On alternate Mondays, I meet with my therapist. On the phone these days, seeing as we’re locking down and flattening the curve. I don’t mind doing my part but the truth is, virtual appointments are not as effective for me. I adopt a persona, even knowing it’s unhelpful. I become performance me, not me-me.
This last appointment ended up being triggering. I didn’t mention it, just persona-ed my way to the end of the call.
I was obsessing before we disconnected. About food, my body, and getting fat; about the extra flesh on my hips and how that means I’m failing as a human being; and about the complete shortage of gummy candies in the kitchen.
Did I mention we talked about my eating disorder?
It’s been nine months since I’ve purged. This is a good thing, of course. It’s a good thing and yet.
The behaviour is not the only problem.
It’s hard, it’s really hard spending almost all my time hating my body. It’s been harder of late; perfection’s drifting further away. I’ve been pretty sedentary. I’ve not been exercising and watching the eating like the eating disorder part of my brain thinks I should. My thighs are bigger. The triggered thoughts focused on that piece of information determinedly. Negative feelings about my legs are a sore spot.
The bits of my brain that aren’t my eating disorder try to remind me I was getting radiation treatments not lazing around. They try and remind me that a ten-pound gain (approximate although my eating disorder insists on screaming, “forty”) is really nothing and my face looks better when it’s less skeletal. Unfortunately, those bits aren’t as loud as I need them to be and the other bits aren’t all that impressed with my nine months.
As the afternoon progressed, things got worse. I was stressed, distressed, and grazing. I was actively not thinking about my behaviour, determined to not think about where the increasingly compulsive eating was going. That gave the voice that says, “fuck it, you might as well go to town then” a chance to be heard. And I did. Luckily, by the time my control snapped, it was late in the evening so I took myself off to bed before too much damage was done.
The nine-month-streak was maintained. But I didn’t expect to get triggered talking about it. That hasn’t happened in a long time. Not since I made a point of being out with it.
Neuroses are hard. Keeping them a secret because of shame is not helpful. Following my second hospitalization, I started talking about it more openly, referencing it, making jokes about it within my circle, and with new acquaintances. I got easy with people knowing. It’s been some time since talking about my eating disorder bothered me.
Objectively, the binge wasn’t dire. Eight cookies, ten squares of chocolates, a bowl of pretzels, and a handful of raisins. It’s nowhere near the top one hundred binges. But truth is a subjective thing. It may not have been an overabundance of food, but it felt like a binge. Closer than I’ve felt in a while. I went to sleep disgusted with myself for the loss of control, feeling the flesh on my stomach, feeling the flesh on my legs, hating myself.
Control is the problem, of course. The idea that I can control reality by what I eat. The idea that there is control to be had. The idea that I can rid myself of fear if I run everything just right. Perfect person, perfect world, right? It’s a very old belief.
I think our problems and issues are fixed in reverse order. It’s easier to let go of the new behaviours, it’s more challenging with the old. And the hatred of my body and the feeling that I would feel better, less anxious, and more like a worthy human being if only my body was perfect has long legs.
I’m in a weird place these days when it comes to my eating disorder, recent triggering and binge notwithstanding. I have times like the above, times when the eating disorder seems too strong to resist even though resist, I do. I have times where I hate my body intensely, the flesh that flops over the bones, the puffiness of the cheeks, and the diminishing thigh gap. I have bad days where it seems to be all eating disorder thinking, all the time.
But I have other times too now, other moments.
Self-hatred is no longer the only reality.
I have times when I forget about my body. Times when I’m just a person. Times when I’m okay with being a little heavier and with embracing a sweatpants-based wardrobe. Times when I don’t hate the woman in the mirror at the end of the hall.
It’s an odd place to be. It’s neutral.
It’s not self-love yet.
This is probably a good thing; I’m not sure I’d trust a dramatic about-face. Gradual changes feel more believable and sustainable.
I’m not overwhelmed with self-hatred one-hundred percent of the time anymore. It’s nice. It’s a relief. Ironically, it feels like I’ve lost weight. Sometimes, I feel lighter, more at ease in my body. Sometimes, even when I notice something less than perfect, like a bit of flesh along the ribcage, I remain okay. Sometimes, I simply sigh and think, “oh well”.
When you start working on recovering from an eating disorder, they tell you it’ll take time. They don’t tell you how much time because nobody knows. Every person in recovery is different. Some step away after the first intervention, some drift their way out after years of trying.
Some stay trapped forever.
I’d wondered if that was going to be me. I wondered if I would stop throwing up but still hate myself and try desperately to remain anorexically-thin. I think maybe I’ve escaped that fate. I think maybe I can learn to live in and even possibly like a body that is less than perfect.
I’m grateful for even the hope, for the possibility. Many don’t get that.
I thought of a movie line recently that seems apt. To paraphrase, “there’s a lot of fine ways to die, and I ain’t waiting for the eating disorder to choose mine.” *. Because that’s the choice, live or die.
Things aren’t finished, I’m not full of love and acceptance as yet. But the mental improvements are a hopeful sign, more so to me than the absence of vomiting and purging.
Even if I still occasionally get triggered.
* “There’s a lot of fine ways to die and I ain’t waiting for the Alliance to choose mine.”
Serenity. Dir. Joss Whedon. Universal Pictures, 2005. DVD.