Episode 27 - Fuel on the Flame
Lindsey Hall feels like a giant, eight-year-long black hole devoured her late teens and 20's. Years that should have been spent figuring out who she was and what she cared about were erased by something called "Drunkorexia" - a nonmedical term for the fusion of alcoholism and anorexia.
An accomplished writer and authentic voice for recovery, Lindsey brings us along on her journey of discovering how precious life truly is.
You can find Lindsey's work at ihaventshavedinsixweeks.com or on Instagram @lindseyhallwrites.
Ellie Pike: [00:00:00] My five-month-old daughter sat on her own for the very first time yesterday. Maybe you didn't hear me. She sat on her own at five months of life. I know you may be like, "Cool it, lady. Sitting is just not that big [00:00:30] of a deal." When you think about it, just six months ago, she wasn't even breathing air on her own, had not seen the light of the sun, and had never touched another person.
When I put it that way, it just starts to feel like the developmental milestones are streaking by at breakneck speed. These changes have me thinking, how precious are these moments? I feel like I'm just getting used to one of my favorite cute noises that she makes and then poof, [00:01:00] it's transformed and will never be the same.
If, somehow, tomorrow, I went into a deep sleep and didn't wake up for, let's say, eight years, I cannot even begin to comprehend the feelings of loss I would experience. If I think five months has been a blur, what would it mean to miss eight years of my little girl's life, not to mention my own? As hard as this is to comprehend, today, we meet a person grappling with that very loss. Meet Lindsey.
Lindsey: [00:01:30] Hi, everyone. My name is Lindsey. I am the author behind ihaventshavedinsixweeks.com which never gets old when I say it out loud. I started this-
Ellie: Lindsey began her blog about five years ago after receiving treatment for an eating disorder and substance abuse. She currently lives in the mountains outside of Boulder, Colorado, works at a PR agency, and also writes about her life in recovery from a no-holds-barred perspective. Her brash and irreverent approach [00:02:00] is fueled by the knowledge that after waking up from an eighth-year alcohol and anorexia induced black hole, she has a lot of catching up to do, and she's not going to miss out on another moment.
You're listening to Mental Note podcast. I'm Ellie Pike.
Lindsey: I always start off by saying that my story really is no different than a lot of people's. Everyone has their own story of course. [00:02:30] My eating disorder started when I was young.
I grew up in a world where I grew up around eating disorder, disordered eating tendencies whether it was from my own family or from people around me. No one goes out into an eating disorder thinking they're going to have an eating disorder. It starts with all these little moves that you begin to do. When I was like 16, I started counting calories and cutting out certain food groups, et cetera, but really, it was around the time when my [00:03:00] best friend passed away.
It was a freak accident completely, and it devastated me. I had moved from Texas to Arkansas to go to a huge FCC school. When Bradley, my best friend, when he passed away, I did not have the coping tools at 18 to really understand how to grieve him or how to handle that kind of immense depression that came with his death.
Ellie: Lindsey began experimenting with restricting food as a way to express [00:03:30] the deep grief she didn't know how to handle. At the time, it felt like her only option.
Lindsey: As the years went on throughout college, it just got progressively worse. The college environment, it leads itself to binge drinking, right? That's become an accepted norm more or less. When I went into college, drinking was just a thing that everyone was doing around me. What was never discussed really was how drinking and eating disorders go hand in hand.
I can't count [00:04:00] how many times. I have clear visions in my head of one of my girlfriends or one of us saying, "Oh, hey. What did you eat for dinner tonight," or, "Hey, what did you eat for lunch?" "Oh, nothing. Just had the liquid diet," and then we would giggle as though that was just accepted.
Ellie: One of the main ways her eating disorder deepened was that she increasingly replaced food with alcohol, a condition commonly called drunkorexia. [00:04:30] Here, to make a little more sense around this term is Maggie Moore, a licensed therapist at Eating Recovery Center.
Maggie Moore: It's a term used to describe when somebody swapped out their food intake for alcohol intake. It's important to know that it is a slang term that is used in pop culture, but it's really based in a symptom of an eating disorder for somebody and can really impact their eating disorder at large.
