Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The confronting truth

Eighteen months ago my rational mind was taken hostage by my eating disorder. Almost every aspect of my life is on hold while I live with it. Starving is utterly miserable and vomiting is HELL. I don't want this illness to take another year away from me. I am both jailer and inmate in the prison that I live in, but neither part of me wants to stick around. I have the key. I can get out. I'm cold, hungry, afraid, broke and lonely, and without a doubt, I will stay this way until I unlock the door and step through.




It's time for a reality check. As uncomfortable it is for me to face, here is the truth about my eating disorder as it is today.

Things have changed

Sometimes I wish I could go back to the days when the answer to everything was in watching the number on my scale go down. But the fact is, I'm not there anymore. It didn't work. I don't need my eating disorder to function in the same way as I did in the beginning. I am done and dusted with the triggers that set it off, and can better manage at least some of the situations that aggravate it. To an extent, it continues out of habit, as a sort of addiction. The guts of it have been exposed and what's left is a bunch of destructive behaviours, a brain that's stuck in a holding pattern, and a body that communicates things I don't want it to.

I'm treating myself like crap and I don't know why

When I don't feed myself as I should, I am effectively saying I don't deserve basic care. I feel compassion for other living things. I free spiders from certain death, treat bees with respect, and nurture plants as if they are children*. I don't think starvation is a suitable punishment for anyone - even the worst kind of criminals. Food is fundamental. Why on earth am I not allowing myself the nourishment that I would wish for everyone else? I did nothing wrong.

The quality of my life is rubbish

Restriction isn't just about limiting food, it also means a limited life. Whatever my future holds, nothing will change while I am ruled by this disorder. I'll stay stuck - that's it. So much has gone wrong in the recent past, that I am petrified of putting myself back into the world. When I began, I needed to make my body and life small - it felt safer, but I'm learning ways I can protect myself that are infinitely better. Putting on weight doesn't mean I automatically have to throw myself into everything full blast. I can do it all at the pace that is right for me, and protect the space I need to heal. Nothing in my life will be solved immediately when I overcome the weight gain hurdle, but it will not happen until I do.

This is affecting my kids

Shielding my children from my eating disorder has always been a priority. I make sure my weird rituals are kept well out of their sight and purposefully eat in front of them. I never say anything negative about my body to them, and do my best to help them grow a healthy relationship with food and their bodies. But I'm not fooling myself. I say the right things, but I don't do the right things. What am I communicating to them when I won't share an ice-cream with them on a Saturday afternoon? What sort of role model am I? I know they notice my minuscule portions. They wonder why I cook and eat my dinners separately from them. My children miss out on the warm sense of togetherness that comes from sharing a meal. My oldest in particular asks questions about what I eat and my weight loss is on his radar. Children at school have commented on my size to the kids, and that feels like every kind of wrong.

I let fear call the shots

I am afraid of the reactions of others, and I am letting that fear stall my recovery. I'm worried that if I put I on weight my illness and failures will be exposed. My head is full of imagined judgements, and they are mostly illogical. In reality, the people I am close to would be happy to see me progress, and wouldn't give a hoot how many kilos I gained if it meant I was healthy. Those who don't know me well probably wouldn't give it a second thought, or wouldn't mention it if they did, so why does it matter? Even if someone thought the worst: that I am weak/a failure/fat/a loser, so what? Why would I value an opinion like that?

My body image is not what I want it to be

By maintaining disordered behaviours to keep my body as it is, I tell a story about myself that don't want to be true. I am saying I accept the body image bullshit that our culture is awash in. I'm silently agreeing to the idea that it's more important to be thin than it is to be healthy. The notion that a woman's worth is greater if she is slim is abhorrent to me - I reject it outright intellectually, yet my behaviour shows I consent to this lore. It would be an act of defiance to claim back the body I was designed to have.

I want to be a woman with a voice

On close inspection, I discovered disturbing thoughts about how I experience womanhood. Starvation strips away female physicality. Angles replace curves. At my lowest weight, almost all signs of my 'womanliness' disappeared. In my mind, I connected soft flesh with happiness, vulnerability, and strangely, acquiescence. Those things had to go. I felt like I was more likely to be heard and taken seriously if I was less overtly feminine. I used my body to speak, and it was a voice that had impact. Effectively, I linked decreased femininity with increased power.

No doubt the rotten roots of this thinking are twisted up in cultural history, but I also had a personal situation that might have stirred things up. At work, my boss (and friend) had begun to treat me differently, and I was uncomfortable. There were unwanted touches, sexual jokes about me, and put downs. I felt degraded, powerless, and stupid. It seemed as if my body, simply by being female, somehow betrayed me. I let this situation fester for months, and didn't speak up because I more concerned with being 'nice' than I was with listening to my feelings. My boss wasn't taking me seriously, and nor was I. This alone didn't trigger my eating disorder, but it didn't help. My way of relating has changed now - I am more practised at using my actual voice and putting up boundaries. I will safe guard my well-being from now on, because I know what the consequences are if I don't.

It's a fun-free zone

Having this illness has put a strain on many relationships. Some people have kept away from me altogether. Socialising is fraught with anxiety and travelling is a nightmare. Birthday's, Christmas, visits from family and friends are all incredibly difficult to deal with. I've forgotten what it feels like to relax and have fun. And as for the prospect of dating... oh my god, no way. Impossible.


***

There are so many good reasons to move on, and a load of terrible reasons to stay put. While I continue with my eating disorder, I bow down to bullying, lies, hatred and fear. I don't want that. I want to reclaim my space in the world. I have far more knowledge, understanding and awareness than I did. I am learning skills to deal with emotions and manage relationships. Nothing will ever be the same for me again, but I can start to let go. Though it terrifies me, recovery is now a case not of 'if' or even 'when?' but 'how soon?... is it now?'.    



*Exceptions are flies, ants and mosquitoes. Hate the bastards.


xx






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