I used to be afraid of recovery. Not so much the action of recovering itself, but more like what happens after the fact. When I am out, on my own, and recovered.
I was fearful.
My life had revolved around this huge elephant in the room that nobody talked about. Some people refused to acknowledge its existence, some knew about it but was unsure what to do about it.
- What would I do when I wasn’t catering to ED every moment of every day?
- Who would I be if I wasn’t completely immersed in my eating disorder?
- Who would I be when ED was no longer able to tell me who I was?
First, I was afraid of letting go of the one thing in my life that was constant. The ridicule and critical comments that came from ED daily, but yet, found comfort in it. I clung to ED because it was what I knew. There was no other way of life, I gave in to every demand ED threw at me. “Run more.” “Eat less.” “Throw that up.” With everything else going on in my life I didn’t have time to slow down or focus on anything besides my disordered habits.
Then, during treatment I feared me.
- What would I do when I wasn’t acting on ED behaviors?
- Who would I become?
- How would I handle it?
- What would I eat?
I feared everything and nothing simultaneously. Putting my trust in my team and in the process, yet fearing the change and the unknown that laid ahead.
After treatment I feared relapse, but feared gaining weight. Still scared about who I would be and how my life would turn out. I began to cope and try to find balance.
While I feared relapse and being a “failure” at recovery, I also feared doing it well.
I was scared that if I did better people would no longer care about me and some of the people closest to me would kick me to the curb.
I feared rejection.
Fear of being rejected because of my slip ups and relapses and feeling like a disappointment to others.
Also fearful of no longer being cared about or acknowledged.
There are still uncertainties that come with recovery that I question and struggle with. Disordered thoughts and counteracting them are something I haven’t yet mastered. I do know, that I no longer fear the idea of being “normal”. The days I have had without ED are some of the most fun and freeing ones I have had.
The people that I fear will leave me, I have tried to shift that and think about how they want me to get better and not struggle. I want to continue on and make them proud of me. I want them to turn to other people and clients and say something along the lines of, “She has come so far.” “I am so proud of her accomplishments.” “She is doing great.”
I want to recover, without fear.
I was having a stressful two weeks. Stressed over my future, my roommate, guys, my job, family, so much on my plate.
So, instead of going to OP because I needed a swift kick, I skipped last week.
It was a poor decision, but instead of dealing with the stress and emotions I wanted to completely bury it and avoid it all costs.
I fell, and I fell hard.
I messaged T and we talked for a bit. She was concerned, I was pissed at the world and slipping. The ability to name my feelings and acknowledge them wasn’t fathomable.
Later that week I drove to OP.
Annoyed, upset, guilt-ridden, overwhelmed, regretful, and just emotion-over-full, I pulled into the parking lot. At some point it was then that I decided to not be difficult. I was struggling, it didn’t mean they needed to.
They knew I was struggling, I knew, so why would I waste their time deflecting, being snarky and mean, when we could just get down to business. It was then I decided to make the choice to leave ED in the car for this one.
I walked into my dietitian’s office and talked. Admitting my slip-ups, the difficulties and my stressors. I told her that I didn’t go last week because I didn’t want to own up or acknowledge my screw ups.
After that appointment, I went across the hall to my therapist’s office. For the past month or so, T and I had been going on walks during our session- Not this week. I was honestly grateful and relieved. T told me we weren’t walking today, but could go sit outside, that worked for me. With so many thoughts and emotions flooding me I knew I would become too wrapped up in walking, than opening up. We sat outside, I got comfortable on the grass, T sat on a bench.
“So, what’s up with all these guys?” she went right for the throat with the first question of many to come.
What usually would have been me shrugging and saying, “I don’t know.” Became an actual honest answer. Talking about the married guy I was talking too, but didn’t realize he was married, the one who only wants to hook up, my stalker, the hottie with the temper. The honesty began to just roll off my tongue with little hesitation.
Continuing our conversation about guys, then talked about me moving, talked about my roommate, my best friend, family, exercise, feelings and self-harm.
This led to the next challenge with leaving ED in the car and the next challenging question. “Can I see your leg?” Everything in me wanted to scream, “No. Fuck off. I screwed up, I know.” Up until this point I had been sitting in such a way that covered my leg from her being able to see it. I obliged and gave in. I was more ashamed and embarrassed than actually mad, annoyed or even pissed.
After a few seconds of silence T spoke up, “I’m so proud of all of your progress, months ago you wouldn’t have been this open and talking about feelings. Honestly, K and I weren’t sure what to expect with the week you had.”