Ellie: Can you describe maybe what that [00:05:00] would look like in an individual, and what some of those behavioral symptoms might look like?
Maggie: Somebody might, in preparation for a night of drinking, choose to restrict their food so that they would not be taking in the calories from the food but, instead, would be taking in the calories from the alcohol. Other behavioral symptoms could also look like over-exercising that day in preparation for a night of drinking.
Ellie: That all sounds extremely dangerous considering that [00:05:30] most people talk about needing to have a full stomach, so you don't get overly drunk when you do choose to consume alcohol. What are some of the side effects of doing that?
Maggie: Actually, it could be very unhealthy to drink alcohol on an empty stomach or when you're dehydrated. Alcohol can lead to dehydration. When somebody's already setting themselves up for being in a position with an empty stomach or dehydrated, it can lead [00:06:00] to alcohol poisoning, blackout, vomiting, fainting, which are very dangerous short-term and also very dangerous long-term.
Lindsey: By the time I was 23, I was living abroad in Spain because, of course, when you have an eating disorder, you just keep moving thinking that your location is somehow going to change you instead of-- You lose faith in yourself when you're in the eating disorder cycle for a really long period of time. [00:06:30] When I came back from Spain, I moved to New York for about three months.
My roommates contacted my parents, thank God, and they let them know that they thought that I was pretty much at the point where I needed more help than I could be getting from just one therapist or just on my own.
In 2013, I came home for Thanksgiving. Little did I know, my parents were watching me very closely. [00:07:00] I went to a wedding with them. I got completely hammered. I was not eating. I was hiding food in my coat, I believe. I came home that night, and my dad had gone through the trash. My dad had two boxes of cereal that I had binge ate on the coffee table. It was 2:00 in the morning.
I just sat with my family, and we cried. He said, "All right, Lindsey. This is it. You need to get help. You can't keep living this way." I totally broke down. I was [00:07:30] ready for it. I was so tired. It had been eight years at that point of living in this cycle. Right around Christmas time, I went to a treatment facility. I was in an inpatient for six weeks, and then I came back and did outpatient for a couple months.
Since then, I have been in recovery, but not without its ups and downs, of course, as we're going to talk about.
Ellie: Lindsey's story did not end with treatment. It really just began.
[00:08:00] I'm interested in knowing what life looks like in recovery and that it's not perfect. How do you deal with that?
Lindsey: I think one of the reasons that I've been fortunate to have this blog and fortunate to be able to have a voice in this community, in the recovery community is because when I started writing, I chose to write in a way that was going to be as raw and authentic as I could make it. Of course, my raw and authentic truth changes at times because [00:08:30] that's just the nature of being human.
I wanted to write about the ups and downs. When I went to treatment, I was looking for anything to tell me what it was going to be like. I couldn't find anything other than clinician or clinical blogs or inspiration quotes. Frankly, that is just not what I needed. I'm not the type of person that really feeds into inspiration quotes. I need the raw. I need the real. I needed to understand what it was going to look like for me.
Ellie: To give you a flavor of what she means by the raw and the real, here's the sample [00:09:00] of Lindsey's blog titles, Sh*t Rehab Never Taught Me: Part One, #FitFam: Surviving Instagram With An Eating Disorder, This Is Why Your Eating Disorder Is Boring, “But Red Wine Has Antioxidants”: Navigating Alcohol And Anorexia In Today's World, Why I Hope I Always Regret My Eating Disorder.
You get the idea. These aren't your typical academically informative entries or inspirational mantras. [00:09:30] She's funny. She's relatable. She writes in an urgent, yet thoughtful way that cuts through our smokescreens of excuses and makes us answer, "Why do you live the way you do?" Her writing is meant to speak to people in the midst of chaos, and even better, it works.
Her blog is consistently voted as a top resource online for mental health, eating disorders, and personal growth. She is a growing voice for approaching recovery with grace and a commitment to flexible recovery. [00:10:00]
Lindsey: I've termed this phrase I call, "Flexible Recovery", because I think that your definition of, "Okay", changes [laughs] and it changes a lot in recovery. I guess it came to this place where I'm either going to be very frustrated with recovery as a whole and feel I'm failing out at it which is exactly how I felt in my eating disorder. I didn't want to feel that way anymore.
