Remember the days when vacations were looked forward to with the childlike anticipation second only to Christmas morning or the last day of school? When no matter what happened during the vacation—traffic jams, lost luggage, your brother got left at a rest station or it rained everyday—it was still the best vacation ever, and you actually looked forward to that obligatory “What I Did on my Summer Vacation” essay on the first day of school (because you just knew your vacation was way cooler than the kid who went to space camp for the third summer in a row). Well, somewhere along the line, you grow up. Vacations become more cumbersome as you make budgets, prepare travel arrangements, and organize itineraries. They lose the carefree merriment of your youth and become more of a hassle than an opportunity to relax and enjoy yourself.
Currently, I am on vacation with my extended family on Hilton Head Island inSouth Carolina. Initially, I did not want to take this trip. I have become a slave to my job and felt that they could not possibly carry on without me as I do most of the work; despite repeated sentiments to the contrary from my family, my friends, my therapist, and my project manager. So, I decided to just go for it. I have become more and more frustrated with my job and thought I was overdue for a break anyway. However, with vacation, comes a certain loss of control that I did not believe I was ready for; my daily schedule changes, my meals have to change due to restaurants and grocery availability, I’m with family members I don’t often see and am in a completely different environment…essentially everything is unfamiliar. Many of my sessions leading up to this vacation focused on how I can overcome this feeling of a loss of control, as well as how to handle the inevitable body issues that come with a beach vacation. I came up with many strategies to combat these concerns and took off of my way.
The first day on the island, my 15-year-old sister and I thought it would be a good idea to bike to the beach. It was only two-ish miles away, and why would we need to pollute the earth to go two miles? With a non-descript map of the area and streets without road signs, we quickly became lost and biked tenmiles in the wrong direction in over 100 degree heat. Typically, it is not in my nature to admit I was wrong. I cannot stand being wrong on anything; to admit I don’t have all the answers. However, I’ve been working on acknowledging that I don’t have to constantly be right; so I rode up to a security guard in the neighborhood and asked for directions. And, do you know what? Nothing horrible happened. The earth didn’t open up and swallow me whole for not having the answers. The security guard didn’t think I was stupid as I was wont to believe (although he was mildly agitated that I interrupted his busy standing there to ask for directions). But best of all, I got the help that I needed. It made me realize that it is so important in our lives not to just bulldoze through thinking that you know everything, because, unfortunately, no single person knows everything. There is a lot to gain in asking for help, as no one person can make it though life without the assistance of another—and if they do, what kind of boring ass life did they lead that they never had to interact or ask another person for support?
Another challenge came in the form of one of my travel companions. This companion isn’t shy in sharing opinions—be it about your job, your weight, your outfit, your intelligence, etc. I knew that this over sharing may lead to problems on my end. Less than ten minutes after arriving, I was correct and was subjected to the latest diet and exercise crazes as well as her opinions on her weight. I was able to depersonalize these comments by reassuring myself that I am doing what is right for me and my recovery and that I should not be swayed by others’ views (easier said than done, but I’m practicing a lot). However, one night during dinner, I was unable to depersonalize the comments as they were pointed at me. Not only was I told that I only graduated summa cum laude from my college because Education is an easy field, but I was mocked because I eat sandwiches with forks and tear my food to eat it (one ED behavior I cannot shake). I tried to defend myself, as my intelligence is one area in my life that I know I am competent and am actually proud of. I worked hard to get summa cum laude at an institution that was recently re-accredited by the Teacher Education Accreditation Council and is known as one of the most distinguished teacher education programs in the state. I am not proud of my forking and tearing, however, but I didn’t want to get into my eating disorder with her (it just wasn’t worth it to explain it as I’m sure she has the stereotypical ED view that doesn’t include me).
As I sat there eating a meal that I was already ashamed and guilty for eating (shrimp, red beans and rice and broccoli) I thought to myself how much I wanted to just shove all the food into my mouth, past the point of satiety and then run to the bathroom and purge. There wasn’t anyone in the restaurant besides us and another family, as we were eating at 9 PM, and I knew I could get away with it. I thought about how purging would help me regain the sense of self she stole from me in saying I was unintelligent, it would make everything right and put the control back in my corner. But the longer I ate, the more I thought. I thought about the fact that she doesn’t deserve to be a cause of relapse. She doesn’t deserve the right to make me punish my body and go running back to ED behaviors. Purging will only reinforce her argument that I am stupid (as I know reverting to ED behaviors is reckless and unwise), it will only serve to justify that I have odd eating habits and that I cannot have control over my own life by regressing to ED behaviors I know to be wrong. Instead, I took a moment to collect my thoughts, assess my level of fullness and decide if eating more is ED related or if it is actually warranted. I did not speak the rest of the meal and continued to fight ED thoughts the rest of the trip, but I am pleased to report that I continued on my meal plan.
So, in thinking about what I would write on my “What I did on my Summer Vacation” essay as I return to work (not that they’re making me write an essay), it would simply be this: On my summer vacation, I learned that it is ok to not have all the answers. It is ok to feel whatever feeling is acceptable for the situation, but to act on what you know is right not what ED will tell you is right, as ED preys upon feelings. A friend of mine always says “feelings are good things to have but not to act upon”. I learned that regaining control doesn’t mean I have to punish myself. Sometimes, regaining control can be reassuring myself that my recovery is what’s right for me, even if other people are doing different things or don’t understand why I do what I do. No one needs an explanation of my recovery, because it is for me…not them. As I write this, I haven’t purged or cut in over five months, have not used laxatives in over 6, and have been eating over a thousand calories every day for two weeks. But most of all, I learned that I can make it through tough situations without reverting to unhealthy behaviors. I learned that I can do what’s right for me. I learned to respect myself. And isn’t respecting yourself what life is about?