DID Posts: Working through food issues with my alters

Background

Something not often mentioned is that different alters (or parts) have different experiences in the same body.  It’s why doctors and medical professionals could have trouble diagnosing illnesses or interpreting lab tests.  Or why nurses have trouble finding veins to take blood or give IVs.  This can even explain why one person can be sick with the flu, but not exhibit any physical symptoms except through a blood test.  Sometimes, it also changes physical appearance and healing rates.

Personal Experience

For me, some of my alter personalities don’t have to eat.  Other alter personalities (mostly my child parts) love eating meat, dairy, poultry, fish/seafood, and eggs (aka animal products) because they bring back good memories with family.  Most of my adolescent and adult alter personalities (me included) prefer a nutrient-focused, vegetarian or vegan (whole foods, plant based) eating style.  None of us really enjoy eating processed or fast food except for a treat once in a while; usually it tastes too salty, too sweet, or too much like chemicals.

The nutrient-focused, whole foods path works because plants are easy for our body to digest, bring a variety of pleasurable flavors & textures to meals, and are fun to cook.  Eating animal products and even some processed foods

  • When I eat meat and animal products, the vegetarian and vegan alters don’t get involved in digesting those meals.
  • When I eat plant based meals, everyone except the alters who don’t eat help with digestion.
  • My child parts and adolescent parts (up to mid-twenties probably) were anorexic and still struggle with triggers and the possibility of relapse.
  • My adult parts struggle with weight fluctuations and finding a diet with a label that helps the system stay healthy, tastes good, and limits potential triggers and small lapses.
  • We all struggle with making good food and hydration choices about 4-5 times a year when these triggers appear.  Past experiences with shaming and lack of support make this more difficult than it has to be.

The Challenge

Right now, the challenge is maintaining an interest in eating and hydrating.  I feel frustrated with my food options and hydration options.  I do not feel hungry or thirsty or interested in eating.  And by “I”, I mean everyone in my system.  No one wants to cook or get delivery or visit a restaurant or purchase takeout.

The first internal conflict: is the choice to eat mostly plant-based, whole foods style

  1.  rebellion against family
  2.  the beginning of a relapse for anorexia
  3. A personal choice that makes everyone in the system happy?

The second internal conflict: is the choice to animal products

  1. A self-harm compulsion triggered by obsessive thoughts about having to eat according to family and cultural/societal rules
  2. A self-harm compulsion to hurt myself and make myself sick as punishment for feeling happy and getting healthier
  3. A personal choice that makes the minor discomfort manageable because it helps younger alter personalities feel grounded and connected to happier times?

Side note: I use hydrating because “drinking” can sometimes trigger negative feelings – something I hope to avoid for any guests who read this post – or be misinterpreted.  Maybe it’s over-explaining, but that distinction is as much for my benefit as it is for the readers’ benefit.

Epiphany

Part 1

The first week after my dental surgery, I ate 100% whole foods, plant based meals.  With the exception of serious gas and constipation issues from the anesthesia and first few days of antibiotics, my digestion was fine.  I am grateful for acupuncture and food medicine for that turnaround.  What surprised me most was:

  1. how great I felt physically in spite of the pain
  2. how emotionally stable I felt in spite of the triggering experiences
  3. how rapidly my body healed with minimal pain killers with lots of rest & minimal activity
  4. how well I slept in spite of the pain and anxiety that came from flashbacks and food triggers
  5. the root of my food triggers centered around
  6. fear that this choice is based on PTSD food fears and anorexia nervosa relapse symptoms
  7. food and diet shaming
  8. lack of support from past medical and mental health professionals along with family members and friends

