Once upon a time, I suffered from a raging eating disorder. It feels as though it were lifetimes ago, yet it has only been about five years. A blink of an eye really. Once upon a time, I had simple (if you could ever call an eating disorder simple) eating disorder. It was straightforward. Anorexia Nervosa. Restriction type only.
I kept it painfully simple.
My life was very simple: Do not eat. Lose weight.
Even a starved brain could wrap itself around my restrictive lifestyle. Eighteen years is a long time to starve, but I was single-minded, and I held on relentlessly to my disordered pursuit. Many worked to keep me alive, and a couple times, I joined them in their efforts.
Then, in the most unlikely way, even as few expected it, I recovered. I started eating. I became comfortable with food. I became comfortable with people, engaged in meaningful relationships with friends, my husband, I allowed my body to expand and stretch with pregnancy and (for the most part) embraced the changes. These changes meant new life–new life inside of me, and a new life for me. There was hope. I finally became me, no longer a walking personification of anorexia. I gained purpose, meaning, passion, energy, connection.
Over time, life became more complicated. I discovered that as I had recovered behaviorally, my body was still sick, even more sick than it had been before. How could it be? My body became a medical anomaly, unable to hold onto weight, unable to maintain consciousness, unable to do what bodies that are well-cared for are supposed to do. Recovery did not look the way that I expected recovery to look. I was a puzzle. No one could figure me out. “Simple” went out the window.
I remember going into the doctor in mid-November of 2014, two months after my youngest was born, sitting on her table, and with tears running down my face, begging for her to explain to me why my body was so sick when I was finally so “healthy.” Testing began, diagnoses piled on, and maintenance of eating disorder recovery took backseat.
Though I believed that it was vital to be vigilant to protect our recovery from the eating disorder, therapy work, nutrition work, and treatment focused on keeping me alive, discovering why my body was malfunctioning, and increasing my quality of life. There was very little space to fine-tune recovery or challenge the thoughts that echoed my former ways of thinking. When one is in recovery from decades of disordered eating, she needs to recognize that recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. That marathon will take years.
As there are only 24 hours in a day, I was unable to really give the marathon of prolonged recovery the attention that it deserved, so the seed of anorexia rested unassumingly in a pocket of my mind, not taking the forefront, but never too far from consciousness. My illnesses made me thin, so the seed was satisfied enough to not have to make too many waves. I hoped that it had disappeared, that I was miraculously cured of the anorexia, and that it would never bother me again, but I suspected that it was somewhere close, keeping a careful eye on things.
The illnesses accelerated. My weight dropped lower, to a more dangerous level, and my doctors decided that a feeding tube would be the best medical intervention for my body as it was not absorbing or tolerating food. The eating disorder was cornered. When illness keeps you thin, you can pretend that you don’t really like it, that you would prefer to be a “healthy size,” and no one really challenges you, because, really, it’s not in your control anyway. I even tricked myself into thinking that the skeletal place that I had sunken to was deplorable, unpleasant, and unwanted. I did, however, deep down, feel most comfortable there, because, after all, I spent almost 20 years intentionally living an emaciated existence.
Weight loss triggered those old blasted neuropathways: you remember, those really myelinated ones? The ones that I had traveled so many times before? And though the weight loss was not intentional, it was still weight loss, and though it was the result of malfunctions of my body, my brain had a difficult time distinguishing it from the weight loss of anorexia.
The first five weeks of the feeding tube were unexceptional. Continual, around-the-clock feeding did not trigger too much anxiety about weight. I could maintain the illusion that my body would not really have to get larger. About five weeks in, however, the words that I had dreaded hearing graced my ears: “You definitely look like you’ve gained weight!” These words are meant to be complementary, usually coming from a place of love and compassion and desire for my well-being. I try desperately to tell myself this, reminding myself of my near-death state only five weeks prior. This is the goal. Weight gain is the goal. BUT I HATE WEIGHT GAIN. And my knee-jerk reaction to the beautiful, kind, sweet, encouraging statement acknowledging healthy weight restoration was the urge to usher a swift left-hook to the nose.
No, I did not punch anyone in the face, but in that moment, my world shifted. I questioned the medical necessity of weight gain, feeding tubes, high calorie formulas, doctors in general, and I questioned the meaning of my life. No joke.
Thus, in the past week, I have observed my once docile, quiet eating disorder take the reigns of my brain and turn me into a raving mad-woman. My dietician is thrilled that we finally get to talk about body image. She is ecstatic that I get to sit in the discomfort of a body that seems to be quickly blowing up right under my nose. “We finally get to do more work,” she says. Who needs more work? I’m exhausted!!
Oh, I know that this needs to happen. I know that my chances of physical healing and increased quality of life are higher when I am at a healthy weight. I know that this is undoubtedly the path that I must travel to see at least a few of my dreams actualized. (Remember that post earlier this week where a lamented the dreams that I lost? This may be my shot at regaining some of those dreams. That can’t be bad!)…
There is that familiar, unwanted voice that has all of the sudden gotten a bit louder. That old “friend” has crawled out of the rafters in my mind and leapt onto center stage.
And I have a choice. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where I have the chance to fully, completely, embrace recovery. Or I can hold on to that little bugger that has such an obnoxiously convincing voice. So here I go. Time to pick a side of the fence I’ve been inadvertently straddling for too long.