Saturday, April 2, 2016

My recovery story for AIIA

I had the unexpected honor of being chosen as Addict II Athlete MVP of the month, and was asked to write my recovery story. So I'm posting it here as well. I love AIIA and feel privileged to be a part of this team. The bonds, connection, and friends I've made are priceless. 

Addict II Athletes MVP of the month goes to: 
Congratulations! Here's a little about
My name is Tara Workman-Tulley licensed clinical social worker, and licensed direct-entry midwife. My passion is in addressing addiction, eating disorders, and maternal mental health. I believe that to really heal addiction, violence, mental and physical illness we have to start with addressing mental health before, during and after pregnancy. I’m fascinated with the emerging field of neuroimmunology showing the imprint that stress and adverse childhood experiences  during gestation and early childhood  impact not only the rates of addiction in offspring, but in altering DNA to make the net generation more at risk for the same illnesses. By addressing maternal mental health, we not only are helping the life of the mother and her child, but we are helping to mitigate the effects of generational stress and trauma and hopefully altering DNA in a good way that will make the next generation less prone to these diseases. 

My story is long and complicated, so I will attempt to write the cliffnotes version. I experienced quite a bit of trauma in my early childhood, and I am the oldest child of 8 siblings. My parents did the best they could to raise us to be healthy, productive adults, but there were many things outside of their control that impacted us as children. By the time I was 10-11 years old, I remember being depressed and feeling ashamed about my body. Although I am not a tall adult, I gained most of my height early, and I developed as a young women starting at the age of 9. I was shamed for my body size because I was taller and more developed than my peers. By the time I was 11 years old, I was obsessed with figuring out how to become anorexic. My drug of choice was never a chemical substance, I didn’t like feeling out of control, and so controlling my food, exercise, and weight became my drug of choice. 

When I was 14-years old, I remember sitting in a health class at school, and watching very sensationalized documentaries on emaciated women, showing how much they ate, how they cut up their food, how they over exercised, took laxatives, and vomited after eating to control their weight and size. Unfortunately, instead of making me afraid of anorexia, even with showing pictures of Karen Carpenter before her death, I felt like I was connected to those women. In a weird way, I looked up to them for their ability to have so much self-control. It was from that moment that something snapped in my brain, and my deadly dance with Ed (Eating Disorder) began. 

Sadly, the symptoms of my disease were encouraged by the adults around me. I quickly lost weight. I felt like I had really accomplished something. The fact that I could go all day on a few hundred calories, hide the fact that i wasn’t eating, run for miles in the middle of the night, or wake up at 3-4am to exercise for 2 hours before school, and rapidly lost weight was encouraged by all of the adults around me. I was congratulated for my success, and for making my body conform to super-model status. As is the case with many women with anorexia, starvation can only be maintained for so long. After about 9-10 months, the brain can’t take it anymore and suddenly i found myself eating through abnormal amounts of food in the middle of the night, and then spending the next couple of hours over the toilet vomiting. I begin to punish myself for these episodes, but increasing my self-exercise abuse. This progressed to vomiting almost every time I ate, even if I had eaten just a little. I found myself running to the bathroom after every class, just to make sure there was nothing left in my stomach. It got so bad, that I started vomiting blood, but I never told anyone. Additionally I started taking laxatives in high amounts, to ensure that all of the calories left my body. 

I hated myself, and what I had become, but after 2 years of this, I was not able to stop. I became suicidal and hopeless, and sometimes would cut on myself. Finally, I was brave enough to tell my parents, I don’t think they knew how to react. My mom’s reaction was “i don’t think you are really bulimic, this is just a phase or cry for attention”. For a while it got worse after I told, my mom didn’t know how to handle Ed, and Ed became the contention of everything. When large amounts of food would disappear, she would yell out of desperation that I was wasting money and disrespecting the work that went into making the food. She was doing her best, but didn’t understand my addiction, and neither did I. Finally, it got bad enough that my parents sought help for me. I was mad, I didn’t want to see a therapist, I wasn’t crazy. But I went. Unfortunately the therapist I saw for the next 15 months made things worse, and did some very inappropriate things that harmed me and lead to more trauma. 

