National eating disorders awareness week happened a few weeks ago.
As usual this year, I missed it.
Believe it or not, this is a good thing.
Anorexia and bulimia ate up (horrid pun intended) at least one-third of my useful life to date, so it is nice to forget it even exists for a few days or weeks or months at a time now and again.
Although I did find the breaking and mending process – a multi-decade saga – quite useful indeed.
During those decades, I discovered just how low a human being can sink in her own esteem. I learned all about rocks, hard places and the possibility of needing to gnaw off your own arm, or leg, or brain, to get free.
I found out that there are no impossible challenges, just impossible-feeling choices.
I also realized that the eating disorder had nothing but time. Lucky for me, so did I.
So I turned my attention away from getting very good at getting sicker and channeled it in its entirety towards getting very good at getting better.
I was pretty good at staying sick, in hind sight. But at healing, well, I was a rock star.
I have proof. I’m here. And I know I’m recovered.
(If you are reading this and want to learn more about the breaking and mending part, I wrote a book about that. It is now out of print. But of course Amazon still has copies. Because Amazon has everything.)
Last I checked, which I will admit was a few years ago now, the “recovering” versus “recovered” debate was still raging.
I was never very interested in this debate because semantics like these can keep my brain very busy and self-important so it never has to tackle the actual hard work of recovering or staying recovered, whichever term may resonate more on any given day.
Also, truthfully, in my experience both terms are very relevant. Like the five stages of grief and many other mostly useful structures, sometimes we vacillate.
But then sometimes we cross over a line that is so clear, so obvious, so un-missable in every way, that one term finally “sticks” for good.
Then we can personally self-identify with that term and other folks who are also in that camp. But it doesn’t mean the other term has suddenly become invalid. It just means it doesn’t apply to us personally anymore.
That was what happened to me.
Several years ago, long after I wrote my book and founded MentorCONNECT and considered myself to be “in recovery” in a really solid way, I signed myself up for a multi-day retreat.
When I enrolled myself, I didn’t know the agenda or daily schedule. I only knew the speakers and the location. But I signed up anyway, because sometime I do things like that when my gut tells me to do them.
As it turned out, the retreat included a “surprise” extended fast.
Boy was I surprised.
The first day of the fast, I thought to myself, “oh good, a test. I can do this.” (I also knew I had snack bars in my room if I discovered I couldn’t do this. And the staff told us that they had snack bags for anyone who couldn’t or just didn’t want to attempt the fast.)
The second day of the fast, I thought to myself, “oh shit. But I can do this.” That night I woke up in the middle of the night feeling extremely nauseated and woozy. I ate half a snack bar and went back to sleep, reassuring myself that in just a few hours I could eat breakfast. Because I was sure the fast would be over by then.
The third day of the fast, I didn’t think. I Immediately burst into tears and went running to the staff to explain my situation. They offered me a snack bag. I declined.
And THAT WAS WHEN IT HIT ME.
That was THE MOMENT I knew I was “recovered.” Period. The End. As in, never, ever again.
Because that was the moment I realized I was waking up each morning absolutely intending to EAT.
I woke up each morning of that four-day fast period not just expecting to eat, not just intending to eat, but absolutely LOOKING FORWARD to eating.
Sick people, waffling people, still-in-recovery people don’t do that, regardless of what type of eating disorder they may be struggling with, at least not in my personal (and here I want to emphasize personal) experience.
Sick people and even still-in-recovery people – at least when they are me – frequently wake up dreading eating, or feeling scared of eating, or resisting eating, or plotting with the evil voice in their mind about how to avoid eating (and hoodwinking the people who want to see them eating), or even scheming about eating and then, um, getting rid of what they’ve eaten, be that by exercising, purging, fasting or some other means.
Sick people and many still-in-recovery people – at least when they are me – sometimes even wake up into a fast period feeling excited about the opportunity. No food = no weight gain = Whew. And I’ll have mine with a side of world peace thank you.
