woman looking out her window on a bus

The Conversations That Remind Me the Ghosts of My Eating Disorder Haven't Died

59
59

After the hospital stays and after the doctors’ visits for regular weigh ins and EKGs. After you stop taking birth control purely for weight gaining purposes and after walking the dog is considered a healthy activity again. After your friends stop hedgingly asking, “How are you feeling?” and after people no longer side-eye you to make sure you finish your meal. After you wake up and aren’t disappointed you didn’t die in your sleep.

You are considered to have survived. You are considered to have lived through the living nightmare that is an eating disorder. You are rehabilitated. You can return to normalcy.

So, for days, for weeks, for months, for years, like everyone else, you ride the bus. That mundane activity, a part of everyday life. Some days, you let your head bob to your music, simply enjoying the scenery. It’s bliss to let your thoughts slip and wave from place to place without ever fully landing. Some days, you are buried in work, your nose pressed into emails. You hastily read memos and organize last minute meetings.

Some days, a familiar duo boards the bus and sits immediately in front of you. They have a conversation so inane and so circular it cuts through your music or your memos. It draws your attention so completely it’s impossible to pull away, to refocus. You try to breathe, using all those techniques they taught you. They don’t work. The words of their conversation drill deeper. They take hold, clawing into every part of you.

“Are your thighs touching?”

“Yeah, but we’re sitting down. Of course, they’re touching.”

“It feels gross. Move them apart.”

“What’s the point? My thighs touch, that’s just a fact.”

“Yeah, but still, don’t you wish they didn’t.”

“No. Well, maybe a little.”

“Look, that lady is basically the same size as us, do her thighs touch?”

“Yeah, I think so, but she seems happy.”

“Yeah, she does, but should she be?”

“Yeah why not, other people seem happy with their size, why can’t I be?”

“Because you can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Well you can try, but wouldn’t you just be lying to yourself? You know you’d be so much more if you lost like five pounds.”

“Well isn’t that just society telling me I should look a certain way?”

“But what’s wrong with wanting to be the best version of yourself?”

“There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“So why is wanting to be slimmer wrong?”

“It isn’t, but we have other stuff to do.”

“Yeah, but let’s do this first.”

You bury your face in your hands wanting to scream that none of this matters. That there are so many other things to worry about. That for the love of all things holy, will you please shut up. You are an onlooker to your own infuriatingly cyclical thoughts. Knowing the how wrong this conversation is doesn’t help silence it. If anything, it fuels it.

“So have we decided if we are going out for dinner tonight? You need to respond to them.”

“I do, but I don’t know.”

“We should look up the menu, see what we can eat.”

“What if they ask me why I’m not drinking?”

“Could we manage one drink?”

“Yeah, but isn’t that just a waste of calories?”

“Yeah, but I love beer. It’s a craft beer place.”

“Yeah well that’s your fault for not planning for it. If you had thought ahead then maybe, we could have enjoyed it. Yeesh, you’re useless.” 

“What if we make lunch smaller?”

“Oh, that could work.”

From listening to them, you come to realize ghosts don’t die. They just sleep. Ready to wake at the slightest provocation. You realize this haunting duo is ceaseless, merciless. They can poke holes in anything. Any glimmer of self-satisfaction and they will smother it so completely you will feel foolish for even dreaming it possible. They exist only to remind you that despite all you have proven to yourself, you have made no progress. At the end of it all, nothing about you will ever be good enough.

The conversation is dizzying and exhausting. It drains you of your ability to focus on anything else. It eats away at everything you enjoy. It makes you feel shallow. No matter what you have accomplished and have done since, all of that substance falls away, is irrelevant.

The bus crawls to your stop. Some days, you get off the bus, and after some sincere positive affirmations, you can move on with your day. You placate the ghosts, cajoling them to sleep, promising you won’t eat too much, that you will work out extra hard.

Some days, you get off the bus, the conversation ringing so loudly in your ears you want to rip your skin off, shed it completely and fling it from you. To run so far and so fast you become a different person, with different problems. That you never have to return to hating yourself so acutely.

