Note: This piece originally appeared on thirdwheelED and has been cross-posted with permission.
The first part of my journal entry from September 22, 2016, a mere 19 days after leaving residential reads:
Overall today felt hard. That’s okay though. I’m okay. There are hard days. There always will be, and I’ve gotten through them before.”
It’s almost as if I don’t even know myself anymore…
Re-reading those words makes me smile a real smile. Those words are evidence of progress, and in a way perhaps a rebirth. They represent a breakthrough of sorts: one that is equally awesome, freaky and tenuous, like I might slip at any moment.
I’ve noticed a paradigm shift. I’m getting better at focusing on what is directly surrounding me rather than calories I have and haven’t consumed yet. I feel hungry for change, rather than hungry for avoiding pain, discomfort, and fear. I feel less hungry for the familiarity of being sick because I recognize that this means surrendering the power I’ve gained back to food. And hell no! Food does not deserve that power!
At treatment a couple of weeks ago, I ate 2 pop tarts and 2 oreos hours a part from each other. I wanted to cry as I broke the pop tarts in probably 50 minute pieces to further delay the actual mastication process. Touching them counts, right? The eating disorder backlash was real, but for the first time since I’ve been home, I was actually able to show my struggle.
Until that point, I felt obligated to prove that I had made progress. Progress to me meant no more struggle. I tried hiding the wreckage in my brain and pretended like my thoughts were congruent with my eating. Ha!
Spoiler alert: the thoughts, urges, and cognitive side of behaviors persists much longer than the behaviors themselves. My face was constantly stuck smiling and reciting, “Everything is AMAZING!” in an overly enthusiastic, who-the-hell-am-i kind of voice. After all the work on authenticity, I found myself pretending. I was afraid to show that things were still hard.
But there’s nothing like pop tarts and oreos to bring out the truth. I unapologetically, albeit slightly mortified, showed my struggle.
I know it’s okay not to be okay, but I so badly wanted to be more than okay.
When I got home from treatment I was also obsessive about meeting my exchanges. I was fearful that one “mistake” was going to lead to a horrible downward spiral of no return. I emailed my therapist about this who so kindly encouraged me that it is a good thing to be afraid of restriction, it’s a behavior that is not good for me. My therapist also wrote,
We tend to stay away from things that are scary, because fear means a threat to our survival.”
With this fear of relapse comes pain and discomfort with a sense of freedom on the side. I think one of the hardest parts of this adventure is going to be staying still in this pain and discomfort, even when it feels worse than being in my eating disorder. Apparently the only way out is through, and it is inside the pain that transformation can happen.
As Glennon Doyle Melton said,
The journey of a warrior is when you sit with the discomfort longer today than you were able to yesterday.”
There is true strength in staying in the story. My story. Our story. The one that we continue to write.
Last week CJ and I went to the NEDA Conference in Chicago. I was nervous for all of the meaningless eating disorder reasons:
What food would be available?
Will everyone know I have an eating disorder?
Oh no! I hate how my body looks right now! I’m such a hypocrite!
How am I going to eat in front of hundreds of strangers?
Thank god CJ was the one presenting (amirght?!)… [Side note: During CJ’s presentation, I saw her struggle become one of her strengths. I felt guilty for putting her through the emotional pain she’s endured, but so proud of how she has overcome it. She made herself vulnerable in such a brave way that I have not yet seen before.]
As soon as we arrived at the conference, I started speaking with other attendees. My brain slowed down and I became more present. I realized that apparently, I was doing the very things I kept telling myself I couldn’t do – I was eating and I was showing up. I looked around at the large exhibit hall which was full of people and realized just how many stories lived inside of this one room, and how grateful I felt to hear many of them.
The feeling was reminiscent of the day I was first admitted to the psych ward. The people I met were some of the first truly honest people to enter my life. No one there was pretending. People wore their truths on their sleeves. Holding onto this memory, I realized that I didn’t have to pretend anymore at the conference either – it was a safe space.
What a freakin’ relief to not have to mask a fake ear-to-ear smile. My TMJ thanked me also.
There was an impressive amount of authenticity and vulnerability present at the NEDA Conference. Presenters, clinicians, patients, caregivers, and professionals all shared stories about how they have been impacted by eating disorders. People in these separate roles joined together for a common purpose: education, research, prevention, and treatment of eating disorders. The thing I realized about having so many individual stories in one location, is that there is such a tremendous capacity to rebuild confidence by facilitating a movement of solidarity.
Pain is often fiercely personal. Eating disorders can become these dark, little perceived safe hiding places where we believe we can numb ourselves to pain. This isn’t entirely true and in attempting to do this we also retreat from love.
But the NEDA Conference proved to me the paradox of pain. Staring me in the face was this idea that in recovery, pain is actually universal. It is because of this universality that the NEDA Conference exists.
It represents a place to escape the deadly hiding place and feel safe being fully human and fully known. The pain of the eating disorder itself doesn’t necessarily change, but with a collective of fighters that have knowledge of the lived past, we can change and dismantle the cozy catastrophe to which I refer to my eating disorder as.
Often outside of treatment, in the so-called “real world”, being sick is isolating and people misinterpret depression or anxiety as a result of individual pathology. The problem is always with the person who is sick and not with society. I’ve been thinking a lot lately, that this notion of pathologizing individuals for their response to marginalization is in many ways utterly despicable. The conference became a place where I felt like I could forgive my differences and instead, felt grateful for them, because maybe, just maybe my differences have given me something larger to offer.
I felt a part of myself believing that I am fierce enough to handle myself alone and trusting enough that I won’t have to do this [recovery] on my own. I looked around the presentations and workshops and realized that any one of us just aren’t wired to do this alone.
I want to fall compassionately in love with my life as it is now. I want to continue to be constantly inspired and motivated to create change. I hope I’m not asking too much, but I just want everything in my life to feel vivid, alive, and real. I feel done being a passive actor and representation of myself in my life. I want to feel connection with it all. And I guess that’s one of the reasons why I have ultimately decided to write. I write for the goddamn connection I feel to myself and to others. It makes me feel full, and it doesn’t feel intolerable. In some ways nothing is different, yet everything seems to be changing.
In strength and healing,