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What I Realized About My Eating Disorder While Watching 'Dexter'

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So I have been re-watching “Dexter,” in that lovely, binge-for-many-hours-at-a-time kind of way where I am able to go through a season in about two or three days. And then I take a break because I find I am dreaming Dexter dreams intwined with my own life story. Only to find myself back again, cuddled in bed with my beautiful and smart Doberman puppy, or at the kitchen table, plugged in so my computer battery does not die and leave me hanging right before a kill.

I am obsessed with watching this show in much the same way Dexter is obsessed with killing. A constant gnawing to get back to the show, to finish what I started, to complete the season. It is familiar. This way of thinking, this focus on something that really isn’t a focusing at all but more an all consuming. A thought that isn’t really a thought but comes from much deeper inside me. I can get like this easily. But only with a few things. The biggest one is food.

At this point in my life I have a pretty good relationship with food. But it was not always like this. I used to have a terribly toxic relationship to food. As in eating and binging or not eating at all. Food was not the fuel that supported me but the burden that weighted me down. I thought about it all the time. Whether because I wasn’t eating it or because I ate too much of it and needed to get rid of it.

And even though now my food and I get along OK, the only time I really had a honest, we-are-in-this-together-food-you-are-my-friend, relationship with food was when I was pregnant and when I was nursing. I have heard this is rare — that women with eating disorders have a hard time with pregnancy, when our bodies become something out of our control. But for me, all the worry and stress, the coping and controlling, it fell away as my body became this amazing home to my babies. And while I nursed and that extra 15 pounds stayed on, keeping my belly soft and full, all I felt was gratitude that I could feed my children in such a beautiful way.

But then when I was on my own again, my body separate from the children who before had been fed through me, the should and should nots, the overeating and withholding, it all came tumbling back in. Not nearly as intensely as when I was younger, but still a constant awareness of what I ate and how I felt. And when the stress was too much to bear I knew I could fill up on something tasty — release my troubles as I released the food from my tired body.

​Fast forward to now. So many years later, where food is a companion I have made peace with. We can eat together in a way where guilt is kept at bay. Where I can enjoy the tastes that sit on my tongue and the fullness that sits in my belly and nourishes me.

But then, watching Dexter, hearing him talk about his need to kill, how it takes him over and how he finds relief, I realize his description feels much the same as the role that food played in my life, and I wonder how I missed this on first viewing. The similarities. The rituals. The sweet sameness of obsession.

Dexter says, “It starts with the blood, trickling down the back of my eyelids. The trickle becomes a stream and then a flood. It fills me up in all my empty spaces. But then the blood isn’t red anymore, it’s black and pressing. It feels like my head is going to explode and then the only way to relieve the pressure is to open the floodgates and let it spill out.”

Whoever wrote this is f*cking brilliant. Or is a serial killer. Or has an eating disorder.

Because this is just how it feels. Because food, when it is not food, was the coping mechanism for me in much the same way as killing is for Dexter. That thing that filled up my empty spaces or distracted me from the struggles at hand. Food was the thing that was controllable, even when I felt out of control.

Food was my dark passenger.

And so I sit, watching Dexter struggle with his own dark passenger, knowing his outcome will not be bright like mine. Because when I feel the pulse of obsession creep in, the tingling of worry, I now can remind myself we have found a way to peace, food and I. We live together in a place where I am good enough and strong enough and where, though the compulsion will always be there to control and withhold and where I still border on obsession more times than not, food really is a friend. A true companion. Dark no longer.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a scene or line from a movie, show, or song that’s stuck with you through your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: June 24, 2016
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