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8 Emotions I Felt After Living With the Numbness of My Eating Disorder for So Long

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Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

Eating disorders are developed for many different reasons. For some it is a way on controlling an element of their life, for some it is a response to a trauma they have experienced. My eating disorder came into my life very gradually, so carefully that neither me nor those around me recognized it for what it was until it had so much control of me it was impossible to just let it go. You see, the thing about starvation (or binging and purging, or exercising until exhaustion) is that it often blocks out emotions until we feel nothing but numbness. But this numbness we feel does not only take away the “negative” emotions, but the positive ones too. In recovery, we don’t get to choose which emotions we want to feel again — they come all at once, and a big part of recovery is learning to recognize emotions for what they are and to find healthier ways of coping with them (ways that don’t involve self-destruction). Sometimes it helps to be able to identify how we are feeling and to know we are not alone in how we are feeling, because sometimes the most comforting words someone can say are “me too.” Sometimes we just want someone to explain the things we can’t.

These are the emotions I felt as I transitioned out of the numbness of my eating disorder:

1. Guilt

Guilt presents itself in many different forms. Guilt after eating a meal I feel I don’t deserve, guilt for eating more than the disorder wants to let me, guilt for becoming ill in the first place, guilt for putting my family through hell, guilt for receiving treatment, guilt for starting to feel better when others are still in the dark.

2. Sadness

Sadness is one of the hardest emotions to feel. Sometimes the sadness it so deep it physically hurts, and I have no idea how it’s ever not going to hurt so much. A lot of the time, the sadness comes from nowhere for no apparent reason, and it feels like it could go on forever.

3. Loneliness

Eating disorders are very lonely illnesses. They rely on secrecy and manipulation that often results in pushing away the ones you love the most, and sometimes we push away those around us because we feel underserving of their time, love and attention.

4. Regret

Most people have things they regret. The difference here though, is that because eating disorders can be so long-lasting and difficult to escape from, they can take away years — even decades — of our lives. Eating disorders can develop from a very young age, and many of us have had our childhood and teenage years stolen from us and memories clouded by illness. While friends went out partying, we may have stayed home trapped in our own minds. While many went to college or have meaningful jobs, some of us struggle to get through the day and perform everyday tasks. It is often only when we begin to try and recover that we actually realize how much we have missed out on, and experiences we will never be able to have again.

5. Fear

Fear of what life is like without the control of an eating disorder. Having to face the disorder head on six times a day, fear of what is left when the eating disorder begins to fade away. Fear of certain foods the disorder has forbidden me to eat for far too long, fear that I may never actually be rid of the disorder completely.

6. Anger

This is one of the most difficult ones to deal with, because it is something intangible. Anger at what the illness took. Anger for the people it hurts. Anger for my eating disorder choosing me. Anger for choosing my loved ones. Anger that an illness so cruel could possibly exist on this planet. For me, I’ve found the best way to get revenge is to raise awareness and help those still in the dark.

7. Relief

Relief that I don’t feel the need to count every calorie that goes into my mouth. Relief that I can get home and snuggle up and watch a movie instead of being unable to relax until you’ve been on a jog. Relief that my period has retuned and I may now be able to have a family. Relief of being able to celebrate my friend’s birthday without having to think of an excuse as to why I can’t taste the birthday cake. Relief that I am now free to live and not just survive.

8. Excitement

Excitement for what is yet to come. Excitement for all the memories we can now make. Excitement to be able to go about my life no longer plagued with a disorder that weaves its way into every single aspect of my life. Excited to be just human. 

Without emotions, life is in black and white and shades of gray. Emotions bring color, they bring hope and they bring life. They bring enjoyment back into the things you do, and an ability to sympathize more than many people ever could. Because these emotions can’t break you, but if you let them, they can make you you” again.

The best advice I can give to anyone who is beginning to feel these new, raw emotions would be this: don’t block it out, don’t pretend it’s not there. Don’t find other self-destructive ways to make yourself numb again. Just sit with it. Find another human being, you don’t need to talk, but the presence of another humans existence is often enough to get you through this impossible moment. Then get back up, keep breathing, keep eating and keep fighting. One breath at a time. One bite at a time. Cry if you need to, even if you don’t know why. Then get up and get on with your day. You may not be OK right now, but you’re alive, and you will be OK. I promise. Stand tall brave fighter, you are more than these feelings.

In the words of Matt Haig:

Feelings are smaller than you. Always, they are smaller than you, even when they feel vast. They operate within you. They may be dark clouds passing in the sky, but if that is the metaphor, you are the sky. You were there before them. And a cloud cannot exist without the sky, but the sky can exist without the cloud.

Getty Images photo via bruniewska

Originally published: February 26, 2018
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