For National Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2016.
One of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received was this week, when I posted a photo on my Instagram page of me at my lowest weight. I made a quick mention of how it was NEDA 2016, and went on with my day. That evening, a friend I had met after I had recovered texted me I’m so glad I met you and have gotten to know you now, disorder free.
I have friends in my life who have never known Disordered Ally. That is kind of remarkable.
I’ve been pretty outspoken on here about my history with Binge Eating Disorder, exercise bulimia, diuretic abuse, restricted eating, orthorexia, and CS Disorder (“chew and spit”…it’s exactly what it sounds like). But I’ve never really gotten into why I stopped, how I stopped, and what I’m doing now, as a recovered person.
Four years ago this month, I decided I was done with my ED. And, to be quite honest, I didn’t do it for myself, or because I loved myself enough to finally start taking care of myself, or even for health reasons.
I didn’t want my then-boyfriend to find out, because I was afraid he would leave me.
It’s almost shameful for me as an unabashed feminist to admit that I gave up my eating disorder for a man. But it’s true. I had found someone that I loved dearly, whom I could see myself marrying and having kids with, and I didn’t want to jeopardize our future and my fertility by treating my body like a punching bag. So I stopped. It took me six more months to confess to him the extent of my disorder, and when I did finally tell him, quietly weeping in the passenger seat of his car, he took me by the hand and told me everything was going to be okay.
Last year, things went south, and I walked away from that man I had loved so much (while I don’t think we will ever speak again – my choice – I wish him nothing but the very best, mostly due to the aforementioned acceptance of my fucked up past). My grief set up a prime situation that my eating disorder could have walked right back into my life. But the instant – and I mean the instant – my lover became my ex, and walked out of my house for good, I walked into my therapist’s office and said “I need help. I don’t want my disorder to come back.”
She told me, “That’s how you know you’re past it. When you make decisions in times of stress that will negate those habits from returning.”
The victory felt hollow, when I had lost so much. It’s only now that I realize how important that moment was.
I went through the summer, the fall, and the winter. Every single day was a conscious and deliberate choice to refuse to capitulate to those thoughts that still circle my head when I feel low or bored or stressed. I started to live for myself, not for someone else.
While the depression weight I had gained throughout my deteriorating relationship fell away, along with the fears and doubts that had plagued me throughout those four years (I went from having several crying fits a month to zero within weeks of the breakup), the eating disorder never showed its face again. More than that, I didn’t even feel like bringing it back. The thought was completely ridiculous.
Disorder free after four years, after a time period when it would have been so easy to relapse. I’m here.
But here’s the tricky part. The part that I feel most people who succumb to eating disorders forget to realize. Or, they weren’t taught it when they decide they need help.
Loving yourself is not enough.
You cannot love yourself out of an eating disorder. Oh sure, it’s easy to say “think of one positive thing to say about yourself!” or, “love every curve of your body no matter what, even if you feel like garbage!” The body positivity movement is flawed in that way. You try finding one thing to love about yourself when you’re laying on the floor of a restaurant, the ceiling spinning above you, because you’re dangerously depleted of electrolytes after taking diuretics and working out for two hours and you haven’t gotten your period in a year. That year, I wrote in my diary I feel like my insides are rotting.
You ever try loving someone out of their abusive patterns? It’s nigh on impossible. Loving yourself when you have one eating disorder, let alone the four I suffered from, is like loving an abusive partner that you keep returning to when he hits you. You’ll keep going back because leaving, starting over, seems more terrifying than staying. There’s a strange safety net in using yourself as a punching bag.
My therapist has been working with me over the past two years to slowly strip away all of the self-doubt, self-hatred, and reflexive eating tendencies that had eaten my 20s. Last fall, I entered my 30s with a resolve I never thought I would see. I was stronger than I had ever been.
Love is a verb. It is a daily choice I make to not fall backwards, and of course I still have my “Ugggggh I wish my ass were smaller” days. Who doesn’t?! But without therapy, I would still be suffering. I know that. Every week, I sit on a couch and I work through 30 years of issues, slowly untangling the knots to get back to the perfectly flawed center that makes me uniquely me. And that has nothing to do with what size I am.
The other big thing I credit with helping me not fall backwards is yoga. A little while ago, I watched a speech given by Kelly Morris. She was talking about meditation practices and how yoga has been co-opted by white fitness experts who mainly tout its physical benefits rather than the psychological and spiritual ones, and one sentence stuck out to me: “These meditation practices aren’t meant to help you navigate the shit you call your life. They are meant to eliminate the shit altogether. They are meant to erase pain of any kind.” I don’t want to treat myself badly anymore because yoga has erased most of my needless suffering. I excavate my heart and soul and use it as fuel to help others. It’s very much in line with the yoga principle ahimsa, or nonviolence. You have to practice ahimsa towards yourself before you can push it outward.
Other ways I avoid my disorder? I haven’t weighed myself in five years. I avoid “fat talk” or fat-shaming of any kind, and I immediately change the subject if people around me engage in it. I eat healthy when I can, but I don’t beat myself up if I don’t. I don’t buy magazines anymore (although I flip through them in the line at the grocery store, because pretty clothes are my Kryptonite). I just…stopped caring what other people thought.
And that is the most powerful weapon we have against eating disorders. I use psychological tools to reach a place where I truly don’t give a shit.
I obviously don’t mean I’m just a lazy bum now. Doing cardio, lifting weights, practicing yoga, and eating well are reflexive to me. It’s something that I want to do in order to feel good, and it helps clear my anxiety. But “eating well” to me could mean one day I have salads and sweet potatoes and chicken and green smoothies, and another day I could go to a sushi place with my best friend and eat tempura handrolls with some green tea ice cream as a chaser. I like to eat well and exercise because it makes me feel good. And every day I make conscious choices to treat myself in a way that isn’t abusive.
Love is the answer to most things. But eating disorders are virulent and violent and terrible. I relapsed three times over the course of 2010 to 2011, and every time I relapsed I thought to myself “THIS time I’ll stop.” The last time, it stuck. And at the time, I did it for a dude.
Now, I’m doing it for myself. Self care should always and forever be for yourself.
And if there’s any one girl out there (or one boy, for that matter) reading this, who can benefit from my story and who makes the decision to recover, I will have done my job. Do it for you. You are the only you who has ever been.
I salute your light. You are enough.
PS. I have also come around to the fact that I am not meant to be small. I am meant to be expansive and strong. In the words of my lovely mother, I am, “built like a German swimmer.”