Some days, you get off the bus, middle finger in the air, defiantly yelling you are more than this. That this duo is no longer truly in control of you. That you are better than this, that you are more than what your illness left you with. That no matter what they say, you are working on being happy with you who are now. While medical metrics have deemed you rehabilitated, you come to judge your true progress by how you get off the bus.

Image via Thinkstock

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

 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

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

59
59

RELATED VIDEOS

TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

What It's Like Hearing 'Disordered Eating Talk' When You Live With an Eating Disorder

32
32

“I haven’t eaten all day!”

“It’s OK to just eat pizza and chips. It’s college!”

“I’m not going to eat so I’ll get more drunk at the party.”

”This is the one time in our lives when we can eat whatever we want!”

If you’re a college student, there’s a good chance you’ve heard friends and fellow classmates say these things. As someone in recovery from an eating disorder and in college, hearing phrases such as these tends to grab my attention. They’re a red flag, I think. Disordered eating talk. Yet, the funny thing is my peers who say these things most likely aren’t struggling with an eating disorder at all, but merely the disordered eating habits of a care-free college student.

So you might be thinking, what’s the difference between them and someone like me? To start, when one of my friends says she hasn’t eaten all day, it’s usually because she’s been doing school work and caught up in daily life. It’s not because of deliberate restriction. She then tends to make up for her calories later in the day, which still may not be considered the most healthy thing.

However, what makes her merely disordered and not struggling with an eating disorder is that she’s carefree about it. She’s not spending every waking moment thinking about food. She is not constantly thinking about restricting, binging, purging or exercise. She’s not avoiding food or binging to punish herself. She’s just living.

So when I’m around peers like this, I tend to think, “Why do I have to eat three meals a day and two snacks? Why can’t I just skip breakfast and lunch?”

In order to answer that question, I ask you to imagine a person recovering from an alcohol addiction. This person, unlike their friends, cannot just enjoy one drink. They must completely abstain. Otherwise, they will risk using alcohol to numb negative feelings, binge drinking or getting back into the habit of drinking daily.

It’s the same for someone recovering from anorexia, bulimia or binge eating. As someone who had anorexia in the past, if I skip one meal, then I run the risk of skipping all my meals. It’s the “all or nothing” thinking of an addict. I also run the risk of falling into other negative behaviors such as purging, over-exercising or binging.

So how do I navigate recovery in college? I stick to my meal plan, despite what my friends and classmates are doing. I always eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. I have to in order to stay well. I’m often envious of my friends who don’t have to live by such strict standards, but I’ve accepted this is how it is for me. That’s quite OK.

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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.
MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

32
32
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Learning the Language of Eating Disorder Recovery

286
286

I will always and forever unabashedly share my story of eating disorder recovery, but when I left treatment this last time, I found myself having trouble writing about it. I’ve been through a lot since then, and I am sure to go through more. Recovery is fluid and ever-changing.

It was hardest for me to talk about my recovery when I left treatment because I still didn’t feel like I was “recovered.” I was frustrated that I was in a similiar place to where I had been before. Just on the edge of recovery. Eating and living a recovered life but still hating what I saw most of the time. Always thinking about the possibility of losing weight. I felt so guilty about it, like I was some sort of fraud. I told my therapist about this and she said something I now tell myself every day.

“Arielle, you are learning a new language.”

She explained to me that it makes sense that my thoughts are going to take a little longer to catch up. I’ve never done this before. I’ve never known how to talk to myself with kindness. Of course, I needed to learn this new language. Why should I or anyone feel bad or guilty about learning?

That was about a month and a half ago. Since then, I have been improving every single day. My second language is beginning to feel more familiar on my tongue. I don’t always critique the way my stomach looks when I squeeze my body into a pair of jeans. More days than not, I appreciate my body, and not just bits and pieces of it, all of it.

The vocabulary of this new language is so much more vibrant and beautiful. I’m able to express myself in ways I never could before. I have the room now to not only appreciate my body, but all the other things I was missing out on when my brain was so focused on food and size. I admire the mountains, feel the rocks under my hiking boots, obsess over my dog running up and down a trail, get lost in conversations, work toward dreams that have nothing to do with my body or food, follow politics, watch Wes Anderson movies and laugh with the people I love. I can give as much as I take in a relationship.

