatment. Instead of blaming my assailant, I blamed myself. I shouldn’t have been on drugs. I should have known better than to get high with a virtual stranger. I should have listened to Jake and my other friends who were telling me I’d had enough. I should have picked up on how he was touching me before we were alone. In the days after the assault, a constant chorus of, “My fault… my fault… my fault… my…” played in my head. It made sense: I had been irresponsible and careless by taking drugs, therefore the assault was punishment for my behavior. Just as God warned Lot and his family not to look back, my parents, teachers, and society had warned me not to take drugs; and just as Lot’s wife disobeyed God’s instructions and was turned into a pillar of salt, I disobeyed what I had been taught and was punished. So I thought.

It was this kind of black-and-white thinking that led me to bang my head into a tree out of frustration just a few days ago. I felt like my world was crumbling and falling apart because I had realized that I can’t keep blaming myself for other people’s actions forever. I had been crying on and off all day, wrestling with my ideas of God and what it means to be Jewish. By blaming myself for the assault, I had the world neatly explained and organized. I believed that a sort of karmic justice permeated the universe, punishing the bad and rewarding the good. As I beat my forehead against the tree, I did not experience clarity. Sobbing, I sank to the ground and wiped a trickle of blood away from my eyes. Nothing made sense. If the assault wasn’t my fault, then I wasn’t being punished. If it wasn’t a punishment, then how could I explain it?

As one of my friends from treatment reminded me, God gave us all free will. I had a choice about how to handle my emotions as I walked through the woods crying. God didn’t make me bang my head into that tree, and God didn’t make that boy assault me. We chose to do what we did. I believe that God feels my pain and wants me to turn to Him–not self-harm–for comfort.

It is hard for me to let go of my karmic fantasy. I wish the world were as simple as rewards and punishment, and when I think about the fact that the world is random, chaotic, and dangerous, I get scared. I thought I could beat the fear out of my psyche if I just hit my head hard enough. Today, I choose to appreciate the mysterious ways God works instead. It is hard for me to have faith. In my disorder, I turned away from God for a few years, labeling myself as an atheist, and ignoring any spiritual connection. As I made progress in my recovery, I returned to synagogue and felt close to God through music. Still, I am trying to trust. I am too small to see the awesome and wondrous pattern that runs through the universe. The world is intricate and in constant motion; each individual is like a single spot of paint in an impressionistic painting. When I look around, I see no pattern, only chaos. I simply have to trust that God is a master artist who can see the whole design.

40 Reasons to Recover

I was asked to write a list of forty reasons to recover. Add your own in the comments!

  1. To have a healthy body
  2. To be able to work through trauma
  3. To find out who I really am
  4. To be fully present in my life
  5. Because I can have fun without drugs
  6. To make healthy friendships
  7. To honor and glorify God
  8. To be a better singer
  9. Because there are more things to write about than misery and mental illness
  10. To wholeheartedly enjoy my parents’ cooking
  11. To not be too wrapped up in myself to care about others
  12. To master the art of happy poems
  13. To write stories that have no basis in my life
  14. To finally go on Jon’s and my road trip
  15. To be able to focus in class
  16. Because I am outgoing and friendly when I don’t hate myself
  17. Because God didn’t make me so I could hate His creation
  18. To have enough insight to finish my novel
  19. To go back to Eckerd
  20. To become an ordained cantor
  21. Because I deserve to love myself
  22. Because trauma doesn’t define me
  23. Because I am strong enough to fight
  24. Because I don’t want to die
  25. Because I am talented
  26. Because life is too short to feel guilty over Mom’s famous chocolate cake
  27. To be able to live independently
  28. Because the light of God is within me
  29. Because I am loved
  30. Because I am beautiful as I am
  31. Because I need a healthy functioning brain to write well
  32. To make my parents proud of me
  33. To make decisions I can feel good about
  34. Because my weight has nothing to do with my character
  35. To experience a range of emotions without fear
  36. To be proud of myself
  37. Because I’ve wasted enough time being sick, sad, and miserable
  38. To be a positive role model
  39. Because it’s time to let go
  40. Because I’m worth it

Rad Reviews: Life Without Ed by Jenni Schaefer

Life Without Ed is a powerful book written in an honest voice.  It contains sections on different stages and aspects of recovery, everything from the early days of recovery, to relapses, to maintaining a recovered life. It also contains exercises written by a therapist designed to help readers move through their recovery and explore the issues surrounding their eating disorders.

The most helpful aspect of the book is Schaefer’s description of “Ed.” Ed stands for eating disorder and is the personification of the illness. Schaefer relates many conversations she’s had with Ed, who is portrayed as an abusive husband, but is sure to clarify that an eating disorder is not a hallucination or an audible voice in the sufferer’s head. Rather, Ed is that negative voice that drowns out one’s own. The use of this personification is very effective throughout the book, as well as in eating disorder treatment. I recommend reading this book if you have trouble with the idea that you are not defined by your eating disorder, or if you believe your eating disorder’s wants and goals are synonymous with your own.

There are a few places in the book where the writing is unpleasant to read due to cheesy jokes and awkward dialogue, however this does not detract from Schaefer’s overall message. In fact, she addresses these flaws in the ten year anniversary edition of Life Without Ed in her updated afterword.

Schaefer’s voice is unique and distinct, making the book relatable and quick to read. Life Without Ed is a book that changes people’s lives and provides a close look inside the mind of someone with an eating disorder.

October 13: Another Day in Treatment

Today marks my third week in treatment. My experiences here have been tumultuous and eye-opening. For so long, I have been disconnected from my emotions and unaware of what I have been feeling. Suddenly I’m being asked to explore what’s really going on inside my head, and it’s pretty scary. I’m not sure I want to know everything about myself. I’m a shy person, and I feel as though I’m being asked to get to know a stranger intimately. Who is this person who claims to be Katherine? What’s under the Warden’s influence? The question is always: who am I without my eating disorder?

There have been a lot of surprises as I have explored the inner mechanisms of my mind. Although I feel more connected to myself, there is tension. As I have been trying to figure out what it really means to be me, I have been arguing with myself. It’s difficult to separate my voice from that of the Warden. I’m not sure what’s me and what’s not. There’s a lot going on in my head, and some days I can’t seem to make sense of any of it.

Today during process group, which open-ended group therapy, we had a powerful conversation about holding on to things that don’t work. We all have coping skills. Some are good ones, or adaptive coping skills, and others are bad, or maladaptive coping skills. My maladaptive coping skills include self-harm and eating disorder behaviors (such as restricting my food intake and purging), as well as engaging in unhealthy relationships, taking drugs, and smoking. I know for a fact that they don’t work. So why am I still holding onto them, grieving for the ones I’ve stopped using, and trying to find ways to incorporate them into my recovery? A full recovery does not involve the regular use of maladaptive coping skills. I can’t be recovered but still purge. I can’t love myself but still seek approval from people who treat me badly. I can’t commit to taking care of my body but still smoke.

It’s time to throw away the maladaptive coping skills. It’s time to acknowledge that they don’t define me and that I am worth more than harming my body and psyche. I am scared to find out what’s driving me to hurt myself and what’s under years of self-loathing. But I am excited to find healthier ways to cope with depression and anxiety, and to find a way to feel better. I look forward to what comes next.