Why I Needed to Give Up to Recover From Anorexia
My disorder was apparent by the time I was 9 years old.
For almost 30 years I lived, functioned and kind of met my responsibilities in a weakened physical and mental state; I was, in application, a slave to anorexia. I raised three children, worked and went to school; all things I should have been able to feel good about and enjoy. My reality however, was that I felt and believed I was worthless, a burden of epic proportion — physically and figuratively. It is common with eating disorders to have a very skewed perception of one’s body. I literally saw a much larger person in the mirror. That was and sometimes is, reality to me. Starvation damages and dulls brain function. All of my perceptions were skewed, my perception of my body was the most skewed, which is perfectly logical with an eating disorder. Anorexia is not a disease of “wanting to be thin,” it is an addiction to control and a wild goose chase after perfection, the perfection of complete and disciplined control; maximum order.
I never thought “if I were thin enough then I would be beautiful.” Anorexia is about perfectionism, a lack of internalized sovereignty or autonomy and exercising control over one’s body through deprivation. I fed myself what I believed I was worthy of, which was almost nothing. I wanted to feel good enough, not thin enough. I survived some experiences in early childhood that caused me to believe that I was broken, ruined, if you will. I was filled with shame I couldn’t process at my young age. I also had a huge need to feel like I could refuse imposition. I wanted to disappear and be invisible. If you don’t see me you won’t hurt me, right? I thought if I didn’t eat then I would “grow in reverse…”
That’s how it all started.
I went to treatment seeking help for my eating disorder at 37 years old. I checked in to the center full of trepidation, guilt over the financial burden of extended inpatient treatment and saturated with shame. On that day I was the culmination of my eating disorder, every mistake I had ever made, the disappointment I believed my family felt and all of the self -loathing my shame and guilt could conjure. I had failed at life. I viewed treatment as giving up, quitting, admitting I was incapable of living life. I was just 37, how had I failed so successfully by my age?
The truth is, giving up was exactly what I needed to do. Except I was not quitting — I was surrendering.
I was incapable of living while using my my own judgement and instincts. I was literally killing myself. I am going to avoid any measurements, as that can be very triggering. Let’s just say that I was severely underweight and controlled by my eating disorder.
I believe my resignation was actually a good place to start. The self-loathing and shame were unnecessary and a bit dramatic, yet the willingness to do what my treatment team asked of me (actually, it was desperation mixed with apathy) was precisely what I needed. I needed to learn I could not trust my own thinking. My brain was malfunctioning and I would have to learn to trust others to guide me into recovery, or die. I am one of the fortunates, I am anorexic and I am in recovery. I had family that cared enough to push me toward treatment. There are plenty of, in fact too many people, women and men, girls and boys who die from eating disorders. The internal battle is often too great to fight inside an emaciated body, with a brain driven toward slow suicide. All eating disorders share the emotional impetus of self-loathing and worthlessness. I know at least one person with every type of eating disorder classified to date and each of us had these feelings to some degree. There are plenty of other emotions mixed with these, we all shared shame and guilt, though
During my months in treatment, sharing, struggling and crying with people who all have different disorders, I learned an important lesson. We all felt the same feelings of shame, guilt and self-loathing. Eating disorders may present in a variety of behaviors which become classified as different disorders, and yet the reality is that the psychological abyss is similar regardless of the presented, disordered, behavior. No one I know with an eating disorder intended the physical effects, none of us calculated for the consequences and chose to proceed toward our devastation. Each of us, in fact, used a distorted relationship with food to comfort ourselves and to grapple with our emotions.
I was released from treatment in December of 2011 and have been in recovery since then. I would like to be able to say I’m well, perfect and haven’t had any problems with anorexia. The truth is I struggle not every day, but often. Recovery is a lifelong process that requires mindfulness and determination. Sometimes it sucks, sometimes I don’t want to be anorexic and sometimes I don’t meet my meal plan for the day. Those days are fewer and farther between now. I have a desire to improve my life and to enjoy it — and I believe my life will continue to get better with continued effort. Treatment saved my life. Now that my eating disorder isn’t running the show I get to create meaning and love in the spaces that used to be filled self-loathing and apathy. I have support from my treatment sisters and they are irreplaceable in my life! Having support from others with eating disorders helps me to get through the toughest times and helps me remember to be grateful for today; it’s so much better than five years ago.
My life isn’t perfect, I’m not perfect — and that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.
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