The way I feel emotions is different now. I can feel joy radiate through my entire body, uncontaminated by the self-hate in my brain. I also feel pain and sadness, but it’s different. It is real, and it is deep. Yet, I know it is temporary. It’s not the same hopelessness I felt before. It’s not the lingering pain that never goes away. It’s the heart-wrenching sadness I used to run from.

I can take it now. I can take the ugly shame and pain, and I can feel it. I can face it because I know a secret I didn’t before. I know the shame and the pain does not make up who I am. Ignoring it and distracting with calories will never make it go away. It kept me from feeling its full magnitude but this is not by any means better.

It was being cut with a dull knife all day and all night. It’s not having an escape. I have an escape now, and it’s everything I thought it wouldn’t be. I welcome all emotions now because I am human and this is part of the human experience, whether I like it or not.

I never thought this was possible. I’ve never known recovery. I know I have to work to maintain this every single day, but I can’t think of anything more worth the fight. I know I’m lucky. I know how hard it is to learn this new language. We leave our treatment centers and are sent out to navigate life with our box of coping skills, hoping it will be enough, all the while knowing there is no coping skill better than the eating disorder we gave up. There are no smelling scents strong enough or silly putty soothing enough to keep you safe sometimes.

I know that. I also know that with the help of my therapists, my parents and my friends, I didn’t need to distract from my pain anymore. I needed to feel it. I needed to feel it all. I needed to feel it burn through my insides and squeeze my lungs, until it felt like I couldn’t breathe. I needed to know while it was excruciating, I was surrounded by people who will always keep me safe. I could survive it.

I haven’t had to feel pain like this since then, and I am grateful. However, I know if it comes again, I do not need my eating disorder to protect me from it because I have an army of people who love me and will stand with me. I am safe. I am continually in awe of how much better life can get.

 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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via Thinkstock.

286
286
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

When You Don't Believe in Recovery From Your Eating Disorder

344
344

I don’t like to talk specifics about my health history when I blog. I don’t even like to write out the phrase “eating disorder,” even though I’m sure the vast majority of you have been able to glean from my tidbits here and there that, that phrase has applied to my life in all sorts of ways. The reason I don’t want to do this is because I don’t want to label my struggle, and because I do not want that label to carry on to where I am in my present. But that being said, I do think it is immensely important to reflect on where I’ve been in order to recognize how far I’ve come. When I struggle or have little slip-ups, my mind immediately jumps to things like:

You’re not making any progress.

You’re going to be stuck like this forever.

What’s the point of even trying to get better if your mind will always be like this?

Recovery is fake.

When I was at my sickest, I had an entirely black and white form of thinking. I thought “recovered” meant never having any disordered thoughts or actions ever again. And frankly, I didn’t really believe in recovery at all. I would look at other people who had “recovered” from eating disorders, and I would think, “Who the hell are you kidding? You can’t honestly tell me you’re happier now. You can’t tell me you like your body right now.” And because I didn’t really believe in a full, 100-percent recovery, I didn’t want to do it at all. I had no interest in existing in a space of push and pull between my disorder and health. I thought that sounded miserable, and I didn’t want to have to fight every day to try to achieve something I wasn’t sure existed.

So about once a year, I would have a serious relapse. My body would shut down, and medical intervention would be necessary. Then I would have several months of close monitoring and relatively stable health, only to repeat the same process over again. I never truly gave recovery a chance, but merely waited for everyone to back off, masked my behaviors and once again began the work of destroying my body. This happened for years. And it wasn’t until last year that something really, truly changed.

The other day I was catching up with a friend, and she looked at me and said, “Do you understand what you’ve done in the last year? Do you understand the massive turnaround you’ve done?” And it took me a few minutes to reflect, but she is absolutely right. At this exact time last year, I was exercising between four to six hours a day. I was barely fueling my body, and any time I did eat it was next to nothing and I would rarely keep it down. My weight was plummeting, as was my blood pressure and pulse. I made no time for anyone or anything, because I was always doing something to try to lose weight and I did not want any distractions. Every single medical professional in my life was urging me to leave school and go into intensive treatment. But beyond all of that, I felt absolutely hopeless. No matter how exhausted or miserable I was, I felt like my body was on autopilot, forcing me to work out or compensate for my food. I felt completely engulfed by my struggle and could not see a single way out. There were several instances when I thought I had really done it this time, that my body would succumb to my eating disorder. I remember laying on the grass in one of the fields, talking to my nutritionist on the phone, sobbing, “This is it, this is really it.”