Part 2

  1. all alter parts feeling frustrated by these conflicting internal thoughts and feelings
  2. fear that that each time I ate animal products was giving into self-harm compulsions because of obsessive internal thoughts
  3. we all justified eating those meals as experiments to help child alters understand and experience the negative reaction our body has to eating animal products
  4. helping our system make peace with the conflict by explaining that eating animal products is fine as long as we are willing to accept the consequences – gas, constipation, slow digestion, nausea/stomachaches, backaches, lethargy – for a limited time
  5. acknowledging that the frustration stems from wanting to cook and eat a whole foods, plant-based lifestyle 90% of the time
  6. acknowledging that nothing is being excluded – we can eat animal products & processed food any time as long as we are willing to feel physically ill for a little while afterwards
  7. Alcohol is not included here because it’s in a different category – none of us like the taste of alcohol, but we do enjoy drinking once in a while with close friends.
    1. Problem is: we metabolize alcohol fast like with most other drugs and get drunk really easily.
    2. So 1 alcoholic beverage drunk over an hour = a drunk me for about 2-3 hours.  Then I’m fine except for the hangover headache.  If I fall asleep within the 2-3 hours, I wake up hungover.
    3. Very perplexing and makes drinking hard to enjoy…
  8. Processed foods are something I happily live without most of the time because they do not satisfy my hunger anymore.  When I do make an exception, it’s because of a craving for comfort food.  And then we all can enjoy the treat.

Conclusion

I and everyone in my system feel conflicted still.  It’s going to take a long time to sort out.  This time around, though, I have a mental health and a medical professional supporting me in the transition.  I also have many friends who support me as I try to stay healthy and make good coping strategy choices.

With knowledge comes power to make informed choices.  With trust comes the benefit of a real support network that can/will/does lift me up when I fall, encourage me when I doubt myself, and kick my ass when needed.  As for coping strategies, I’m not sure what to try or what will work.  If I find anything that helps, I will share in a future post.

If any of you are struggling with food choices, food addiction, or an eating disorder, I encourage you to learn more about different kinds of nutrition and diets, explore eating styles, and ask lots of questions.  Then (and I know this can be triggering) if you feel ready, listen to your body and how it feels before, during, and after you eat or hydrate.  My body always finds a way to tell me if it likes or dislikes something; maybe yours will too.

Thanks for reading

Recovery: not wanting to be pretty or beautiful is okay

Busy day tomorrow so posting early…

iris-apfel-1225701

Introduction

When I first started recovery, I did not want to be pretty or beautiful.  In fact, I went so far as to look as awful as possible on purpose.  Words like “pretty” and “beautiful” and “attractive” were my version of four-letter curses.  “Stylish”, “fashionable”, and “trendy” were included as I got older.

Growing up, all I received was contradictory information about physical appearances.

On one hand, it was a good thing.  I got lots of attention and compliments.  My parents got compliments and praise.  People gave me leeway when I got into trouble.

On the other hand, it was not so great.  People made assumptions.  They tried to take advantage of me.  And used my appearance as one excuse for abusing me.

Through the Years of Recovery

After a few years of therapy, I think it was with my second therapist, the anorexia and negative body image coping techniques started to resonate.  And I realized that my aversion to certain words was making recovery difficult to impossible.  I had to make peace with the curse words and what they meant to me.

  • That’s how I discovered three important phrases:
  • Body negative (me at the time)
  • Body neutral (what I strove for in that phase of recovery)
  • Body positive (my future goal)

This is where being an avid bookworm and English major in college helped a lot.  My love of words, meaning, and research provided the tools to redefine what “Beautiful”, “pretty”, “attractive” and similar words meant to me.  Took them from having negative and toxic connotations to positive and healthy ones.

The journey started with accepting that I was “plain” or “bland” instead of “ugly” or “gross” at the time.  Skinny, underweight, bad skin, pale, with acne and rashes, ill-fitting clothes worked.  The real goal was “healthy” and to discover what “healthy” meant to me.  If “healthy” meant bad skin, boniness, bloating, and weight gain, I was all for that.

Then came the time I had to accept that weight gain meant “curvy” and “pretty” and “attractive” because the “skin and bones” look was replaced with “slim and strong”.  The bad skin cleared up as my eating habits improved.  And I realized that I didn’t feel safe in my body anymore.  It, my body, was attracting way too much attention.