I told her about me trying to leave ED in the car and not be difficult. T was glad to hear it and mentioned my progress again. She had talked to K before I got there and didn’t want to talk to ED and my attitude, but me instead. So, I’m glad my appointment went so well.
When our session was wrapping up she asked me to have the nurse check out my leg. I didn’t want to, I argued and objected, then hesitantly followed T back to the house and down the hall. We went to the nurse’s office and shut the door, T told her that we needed her assistance. I wanted to curl up into a hole, I was already so embarrassed, guilty, shameful, and nervous about my mistake…. So much shame. The nurse said she would take care of it but wanted to see all of it and asked T to leave, she got ready to stand up. Like a three year old I squealed “No!”, T sat back down and looked at me. They looked at my leg and the nurse opened her box. She cleaned the area around it, and got some iodine glue mixture to help close up the gash. The nurse explained that she worked at a jail, and that there was no judgement, which made me feel some relief.
The area was cleaned, wrapped and fixed up. I turned around and gave T a huge hug. I explained to both of them that I hate falling back on being so destructive, and that in genuinely bothers me. T said she knows it bothers me. The next day I went to neurofeedback, and I honestly believe that helped tremendously with the anxiety. It is the craziest thing, but I am so glad T pushed me into going. I may not fully understand it, but I do know that I feel better afterwards, and can feel a difference anxiety-wise.
All I could think about this morning while making my oatmeal with an egg and peanut butter, were T’s words regarding my recovery. I never would have eaten these items before treatment. I also know how right T is about my progress. Able to acknowledge feelings, name them, and sometimes, if I am lucky, even tolerate them.
I am guilty, guilty of mentally falling into the cliché stereotyped expectations of eating disorder sufferers. Convinced I was healthy, I would never allow myself to utter the words “eating disorder”. Instead would defend my actions as “picky”, “already ate”, “healthy” or, “I’m just weird about food.”
Visualizing the emaciated, stick figure, thigh-gap possessing, rib showing, cheek bone protruding individuals as the ones with eating disorders. These are the girls I longed to become. Somehow my value and self-esteem would increase with the more visible ribs and thigh gap. On days when I felt like a failure I allowed my self-hatred and ED behaviors be fueled by “thinspiration” posts. Sure that by restricting and running I could accomplish slowly shrinking.
In my mind, not being tiny and itty bitty was viewed as a failure, not a relief. I consistently lived feeling as though I was a screw up and could do nothing right- this was no different. “You can’t do anything right,” it would scream, “you can’t even have an eating disorder the right way.” This just fed my self-hatred and loathing.
Living life 100 mph I never allowed myself to slow down or stop for long. Being deep in my eating disorder was just a strict version of what I considered a life. I refused to consume more than 300 calories a day. I popped laxatives and diet pills like tic tacs; because of this I would shake and tremble, sometimes having to stop midway up the stair case before continuing to class. My bag got progressively heavier, my legs weak and intestines gurgling.
The laxatives served two purposes; one was to rid my system of whatever was in it, the second was a deterrent to keep me from eating. With nothing in my system there was nothing to flush, but with one bite could keep me running to the bathroom during class.
During this time I also had two gym memberships, giving me access to three gyms actually (well four, if you count the one at work). I started running in temperatures ranging as low as 16 degrees Fahrenheit. Going to the rec in the morning, then using the gym on campus between classes, running after class but just before work. This was life, it was consumed by when I could get my next run in. I felt like a junkie, waiting for my next fix.
The foods I allowed myself to consume was slim to none. On a good day I would grab an apple and cup of black coffee. After my run it would be time for a refill on coffee to help the shakes subside. My jello legs would then find their way to class where I continued on my coffee to keep me warm and focused.
I would skip sleeping to run, sometimes on the treadmill until 11 pm, to be up to run at 5 am, I would skip class to run, skip study sessions, and would rather spend time at the gym than studying.
If I felt truly hungry when I got home I allowed myself one egg white, tomato and spinach, and would smother it with sriracha, maybe even an onion if I was feeling generous.
Still, I deemed myself “healthy”. I was able to run, I still went to class, I wasn’t XX lbs. I knew my actions weren’t healthy, but still considered myself to be in great health. I also knew I was unable to stop my actions and behaviors by myself.
I had my gallbladder taken out because of issues with stomach acid, ripped my entire IT band, fell at work from not eating and had a hairline fracture of my sacrum and coccyx, and hadn’t seen my period in who know how long. Yet the only thing that matters to me was that my weight never plummeted, so therefore I was never sick.
