Hello all! Happy New Year, and a belated happy holidays!
*Cough* So I totally fell off the grid… and that pisses me off. Cause you know, you follow all these blogs, and you look forward to the next post that’s going to hit your inbox. So you wait, and you wait, and you wait… and then it’s been like a week and a half and you start to get frustrated and annoyed because you’re anticipant right?! The things about successful blogs are consistency. Like, they don’t have to post every day, because that has the potential to be annoying, but even if the blogger commits to once a week, or once every two, you know that there’ll be something there every Wednesday, or Friday, or Saturday morning for you to enjoy while eating your baked oatmeal slathered in peanut butter.
So you lose your patience and eventually stop following the blog all together because there’s no commitment. And if you’re going to devote quality oatmeal time, there had better be some dedication from the author too. I mean, it’s oatmeal time! It’s valuable.
And then you realize, in all your frustration, that you haven’t updated your own blog in… *grimmace, and cough* over a month.
So my reasoning, which isn’t necessarily valid, but it’s the truth, is multi-faceted:
- December is like statistically, the crazy month in life. I mean, Christmas shopping, Christmas parties, Christmas decorating… and that’s all before Christmas and New Years themselves!
- Sitting down (and thus, committing to writing, as it’s a sitting activity) is still such a struggle. Anyone who suffers from compulsive exercise issues totally knows what I’m talking about. Considering that it’s been… hang on… 4.5 months-ish, since I was last allowed to exercise, you’d think that it would get easier. And it’s true, I’m not totally crawling out of my skin anymore, but I’m still on the edge of taking some Trazadone when I know I’m going to be still for a significant period of time.
- I started seeing this totally amazing person… and no offence to all of you, but I’m kind of totally okay with that taking up a good chunk of my free time ❤ .
4. I’ve been on and off the recovery bandwagon.
Actually, that’s not entirely true… I’ve been 90% on the recovery bandwagon. But there’s that 10% on average that just throws you, where you want to give up, where you just CAN’T, where you’re curled up in a ball on your floor sobbing, where the food weigh scale is more friendly than trusting your eyeballs, where you choose a carrot stick instead of cake, where you miss a snack, where you lie and say you had something when you didn’t. Or where you lie by omission.
And those other days, where the ratio flips, where you’re like 10% recovery, and 90% falling apart at the seams (aka me the last three days). Where everyone around you becomes concerned, and you feel horrible for putting them through the worries and stress, but you feel powerless to stop it. Where your mom almost has to force feed you your lunch after your doctor’s appointment, where you cry yourself to sleep, where the only thing keeping you off the treadmill is that last shred of willpower and the knowledge that if you put one foot on it, it’s the beginning of the end.
And when you’re struggling, one of the hardest things to do is write a pro-recovery blog, because when you’re that low, when you’re almost but not quite suicidal, you would feel like a total fraud to tell someone to pursue the freedom of recovery when you can’t find the point yourself.
You all know what I mean. Chances are if you’ve gone through the recovery process, you’ve been there.
One of the biggest questions I get, phrased in one way or another, is
“When are you going to give it up?”
“Are you ready to stop starving yourself now?”
“Mind over matter. Just do it!”
“Don’t you understand what this puts me through? Why are you doing this to me?”
“Don’t make me worry about you!”
“Isn’t it about time you started focussing on something else, moving on with your life?”
The odd thing, is that I could keep going for ages. All the questions, all the interrogations, all the eye rolls, all the sighs, all the begging and pleading, all of the simplicity. It all comes down to the same question:
“Are you done yet?”
Answer: It’s just not that simple.
These questions bring up a host of emotions. Guilt: Do you think I want to cause you mental anguish? Shame: Why can’t I just be normal? What kind of a person is actually afraid of food? Fear: If I don’t change, will you give up on me? Will you leave? Anxiety: Why are you asking me this question in front of a plate of lasagna?! Lonely: You don’t understand… and I can’t make you. The only way you’d truly understand is if you experienced it, and I wouldn’t wish an eating disorder on my worst enemy. Frustrated: I’m tired of it too! Disgust: With self and with others- it’s not that simple, and why can’t it just be that simple?! Sad: Your impatience, and/or concern makes me sad that I can’t live up to what you desire for me and for yourself. Angry: It’s just not that simple!
