The Things I'm Still Learning After Eating Disorder Recovery
(TW: Eating Disorder)
I had an eating disorder for many years, and now I do not. When I say “after” eating disorder recovery, it’s because I like to tell myself that it’s gone. I need to tell myself it’s gone, and that if it comes to the door, it is not to be invited in. I’m not naïve in this way---I know it can and does and will come to the door, again and again, but I try not to let it in. And that’s what I mean when I say “after.”
While I might not have the physical parts of the eating disorder anymore, and it may not come around with me or taunt me every day, it would be silly to say but the bones are not still there. The bones will always be there, because I will always be there, and I am the type of person who had an eating disorder. I still seek control and perfection. I still fight the idea that my body is perfect the way it is and I also fight the idea that my body is not perfect the way it is. So if anything, I’m still learning, especially now. The last few years were soaked in the afterglow of getting better. All I needed to do to survive, I thought, was to not go back. And now that I’ve traveled far enough, I find I have many more lengths to travel and to learn about myself and recovery, and all that “after.” Here is what I didn’t know before, and what I am trying to get better at now:
Lately, I haven’t been feeling the best. And when I’m not feeling the best, I begin to remember how I used to comfort myself when I felt bad or out of control. And surprisingly, when I don’t have that unhealthy release, I find myself a bit lost. That may sound bleak, but it’s something I didn’t know about getting better, and so I will tell it to you: when you lose a way to seek control, no matter how bad that way is, you need to actively fight to find an alternative. You can’t just let go of something that comforts you and have nothing take its place. So that is what I am learning. I am learning to handle stress better without backtracking, I am learning to handle stress or anxiety in good and bad and better ways that aren’t related to having an eating disorder. Whether it’s a stiff drink (better, but not good), talking to somebody (way better), or writing and venting and thinking, I’m trying to find the thing that best works for me. Haven’t found it yet, but I've found bits and pieces and I'm still searching.
Learning to Fight It When It Comes Out In Other Iterations
At 28 years old, the little mental demons that got me at 18 and 19 and 20 and 21 don’t just disappear. They just come out in other ways. This year, I decided to make my mental health a priority because I felt like my anxiety and obsessions weren’t calming down. In fact, they were getting worse. Well. I didn’t make mental health a priority in 2016. So now, I make it priority for the next coming months and year and also, forever. But, coming from a person who has not quite figured this all out yet: don’t let thing manifest. Getting ‘better’ doesn’t mean you are without flaws or troubles. Look for the bad habits, keep an eye out for the behaviors that read closely to your past behaviors. Do not let them get out of control.
Feeling Kinda Gross
There are two things I struggle with in the aftermath. When I eat too much, or eat too fast, or have a week where I’m indulging, it’s hard for me to just sit in it. Not all the time, sure. But sometimes, I will eat some fast food or too much pasta and it feels difficult and heavy and uncomfortable. Knock, knock, if you will. These moments are irritating at best, because they make me feel like nothing has changed and I haven’t learned a damn thing. At the worst, they feel like I am backtracking. Oh, so I can’t even handle a big dinner? What the fuck can I handle? But the only thing I can do is sit in it, and breathe, and remind myself that food is life and joy and not guilt.
The other thing I struggle with is feeling like I’ve gained weight. This one is the most difficult—on the one hand, I’ve spent a long time trying to reconcile with the idea that the “perfect body” doesn’t exist, and that my flaws and body are okay and beautiful. And on the other hand, I want to…lose some weight when my pants fit tight. I can say with complete confidence that I don’t want to have a body that I don’t have--I’ll never be 5’11 or Kate Moss or have abs because lifting things is hard or whatever, but I know when I’m being unhealthy or living in a way that is bad for me. So that was the biggest change for me: finding better ways to be healthy and improve on things that I want to improve on. Joining a gym helped. Eating vegan dinners and cutting down on meat and dairy and keeping track of what I ate in a non-regimented way helped. But here’s a truth: losing weight takes longer when you’re doing it in a healthy, measured way, and that frustrated me sometimes. I was used to losing weight fast, or eating 1,000 calories a day and losing it faster. And so now I don’t weigh myself. And now I eat healthy and work out at least 4 days a week, or sometimes 2, or sometimes 6, or sometimes none. But I try. And it’s my new way of feeling better about myself, and damn, it works.
Continuing to Work On It and Talk About It
Here’s the honest truth of it: I hate full-body photos of myself, which is why I’m posting one in the thumbnail. I can’t weigh myself too much and sometimes I eat too fast and I want to throw up every bit of it. I think about my weight and body every day. It makes me feel selfish and vain, and sometimes out of control. I’m better, but I’m not. Like I said, I’m working on it.
Man, it’s good to talk about it. I am not a perfect goddess of health because I overcame an eating disorder. And sometimes, I go backwards. And you might go backwards, too. And all of that is okay. Just talk about it to the people you need to talk about it with. Get help when you need it. Keep working on it. Keep looking within yourself and asking “Am I okay today? Am I giving myself the best shot? Am I being the best I can be?” And reconcile with the fact that it might be something you have to deal with, in one way or another, for the rest of your life. And all of that is okay, if you keep fighting for yourself. Everything can be a learning experience, everything can be a way to get to a better place, as long as you keep fighting for your health, being honest with yourself about what that means, and looking forward. I know you will be okay, because I am okay too.