I had sort of a long-awaited break-through in my therapy session today. I finally let myself be truly angry at my eating disorder, as opposed to the “sort of” anger I felt towards it before, which is very weird for me but also a big step in my recovery so I wrote about it. There were a lot of things that came out as a result so I decided to break this into 2 parts to not make the post miserably wrong and to help with fluidity and such.
I’m angry. Like for the first time in a long time, possibly even ever, I’m actually infuriated. I. Hate. ED. So much. And for the first time I was able to allow myself to feel that. All throughout treatment I would say things like, “Ugh I hate this,” or “my eating disorder just makes me so angry” and my therapist would respond with something like, “Really, because it doesn’t seem like it.” I said that I hated it but I still let it have so much control over me, which resulted in this huge internal battle and lots of confliction. Eventually, I realized that yeah, I hated it. I obviously was over it enough to the degree that I agreed to go to treatment, stay in treatment, and keep fighting no matter how miserable and exhausted I felt. I hated it to the amount that I agreed to go against everything it had taught me and made me believe even though it was screaming at me with every decision I made…Well, I didn’t agree to go against everything it said which is where my problem was.
Yeah, I had finally started to realize that ED wasn’t my friend, that I was sick and other things that I refused to believe before treatment, but it still did something for me. Using behaviors and “having an eating disorder” and “being sick” gave me things. Whether that was some kind of validation I was searching for or filling whatever hole I thought would be there without it, or a long list of other potential reasons, whatever it was, I still felt that I couldn’t live without it. This was a huge piece of work that I did in treatment. I spent countless hours talking with my primary therapist, my psychiatrist, with milieu therapists, and house therapists, there were pretty much therapists wherever you turned in treatment, which was very nice but also meant you couldn’t get away with anything…which was also good the patients just didn’t appreciate that one nearly as much. I journaled and tried using all of the nifty positive coping skills I had picked up to figure out what exactly ED did for me and why I was so terrified to let it go. I had to get really honest with myself about how I felt about my life, other people, perceptions of me, and lots of very uncomfortable topics, and it sucked.
So I went through all of this and was disappointed to admit to myself that ED was still doing something for me, even after I had done all of this raw, painful, revealing work. I realized how much it had taken from me, had learned that the ways I thought it was serving me were false, had realized that it gave me literally nothing that it had promised me, and I still didn’t want to give it up completely. A realization that went against every logical cell in my being, which, if you know me, you can imagine how well I handled that. How could I still believe that this thing, that I was finally able to admit was completely illogical, still able to have this much power over me? More importantly, why was I giving it the power? …and then I realized that that’s how addictions work. Eating disorders aren’t technically addictions, they’re classified as emotional disorders, but the similarities between the two are striking. Similar brain processes, similar chemical imbalances, similar thoughts and behaviors, and the two can often be co-occurring. So even though I’m someone who has never struggled with an addiction, I feel that I can relate to those that do. How the whole idea really makes no sense to everyone else, but to you it makes complete sense. In fact, to me it made so much sense that I couldn’t understand how everyone else couldn’t get it. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that people ate 3 meals a day and snacks and didn’t hate themselves as a result or feel the need to compensate in some way or not obssess over it all day. How people weren’t constantly planning meals and counting calories and not thinking about food all day every day. How for other people, food was pretty much a one-and-done thing. They ate and then they moved on with their days and that was it; it made asbolutely no sense to me.
I went through a period of time before I agreed (finally) agreed to go to EDCD, that I seriously had convinced myself everyone had some kind of an eating disorder. Everyone. My friends, my professors, my co-workers, all of them. There was no way that what I was doing was so out of the ordinary and so uncommon that I was really endangering myself. [I now know that the fancy therapy term for this is rationalizing, and boy am I good at it.] Body image and being healthy and looking a certain way are so prevalent in our society that there was no way that only I had a “problem”. Which is true, everyone can probably admit that the focus on looks in our society is getting out of hand and the societal ideals that dictate what we as a culture view as acceptable and beautiful are basically unattainable without using unhealthy eating/weight loss behaviors/ exercise patterns/etc. But that didn’t exempt me. It didn’t justify what I was doing and it didn’t make it “okay”. All of it was just my eating disorder tricking me into believing whatever it told me so that it could continue to have complete control of my life, and it definitely accomplished its goal.
So back to being angry: during my last few weeks in Denver, I realized that my eating disorder was still serving me in some way and that I wasn’t at a point where I was ready to give it up completely. I felt like a failure or a fraud that I was coming home from treatment still using behaviors, but it was what it was and I had to accept it so I could continue my recovery journey. Since coming home and starting to adjust to my “normal” life, I’ve been able to see how much ED took from me. I’ve been able to see how much he controlled what I did or how I acted or what I said and pretty much every aspect of my life, and it hasn’t been fun.
Honestly, I didn’t want to come home. I loved it in Denver. I had great friends and so much support and I felt that it was just such a good place for me that I was afraid that Indiana wouldn’t compare. No one at home really “got it.” I was going from being constantly surrounded by people that could relate to what I was thinking or feeling without really having to explain anything to an environment where the only person who I felt really understood me and what I was going through was my therapist. (Which was true, but it turns out people can understand things pretty well, you just have to actually reach out for help and explain things to them and stop expecting them to read your mind. Who would’ve thought?) I was afraid that I would get back and lose this new person that I had become, this new person who I was actually really starting to like. So I pushed it off as long as I could and then begrudgingly booked my plane ticket back when I had to. Don’t get me wrong, I was so excited to see everyone. My best friends surprised me at the airport when I got back and it was one of the happiest moments of my life. I missed my family and my friends and Bloomington so much, but I was also afraid that I would lose all of the work I had done. I was afraid that my life at home wouldn’t match what was needed for recovery, and I didn’t think I was interested in making the changes necessary to make the two go together, especially once classes started. I just couldn’t envision being recovered in my old life. I couldn’t imagine classes and socializing and everything without my eating disorder, so if I never went back I never had to face it. I was trying to make recovery fit my life back home when what I needed to be doing was make my life back home fit recovery. I had to make recovery my number one priority.
I knew I could do recovery in Denver so I would just stay where I feel safe and pretend that my life back home doesn’t exist anymore.Turns out it’s not nearly as bad as I had convinced myself it would be,which tends to be the case for like 99.9% of the situations that I catastrophize. I knew it would be hard and different and that I would feel awkward, so when I got back and it was like that I was ready for it.
I’ve been doing really well since I’ve gotten home, which is honestly a huge surprise to me. I still struggle and slip and with pretty much every decision I make there is a battle in my mind, but I’m doing it, and because of that I’ve been able to really start seeing what ED took from me, which is a lot more than I would like to admit.
Which, let me tell you, is a very hard pill to swallow.
Remember that you deserve this. You do.