I went home for fall break, locked myself in my room and did some thinking. I stared at myself in the mirror, my skin a pale shade of green, my fingernails broken and frail, my body bruised and battered. What am I doing? How did I get here yet again? I felt I had two options: continue down this path, resign myself to this disease and eventually, be it three months or 13 years later, die of an eating disorder. Or I could, for the first time in my life, give recovery a real try. The latter option was petrifying. I knew it would be painful. I was scared it wouldn’t work. But I knew if I gave it enough effort, if I stuck with it long enough, it might yield something that would give me a second chance at this life. And I chose to stick with it.

It was tough. It was gritty and terrifying and more difficult than I could have ever imagined. Everyday I had to wake up and make a choice to fight the voices in my head, to feed my body despite the inward screeches and protests, to begin to pick away at the mountain of self-hatred I had created, to try to unravel the habits of self-destruction I had cemented over the years. It wasn’t pretty or perfect by any means. But I 100 percent gave myself over to the process. I didn’t give myself an inch of wiggle room, because there is no negotiating with an eating disorder. I committed every meal, every rest day, every workout to recovering, and it was a process of unbelievable blind trust in myself.

Flash-forward to the present. I am full on in my senior year of college. I have made new friends who I am social with. I go out for meals, I take rest days, I skip workouts to spend time with people. My days can be spontaneous because I don’t feel tied to a rigid workout schedule. I’m looking for jobs and planning the next phase of my life. And — it’s been nearly a year since I have performed a single disordered action.

Whenever we go through struggles, I feel like we hear the phrase “you just need time” or “things will get better with time,” and often it sounds like total bullsh*t. We want to know when and how much time and specifics of what this “getting better” will look like. We don’t want to have to wait for whatever we’re going through to mend itself — we want it now. But after years and years and years of struggling with an eating disorder, and having had the year that I’ve had, I can firmly say it really does just take time. It takes time to unravel habits. It takes time to repair relationships. It takes time to work through things — be it a break-up, be it a life change, be it any other life hurt. You cannot hold your healing to an arbitrary timeline; it must happen organically and without force. I believe that is the only way true healing happens.

I still do not believe I will go the rest of my life without having disordered thoughts. I have them daily. But rather than being a constant, incessant stream of self-hatred, the thoughts will pop up here and there, and I am able to rationalize through them and dismiss them. And despite what my former self may have thought, I do think I am recovered. I think I am close to being the best I could possibly be in terms of recovery. I never in a million years would have thought I could be where I am. Even though I am still in the process and there are things I need to work on, where I’m at is so much better than where I was. All of the fight and grit I had to give was so, so worth it. I gave myself time, and it was the best gift I have ever received.

So whatever you’re dealing with at the moment, I encourage you to give yourself grace. Cut yourself some slack, and know that time really does heal. Some days may be difficult, excruciating even, but know if you trust the process and trust yourself, those days will surely pass. Beautiful things lie ahead, my friends.

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.

Follow this journey on Fitkenzien.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

344
344
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Why I Didn't Fast This Yom Kippur

3
3

The holiest day of the year for the Jewish people is Yom Kippur. A day of atonement. A day to confess our sins to the Almighty. A day to really think about where you hope to be next year. A day that is supposed to be a 25-hour fast.

That’s right. No food or water from sunset to sunset. For most people, this is pretty hard, but not for me. Not for a lot of people with eating disorders. Fasting for me is not a holy act of refusing physicality. Fasting is an act of betrayal to my body and love for my brain. My stomach might hurt and I might feel faint. Yet, by the end, my mind is euphoric. It’s like an internal high.

For me, fasting isn’t holy. It’s practically sacrilegious. Every year, I’ve had the same conversation with my therapist. She asks if I’m going to fast. I say yes. She tries to tell me not to. I do it anyway. Then, somewhere down the line, I realize I never really stop fasting.

This year, I decided to get rabbis involved and see what they think. After all, most rabbis say if you can fast, then you should. Believe me, I can fast. I can fast and run a marathon. So, after much online research, I called Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, a prominent Rabbi who deals with a lot of people with eating disorders.