Time to Hide Again

I went back to wearing frumpy, over sized, ugly clothes mixed with more fitted items underneath.  Except for pants…because I hated wearing belts and wanted my pants to stay up.  But that was the ONLY criterion – that they stay up.  So of course there are many unflattering styles of pants available.  And I indulged in all of them to hide behind.

Only, there’s only so much a person can do to hide when her backside is not straight, flat, or hipless.  Same with her front when the girls are not small anymore and wearing the wrong size causes pain.  I think that was the turning point,  the beginning of moving from viewing myself as “plain” to “attractive” to “pretty” and my body as “unhealthy” and “skinny” to “slim” to “curvy” and “healthy”.

Time to Stop Hiding

Thus began my obsession with body shape, femininity, fashion vs. style, and clothes that fit/felt good/flattered/reflected me.   I discovered the world of blogging.  That was scary.  So much contradictory information.  So many choices.  And so much frustration because nothing ready-made fit me or my body shape without alterations.  And alterations were a trigger.

I went back to my invisibility cloak for a few years.  But then I realized I was in a good place.  I was safe.  I had friends and connections.  I had a job and was financially independent.  I was strong enough to face my body fears.  I was confident enough to be me.

Most important: I wanted people to see the real me;  to have my outsides match my insides.

Present

And that’s when I decided to discover my personal style.  What did that mean?

I wanted to be viewed as beautiful in a timeless, unique way that only people who are comfortable with themselves can be.

It was time to make my insides and outsides match.  That journey started with visiting fashion and style blogs.  Then it moved on to defining what personal style meant to me and how it fit my values, lifestyle, and goals.

2014 marked the beginning of my style journey.  While I look and feel a lot better about my choices, this one will be ongoing.  As I change, my personality changes, my style changes.

Conclusion

I hope this quote from Iris Apfel helps you the way it helped me.  Before watching her documentary on Netflix, I didn’t realize some of the most important words in my life came from a woman who considered “pretty” less than interesting.

Thanks for reading

Shame: Being Kinder to Myself Helps Remove Shame

Introduction

This time of year I think about (read obsess over) my body and its “flaws” as told to me by others.  My body is in pain – joints, muscle, skin, sinuses, bone, etc. – and prevents me from enjoying the fresh air that comes with warmer weather.  March and April are months when people first noticed my body start changing with puberty 20 plus years ago.  It is when the body shaming started.  And the body violence increased.

Between 7-15, the perpetrators who liked to use me sexually started being physically violent too.  The violence got worse as my body matured and clients needed to find other ways to “get it up” or “get in the mood” depending on gender.  With the sex and violence came shaming phrases: you want (fill in) because of the way you look; you’re asking for (fill in) with your body language and clothes; I wouldn’t have to (fill in) if you looked like you did before (child body); you are a slut; if you stopped fighting, I wouldn’t have to hurt you so bad…

Epithets like: thunder thighs, big butt, fat belly, flat as a board, big boobs/small boobs, bad skin/nails, hairy legs, vain child, arrogant, self-centered and so on dogged me as I tried to understand the changes happening inside me.  Comparisons to my female cousins made me feel small and worthless and nerdy – invisible and shamed for taking attention away from them – when compared to their popularity and style and social skills.

Being told I was dumber, uglier, quieter, and less adept at anything than my parents and brother with words and actions by everyone reinforced my body and self shame.  In every possible way, I was taught that my body was inferior, unhealthy, ugly, worthless, and not mine.  Basically, I should be dead.  I don’t deserve a healthy, slim body with womanly curves when the rest of my more worthy female relatives are less blessed in those areas.

The Meat of It

I spent high school and college avoiding relationships as often as possible and hiding my body with clothes that did not flatter or suit me.  I spent time around people who hated and made fun of me under the guise of being friends.  I wore hand-me downs and clothes that were decades out of fashion (given to me by my aunts and mother).  Any clothes I bought for myself had to be approved by my parents – I couldn’t shop alone for fear of what I might by.  Grooming wasn’t allowed; not the way most teenagers are allowed to experiment and spend hours in the bathroom or alone in the bedroom trying out makeup and hygiene products.

