Isn’t life funny. Peculiar. Strange and fascinating all at once.
First of all – I’ve missed writing back in this space. Almost been a whole month! For those of you coming back to read, thank you for checking in with me. I say this with disbelief, but I’ve also gone nearly this whole month (28 days) since I last binged and purged. So a LOT has changed… but I’m working for it. There hasn’t been some miracle occurred during my sleep one night with no conscious effort from me. This past month, I’ve been faced with lots of conflicting thoughts about recovery – both within myself and in a general sense.
So, I guess it’s important to acknowledge here that I’ve never got out of the Bulimic prison cell, without running away with Anorexia again. Yet, I took my first step, strong and decisively down a path I’ve never chosen before, just a month ago. Strive for maintaining a healthy BMI. BUT… after a year of excessive binging and purging, I’ve been left with a body that I feel trapped in. Like a swimsuit of Bulimia, the weight has crept on (I haven’t weighed myself for a long time but I feel it in my clothes and the size of my boobs) and I’ve neglected myself, the personal home I carry with me every day. I needed to make a decision, which may be controversial for some.
Just hear me out. I’m aiming to lose a little bit of weight… when someone with a history of an eating disorder says that, alarm bells ring, right? But there is a difference between naturally wanting to take care of yourself, and one that transforms into an addiction, that everything in your world becomes centred around and your emotions feel out of control without.
I’ve doubted to myself whether this was the right decision by the books, but I realised, that my instinct about what I wanted to do was a healthy one. This is for ME. All I want is to make my home a happy place to live, one I recognise again. To be confident enough to wear normal bras, instead of living in a sports bra… to look forward to clothes shopping again instead of hiding away in hoodies. At the end of the day, no-one else gets to live in this body for the rest of their lives but me.
What’s different is this time, many, many things. For starters, I’m only cutting back a healthy amount of calories for someone who wants to trim up. I remember the negative cannon balls Anorexia throws not only on the sufferer but for the family – how they only yearn to see you happy and living an independent life, the quality of life I’d miss out on, spending yet more time in an inpatient unit and feeling guilty that my life isn’t moving forward. So as much as I questioned about what weight loss would trigger, and whether I’d be able to put a stop to it at the right point, I now just don’t glorify weight loss. Yes there is that immediate buzz I suppose… (I haven’t weighed myself yet for a long time, so I’m not talking about one I can relate to currently)… but for what? When that becomes a repetitive thing, and when you’re getting underweight, it only sets you back, and it doesn’t take you forward to anything you’ll be proud of looking back at your life when you are 95.
This time, my relationship with exercise is healthier. Yes, I am going to the gym more than I’d like to whilst I get to maintaining my weight, but that’s something I’m mentally set up for when I get there. But when I am working out, I now spend time in the weights section too, with a mentality coming from a place of wanting to build strength. Before, whenever I was in the gym the thought of holding on to any kind of a muscle was a big fear, so I only saw the point in cardio, and any machine that told you the calories burnt. I relied on wasting away. But no more thanks, sunshine.
I also no longer associate exercise solely with weight loss. When you’re in recovery, especially when you’re in an inpatient unit, it can be scary to think about every exercising again. Firstly, because by then you’ve lost any fun in it and it’s only been about wasting away up to then, but also because everyone around you is discouraging you from doing any of it any more.
But the reality is, when you’re a healthy weight, exercise is essential – mentally and physically. Exercise for me now, is about my quality of life long-term, and the lovely feeling I get after a good run.
Another huge, huge difference at this point of my life, is having commitments and responsibilities. This has been the biggest learning curve of all for me – spending too long out of education or employment, becomes too comfortable and the risk of relapse is much, much higher. When you experience Anorexia for the first time, or get really physically unwell, this is a little different. You need time out to step back, and obviously to become physically stable. But after some time, as much as it’s anxiety-provoking at first, it’s so important to build up with some kind of commitment, and to take on responsibilities. These are what give us a sense of purpose. And over time, they erode the sense of identity that the eating disorder has created.
A couple of times when I relapsed, I was pretty much offering myself for Anorexia to chew up and spit out. I got scared of committing to anything. I kept waiting for the right moment… and it never came. Confidence doesn’t spring out of nowhere, you have to take steps. See, when I was at home and I started focusing again on my eating, I became too scared to bring anything else in. But that only contributed to my thoughts around food.
Having college, and other things I am committing to, jumps in to save me before doubts about whether I’m eating too much, and I should be cutting more out start to snatch me up. Because having these commitments means that the reason to eat enough overrules the temptation to restrict. Even if you’re not consciously restricting or cutting calories, when you are in recovery the drive to eat enough isn’t there – because no-one or nothing else in your world is directly relying on that.
My artwork relies on me eating enough. My success at college relies on me eating enough. My ability to finish writing and publishing a book one day relies on me eating enough. Having kids one day relies on me eating enough. Having a healthy body so that I can live up to my potential, relies on me eating enough. Being present with my family and friends and really ‘being’ there relies on me eating enough. Making my parents proud relies on me eating enough.
So for all the reasons above is why I am ducking the urges coming over my head, to keep pushing when I lose the trickle of weight that I want to. I think it’s so important to have dreams. Ones that don’t need to be big, but ones that knuckle in to what really makes you happy in your own little life.
I know recovery is hard. I know it’s anxiety-provoking getting back into the real world when you’ve been protected by the bubble of mental health services (I really do know this myself) or maybe you’ve lost focus of what you want for the future, but if you take anything from this and you’re in recovery yourself, just please don’t get too comfortable. Take on some commitments. Something consistent; it doesn’t have to be anything with massive pressure. That could mean volunteering once a week, or doing a course that fits around your other appointments. It’s from these small steps that you build up the resilience to take on more and more until food as it’s most important function is to fuel those things that give you purpose and to look back at 95 knowing that you pushed yourself enough. It’s through building on these small steps that your eating disorder identity erodes and you blossom into the person you were really meant to be.
I know that if I didn’t have the things I have chosen for my life right now, I’d sure as hell be focused on food. Maybe not intentionally, but I would lose weight because I know I wouldn’t be putting my attention on something more important than the number on the scales. I’d probably let myself slip away because I’d be detached from my real potential on the outside world. But I fight to choose the opposite to this every day. Because can you really, honestly say that you’re giving recovery your all if you aren’t taking on some kind of commitment? And that’s not meant in any harsh way, but because I know where I would be if things were different right now. Adding in responsibilities to your life is where the real learning begins and you start to question and naturally challenge your thoughts around food.
You were born without an eating disorder. There’s no reason why we all can’t be back there.