News flash: He told me not to fast.

This totally threw off my plan. I figured he would tell me to fast and then my treatment team would have to leave me alone. But no. Since he told me I’m not allowed to fast, it was as good as Jewish law I couldn’t fast.

Yom Kippur was last week, and for only the second time since I can remember, I didn’t fast. The other time I was in treatment. So, it was weird. It felt like something was wrong.

I didn’t fast, but I also didn’t eat what I should have. So I’m not sure exactly where that leaves me. I think it probably leaves me somewhere pretty great mentally. I didn’t fast so I can’t keep fasting.

Maybe that was what needed to happen to make this year different. A bad day doesn’t mean a bad life. Stay strong.

xo
Aria

Image via Thinkstock.

This post originally appeared on Rediscovering Aria.

 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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

3
3
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

When I Started Viewing My Eating Disorder as an Addiction

75
75

The first time I ever sought outside help for my eating disorder, I was 17 and attended an Overeaters Anonymous meeting. It didn’t sit well with me. I never went back, and I became skeptical of 12-step programs in general. As I got older, I encountered friends who were members of Alcoholics Anonymous, and I just didn’t understand. I dismissed it as “cult-like” and continued to believe for many years the abstinence approach was creating unhealthy patterns of thinking. As I trained as a therapist, I did learn that 12-step programs are incredibly effective in treating addictions, but I still felt very skeptical about its applicability to eating disorders.

I have experienced a successful, and honestly probably atypical, recovery process. I had few slips and no serious relapses, following my year spent in and out of treatment centers at age 21 and well beyond my 30th birthday. So it really shook me to the core when I found myself craving eating disordered behaviors in a way I could only equate it to the experiences of the addicts I saw on my medical dramas like “Nurse Jackie” and “Private Practice.”

I felt completely at a loss. I’d had enough exposure to addiction. I knew that’s what this feeling was. Still, I didn’t have a clue what to do because I firmly believed the addiction model did not correspond to eating disorders. “If I was an alcoholic, then I’d go to a meeting right now, but I have nothing.” I said this to myself, indulging in a brief moment of powerlessness before biting the bullet and deciding to explore the 12-step model a little bit more, just in case (especially regarding how it pertained to eating disorders). Maybe this was more of an addiction than I had believed. Maybe I could even go to a meeting.

What I discovered was, no, as I knew all along, I do not have an addiction to food. What I do have, however, is an addiction to control over my body. I am addicted to the ridiculous and unhealthy behaviors in the name of maintaining this feeling of control. Food is not my substance. Food is not my enemy. My substances are crazy diet plans and punitive exercise routines. Flipping through a women’s health magazine is my equivalent to walking through a liquor store, reading about ridiculous meal plans followed by sneaky calorie restriction tips, and imagining what it would be like to follow through with that.

I tell myself it’s not a disordered plan. Lots of healthy people do it. So it would be totally fine for me to try that cleanse (or, by this logic, for my alcoholic brothers and sisters to have just one glass of wine or even the whole bottle, only just this once) to join the group weight loss pact or to stay on the treadmill just until the calorie count hits the next even number, multiple of five or 12, times two.

Diet articles and weight loss games are fine for some people. For me, I’m one cleanse away from intense calorie restriction, binging, purging and over exercising. I am one diet plan off of the back of the cereal box away from being unable to focus at work or from putting myself or even someone else at risk. It can happen in a split second.

Not every slip leads to a relapse. Why play Russian roulette with my life, though? It’s a really big risk to take. No, I am not addicted to food. I’m not ingesting the substance of my addiction daily, but I’m faced with several opportunities a day to “use,” to choose the safer food or count my calories. The opportunities to use my unhealthy forms of control are endless. Once we start “using,” our insight starts dwindling and we fail to see the danger we are in.

I’ve been converted. I think the 12 steps make a lot of sense. I think they can help me to heal. I think finally figuring out I have an addiction, no matter how long I am sober, allows me to make sense of what I’ve been through and what I continue to go through. I think it ultimately will set me free.

Image via Thinkstock.

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.

75
75
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Real People. Real Stories.

6,300
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.