And I was always on a diet.  Because my parents thought I was fat.  I wasn’t fat – in fact I was dangerously underweight at less than  or equal 90 lbs. for most of high school – but I had curves that both my parents hated and wanted to not see.  Basically, they tried to stop me from going through puberty.  It didn’t work though.  I eventually made 100 lbs and stayed close to that the last two years of college unless I was in a downward spiral.  In college, I gained the freshman 15.  That summer, I dropped down to less than 90 lbs. again.

Senior year in college, many concerned people (none who were friends, just good people who cared enough to help out troubled peers) stepped in and convinced me I needed help.  Free counseling got me through graduation, but didn’t prevent the weight loss or attempted suicide.  Professional counseling after graduation started me on the path to be kinder to myself by getting healthy and rebuilding my sense of self to start.

Conclusion

Being skinny and weak kept me safe.  Being strong and healthy made me a target.  Looking like a woman made me less valuable to the cult (only wanted and paid for child-like bodies) and worthless to my parents.  My father hated my body and made me cover up all the time.  My mother was jealous of my body and liked to criticize my body for her own amusement.  She also liked to hurt me under the guise of “checking for wounds” or “helping me clean hard to reach areas”.

My only thoughts from that time until about 12 years ago were to hurt, punish, hide, destroy my body and feminine parts.

Then I decided that I wanted to stop feeling ashamed of my body.  And I wanted to be healthy.  Every time I tried to do something positive, family stepped in with the shaming.  Then the voices in my head triggered shaming thoughts and compulsions driven by an obsession to look a certain way or not look a certain way.  In all honesty, I thought I was 170 lbs with rolls of fat hanging down everywhere and that I had secretly had breast augmentation surgery because how else could I have large breasts when everyone else had small ones unless they were overweight/obese?

And even some overweight family members (mother included) still didn’t have large breasts to go with the extra weight.  And that was extra shame.  Because I never, ever wanted to have that kind of surgery.  An overtly feminine body would get me unwanted attention and keep me from being invisible.  But every year, I’d be obsessed with thoughts of breast implants, butt implants, feminine curves, padding, etc. and compelled to find information about it.  And I’d look down at my body or in a mirror and see rolls of fat, jiggly body parts, and stretch marks.  Then I’d feel shame and hate.

Until one of my early therapists started questioning me about my thoughts and compulsions.  Together we reality tested each of my beliefs.  Not really assumptions because these were my “set in stone truths” as taught by life.  Little by little, she forced me to look at each body part and decide how much “fat” really existed.

Then came nutrition therapy and the concept of loving kindness towards myself.

And every time I heard a “body shaming” thought, I had to stop and rephrase that thought to something “body neutral”.  Then rephrase the thought to “body positive” after a time.

And every time I felt the urge to hurt my body, I taught myself  to stop and understand where the compulsion came from.  Then remind myself that I like/love my body and don’t want to hurt it.  Hurting my body hurts me too.

Eventually, I started reminding myself that it’s ok to make mistakes and relapse sometimes.  That’s my mind telling me some part is in trouble; time to step back and think before moving on.

These days, being kind to myself means the following:

  • Stop criticizing myself when I experience backlash and shame for using “last resort coping strategies”
  • Remind myself that I am doing the best that I can; it’s ok to give in to the compulsions and obsessions sometimes
  • To feel gratitude that I am coping with the shame and making positive changes to my body image
  • To remind myself of the positive steps I am taking to be body positive – and how much fun it is
  • Making sure I take care of myself no matter how crazy work gets or how depressed I feel when the pain and memories overwhelm me.
  • And to not feel bad when I have to post before or after Wednesday and Sunday because of work and personal deadlines.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Challenges: Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Learning to Love my body again

Background

Part of my trauma came from many authority figures and adult sources making fun of, criticizing, and shaming my body.  The messages about being fat and so beautiful I am ugly and that because of my physical appearance I deserved the abuse dished out to me made me hate my looks.  The way my mother brushed and styled my hair for me; then punished me and criticized me until I failed to style and care for it myself made me believe I couldn’t groom myself.  The insults and shaming that came from being made fun of for wearing mascara and lipstick, and always being told that I’m not strong enough or skinny enough or pretty enough or smart enough to be as good as my brother and cousins took it’s toll on my self-esteem and self image.