I’ve seen a thousand and a half blog posts that rant about how eating disorders are NOT a choice. And it’s 100% true- you don’t choose to have an eating disorder any more than you choose to have high blood pressure, or heart disease. And I commend those who speak out against the stereotype. But, I do not want this to turn into another rant about how modern society disregards the severity of eating disorders, chalks them up as first world problems, female problems, or choices, forgetting that they’re mental health conditions with a high mortality rate. We know it happens. The bush is beaten, the horse is flogged, we’ve run that one into the ground. Let’s move on.
Let’s focus on recovery. Let’s focus on the process of letting go. Let’s look at WHY it’s not so simple. Why is it not a choice? Why can’t I just do mind over matter, and banish the eating disorder from my vision, peripheral and central.
Answer: It doesn’t leave, and it plays with you. It’s always there, and sometimes it’s so loud that you can’t ignore it. You wake up in the morning, never knowing if it’s going to be a good day or a bad one, and you never know if, or when, or what is going to set it off.
Sometimes it’s simple. Take just before New Years, for example, when I somehow forgot to take my anti-anxiety medication for 5 days in a row. Legitimately forgot because I somehow managed to miss putting it in with all my vitamins (yay zinc!) for the week. Needless to say, there were multiple ED breakdowns, some very vicious words thrown around (sorry Mom!), and a lot of food freak outs. Simple cause, simple fix: take your meds!
Sometimes, it’s not that easy of a fix. Meds help, but they don’t fix the problem. Sometimes, the trigger can be so small you don’t even realize it until it’s too late.
You wake up, and roll over in bed and your hand accidentally touches your stomach, and in that instant, you realize that you can no longer feel the groove of your intestine (yes, I’m serious), and suddenly you freak out. You’re huge, you’re worthless, you need to go for a run, you need to miss breakfast, or a snack, or both. You need dry lettuce instead of a sandwich.
You walk by a mirror, and catch a glimpse of yourself. Does that shirt look tighter than it did two days ago? Suddenly you see your chipmunk cheeks, your thunder thighs, and your almost overweight body staring back at you.
Someone tells you their New Years Resolution is to lose 30 lbs, though they look perfectly great the way they are, and you start to compare. Are her thighs bigger than mine? No… well if she has to lose thirty, I have to lose at least 50.
Someone talks about their run, or their diet, or how bad carbs are for you, and suddenly you find yourself living off of kale wraps and throwing stevia in everything instead of sugar and doing laundry in 80 trips to the basement instead of 2…
These are all triggers. We know triggers. We anticipate triggers. We plan for triggers, and work on coping skills so that when eating disordered behaviour urges arise as a result, we can do something instead of engaging in a behaviour.
But as much as we plan for triggers, as much as we know that the behaviour goes against recovery, as much as we know that we’re setting ourselves back by engaging in these negative cycles, sometimes, YOU JUST CAN’T STOP.
They tell you not to calorie count. You try your best. But you wake up and start making your breakfast and without you even trying, your brain starts adding the numbers:
One egg: 70
1 tbsp peanut butter: 100
1/3 c rolled oats: 105
I’ll stop there. I didn’t have to look these things up. I didn’t have to use a fancy calculator like MyFitnessPal. The numbers just came to me without me even trying. The numbers are engrained. You don’t struggle for three years without having them memorized. And in the time it takes to add an ingredient to the bowl, I know exactly how much is in there, especially if I happened to use a measuring cup or spoon, a behaviour that I can often quell but still haunts me more often than I would like.
They tell you not to equate your food with your movement. They take away the treadmill, the stair stepper, or the jogging shoes. And it’s tough. And you go through withdrawals that are much the same to those of a drug addict. No, I’m not even kidding. My mom can vouch for the amount of times I’ve sat, shaking on the couch, so paralyzed by terror and intense urges to strap on the Nikes that it’s taking literally everything out of me. Where you get a glazed look in your eyes because you’re so lost in your head that you can’t even be present in the room.
But the thing about food and exercise addictions, be it an addiction to gorging yourself or to restricting yourself, is that unlike an alcoholic, you can’t get rid of your fix. You can’t go without food, and you can’t go without movement. I can’t elect to not shovel my driveway in the winter, or rake my leaves in the fall. I can’t choose to never vacuum the house. I can’t choose to not do laundry, because my laundry machine’s location gives me a few stair steppers. I can’t change the distance between different places at work any more than I can change the amount of times I have to go to the back to get something as opposed to staying out front. I can’t elect to never eat again, or that will end just as poorly as it started.
