I’m trying to picture a life free from disordered eating. What would it look like? How would I feel? What would be different? The voice of doubt always wants to knock me down, but I’m working hard to vanquish that voice, and bring forth positive messages to empower recovery.
In this picture, my external life would be largely unchanged – I will (hopefully!) be married to the same man, have the same children, friends, family and colleagues, work at the same job, live in the same house and have a beautiful, brown Burmese cat. But a lot should be different as well. I know some things will improve and some will not, but my goal is for the scales to be heavily balanced in favour of ups rather than downs.
I am not in a perfect place, barely even a good place – but I am in a better place. Part of my recovery process is looking forward, looking for the pluses – the current and future gains. Here’s a little list of real-world recovery bonuses:
If you’ve never lived it, you have NO idea how exhausting an eating disorder is. Seriously – it takes up an astonishing amount of mental space. I could have done two PhD’s with all the time spent cogitating upon how to plan a binge or avoid eating. Physically it’s extremely demanding – vomiting, restricting and bingeing are exhausting, blood sugar fluctuations, malnutrition and headaches are exhausting. It’s all exhausting.
While I am still exhausted, I have made progress: I’m on a multivitamin until my dietary intake is consistently adequate, I haven’t restricted for months, I’m purging 3-4 times a week instead of 6-8 times a day, I’m binging 3-4 times a week instead of 2-3 times a day. This is not perfect – but it’s a heck of a lot better than it was!
There is nothing healthy about an eating disorder. Being “less fat” might seem like a health goal, but it’s not. A health goal is good health – not changing a number on a scale. When I restrict, my health deteriorates quickly – energy levels crash, blood sugars go wild, immune system is compromised. When I binge and purge I have a sore throat, sore stomach and reflux. Purging and restricting can both strain the heart – my resting heart rate hasn’t been right for months. I have issues with hair loss and brittle nails. Not to mention metabolism – my poor old body never knows if it’s getting nutrients, and if it does, will it keep them!
Good health is something I can look forward to – it is a little early in the process to have made much progress here yet.
Poor emotional skills can go hand-in-hand with an ED, which can have a huge impact on relationships. My self-esteem is pretty non-existent, which makes it difficult to relate authentically with other people. Fear of conflict, anger and almost all emotions, brings a level of dishonesty to relationships. I focus on other people’s issues because I don’t want to deal with the impact my behaviours might have. I know people worry – I don’t want them to. The best way to stop that worry, is to recover. I don’t want to talk about my eating disorder issues – I feel vulnerable and ashamed. I feel judged – even when I’m not. I’m judging myself.
Again, healthy relationships with healthy boundaries is something I hope to gain in recovery. I’m not there yet. I am incredibly honest with my struggles – but not at a deep level. I’ve yet to find the courage to talk about this stuff out loud with many people. I am grateful for the tool of writing and blogging, which keeps my loved ones near and far in the loop.
It pains me to admit this, but having an eating disorder costs a fortune. Eating food that is, for the most part, flushed down the toilet. Crazy stupid diets and eventually a lap band surgery – all very pricey. Increased visits to doctors and therapists. Investing time, energy and resources into trying to recover. All of this money would be FAR better spent on shoes. Or a trip to Thailand.
As far as right now, I’m quite possibly at the most expensive part of my disorder, as I’m heavily financially invested in recovery right now – doing an online course, purchasing books, seeing my psychologist etc. But one day in the future, in lieu of books about bulimia, I will have an absolutely fabulous shoe collection.
We all need purpose in life. All of us. I used to have purpose, as a mum and a musician. I’ve completely dropped my music – been there, done that – and while I’ll always be a mum, the hands-on, daily aspects of mothering are long behind me. Part of the rapid deterioration of my mental health in recent years related to losing my identity. I developed an identity as a person with an eating disorder – which is not great.
My recovery is related to finding purpose in life. Purpose – hope – belief. They are intricately related. I am very happy in my current job – I have no pressing desire to change the world with my career. I recently realised how much I love writing, and I’m working hard on picturing a future that involves a lot of writing . No guidelines or rules, just keep writing. I also look forward to being a Nanna – I adore babies! – but I wouldn’t wish early parenthood on my children, so this is a joy for future years. I look forward to being fully recovered and setting a fabulous example to all my lovely future grandbabies.
Each morning the voice of doubt tries to suck me back into disordered eating, and each morning I try and vanquish that voice with reminders of the things I have to gain. They might seem like simple basic things, but in a world of disordered eating, these simple things would change my life.