I had to come to terms with this idea of redirecting, accepting that it's going to happen and accepting that inevitably, [00:10:30] I'm not going to do recovery the way that I envisioned it in the beginning. I think that's becoming very aware of what you're doing and having this radical self-forgiveness which takes a long time to get there, because you're already trying to forgive yourself for all the years that you spent in an eating disorder.
But then, when you start in recovery and you have these slip-ups, because of this black and white thinking that goes along with eating disorders, we take that and then we're like, "Oh, okay. Well, then I messed up. Now, that means that I failed at it so I might as well [00:11:00] just go back to it."
There's such this extreme black-and-white feeling or black-and-white thinking about an eating disorder.
At some point, I knew that kind of philosophy wasn't going to serve me well. I came into a place of just recognizing it and understanding that it was going to happen and that I wasn't failing that day because it was happening. It was just needing to have some radical self-acceptance of it happening, if that makes sense.
Ellie: I think it does. [00:11:30] I know that I've read in your blogs your honest "confessions" of those moments. Whether it's you had the desire to skip a meal or you even noticed after you skipped the meal, that you had done it or maybe drinking more than what you wanted to and then having to stop and be like, "Why did I do that?"
Those are great examples of flexible recovery, that it's not going to be black and white, it's not going to be linear, and you're not going to do it perfectly. [00:12:00] I'm wondering how you do that? Choosing a different direction, the re-correction of your actions.
Lindsey: I oftentimes, have to sit there and look at my life. People say not to regret anything in your life, but I do regret things in my life. Actually, I just recently wrote a blog post about why I hope I always regret my eating disorder because I think regret in a sense, not guilt, there's a difference, but I think the regret of the years that I spent at eating disorder is what feels me [00:12:30] to be in recovery today.
These days it's taking a look at when I can feel that I'm starting to go there, when there's a trigger that happens with something. When I'm watching these behaviors, like when I eat too much granola and I know that sounds crazy, but granola is a huge trigger food for me and when I noticed that I'm doing that, I have to sit there and ask myself, "What's the purpose of why am I doing this? What's it really relating back to?"
Then really think about it ultimately like, "Is this the life that I want to live?" [00:13:00]
Ellie: Asking those questions shifts the focus from her return to disordered behavior to living a life aligned with her values. Maggie Morgan on what exactly a value is and how to rely on them in recovery.
Maggie: When we talk about values, I think it's important for us to just understand that our values are things that really align with who we are and who it is that we want to be. Values aren't achievable goals. They're not things that we can check off. [00:13:30] A value somebody may have in connection with others.
Somebody who decided to drink one night to an excess or whether or not it was a conscious decision or just happened, they were going in a direction of thinking that they were connecting with others. Instead, they missed the mark of that connection and uses maladaptive behavior of drinking to an excess. The aftermath of that is feeling [00:14:00] not connecting to your values and feeling disconnected from others and feeling shame.
An opportunity to say, "Okay, I don't feel a strong connection with myself and with others when I drink like that, so how can I honor my value of connection in a way that feels good to me and feels good to others? Being able to enjoy a conversation with friends out on the quad [00:14:30] on a sunny afternoon?" That's an opportunity of connection in a way that really aligns with your values.
Lindsey: When I went to treatment, I remember sitting there in a group of women and we had to write out what our recovery looked like. I think everyone should do this and I think everyone should do it every year of their recovery because your goal of recovery, what you envision recovery is going to change as you recover longer as more time goes by because things are going to come up for you.
[00:15:00] Your life is going to change, you're going to grow into being this new full person that you didn't have when you were stuck in you're eating disorder. I spent eight of my most formative years being obsessed with my way and with what I look like and with the gym. There's a lot of things I did in those eight years that I didn't get to show up for fully.
We are only here once, right? I know everyone says that and it's so hard to actually live it, [00:15:30] but we literally are only in this planet at least once in this body. I don't know. I'm often fueled to not go back with the thought of, "I don't want to miss anymore in my life. I'm almost 30 years old and I still got a life left to live."
