Saturday, 31 October 2015

Dispelling illusions

A spooky thing has happened. I was in therapy the other day, immersed in conversation, and I accidentally referred to the eating disorder as 'she'. I'd never done that before. It had always felt like a vaguely masculine presence - sort of alien-like and distant. Then I looked over at the empty chair opposite me and saw her slouched there. And she was me. She wore the same clothes as I was that day; her hair in the same messy bun. It stopped me in my tracks.

Rationally, I've always known that the eating disorder was my own construction. There's been no zombie takeover or demonic possession of my brain. The voice of anorexia was clearly coming from within, but I didn't feel like it belonged to me. I thought of it as a malevolent force I had to fight and defeat. But when I saw her(me). sitting there, looking vulnerable (and more than a little sheepish) I understood that it was me - or at least, part of me. In that moment, for the first time, I owned the disorder.

When I made the recognition, my first instinct was to punch her(me). I felt shocked and betrayed. It's me? It's me?! How could you do this, you evil cow?! But the feeling was fleeting, and sadness took its place. I felt sorry for her(me) (OK I'll just say her or she from now, even though it's me... it's getting confusing). She - the eating disorder - is the embodiment of the things I had learned in my life that were wrong. She's defective, and has done an awful lot of damage. But she exists for a very good reason. In fact, she has done excellent work, helping me cope through a turbulent time.

If I were to list her attributes, it would make for a good job application: Her work is of a high standard, she's persistent, hardworking, means well and always tries her best. She is ingenious and adaptable. But then I'd rubber stamp it with this: DANGER! KEEP CLEAR!!. On no account do you want to employ this girl... she's wired to self destruct, and she'll take anyone who's close by down with her.

If I accept the eating disorder is truly part of me, it means I have to accept all the thought distortions - the hateful judgements and dysmorphic illusions, are in fact mine. Though the external environment has to be 'right' for an eating disorder to flourish, it is me that gives it life. I am responsible for it, yet it isn't my fault. My sub-conscious is the driving force behind it. There is no rationality involved - no choice. To make a choice, there has to be at least one viable alternative. When I took this path, I'd exhausted all my internal resources. The eating disorder was my only option according to my mental capacities at the time. I'm trying very hard to make a different choice now, but I'm struggling to knock down what I have constructed.

It's difficult to take ownership of this stuff. The warped thoughts fly in direct opposition to everything I want to believe (and do believe when I am healthy). My 'crazy' has got, well, really crazy.




I am going to try and set myself straight. What follows is a list of some of the distortions. They come right from the heart of the disorder, but they are (unfortunately) part of my belief system.

Distortion
I look much better with bones protruding. Healthy flesh looks disgusting on me.

Reality
I am unable to judge what looks good and what doesn't. My perception is all off. I know that I used to feel fine with more coverage. I also know that I look a lot older without my skin filled like it ought to be. It doesn't feel good to have exposed bones when my children prod them and question me. I would hate to see any of them with ribs or hip bones sticking out. Good health looks beautiful on everyone else, so why not me?
*
Distortion
Sign of 'womanliness' are starting to return. The curves look revolting and I want to rip them off.

Reality
The truth is, the absence of  womanliness was a key motivating factor in halting my weight loss. I used to have - for want of a better expression - a decent rack. And it felt good. Boobs are cool. There's nothing cool about having the body of a child with the face of a 42 year woman. I felt ashamed.

*
Distortion
Being thin was everything it is supposed to be: fabulous! fun!, easy! I miss it (now that I'm ginormous)

Reality
The 'slim persons' wonderland' does not exist. Even if I had something fun to do, like a trip to the beach with the kids, I couldn't enjoy it. My mind was wrapped up in the disorder. I was anxious, cold and had no energy whatsoever. There is no room for anything in life other than the illness. It is agonising and scary. I would really like to have fun again one day, without being shackled to my eating disorder.

*
Disortion
You can wear anything when you are thin. Clothes look better.

Reality
Actually, I avoid clothes shops altogether, because I feel self conscious and confused. No matter what I put on, I felt only disgust. The eating disorder would never let me feel good about my appearance. I'd always be too much of something - too: fat, round, scraggy, womanly, manly, wretched, old, robust, healthy, scrawny, soft, bony, too much of an All Black (I know, it's weird). I can't win. One minute I'm trying to hide chicken legs, the next minute, fat legs. I don't know how it is that I can be too fat and too thin in the same moment, but that's what this disorder would have me believe.

*
Disortion
Everything about me is big and heavy. My organs, ribs, hands, feet and toes. I weigh more than everyone. Big is bad and ugly and being this way makes me a failure.

Reality
The importance of weight and size is massively exaggerated in anorexia. Obviously, I've magnified the significance of it all. I can't trust my judgement right now, or rather, I can trust that my judgement is skewed. The size of a person is irrelevant, and says nothing about their value as a human. Anyone who says otherwise (like the media; the beauty and fashion industry) are wrong. It's bullshit.
*
Disortion
I'm destined to be enormously fat, and I won't ever be able to control myself around food.

Reality
This is an imagined catastrophe - a cognitive distortion, not a fact. I can't predict the future. All-or-nothing thinking is common in someone with an eating disorder, and that's what is happening here. Based on my history and current situation, it's unlikely that my prediction will come true.

*
It is hard to believe I have taken on board so much toxic crap. At least now I recognise the distortions for what they are. Earlier in the year, I don't think I would have acknowledged I had this sort thing going on in my head. Now it's all out in the open, there's nowhere for it to hide. So that's progress.


xx

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