It’s Eating disorder Awareness Week… I know it doesn’t seem like a big deal to most people. “Just eat”… “I wish I had THAT problem” … Two of the most frustrating, rude, cavalier and insensitive phrases I hear whenever ED’s come up. Eating disorders are serious. Serious like addiction. And it’s not because “we” are selfish, vain or conceited. It’s because we have no self love, self worth and no grace. It’s because we feel out of control in life and take it out on our bodies. Because we feel guilt when we take care of ourselves. Eating disorders are not a joke.
(I rewrote the paragraph above a few times changing the “we” to “they” and the “our” to “their” because I’m struggling with whether or not I want to own my own struggles right now. #VigorousHonesty)
Eating disorders come in many forms, restricting, binging, purging, over exercising… these are the symptoms, the whiskey to the alcoholic, the meth to the addict, the abuser to the abused. If you’ve ever known or loved someone who struggled with addiction, you’ve probably thought, “Why can’t they see what their doing to themselves?”
“Why don’t they just stop?”
“Why doesn’t she leave him?”
“She doesn’t love me enough to quit.”
That’s pretty much the same thoughts you might have when you are close to someone with an eating disorder. It’s frustrating. Maybe a little more frustrating because it’s harder to understand. Harder to relate to. I grew up in a home where addiction was talked about often. My dad is over 30 years sober and has worked in treatment for my entire life. My sister has been in rehab a few times, my mom, too. Addiction, recovery, 12 Steps, meetings, amends…. This is all the norm to me. Addiction, we can handle. We have the tools. But about 12 years ago when I was diagnosed as “Anorexic with purging”, none of us had any idea how to deal. My dad was very proactive, he got me help immediately. A therapist, treatment… What I didn’t have was anyone in my life who understood. In a world where everyone was on the Atkin’s Diet, I didn’t fit in. It was really lonely. For me, going to a 12-Step meeting was not useful. I didn’t use. Not like them. For me, not eating served the same purpose, however, I was not offered the same grace. People rolled their eyes, because their addiction was “worse”. Because “all” I had to do was “just eat”. (I am rolling my eyes as I type this!)
I have forgiven everyone who’s ever belittled my disease because I understand that you DON’T understand. I would like to give a little insight though. So maybe you can have more grace with someone who is walking a road you’ve never walked.
I have a friend, a good friend who also has an eating disorder, and she is the only person besides my therapist who “gets it”. The irony is that she over eats and I under eat. (I’m actually in recovery… see here is where it’s hard to compare addiction and ED’s because when an alcoholic drinks, they’re no longer sober. If I have a bad eating day, I’m not off the wagon necessarily. It’s not THAT simple. Hence ED awareness week.) However, if you sit us both down and talk with us, or, hear us talk with each other, it’s the same words, it’s the same feelings. We just have literally opposite reactions. When I am sad, I lose 15 pounds. When she is sad, she gains 15 pounds. I’m not saying like I feel sad today and magically 15 pounds evaporate. I mean like, when I am going through depression, stress, anxiety, etc. I can’t eat. Like physically, I cannot swallow food. I will chew for ages and just can’t swallow. And I and not necessarily even upset about my body during these times. In fact, if I’m in that place, I am not even thinking about my body. I am too absorbed in my misery. Yes throughout my life I have acted out my ED because I have had a “fat” day (a word I avoid). I have also noticed that my “fat days” directly correlate to my emotions. The scale has not changed, but for some reason today I fucking HATE my body. Nothing looks right, nothing feels right. I want to rip off my skin. I literally want to take scissors to my thighs. I want to vacuum the fat from my belly. These are the images I get when I look in the mirror on a “fat day.” Meanwhile my brain is saying, “You’re worthless, you’re weak, you’re not lovable, nobody takes you seriously, you deserve to feel lonely, nobody needs you. You’re too outspoken, you’re too opinionated. You’re not smart enough or pretty enough. You’re just not enough. Oh- except your thighs, those are too much. Jeez, Justine, what’s wrong with you? You’re a shitty anorexic. You ate WAY too much yesterday and LOOK at your ass! You can’t even eat right. You’re so stupid. You need to control yourself. You are an embarrassment.” You see how it’s not actually about my body? My body is the scapegoat. Internally I feel like I can’t fix my uselessness, and all the things wrong with who I am, but, I CAN fix my thighs. So here I am desperately hating myself, and truly needing someone to love me, someone to affirm me. Not my body. ME. and I don’t know how to ask for that. And I sure as hell don’t believe I deserve it. So I am sad. So I can’t eat. And not eating serves a purpose. Not eating ,makes me feel successful subconsciously. Eating literally makes me nauseous, so NOT eating makes me feel better.
Meanwhile my friend who over eats has the SAME thoughts, only her coping skill is to make herself feel better by eating. Because when she is eating it FEELS GOOD. It smells good, and looks good and fills her. It literally fills the emptiness. So she will eat fast food, and thus PROVE to herself, all the things her brain has been chanting. That she isn’t strong enough to lose the weight, that she is worthless, that she’s fat. That she doesn’t “deserve” to be healthy, because if she did deserve it, she could eat like a “normal” person. She “proves” her worthlessness to herself every time she gets on a scale and hasn’t lost any weight. Every time her doctor is disappointed. Every time her nutritionist overwhelms her with lists of food she “can’t” have. It’s overwhelming. And what’s the point anyway, right? She feels like a failure. Maybe she is? Oh, is that a Mc Donald’s? French fries will help. And she’ll try again tomorrow.
I don’t know if my sharing this is helpful. I just thought, in the spirit of the week, maybe I can shine some light on a subject that you just can’t grasp at face value.
I want you all to know that I have been working my recovery, seeing my therapist, and learning to love myself. To change the way I talk to myself. To recognize the red flags and seek help when I start going down the rabbit hole. My recovery really doesn’t have a whole lot to do with food. Food is just the way I show the sickness. As a mom I have been good at maintaining a healthy weight… but masking the real issue. I am in a place where I want recovery, and I understand that just because I am not acting out my ED, does not mean I am cured. I understand that every single day I need to work to make the right choices. Because, magically, when I am doing what is right and healthy for me, I don’t hate myself so much. In fact, I start seeing the good. I have recognized that my decisions directly effect my self worth. And I am worth being happy. I am worth love. I am lovable. And so are you.