I’ve been gaining weight. I’ve mentioned it here before. I hate it. I’ve mentioned that too. I’m trying to learn to accept it. To be, at my counsellor’s behest, political about my body the way I am about other things. Social justice things. It’s time to start developing a sense of personal justice. It’s time to fight back against the nasty bits and pieces that drove me to develop a disorder that focuses on having the perfect body in order to feel acceptable.
I want to retrain the part of me that has inculcated the belief that if I’m not thin, then I’m worthless and less than. I want to learn to accept my natural size, the size that occurs without restricting.
Eating disorders keep you small, focused on yourself, insular, and feeling defective. They make you accept the unacceptable because you’ve decided you’re unacceptable. They stop you from being all right in your skin. They stop you from fighting back against demands that are harsh, unforgiving, and unrealistic. They keep you from focusing your energies elsewhere. Everything is focused on the self, on getting to perfect so that finally, you’ll be allowed to participate in the world.
Part of me is moving in that direction, part of me is on-board with learning to love the who that exists naturally, with rejecting societal demands, but part of me is resistant. Thin, after all, has been my everything, my only goal, for decades. Thin has been my greatest wish.
I’m working on it, but I have other concerns. It relates to the self-acceptance part of the program.
I have quirks.
I have weird eating habits. Can I recover and still eat in a way that perhaps large parts of the rest of the world would consider odd and dysfunctional? Can I be a quirky eater and still be working on my recovery from an eating disorder? Is the expectation to eat in a particular way one of those societal norms that I can probably throw off? Who decides the correct way to eat, anyhow?
I tried normal when I first got out after my most recent treatment centre stay. Some parts of the pattern they drilled into me there still hold true. I still eat three meals and two snacks a day. I’ve drifted away from some foods once more, however.
I’m simply not a fan of meat. I tried various bits and pieces in the early days of my release. The truth is, I don’t like bacon. I don’t want to eat baby animals. I mostly don’t want to eat animals at all. I’ve come to believe that this is a “me” thing and not an eating disorder thing yet still I question it. Am I being normal in my eating? That is the ostensible goal of recovery, after all.
I have other quirks and possibly dysfunctional behaviours. There’s the bread thing, for instance. I like to take a piece of French bread – about a third of a loaf – and remove the guts. I then put peanut butter on the crust pieces and eat it that way. It’s like a French bread pita. It’s strange, I know. But is it “impede my recovery” strange?
Am I allowed to eat only half a cookie and throw the balance away? I’m comfortable with half a cookie. A whole one, not so much. Is throwing away food that scares me a little a sign of recovery or is it catering to my eating disorder fears? Is it continuing to accept society’s shackles? Am I throwing it away because I want to stay sober in my eating or because I’m afraid a whole cookie will make me fat? Sometimes it’s a fine line.
What is this desire so many of us have for “normal”? It’s not like I can clearly articulate what it is, anyhow. All I know about normal is that supposedly it’s a desired state and I’ve spent years believing that mostly, it’s what I’m not.
Like the pursuit of perfection that has underpinned the eating disorder I’ve lived with for much of my life, I pursue normal. I want to be seen as the same as everyone else – even while striving to be special. I don’t want to be “different”. I don’t want to be “weird” – a title that dogged me through much of high school.
And yet, I don’t really want to be substantively and qualitatively different from the way I am now. I’m getting to know myself, learning to live with my issues and moods and patterns. If pressed, I’d be forced to admit that lifelong behaviours to the contrary, there are parts of myself that I don’t want to change. I struggle with having them because it seems like, at times, they’ve brought me nothing but grief, but if I really wanted to change them, I would have.
I suppose in place of the cry “I want to be normal”, I could insert “I want to be accepted”. The problem is that I don’t accept myself. I struggle with the conflict between who and what I am, and who and what I think the world expects me to be. Although if you try and get me to pin down who in the “out there” expects it, I draw a blank.
The demand is, of course, internal.
Which means, unfortunately, that the solution is internal as well. There isn’t anything I can buy, read, or alter that will change my feelings. My history confirms that. The problem isn’t that I’m not normal, the problem is that I believe the way I am is fundamentally unacceptable based on some warped view of acceptable I developed over the years.
I succumb to the messages that permeate our lives, much like the rest of us. I internalize a marketer’s version of what I should be. But to be that, I’d have to give up parts of myself. This creates cognitive dissonance since I strive for and reject the same thing. It stokes the anxiety. No wonder people eventually turn to maladaptive coping behaviours like eating disorders to ease the internal pressures and pain.
As it turns out, as is usually the case, my counsellor was correct. There’s an element of my eating disorder that is extremely political, indeed. I’m going to strive to keep that in mind.
Do you worry that the things you do and are aren’t “normal” and “acceptable”?