One day, when I was 17, I thought I had spontaneously recovered, I became a strict vegan, and stopped throwing up, but didn’t realize I was just finding a more socially acceptable way to have an eating disorder. This went on for a while. When I was 17.5 I was raped, and it sent me back down into a bad depression. I was afraid to see a therapist because of my previous experience, but a friend pushed me into trying it one more time, and luckily I found a good therapist, that helped me to get my life back online for about 9 months. I thought I was done, but i really hadn’t addressed all of the trauma and distorted thinking I had. She moved away at that point, and I got engaged. I traded Ed for obsessing about how I was going t be the perfect mother, and wife, and not have to ever think about the bad stuff again. 

Then I got pregnant. The first two trimesters were fine, but beginning my third trimester I started to have severe anxiety, and didn’t know but I was experiencing what is called perinatal OCD. I had crazy thoughts and fears that when on in my head on repeat, and got worse as the pregnancy progressed. I had a difficult but natural home-birth, and thought i was finally in a good place. But then 5 days after my daughter was born, I found myself in a deep depression, and my OCD thoughts worsening. I thought I was psychotic, and felt that I had failed as a mother. But i didn’t want everyone to know I was crazy. So when she was 10 days old, without telling my husband or anyone, I registered for midwifery school. For the next two years midwifery school became my addiction, and my way of avoiding addressing my emotional state. Then 19 months later my son was born, my symptoms worsened during and after his pregnancy, and I was near the end of my schooling, and had less t distract me. 

When he was 2 months old, a great-aunt called me fat, and it sent me into a downward track. Because I no longer had school to distract me, i started going to the orem rec center and dropping my kids off for the maximum 4 hours i could leave them in the day care because i was afraid i was going to hurt them, and i worked out that whole time. I was also running morning and night when my husband was home. I started taking dangerous amounts of diet pills, and lost a lot of weight. And then when he was 1 years old, i suddenly came out of it, and had 1 full year that i actually was mentally stable and healthy about my body and food. 

But then I got pregnant with my youngest child, and the OCD and depression returned. It lead me to getting into an unhealthy business partnership. When she was 3 years old, i still wasn’t OK, and I started having traumatic memories come back to me, that I had been avoiding for many years. I started wanting to restrict and vomit again. This time I sought help before acting on my urges, but the therapist I saw was not specialized, and did some things that made the situation worse. I got sicker, and finally relapsed. 

I lost 70 lbs in a three month period, and was running 13-15 miles per day, on very few calories. I would come back from the runs, almost passing out, and my health started to decline. I finally realized the therapy I was in was not helping, and found a therapist who was specialized. 

During my recovery I was met with resistance by dietitians who knew i was running, but my therapist was open minded and recognized that for me, running was not really a part of my addiction, and that running actually provided an outlet that made me feel positive about my body. Running became the catalyst to recovery for me. I started to treat my body better as i begin to run marathons and ultra-marathons. 

In early recovery, running was my replacement for Ed, but as i started to find self-love again, address difficult emotions, and heal trauma, running became just one peice of recovery. Eventually, through a lot of spiritual searching, I found myself back in school, and ended up in a social work program in graduate school. I wanted to understand why running was healthy for me, when most of the eating disordered field looked down on my method of recovery. I started to develop and write out a recovery model, that I didn’t know how to describe to people, and figured out that when I was stuck in Ed, Ed was who I thought I was, and that i had to let go of that identity and re-define who I thought I was. That was painful, and it felt like I was losing a best friend, and a worst enemy at the same time. 

The difficulty with a food addiction, is that I couldn’t not avoid my drug of choice, I had to learn how to cope with food, and fullness. My body had to relearn was hunger felt like. I had to learn to sit through the discomfort of fullness. 

As i have developed professionally, I studied and gained expertise connecting the dots between my pregnancies, and relapses, and recognized there were big holes in treatment and understanding of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and eating disorder treatment. When i discovered Addict II Athlete, I was instantly connected to it, because it matched my model of recovery that I had found, and I finally found other professionals that understood and supported my path of recovery. The Erase and Replace model, is exactly what I did to move from recovery to fully recovered and alive. 
I have gratitude every day that I am alive, able to run, and love my body no matter what state it is in. I have evolved to be OK when I can’t run, and I know I am a person that is worthy of unconditional love and acceptance. I seek to help other women and men find the same peace i have found through being recovered.