But recovered people, as in Recovered. Period. people, wake up, feel a hunger pang, and think “oh good, it’s breakfast time soon so I can eat.” Then they head to the pantry or frig or buffet line and select their delicacies. They look forward to their coffee (with whip in my particular case) and care very much what their gut and their brain have to say about balancing healthy foods with occasional treat foods so we all feel healthy and good and in sync with each other.
Recovered. Period. people – at least when they are me – might even burst into torrents of tears when the breakfast doesn’t appear when they are expecting it to.
Because Recovered. Period. people want to eat. They want eat very much. They want to eat because they want to take care of their body well. They want to eat because they want to be strong and able to make the most of each day of their life. They want to eat because they want to LIVE.
Now, I know some of you may be reading this feeling triggered…oh so triggered.
You may be feeling so triggered you are already pondering the wording of the comment you are about to post to tell me how I should have printed a trigger-warning up at the top of this post and maybe tell me some other stuff you want to unload as well. You may be getting ready to say that this post is only about anorexic-type or bulimic-type eating disorders and what about compulsive/binge eating-type and hey fasting isn’t always bad and, well, I don’t need to tell you. You know.
And I get that. I really do. It’s just that, in my personal opinion and personal experience, when you have an eating disorder, no matter what kind it is, everything that has anything to do with food or weight or eating or not eating or even life itself is triggering.
Just reading the words “eating disorder” is triggering.
I remember going for years being triggered by everything. The vending machine outside the doctor’s office. The soda cases at the gas station. The incessant commercials about new diet products and weight loss plans. The New Years resolutions everyone else was posting about “getting in shape.”
There isn’t an eating disorder book on the planet (mine included, and trust me I can verify this thanks to many reader comments over the years) that doesn’t contain triggers.
I sincerely doubt there is any blog post about anything having to do with eating issues on the world wide web that isn’t going to trigger someone, somewhere.
But the thing is, at least for me personally, my triggers are my healers. My triggers show me where I am afraid. When I know what I’m afraid of, I have the power to find ways to ease my own fears. If I don’t know what I am afraid of, I can’t ease my fears and I can’t heal.
That is why I didn’t post a trigger warning at the top of this blog post.
It is also why I don’t post about eating disorders directly nearly as often as you might expect on a blog that mentions the word “recovery” right in the title and is written by a person who struggled for three decades from start to finish to recover. period. from her eating disorder. It is because recovery is very hard work and people who are recovering are often very exhausted and in a great deal of personal pain and can sometimes get very angry about it all and vent about it and after all these years I am still surprisingly thin-skinned when it comes to moderating those kinds of comments on my blog posts.
And also, at some point recovery must meld into life and recovery skills must translate into life skills. If this doesn’t happen at some point, we stay stuck. And if we stay stuck, then why do all that impossibly tough work to recover in the first place?
So mostly I focus on the recovery-into-life-skills process here on this blog. That is where I am at in my journey and my mentors have always taught me that students make the best teachers. I try to be a good student and hopefully that translates here to support you as well.
All that to say….
If you are still in the breaking process, respect. If you are still in the trying-to-recover process, respect. If you are in the in-recovery stage, respect. If you are recovered. period. like me, respect.
In all things, balance your (copious or occasional) triggers with joy.
Bring your pets to breakfast and have a rousing good time defending your food from them (as a perk, this will also remind you of how much fun breakfast can be and how food can be a good thing, a joyful thing, not just a scary thing).
Most of all, remember that we make progress most perfectly when we imperfectly pick ourselves back up again and keep on going.
We’ve got nothing but time. You and me – we literally have nothing but time.
So why not do this thing and keep on keeping on, from breakdown to back up to in-recovery and on to recovered. period., just to see how far we can get?
I of course don’t know for sure, but I am willing to bet we will get a lot farther than we think.
With great respect and love,