abstinence does not make the thoughts grow kinder

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i have been what i call abstinent with my eating disorder for the last six months and by that i mean i have not thrown up. this is the longest i’ve gone without self-induced vomiting in twenty-seven years. there is a part of me that is amazed and grateful.

there is another part that’s busy pointing out that vomiting is merely one behaviour among many eating disorder behaviours that needs to be addressed. i’m not purging, true, but i still binge to counteract my anxiety more than i’d like. so far i’ve managed to avoid throwing up, which i suppose puts me closer to “normal” since almost everyone suffocates their feelings with food sometimes. luckily, most people haven’t adopted the regurgitation part of my particular program.

like most addictive-type activities, my bulimia is an effort to escape from the thoughts and feelings that make me want to crawl out of my skin. what is it about our thoughts that makes us so uncomfortable? why do we change from living in the moment to trying to escape it as we grow up? why do i find it so difficult to be in my own body?

i am restricting my food choices and monitoring my intake too closely. thoughts about food, eating, and my body take up far too much of my time. case in point is the thought that led to this writing effort. it came to me as i was doing leg curls on the weight bench. i was not lifting weights for a scheduled workout nor was i doing it because of a sudden desire to get stronger. i was exercising because my pants felt too tight.

clothing that cuts or binds or lingers on my skin in any way is problematic. i interpret it to mean that i am too large, too fat. that judgement is entirely subjective and prone to change. the shirt that was fine on monday can make me feel fat on tuesday. my clothing directs my mood and isn’t that strange. it means that i believe my clothing is right, which means that i must be defective and need to change. giving that much power to a pair of yoga pants is an odd thing to do.


when i woke up, my body felt wrong. i’m not sure what happened because it was fine when i went to bed but when morning came, things were different. i was suddenly too puffy and too full; with legs that were too aware of the pants that surrounded them. the next thing i knew, i was doing emergency leg curls, accompanied by the sweet tones of my very critical inside voice.

the truth is that i’ve gained a bit of weight. i can feel it in my body. it’s amazing the effect that a little weight can have.

i’m warmer, for one. i’m not currently walking around shivering, which i both appreciate and hate since part of me despairs over the new pounds. i hate being cold. i also hate that my brain turns being warmer into a criticism.

my thinking patterns are better; i think a little more clearly and can hold the focus for longer. the sudoku is easier. it’s not a huge improvement, i still jump from task to task like a demented chipmunk but the time between the leaps has been extended. it’s improved enough for me to notice and once again, that leaves me conflicted. i like feeling smarter. i like being able to pay attention. i don’t like feeling flesh.

which leaves me here, trying to reconcile my desire to get better with my persistent, low-level aversion to it. because “healthy” is another one of those words that i’ve redefined. healthy with respect to myself is code for “you’re getting fat”, and fat to someone with an eating disorder is a multi-faceted and complicated word with definitions that extend far beyond a simple measuring of the pounds and inches.

now that i’m abstinent, the next step is trying to address the thoughts that push me into executing old behaviours. sometimes the negative thoughts inspire me to stop what i’m doing and start writing instead. sometimes i repeat the day’s affirmation, often borrowed from l’oreal – i’m allowed to heal because i’m worth it. sometimes i just acknowledge what’s happened and let it go, resolving to recognize the problem earlier next time. sometimes i rage over the unfairness of it all.

being abstinent from purging is a little bit frightening. moving away from an eating disorder is scary stuff. when something has been your identity for so many years, it’s terrifying to let it go. i am afraid that i have nothing to offer up in its place. i’m afraid i’ll let go of all my eating disorder behaviours only to find that nothing is left but an empty shell. stopping myself from throwing up has been an important first step but it’s still only the first step. i’m on the road that i spent so much time searching for. the journey’s just a little bit harder than i imagined it’d be.


(april 14, 2018)

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