My ED wasn’t serious. I wasn’t hospitalized, never passed out and got hurt, wasn’t itty bitty or fragile. I didn’t need treatment, I wasn’t “sick”, just struggling. Treatment wasn’t necessary, I was fine, I didn’t DESERVE treatment, or recovery.
Recovery was for those who had hit rock bottom, were nothing but a hollow shell of a person and a skeleton, were on a feeding tube and weren’t able to walk, let alone run. Recovery was for those much worse than me. I didn’t want or need help or sympathy, I had it under control. My body was involuntarily throwing up food, but that was because of my own actions and decisions, why should anyone care?
I was never super sick, never deathly ill or fragile. My recovery mindset is based on my views of my eating disorder. My ED was never THAT bad, therefore, recovery is more important to those super sick. I’m undeserving of recovery because there are others out there who are more sick and need it more than me. I never took my ED seriously, thinking I am invincible, unworthy and undeserving. It seemed more like a security blanket than a life of slavery.
Apparently how worthy and deserving of recovery I am is based solely on my weight and nothing else….?
I do hope that at some point I will be able to look back and call bullshit on my “healthy” ED lies and reconsider my undeserving mindset. I don’t want to look back and tell people I was fine, healthy. I want to own it for whatever it may be, disordered or not. Sometimes, when I am daydreaming, I picture a recovered self, telling my story. What would I say? “I wasn’t sick or bad or anything though….”
“Just write” she says, yeah fucking right, I want to run. Run far away, nothing but asphalt under me, sky above me and the sun on me. My feet keeping tempo at the same beat that floods through my ears. Ignoring everyone and everything, completely tuned out from the world. Being able to numb out and ignore my problems that wait for me as soon as I stop running.
Even temporary freedom, no phone, no people no commitments or small talk- this is one of the only times I’m perfectly content being with me. Not comfortable being me, but being with me.
I am not thinking about Zach and how he wants to come over so we can fool around and have no interest in a relationship. I’m not stressed out about the fact I was accidently talking to a married guy, or how Colby wants to go out. Or about Matt, oh dear God, fucking Matt and his excessive amount of unnecessary bull shit. Sending me letters in the mail. Letters?? Really?? Why are you sending me stuff in the mail? Letters, a package? Why?
My main concern when I am running is how many calories I am burning and how many miles I can get in. There is nothing standing in my way and the feeling is one of freedom and relaxation. It is my own version of therapy. I’ve told people before that, “Only the Lord himself could stop me during a run. He would have to come down and stand right there.” There are very few circumstances where I will stop what I am doing mid-run to cater to something else.
This, is where it all gets complicated though. I also run because I absolutely love it. The feeling of my pony tail bouncing, my hair blowing in the wind, the sweat dripping down my back, feeling my heart beat- I love it. My knee and hip begin to ache, but I can feel the smile across my face, watching passing cars wave and even cheer me on. It is even a prideful thing, being able to push my body from starting with three miles and working to be able to do a half marathon. It is a sense of accomplishment. Thrilled that I have made it to this many miles.
Am I running to run and for enjoyment, or what am I running from? Am I running away from my feelings and running from stuff? Where do I draw the line? It’s such a grey area for me. Running because “I have to” or because “I want to”?
Everyday, as someone recovering from an eating disorder, you must face it. The issue you are most bothered by, it happens not just once a day, but several times. You can never really escape from it, it is the monkey on your back, the devil on your shoulder.
What if your eating disorder was like your period? You knew it was coming, but not really sure when. You didn’t have to be on edge all the time waiting for it and wondering, because you knew around the time it would show it’s ugly head.
Or, even better, what if your eating disorder was like Christmas?
Sounds crazy huh? What if though, instead of having this constant, unexpected, yet never ceasing, voice that tormented you day in and day out, several times a day, it came like Christmas. You were prepared. You expected it’s arrival in a perfunctory way. You mentally prepared yourself for the good and the bad. Changing your surroundings to cater to the need of the season. Knowing it would only be around for a short time and then leave once again. Knowing and expecting the craziness that comes along with it, for a few short moments it may seem joyous, and great until you leave your comfort zone. No longer safe and warm, you realize how hectic it can become, how busy, exhausting and even anxiety provoking. Christmas shopping is the worst, but you are prepared. You knew this day would come when the list of “to-dos” would pop back up, and following these seasonal “rules” of what to buy, what not to buy, but you had a list.
What if your eating disorder was like Christmas?
It came once a year.
You were mentally and physically prepared for it.