I thought the negative self image and body hate had to do with having so many different alters and being anorexic.  Some of my alters are male; some are female.  They are all different ages, and many will never go through puberty – they are child alters or symbolic alters (aka non-human living beings).  And each of them hated the body that houses us for many years, possibly decades.  And back in  the nineties/early 2000s, many people thought anorexia was all about looking and feeling fat and wanting to lose weight.  It’s not all about weight loss.  My anorexia had to do with punishing myself and denying that puberty happened to please others.  It might also have had to do with hating my body, but I prefer to believe that seeing my adult body triggered bad memories that made me feel anxiety, hatred, etc.

Some Challenges

Main point is that I don’t actually see what my body looks like in the mirror.  I see fat, red rashes, cellulite, scars, big butt, wide hips, thunder thighs, bad teeth, and so on.  It took 4-5 years before I could acknowledge that I am not ugly, just plain.  And another 7 years before I could acknowledge my physical attractiveness and stop hiding.  But multiple times every year I get to a point where all of the body hate comes flooding back.  I start seeing a big belly where one doesn’t exist.  Instead of my body, I see one that is wider than tall with a spare tire and fat, jiggly thighs.  I see double chins and yellowed, crooked teeth with halitosis (bad breath) that never goes away.  And not even looking in a mirror, these visions come as I look down at my body.

Then come the critical thoughts inside my head (voices).  The voices bring back memories and feelings I’d rather not face right now.  They always seem to come at times when I feel most vulnerable and stressed out and physically ill.  Also during spring and winter when a) people start wearing less and showing more skin because of the nice weather; and b) people start obsessing about holiday goodies and overeating.  When I get stressed out, I forget to eat.  Sometimes I deliberately don’t eat.  I forget to hydrate or just don’t bother.  And when I do eat, the food is not stuff I enjoy or even crave – it’s food that will ease the obsessions and compulsions in my mind.

And if I lose enough weight, my body automatically starts going into the “she’s starving herself; we need to start feeding off of the available fat and muscle sources, then replace with water (bloating)” response that makes me feel 2x my actual size and about 4-9 pounds lighter than I was before the triggers turned me inside out.

Learning to cope

I don’t have a lot of ways to cope with this.

Mostly I force feed myself using blender smoothies, soups, and savory/sour/slightly bitter/umami flavored foods that are nutrient dense and easy to digest.  I also make appointments with my dietitian to go over any food struggles and anxieties I might be experiencing.  And I stop trying to “eat healthy” or according to any of my past rules.  Instead I try to enjoy my food and eat a variety of flavors.

If I get a compulsion that won’t go away, I eat the food without shame; acknowledge that parts of me did want that food while others did not; and then tell myself that it’s ok to eat certain foods even though they are taboo in my mind or might make me feel gassy or sick afterwards.  The consequences are worth the enjoyment – like with ice cream and cheese and red meat for me.

Sometimes, I practice gratitude too.  This helps with the shame and body hate feelings, but is not something I can do all the time without feeling backlash too.  I remember how thankful I am that my body is healthy and not diseased in spite of the trauma it’s been through.  I am thankful that my body is strong enough to get me to work and exercise without pain and suffering.  I am thankful to have fingers that work and feet that can support me as I walk through life and so on.

And I increase my self care rituals.

Conclusion

I might not be able to stop my body from going into automatic routines that saved me in the past every time, but I can do my best right now in this moment.  So even though I’m still in a bad place where my body hurts and I hate going outside because I keep having to deal with my past, I am working towards coping better and getting ready to enjoy at least part of my day.  Then maybe I can relax and sleep long enough to rest and be ready for the next day.

Thanks for reading