Friday, June 7, 2013

Unlikely Places for Eating Disorder Recovery

For years, I had a painting routine that enabled my eating disorder behaviors.

I would wake up early and drink several cups of coffee.  Then I would run 5 miles.  After I showered, I would get a Diet Dr. Pepper and go somewhere like to a coffee shop or a park to painting and draw for hours.  I would be dizzy and lightheaded because of the lack of food, but that would encourage me and drive me to create.

For a long time, I thought that was the only way I could produce art.

In reality, it was the only way I allowed myself to create.  I didn’t give myself permission under any other circumstances.  I did this, mainly, because I thought I had to earn the right to paint.  And, also, I did this because I did not understand my mission as an artist.

So now I find myself in a difficult situation.  I want to have a new painting/drawing routine, but I don’t know how.  And I am scared that I will go back to my old ways if I try to establish a different painting schedule.

I was trying to “show up” to my art space for 20 minutes a day to create.  I learned this amazing technique from the article, “9 Illuminating Lessons on Creativity” by Margarita Tartakovsky of the blog “Weightless”.  You can read her whole article here.

The idea behind Margarita’s article is that creating takes practice.  It is not about waiting for the enlightenment to shine on you before you begin.  I particularly loved this advice because, if I waited around for the inspiration, I would never create anything.  Sure, I have moments from time to time where a great idea pops into my head out of nowhere and what results is a beautiful masterpiece.  But that ray of light has only happen twice that I can remember.  So, after reading Margarita’s article, I took up the 20 minute rule to see if it helped me produce more art.

The technique was effective, yet, unfortunately, I found myself practicing this method only when I first woke up and only before I ate breakfast.  If I continued to paint after my 20 minute timer went off, I would postpone eating – sometimes for hours – until I was done.

This is what you would call a slippery slope.

I could tell that the eating disorder behaviors were slowly sneaking back into my life.

Defiantly, I ignored my warning signals.  And just like that, I fell.  I skipped a few meals.  I focused more on calories and exercise.  And, the worst part was, I started to feel like my life was not worth living unless I was stick thin.

This mindset went on for a few days.  I began to feel like all the progress I had made in the past year was fruitless.  I felt like I was back at square one.  But yet again, my Weblog Wonders helped me pull through a difficult time.  I read this insightful post by Therese Borchard titled A Relapse Isn’t a Start Over.  You can read the whole thing here.

Because I had slipped and fell into some old ED thinking and behaviors, I was very scared that I had wrecked my recovery plan.  However, after learning that a relapse is not a start over, I was extremely comforted.  After looking at the situation, I could see that I had only just stumbled a little on the path; I didn’t fall completely down the whole mountain, Thank God.

In order to continue to have peace, especially during the stumbling blocks, I need to remind myself that my life has been so much better this past year.
Ever since I stopped trying to be thin, I am so much happier and healthier.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much my life has improved since I’ve given up my control of my weight.  For example, I have less anxiety around food and meal times.  Actually, I have a better relationship with food overall.

I never feel like I am out of control and eat everything in sight because my body reached starvation mode.
I never feel disgusted with myself after eating dessert anymore.
I can enjoy an ice cream date with my husband without calculating how many miles I need to run.
I enjoy parties and gatherings, and I actually talk to people when I am there because I am not figuring out how to avoid food.
I don’t feel like a fat failure because I ate two apples for a snack.
I don’t feel like it’s the end of the world and I need to kill myself if I eat over 2000 calories in one day.
My panic attacks have been few and far between.
I feel so much freer to be myself.
I smile more.
I live more authentically.
I do more of my favorite hobbies.
And I have a better relationship with God.

And all of this happened because I gave up control of my appearance.

When I’m low, I need to remind myself of how much more peace I’ve had in my life overall.  It is safe to say, I have a better quality of life now.  Do I want to give that up and go back to my eating disorder?  Heck no.

I know that deep down inside my consciousness, I don’t want to let an ED rule my life again.  Knowing this fact is proof that I am well past square one.  And that’s a reassuring thought.  These past few days were just a minor set-back, not a do-over.

When I’m in the midst of severe eating disorder temptation, I tell myself over and over that “You don’t want to go back to the way you were, you don’t want to go back to the way you were…”

I truly believe that art is going to help me stay on the right track, which is far away from the ED express.

Why is creating art good for my body image?  Because it shows me that I am more than my body or my looks.  Art helps me focus on things outside myself instead of focusing on appearance and weight.  When I paint, I am reminded that I have a lot to offer the world even if I am not stick thin.

On Easter Sunday in 1999, Pope John Paul II wrote a phenomenal Letter to Artists.  Read the whole thing here, it is not very long at all.  I highly recommend it, even if you are not an “artist” per se.

In the letter, he writes that being an artist is a unique vocation.  He states:

“Society needs artists, just as it needs scientists, technicians, workers, professional people, witnesses of the faith, teachers, fathers and mothers, who ensure the growth of the person and the development of the community by means of that supreme art form which is “the art of education”. Within the vast cultural panorama of each nation, artists have their unique place. Obedient to their inspiration in creating works both worthwhile and beautiful, they not only enrich the cultural heritage of each nation and of all humanity, but they also render an exceptional social service in favour of the common good.”

Bring on the canvas and the linseed oil.  The late, great, soon to be saint, JPII just gave me permission to be an artist!  He goes on to quote an earlier document about art:

“This world in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink into despair. Beauty, like truth, brings joy to the human heart and is that precious fruit which resists the erosion of time, which unites generations and enables them to be one in admiration!” Message to Artists, 8 December 1965: AAS 58 (1966), 13.

I am renewed.  I am going to try again.  What is the cure for despair, according to JPII?  Beauty.  And he is not talking about the exterior glamour that the world is obsessed with.  The word “glamour” has its roots in the Greek word meaning deceitful.  No, this is not the type of beauty that JPII is talking about.

True beauty is the experience that draws us out of ourselves and demands a response to contemplate the eternal mystery.

I will talk more about art at another time.  For now, I will end with another brilliant quote from the Letter to the Artists:
“Beauty is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence. It is an invitation to savour life and to dream of the future. That is why the beauty of created things can never fully satisfy. It stirs that hidden nostalgia for God which a lover of beauty like Saint Augustine could express in incomparable terms: ‘Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you!”

You’ll see what happens in my Art Department because I’ll post my new projects on this blog.

Have a nourishing weekend!


  1. Good for you for staring over!!! Dr. Wayne Dyer once said that we should view our life like an art in progress, with "mistakes" and all. Our life is an art work in progress and I often think of that metaphor to understand this life I am living, as it slowly reveal its beauty to me. I am also a creative soul - I am a writer and my writer friends often say to me when I am discouraged, "Just sit in that chair and write." Nora Roberts is famous for saying this to her fellow writers. You can't wait for the muse to inspire you. You have to show up and do the work. The trick is to take very small steps and go from there. Good luck!

    1. That is great advice. Thanks for sharing it with me. Good luck to you too. You are right about taking small steps. I often bite off more than I can chew and then wonder what went wrong. It's like Bill Murry in "What about Bob", Baby steps ;) Baby steps to the canvas, baby steps to picking up the paint brush, baby steps to mixing the colors...