Gratitude Lists: Celebrating 2016

Colorful High Definition

This is inspired by myambivalentexistence‘s post “What I Gained from 2016.” Great idea!

Here’s a tip from age 23: gratitude lists.

I used to do these everyday when I was recovering from my psychotic break. When I first started writing gratitude lists, the only things I could think of to be grateful for were things like “air” or “sleep” (and some days not even that because I wished I was dead). Those lists grew over time until I could find tons of things to be grateful for even though my life was far from how I wanted it to be.

So, here is a gratitude list for 2016:

2016 was a tough year in a lot of ways.

I regret quite a few things – like how I handled challenges, the opportunities I turned down because I was afraid or depressed, and how I disrespected my body with eating disordered behavior.

2016, however was also a great year in many ways.

Having gratitude and seeing the positive is definitely something I want to do more of in 2017.

So, without further ado:

Here is my 2016 gratitude list:

  • I graduated from college (despite medical leaves, hospitalizations, bipolar disorder, an eating disorder, and substance abuse issues)
  • I ended a dysfunctional relationship
  • I resolved to only become involved with people who respect me, even if that means being alone sometimes
  • I accepted my imperfections and let people see my flaws
  • I ended my restrictive diet (of 1.5 years) and began eating all types of foods
  • I became independent from my family
  • I traveled the world, met amazing people, and had incredible experiences
  • I started this blog to finally face my past and write without shame about my bipolar disorder, eating disorder recovery, and sobriety
  • I resumed a writing project from a couple of years ago that has great personal significance (I wrote it while recovering from my psychotic episode)
  • I stopped bingeing in a sustainable and healthy way not driven by willpower or self hatred
  • I’m now 3 years sober
  • I haven’t purged in 2 years

And here are other things I am grateful for:

  • Being alive
  • My health
  • My family that loves me unconditionally
  • Friends who know about my struggles and accept me
  • Opportunities to travel
  • This beautiful world full of diverse cultures and people
  • Food
  • My brain’s neuroplasticity that allows me to change and grow regardless of my past
  • My intelligence, courage, and resourcefulness
  • My commitment to eating disorder recovery and sobriety
  • This incredible network of strong individuals I’ve met through blogging and being real
  • My sanity
  • The kindness of strangers
  • Healing and forgiveness
  • Letting go of the past little by little
  • My optimism and resolve to make 2017 the best year ever!

I hope you all have a happy New Year’s Eve!

Best wishes,

Signature: Twenty-Three (Dear Cookie Monster)

Twenty-Three (age 23)

Future Visualization for Breaking Habits

I’ve decided to start writing down recovery tips to remind myself what I know.

I’ve learned so much over the years of treatment and personal experience, but they’re easy to forget in the moment!

So, for the first tip, here’s a visualization exercise.

It’s immensely helpful to bring up these images when I’m about to do a maladaptive behavior I’m trying to stop, or engage in a new healthy behavior I don’t necessarily feel like doing:

Future Visualization for Breaking Habits by Dear Cookie Monster

Answer the following questions:

  1. Where do you want to be in 5 years?
  2. In 10 years?
  3. In 20 years?
  4. What do you need to do to get there?
  5. Where will you be instead in 5 years if nothing changes?
  6. In 10 years?
  7. In 20 years?

When answering these questions, try to use all 5 senses and be specific as possible:

  • How you feel in your body?
  • What your relationships are like?
  • What you do for a living?
  • What you do for fun or personal growth?
  • What are your emotions?
  • Where do you live?
  • What do you look like?
  • How do you dress?
  • What sort of example do you set for people you care about?

For me, the most impactful images from this exercise are 20 years out.

What will happen if I keep doing what I’m doing:

If I keep bingeing, hiding inside, avoiding people, giving up on my dreams, stewing over the past, and wearing baggy clothes to hide my size – I don’t like what I see.

  • I picture myself in a ratty old nightdress that I wear over and over again because nothing else fits and I don’t want to do laundry.
  • My body is always sore and bloated and uncomfortable.
  • I don’t have any close friends, my parents are now deceased, my brother has long since stopped talking to me, and I don’t have a family of my own.
  • I have some sort of job that I hate but pays the bills (barely).
  • I don’t do anything for fun or personal growth besides binge and watch videos online to pass the time.
  • I feel numb from the food. When I do feel, I am depressed about my life, angry that things turned out this way, and resentful of everyone whose life is better than mine. I hate myself and am disgusted with how I live my life.
  • My unhealthy lifestyle has exacerbated my bipolar disorder, and I’ve been in and out of the hospital a few more times. Each time I get worse because I have no support system to help me get back on my feet.
  • I’m in some dingy little apartment, maybe just renting a room because I can’t afford anything more.
  • My hair is straggly and unkept, my skin is blotchy from all the food, I wear clothes that are loose and baggy.
  • I set an example of what not to be like.

What will happen if I change:

If I eat normally, go outside and meet people, pursue my dreams, and dress for the body I have – I have a shot at a great life.

  • I feel alive in my body with lots of energy. I sleep well and wake up well-rested. I can run, move, climb, hike.
  • I have close friends that I see regularly, coworkers, and I have a family of my own – a husband with kids and his extended family. Even if my parents are deceased and my brother doesn’t want to know me, I still have people in my life I can call family.
  • I’ve pursued my dreams and they pay the bills, or I’ve found a fulfilling job that does while I pursue those dreams on the side. I’ve maybe gone back to school for that advanced degree that lets me work the job I’ve always wanted.
  • For fun and personal growth, I go hiking, I rock climb, I read books, I write, I play with my kids and kiss my husband.
  • I have a deep sense of contentment beneath whatever surface emotions come and go. I’ve learned how to live with bipolar disorder and can manage the small fluctuations like a pro. My family all know this and love and support me just the way I am.
  • I live with my family in a nice flat in the city we can afford because we are responsible adults when it comes to our finances.
  • I look healthy because I am healthy and I take care of my body. I wear clothes that I like rather than because they hide my body. They have colors and the fabric is nice.
  • I set a great example for my kids, for my coworkers, for other people in recovery, and for people in general trying to live a fulfilling life.

I know these two examples are extreme, and maybe neither would ever be a reality, but they have been two shining beacons guiding my choices.

If I want to binge, I think of myself standing in front of a mirror in that ratty nightdress with blotchy skin and straggly hair.

I’ll then see myself having a picnic instead with my future family in a nice big park with green grass. The stark contrast makes the choice easy.

I also hammer it home that the choice begins today.

That’s why doing the visualization in increments (5 years, 10 years, 20 years) is so helpful. I can see how that change would progress over time. Those come in handy when I say “that’s so far in the future, one more time wouldn’t hurt.

It would. Because choosing that life over and over again will make it a reality.

Bringing back this visualization is what helped me to quit bingeing cold turkey over a week ago. After bingeing for over 5 months, this is the longest I’ve gone since I started. And it hasn’t felt like work. The choice is so easy and obvious when I make it this black and white.

It’s even worked the few instances when I’ve overeaten, felt out of control, and just wanted to go binge until I couldn’t breathe. This NEVER happens. If I overeat, a binge is basically guaranteed.

Anyway, this has been a good reminder for me. I hope anyone who reads will also find it useful!

Best,

Ana (age 25)

P.S.

Maybe we should each give a tip from our respective ages? I (Ana, age 25) have definitely forgotten tips that Twenty-Three (age 23) or Fifteen (age 15) used. Cookie Monster (age 11) surely has ways to cope with stress that we’ve all long forgotten.