Weetabix x 2.
Wholemeal toast x 2, butter.
Jacket potato, butter, baked beans, side salad.
Cherry full-fat yoghurt.
Savoury minced lamb, mashed potato, garden peas.
Plum crumble and custard.
Weetabix x 2.
…& the usual pint of milk.
They give order. They keep the peace. They teach us discipline.
That’s why scooping the beans over my tidy, quiet spud was like a pool-party gone wild… …messy, rebellious ‘fun’.
Lots of us love rules – they keep us grounded. Obviously in some areas of life, they REALLY are necessary… Anorexia on the other hand ISN’T necessary, manifested by irrational thinking patterns… yet, when it comes to rules – it bloody loves them.
Conjuring up a full circus of them, if you’re brave enough to work against one… it will likely hand you another rule on a golden napkin. By that I mean, it will convince you of the even MORE important benefits of that NEW rule that will help ‘compensate’ for the guilt of breaking the other one…
…and if there’s one thing you’re forever running away from when you have an Eating Disorder, it’s guilt. So it’s too easy to fall into the trap of listening.
What I’ve realised at day of my recovery so far, is I have to see past the golden napkin for what it really is. A poisonous, stained, snotty tissue… I’m trying to learn spot the sneaky buggar with it’s napkin and a new rule, when I’ve worked so hard to fight the old rule that worshipped my Eating Disorder.
Not until you sit down and physically write a list of rules that instruct your decisions through your day, do you realise the script you’ve created for yourself. It’s like when I wrote the list of dietary/behaviour rules I wrote for my dietician. What was an assumed 3 or 4, ended up being a couple of sides of A4. It’s actually SCARY to think what rules/attitudes/values we swim in and out through life, playing on loop at the back of our minds. Without us being aware.
But also empowering to know we absolutely can change/test the ones we are unhappy with or are serving us no good… (even the ones on a golden napkin!)…
I don’t know whether to start here with explaining the ‘golden napkin’ rules that are RIGHT NOW trickling in (but constantly pushing) as I make progress. Which is probably why I only finished meal-planning for next week last night, after spending hours and hours that day, and the day before that, piecing the puzzle together…
…or to reflect on how my thinking has shifted from the very start of my admission when I’ve been forced to challenge and act AGAINST Anorexia’s rules time and time again. How and which rules had been smashed, then replaced with another cheeky chap, repeat, then Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum …and so on.
We’ll get back to the spud and the pool-party from today.
So today there was a new ‘rule’ written on the board in the dining room – first, that we have to add butter/marge to our potato at the hot counter when portioning with staff present (instead of at the table as before). The second, toppings have to be portioned ON TOP of the potato.
As much as Anorexia sees this outside traitor’s rule as graffiti on a pristine wall… tells me to be terrified… the recovery-focused me saw it as a SAVIOUR, a short-cut… ! Like a megaphone in my ear to drown out my compulsions.
Up until last time I had a jacket potato on the Unit, I’d progressed to the point of eating the beans with the potato, which felt like a MASSIVE achievement. Pairing them off bit-by-bit whilst keeping them separate on the plate. Eating the skin first of only half the spud before the middle bit… with the beans. And eating the other half of the spud as it is, skin on – with the beans. This was a pre-planned step/goal I had succeeded with.
*Note the first of my Anorexia’s very strong and stubborn ‘golden napkin’ rule. One which I’ve been working with the dietician to smash to smithereens through a ‘graded exposure’ plan. (which is more likely to be successful in the long-run than going all out and feeling overwhelmed) This rule took full swing, as soon as my recovery brain committed to the ‘full portions’ and has repeated in the past when presented with meals I haven’t prepared myself, especially previous inpatient admissions. (see first ever post, to make sense)…*
“Well now that we HAVE to comply to the meal-plan, now you have chosen to COMPLETE your meals (Recovery? Pfffffffff….. what makes you think you deserve that? What will you ever do without me?)… you MUST eat in a controlled way. We need structure. The guilt is going to be unbearable and the ONLY way you are going to manage that, is to APPLY my control over the way in which you eat. Always eat food groups separately. And ALWAYS eat food in the same structure.
That way, yes we will accept the food. But you will still be under my trusted control.”
To be fair to my brain, at first it was probably an innocent way of coping but has gone from being a fluffy security blanket, which it was in the first couple of meals… to being that poisonous, snotty tissue of a napkin rule. That I genuinely felt would be so permanent, impossible to shift. And I began to actually forget how to ‘naturally’ eat a plate of varied food… how do you know when/where to dive in? If I mix the foods, it means I am enjoying it and I refuse to enjoy it. What if everyone thinks I look a messy, out of control pig for mixing my foods etc. etc… (have gone into this further in a previous post)
So my next graded challenge today… was not take the skin off ANY of the potato… and eat it as a whole, mixing with the beans as I went along. My ultimate challenge after that was going to be the topping ON TOP of the potato.
So that black pen on the board today was a bit of a throw in the deep-end.
I could have shut this out, and gone with the graded plan… (the dietician did agree it with me after all) But I knew there was a desperate craving at the back of my brain cells somewhere to be free… to take this short-cut, to knock off Anorexia’s stubborn head, to FEEL the discomfort which I now recognised as a positive feeling because it now makes me feel like I’m moving forward. If I ever feel too ‘safe’, I’ve learnt that it’s a sign to myself that something more needs to be challenged.
I guess I made the most of being presented with a new ‘rule’, which after the conflict in my head about knowing whether I could bring myself (and Anorexia) to flood the spud immediately with the beans… I then found REFRESHING. Like the squirt of a water pistol in my face on a hot day. REFRESHING, the fact that I was being given this RULE presented by something other than Anorexia.
