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Friday, November 25, 2011

Opening a Window of Opportunity

Countless number of times when active in the eating disorder, I'd have a thought to use an eating disorder symptom and, before I knew it, I'd be standing in a grocery store buying binge food or find myself in a bathroom, unable to account for the time that lapsed between the thought of using the eating disorder and the action. As if I'd had tunnel vision, my consciousness only able to see the option of using eating disorder symptoms for dealing with my emotions.

Working as a psychotherapist, I hear this story day after day from clients. I often will retrace the steps of a client's slip, only to hear her unclear as to how she arrived at her symptomatic state, which seems to create an added layer of guilt and hopelessness much of the time. As if it was just something that "happened" to her and all of a sudden she was in relapsive behavior. I truly empathize with my clients in these moments, as it can feel like such a state of self-defeat.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned in early recovery was that my thought did not have to lead to an action. I learned that I needed to create a window of space, an opportunity that gave me time to collect my often-irrational and emotionally-charged thoughts and actually CHOOSE a way to deal with the situation, urge, or feeling with adaptive coping skills instead of self-destructive behaviors.

In order to do this I had to:

1. Be mindful of what was happening with me internally.
2. I had to literally stop and become conscious of the here-and-now and acknowledge my eating disordered urges.
3. I also had to remind myself that a thought is just a thought. I am going to have these thoughts, but that does not mean I have to act on them.
4. Next, I had to make a decision and not keep entertaining the urge to use ED symptoms. A symptom cannot thrive without attending to it.
5. Once I made my decision, I then had to create a plan for what I was going to do instead of use ED symptoms. This came in the form of using healthy distractions, leaving my environment, reaching out for support, etc.
6. Finally, I had to take action and remind myself that the urge will pass, if I let it.

In order to break the eating disorder cycle, you have to be able to tolerate your emotions long enough to get to the other side of them. To know that you CAN tolerate any emotion, no matter how uncomfortable. Today, think about and write down ways you can create distance between your thoughts and actions when an urge strikes. Come up with a list of coping skills (self-talk, playing the tape through, reaching out to others, meditation, taking a gentle walk, etc.) you feel you could actually use in the moment.

As an experiment, the next time you have an urge to use ED symptoms, put your plan into action and give yourself a real window of opportunity for recovery. The window may appear to be jammed, locked, or hard to open. But you have the power to open it and create a different outcome. Eating disorders are deadly, and you never know if you will have a tomorrow to start over for. Start today--you deserve it!


Kate said...

Thank you for this -- it's perfect for the day after Thanksgiving :\ Family stress plus food everywhere requires a coping technique!

Jen said...

Thank you for posting this. It's so helpful to be reminded of these things.

Jamie said...

"a thought is just a thought. I am going to have these thoughts, but that does not mean I have to act on them" Such a simple fact and yet one that I have to remind myself of every day. Your blog is great, I think it really speaks to a lot of people x

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting these coping techniques!!! I have recently relapsed after being free from my eating disorder for a few years, it is very disappointing and I totally understand what you are explaining, at times I think I am doing so well and then there I am in the washroom again being sick and feeling totally disgusted with myself. I am seen as a strong person that has everything together, but thus isn't always the case. In the last year my husband and I are going through some difficult times and feel like this is causing me to feel poorly about myself and leading to my over eating. But these tips are very helpful!!!!

AmalaShakti said...

Thank you for this. It is inspiring to hear from someone who has been there and made it through to the other side.

Girl Finds Grace said...

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Every single person here is beautiful and this blog is astounding. What an amazing gift you have. Keep using it. Don't let your window ever be jammed or hard to open. You are doing such good in people's lives.

Quartzite said...

Thank you so much

NiceOne said...

Thank you so much for posting this. You have made me remember that I can be strong and fight through this. You are an inspiration :) x

lauriema said...

I am just facing the fact that I have a problem and need help. This is the first blog that came up in my search and in fact, the first time I have ever posted to a blog. I have so much to learn but could really relate to the part quoted by Jamie, "a thought is just a thought..." I am looking forward to learning new tips about how to help myself overcome this challenge

katieconklin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
katieconklin said...

Thanks so much for sharing this info and support- I've found that when I map out the pattern of eating that I've built up for myself over the years - it's much easier to forgive myself and let it go, so I can stand up and help my body get back to the way it should be.

Body War:Food as Weapon Self Forgiveness