You have to forgive yourself for those years. It wasn't the person that you were meant to be and you were in something and you did the best that you knew. It's like that [00:16:00] Maya Angelou quote, right? It's like, "Once you know how to do better, you do better, but until then, there's a lot of forgiveness that goes on."
Ellie: I wanted to wrap today's show by sharing an excerpt from a post Lindsey shared last March titled This Is Why Your Eating Disorder Is Boring.
I spoke with a co-worker recently, who's in recovery for alcoholism. [00:16:30] "Ever feel like you're behind on the times?", I asked.
Male Speaker: "They say the day you engage with your addiction, you become stunted in all areas.", he replied.
Ellie: "I have no skills." I said. "It's like I bumble through the world with no useful knowledge or effect."
Male Speaker: He smiled. "I know what you mean. I spent a majority of my teens and early 20s drinking so I don't really have a lot of other memories."
Ellie: "Right?" I said. "It's like I know nothing about anything. I'm still 16 trying to learn how to cook or be a citizen [00:17:00] or a girlfriend or how to manage my finances."
Male Speaker: "Totally." He agreed. "But you can't change what happened."
Ellie: We parted then as I walked out and went to a sushi place, I frequent, on the days I'd rather write than socialize. It's easy to be a pawn to our eating disorders. It's sad to know that maybe we have some years to catch up on, but we can't change reality. This is the only life you have. You don't have a redo so we can either wallow [00:17:30] in our choices or try to change the monologue.
I hate that I spent formative years, young years being sad, and being lost in a way that wasn't building anything. This world isn't yours. It's no ones.
It's a world we inhabit for a second and then leave for others. Learn all we can, right? Learn every bloody thing we can. Soak up the world [00:18:00] that we know because it's the only world will ever know. We die and we leave ripples. Have your ripples touch other ripples?
Lindsey: If your motivation is to have a better life than what your eating disorder or what your addiction whatever it was was giving you, then no, you can't fail at it. You just have to keep the end goal in mind. [00:18:30] There is no failing of recovery. Are there missteps? Hell, yes. [chuckles] Is there failure? No. Not if your intent is to have a better and more present life than what you were having in your eating disorder.
Ellie: Absolutely. I think just to add to that. My perspective would be even if you've relapsed and even if you need treatment again or if you need to ask for more help, you're still learning, right? Recovery is about learning. That's something that your story [00:19:00] really speaks highly to it. It's not about it being perfect and linear. It's about it being flexible and taking every opportunity to learn.
Thanks for listening to Mental Note podcast. We've been speaking today with Lindsey Hall, the author behind ihaventshavedinsixweeks.com. You can and definitely should check out more of Lindsey's writing. To find her, go to ihaventshavedinsixweeks.com or on Instagram @lindseyhallwrites. [00:19:30] Our show is sponsored by the dedicated folks at Eating Recovery Center and Insight Behavioral Health Centers.
They're trained, passionate, and able to help you find recovery. For a free consultation, please reach out at 877-411-9578. Today's show was produced and edited by Sam Pike and I'm Ellie Pike. Till next time.
[00:20:32] [END OF AUDIO]
Lindsey Hall is an award-winning eating disorder recovery speaker and writer, focusing on what she refers to as "the nitty gritty topics not discussed." Having struggled with the eating disorder cycle for many years, Lindsey has actively been in her coined "flexible recovery" since 2014, and is the author behind "I Haven't Shaved in Six Weeks," a blog written to humanize the stigmas of eating disorders and treatment.
Through her published writing, she has had the privilege of speaking around the world on nuanced topics such as Body Dysmorphic Disorder, Drunkorexia, Exercise Addiction, Orthorexia and other eating disorder behaviors, and has been featured in publications including TODAY Show, CBS, Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Women's Health, SheKnows, NEDA, SHAPE Magazine, Refinery29, and more.
Her future plans in recovery advocacy are currently focused on owning and converting a van to take it on the road so she can report on treatment centers and eating disorder resources around the country in a dream she's envisioned as "Recovery on the Road."
Follow Lindsey Hall on Instagram.