I have a potluck lunch today at noon and I’m so anxious about the whole thing I’m having trouble breathing. Shallow breathing and anxious feelings are stepping stones on the path to panic attacks, so this is not a good thing.
I’m worried about the macaroni and cheese casserole I’m bringing. What if it’s not any good? What if no one wants any? This would confirm I have no intrinsic worth as a human being. At least, that’s the feeling lurking in the back of my brain, ready to jump out at the first sign I’m faltering in my resolve to not think like that anymore.
Then there’s the issue of other people’s food. I hate other people’s food. I barely manage restaurant food. It works best if I don’t think too much about it (though that’s only sit-down dining; fast food has never gotten the short shrift from my eating disorder). I don’t know what it is about food other people cook, but I have a great deal of difficulty eating it. My eating disorder hates it to an extreme degree.
Perhaps it’s because of the unknowns. I don’t know what it is or how it’s made. Did they cook with butter? Is it low-fat sour cream or regular? What is the portion size for a samosa? Can I hide the food in my lap and pretend I ate it? Should I eat lunch and then restrict the rest of the day? So many problems come from something so ostensibly simple.
I am in recovery from my eating disorder or rather, I am working on my recovery. It’s a long process, longer than I’d hoped it would be but then again, the eating disorder and I have been co-occupiers of my person for thirty-nine years. So, it’s understandable the divorce would take time to work out. The big issues, like throwing up multiple times a day and abusing laxatives are easier to address than the small, insidious, seemingly benign behaviours.
Like not being able to eat other people’s food.
There is no logical reason. The feelings do not stand up to direct scrutiny, to the ubiquitous “What do you think will happen?” question. The feelings are there, nevertheless, and I am instinctively repulsed.
I have most of the “leading-to-immediate-death” behaviours under control.
I have a lot of the soul-destroying ones under control, too. I no longer lie as a matter of course. I no longer steal things. But turning my brain into a non-eating disordered one is challenging.
On some level, food is still the enemy. Eating is still the enemy. Getting fat is still a fate worse than death. Even though I’m starting to get comfortable with my imperfect body, there is still a corner of my brain that wants what the eating disorder promised. There is still a corner willing to believe in the promises of perfect.
The eating disorder negotiates. I concede at times. With food choices. With portion sizes. With my awareness of calories. Other times I fight back.
I’ve been doing Yoga of late rather than weight-lifting. In part, because Yoga is part of my program of Radical Discontinuity and I’m trying hard to follow through on my commitment, and in part, because I don’t want to exercise. I’m not feeling it. My depression makes it seem really hard. But not pushing through that, not acceding to the eating disorder and religiously completing the weight lifting program part of my brain asserts is the only thing between me and horror-inducing thighs is kind of a win.
But, to eat other people’s food? That feels very dire. Unfortunately for me, this fear is butting up against my need to make people feel good and valued. The potluck is being put on as an end-of-term celebration for a program I volunteer with. Called Conversation Circles, it is a sit down a couple of times a week in small groups to work on immigrants’ English skills.
The participants are lovely. Some are here because they love Canada, some are fleeing absolute horrors, and all are absolutely grateful, wanting so much to give back.
I know that. I appreciate that. So how do I explain that I care for them dearly but having to eat strange foods I know nothing about makes me want to run from the room screaming? How do you explain an eating disorder to people who come from countries and camps where food is a rationed luxury?
The whole thing is a little problematic. And it makes me feel selfish and like I’m failing in recovery, neither of which is a helpful response.
I know what I should do, which is go to the potluck and push past the fears which will fade if I confront and push through them.
I know what I want to do, which is bail on the whole situation and lie to the coordinator about a traffic issue preventing my attendance. Or perhaps a head cold.
I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to do the thing I don’t want to do. I’m going to make the better choice.
The decades I spent catering to my eating disordered thinking got me nowhere. Even though the situation is anxiety-provoking and borderline terrifying, moving forward is always the better option.
And we’ll ignore the emergency push-ups I indulged in this morning when I woke up, thought about the upcoming meal, and immediately felt very fat. It’s a process, after all.