I reminded myself of the further pain I would feel by pro-longing my work at challenging eating behaviours, knowing that I was still controlled by something not true to the ‘real me’. Taking a short-cut to this challenge, instead of waiting until next time I had a jacket potato (as was on my plan), yes would mean shitty, chaotic feelings. Of mess. Of greed. Of uncertainty.
But how does that compare to the further isolation, rigid, distant world of listening to an Eating Disorder?
Anorexia was telling me I was disobeying a rule, but I replaced that shitty guilty feeling by replacing it with the fact I was actually FOLLOWING a rule. Just not Anorexia’s. Therefore I wasn’t failing, I was succeeding at ‘real life’. Normality.
So yes I plopped my beans on, and they swam… bumping into the tips of my lettuce leaves (AAGH!), shook hands with the odd tomato (AAGH!) and yes, were enjoying themselves ALL OVER my tidy spud. My head was trying to tell me how out of control I now was, but I challenge Anorexia right now to say – well, I was the one physically spooning the poor beans on top myself, with staff support, so technically I WAS in control. Just because I didn’t listen to you, doesn’t mean my life is going to fall apart.
I took the opportunity of a ‘new’ rule today, that I knew would serve me better in the long-run, than the rule I was already living by.
It didn’t go perfectly, as I still got presented with a smaller rule of “OH – WELL NOW THERE’S UTTER CHAOS ON YOUR PLATE, NO ORDER, YOU WILL REVERT BACK TO EATING THE SKIN FIRST.”
But I still ate it with the beans, before the main bit with the beans and it was STILL all mixed together and so was the maximum end of graded exposure. I still feel compelled to eat the salad first, but I’m up to the point on my plan where I am no longer eating the components in a particular order – it used to be ‘all green bits’ first. (I realise how ridiculous these particular details sound… !)
I also have absolutely definitely conquered another rule. ‘Must use margarine instead of a jacket potato, if have already used butter on toast during the day’. SOD YOU. Always and forever a butter girl now…
Next time I have a jacket potato I am aiming for TOPPING ON, NO SKIN-OFF FIRST, eating TOGETHER, and giving a bit of salad with the potato a one-off try.
With most meals, I have mostly ‘normalised’ my behaviours visually, which is a massive relief as now I don’t feel guilty for feeling ‘triggering’ or feeding my destructive thought of being a ‘negative influence’ on everyone… but my head still looks for some kind of ‘order’ when it scans the plate, even with knowing I’m going to mix food groups for example, dividing the foods in their amounts of how much I plan to mix together, I find myself planning how and which order I will eat those them. And at the moment, no more than 2 foods at a time. But I already feel miles and miles away from anywhere in my head I’ve been before. I’m now able to put up my painted sign in protest at Anorexia, whenever I realise another set of rules shuffle in. And work on these, chipping away for my life back.
There’s a hell of a lot of rules I’m working on. And NOT just food-related… they trickle into all sorts of behaviours/actions/decisions through the day in order to still fight for that feeling of ‘control’ and the ‘deserving’ to eat food. Food still a constant reward.
Going back to meal-planning yesterday, it’s all very positive. This was why it took so, so much time. I didn’t allow myself to automatically ‘tick’ all of my natural gravitated ‘safer’ options. I found myself questioning everything behind my thinking. I may get carried away with this sometimes however, which definitely feeds into my perfectionism.
So I found myself searching for the ‘right’ way to meal-plan… one that involved plenty/enough challenges to feel shitty and uncomfortable (moving forward, remember)… but not too much to frighten myself to falling apart and likely to give up and revert back.
Some of Anorexia’s ‘golden napkin’ sneaky rules (working with perfectionism) also mean that the way I meal-plan has to be ‘right’. That the food choices I have made must be spread out in the perfect way. That if I choose ‘this’ challenging food today, then it means I must choose ‘this’ snack, to make the challenge feel more bearable. Or not being able to have a hot meal with the bigger pudding option together, for example. Lots and lots and LOTS of these sneaky rules, that jump in even when you’re POSITIVE and FOCUSED…
…it’s mentally bloody exhausting. But it leaves me constantly fascinated at the brain. I’ve put enough challenges in this week to feel EXCITED, to feel different from the familiarity of rigid, boring Anorexia. Part of me wanted to challenge MORE this week, but I’ve chosen to focus on playing with a couple of things, as I’m realising how much there actually is to challenge.
Almost put in a choccie bar, but I’m saving that for next week… !
Big challenges coming up from Monday, which I will share in a near-future post. Hours of work, but worthwhile and positive. Lots and lots of rules to be broken.
I’m also VERY much actually writing myself a list of RECOVERY RULES. RULES for a healthy, happier life which will scribble all over my Eating Disorder’s poisonous handy work.
This way, I know I’ll still be doing something ‘right’. I’ll be obeying a new set of rules, that set me up to succeed, not fail. And every time my Eating Disorder convinces me I’m doing something very wrong, I’ll be reassured that I’m doing something very right for me.
So I’ve just come out of tea. My mind is currently very fucking confusing, as I now feel awful. Now that the preoccupation of rules no longer gives me grounding, I feel very much lost in myself at certain moments. Now is one of them. Feeling detached from my head, it all feels so overwhelming that I’m going to have to find myself from scratch. The sticky heat I also making me feel more greedy, and it makes no sense I know, but the discomfort I feel in my head, in my body, the food, it’s all amplified and sped up by this heat.
Where do I start? How do I make myself happy? What if I get to ‘healthy’ with the feeling of no security, utter confusion about the person I am.
I hate this. But the only way for me to keep going is forward. Going back many times has served no good. All I can do is hope in the terrifying unknown.