In addition, we live in a world where restriction, deprivation, and intense physical activity is glorified and adored, and where the worst possible thing you could ever be is overweight or fat. One who manages to go for a 7 km run every day is praised, while one who elects that they are tired decide to honour that by not pushing themselves that day are condemned. Similarily, if we can find yet another way to use cauliflower instead of flour to make a typically carb-laden dish, we are regarded as “healthy” and “clean” and are glorified, regardless of the fact that it tastes nothing like the original, and quite often is a flavourless pile of mush. Those who decide to listen to their burger cravings and eat an actual beef burger with cheese, better do it in secret, or claim that this was a “cheat” day rather than admit that they actually like something that tastes good. Because how dare you!?
So for those in recovery from an eating disorder of any sort, or exercise obsession, the task becomes not to behave like the norm, but rather to do the opposite. And not only is this met with resistance by the sufferer, but also by those around them who buy into the current diet mentality, clean eating epidemic, or exercise craze. Often times, the same people who ask you “Are you done (with your eating disorder) yet?” are the same people that discourage you from sitting and watching a movie instead of going for a hike, or look on disapprovingly when you order fries instead of a side salad. They are the same people who tell you about the next 10 lbs they have to lose, or the latest findings about how butter or bacon is basically slow acting arsenic.
I don’t know, am I done yet? Or, rather, are YOU done yet?
I’m not trying to be ungrateful. I’m not trying to condemn those who care enough about someone to even ask or be concerned about where they are at and where they are going. And I’m not trying to minimize the pain that caregivers, families, and friends go through alongside the one suffering from an eating disorder. I’m not trying to create a bully, scapegoat, demon, or antagonist to the recovery process. I’m not trying to blame.
But what I am trying to do is show a myriad of factors that make recovery, and the recovery process not that simple.
Because you’re right. In the end, it does come down to mind over matter. But considering the eating disorder is a disease of the mind, it’s kind of difficult to put your mind OVER anything. Your mind is a little unreliable.
I know I shouldn’t fear pasta… but I still do.
I know I shouldn’t condemn a cookie… but I still do.
I know that I’ve been to rehab, outpatient, relapse, and outpatient again… but I’m still struggling.
I know that I hide it well… but every bite is still hard.
I know that I enjoy watching a movie… but every 10 seconds a little voice beats me up telling me I could be doing so much more.
I know that I could have died multiple times, that I’m lucky I didn’t… but I can’t just stop.
And if you think that that knowledge doesn’t piss me off, doesn’t frustrate me to all ends, and doesn’t make me feel so ridiculous when I try to explain that I’m crying over a piece of bread, then think again.
I know how to fight it, but sometimes I just can’t. Sometimes the fear, the anxiety, the stress, the guilt, the shame, the unknown, and the power of the eating disorder voice is too much.
And that’s okay too. Because that’s the reality of recovery. You have slips, you fall, you take 10 steps back, followed by a giant leap forward.
I’ve heard once that on average, the time taken for eating disorder recovery (not full, not completely voiceless, but rather the true ability to choose not to engage and not to listen and not to focus on eating disordered things and just act and eat normally) takes 7 years. 7 YEARS! And that’s without a significant relapse… i.e., if you have a significant relapse, as I did, you can start your clock again.
And that’s not meant to depress you. It’s not meant to make you feel like it’s hopeless. It’s not meant to make you give up. Rather, it’s meant to empower you and educate you.
If you’re the person asking, “Are you done yet?”, perhaps this shows you how difficult it is, how long it takes, and how crucial it is to not minimize the process.
If you’re the one being asked, “Are you done yet?”, perhaps this makes you realize that no, chances are you’re not, but that’s okay. And you don’t need to feel ashamed for not being able to just put mind over matter and give it up the same way that one gives up chocolate for lent. Don’t minimize yourself, your struggle, or your process. Don’t be ashamed for being exactly where you’re at. Don’t be ashamed for crying over a slice of bread. And don’t be ashamed that you’re struggling.
Because it’s just not that simple.