The lawyer I hired when I split from my son’s father told me he had learned, over the course of his practice, that it takes most people about half the length again of a relationship to get over it. It doesn’t mean you don’t move on; it just takes a while before you can think about your ex like any other person, until thoughts about them don’t stir up ugly, nasty, and difficult emotions.
I thought that was total bullshit. It was going to take me four years to get over what had happened during and at the end of the relationship? I thought not; I was going to wash the stress, trauma, and abuse right out of my hair. Perhaps if I had discovered philosophy and therapy, that might have been the case.
But I didn’t and my lawyer turned out to be correct. It was four years almost to the day before I really felt like I was well and truly over it.
The accuracy of his timeline prediction bothers me. Not because I’m still bound up in a past relationship. I’m bothered by the implications. His recovery timeline has cross-applications. With eating disorders, for instance. Getting over things takes time. It’s unfortunate that I’m impatient.
I have been working hard on my recovery for five years. The trajectory vis a vis purging is good. Other behaviours have not improved as significantly. It occurs to me, however, that since the eating disorder was an active problem for at least thirty-five years, I shouldn’t plan on being fully free until I hit the eighteen-year mark. That does not, however, give me a “get out of jail free” card for current, problematic actions.
I binged last Thursday. In point of fact, I’ve been bingeing every Thursday – a sort of gift to myself. I’ve discussed it before, quite possibly to a nauseating degree. You have to be careful: talking about doing something isn’t actually the same as doing it, but sometimes the brain gets confused. Which is a long way of saying I haven’t really addressed the problem.
Come Thursday evening, I take off the reins off my restricting and let go. The bingeing I do is small in comparison to those from back in the day: a chocolate bar, a bowl of chips, some gummi candies, and a couple of pieces of toast would barely have been a contender.
I’m aware it’s somewhat dysfunctional, but I’m not purging so I’ve been taking it as a win.
I’ve been stretching the behaviour out of late, however. This is what happens when we give ourselves permission to sin. The sins push against our boundaries. They like the taste of freedom. They want more. The problematic neural pathways become active again.
Some behaviours can be “some of the time” without issue. Other things require “all or nothing”. Nobody recovers from drug addictions with cheat days.
The Thursday night binge became the Thursday-and-Friday night binge. Then Saturday got into the game and I decided I need to be done talking about it while continuing to let it slide.
And we’re back to the getting-over-it problem and timeline. Because, although I want to get well, large parts of my brain still clamour for thin.
I never really liked my lawyer.
I was in a bad mood last Wednesday. Incredibly depressed. Incredibly grumpy. I decided to treat myself to a burger for lunch as a kind of pick-me-up. Any meal I don’t have to prepare is a good meal. I went with a double McDonald’s hamburger with an extra patty and extra, extra pickles. You have to say “extra” twice or they only give you one more.
For people who think three patties are too many, a fun bit of trivia. McDonald’s regular patties run ten to the pound. Three is a third of a pound, only marginally larger than the much more expensive Quarter Pounder. Buying it this way is a financial win. The smaller bun is also an asset; it has fewer simple carbs.
At any rate, it was delicious. I practically inhaled it. And suddenly, I felt better. Really better. My mood stopped descending. I wrote for the first time that day. After I was done, I put on some music and sang and danced in the kitchen for no other reason than I felt like it. I felt stiff and awkward to be sure because I’ve been letting music and dancing disappear from my life, but the refrigerator didn’t seem to mind too much.
It was right about then that I realized I had been starving. I felt better because I had eaten a reasonable amount of food.
Apparently, the partial-week bingeing is not the only problem I’ve let escalate.
Restricting is problematic because I often don’t notice I’m doing it. Recognizing that I’m hungry is hard. Unless my stomach is actually growling, I tend to ignore my body’s requests for food, especially if the request comes outside of “eating times”.
You’re not hungry for dinner; it’s not 7:00 o’clock yet.
The urge to restrict, the tendency toward anorexia-based behaviours got worse as soon as I stopped throwing up, but I’ve been keeping it mostly in check. Or, so I thought.
Here’s the thing – people with eating disorders have no idea. It’s difficult for us to run our own food consumption. We don’t know from portion sizes and appropriate amounts. We don’t eat to sate our hunger. We eat because we’re supposed to in order to survive. And always, in the back of your head, is the voice that says, “thinner”.
I still measure, still plan, still restrict. It got worse when my oncologist inadvertently let me find out my weight. It worse when I found out I’d need an oncologist, to be honest. Stress tends to make you want to return to type. We return to the familiar when we feel under threat.
I knew knowing that number would bite me in the ass.
I saw a very thin lady at the hospital today, going out as I was going in. She looked hard and tired; drawn and skeletal. Her face was wrinkled and gaunt. I could see no contentment, no joy. She is the end-result of the game I’m playing. It is not perfection. It is not beautiful.
People with eating disorders binge. Anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia (an obsession with clean and perfect eating), and EDNOS (eating disorders not otherwise specified). We binge for a wide variety of emotional reasons, in response to both external and internal stimuli.
We also binge because we’re starving.
I thought about this after my hamburger.
I thought about this the other night, after my Friday evening binge when my brain circled back to thoughts about the number writ large on my medical file.
I am not eating enough food and it is feeding the binges.
The body wants to survive. That’s all it wants – to survive and pass on its genes to another generation. It resists, determinedly, behaviours that threaten that.
You cannot maintain restrictions indefinitely. You will eat. It is inevitable. I know that. I just pretended I didn’t, pretended it wasn’t the restrictions driving the binges, pretended they were wholly-sanctioned and harmless pressure releases. I ignored the fact that using food as a way of coping with emotional difficulties is primo eating disorder behaviour. I ignored the fact that I’ve been ignoring dealing with the realities of having cancer.
It’s hard to not want to be thin when your life from age eleven has been predicated on that desire. It is hard to recognize thoughts as negative when they’re as familiar as your skin and your blood.
It’s hard to hold onto new behaviours when you are under challenge and under threat. The tendency is to revert to the easy, comfortable, and familiar. Even if those actions are harmful.
But you cannot starve your way healthy. You can’t, or rather you shouldn’t hold onto negative behaviours as a reserve clause, a solution to turn to when things get tough.
Historically, I have resisted eating plans because I didn’t want to be controlled by their structure, utterly ignoring the irony in that thought. Because of course, I am already controlled by food. I resist putting effort into the food I prepare for myself to eat because it’s just me and shouldn’t I be fine with a steady diet of cereal and sandwiches?
Plus, and this is an important thought that sits behind the resistance, what nutritionists want you to eat seems like too much food. The quantity, frequency, and variety they suggest makes me very uncomfortable.
You cannot, however, get better if you are starving yourself. And with the eating disorder, it has become apparent that I cannot trust myself to recognize right away when I’m getting back to doing so. Consequently, it’s a written menu plan with appropriate portion sizes and a wider selection of food for me, for all that I find the idea hideous and terror-inducing.
I’m tired of giving my ED space because my brain will not stop trying to encourage my bones to emerge, even though it came home to me this week that the inevitable and skeletal result is no longer one I find appealing.
I’m tired of being hungry. I want to start the clock so that one day, I will not think like this anymore. So, meal plan it is. On the bright side, I get to crack a new notebook. Is there anything better than that?
Do you struggle with not shooting yourself in the foot with your own behaviours?