It’s really hard for people who’ve not experienced an eating disorder to understand the pull towards destruction.
Ambivalence…the coexistence within an individual of positive and negative feelings towards the same person, object or actions, simultaneously drawing him or her in opposite directions.
When your life’s completely falling apart, you’re not able to hold down and job, you’re losing friends and you’re feeling physically unwell, how could anyone not grab hold of recovery with both hands and run with it?!
If, however, you’ve lost everything else, the only thing you have left becomes your identity and a place of safety. If you feel like your eating disorder is the only thing you have in the whole world, how could you possibly consider letting it go?
Weight restoration is a significant part of anorexia recovery and this, for me, was terrifying. Having spent years trying to lose weight, put my body through all sorts to try and obtain the unobtainable skinny body of my dreams, thinking about throwing all that work away is unbearable. All the professionals who claim they have my best interests at heart are trying to make me fat, how could they not understand that’s the one thing I can’t do?!
It feels impossible to understand when you’re told “you have to put on weight before you can engage with therapy”. Once your weight is below a certain level and you’re body is malnourished, your brain is not receiving enough energy to function to do everyday tasks, let alone process and absorbed any new understanding in therapy.
“But I can’t gain weight unless my head is straightened out”… this feels like an obvious plea as multiple professionals are telling you your medicine right now is food. “How am I mean to eat when every fibre of my being is telling me not to eat?”
That is what anorexia does, it takes over every fibre of your being, it infiltrates every cell and permeates every breath you take. It feels like you become anorexia. I didn’t feel like I existed beyond my eating disorder therefore doesn’t it make sense that I wouldn’t want to let it go? That’s the impact it has, that’s what it makes you believe, anorexia is your identity, without it you are no one, you do not exist…
Now, I didn’t want to exist, part if my anorexia was about losing so much weight that I would disappear but there was a tiny part of me hanging onto life. In an odd way, although anorexia was killing me, it was also enabling me to hang onto life. When I stopped and thought about my life and what a mess it was, ending my life was an appealing option but focusing on avoiding food and losing weight gave me a purpose.
The first step towards recovery is putting more faith in the people around you than in the anorexia that’s been with you for many months and helped you cope with all that life throws at you. This is quite a tall order. The leap of faith feels impossible.
As I started making progress towards recovery, it felt like the anorexia fought back, as though, it felt threatened.
The voice I heard in my head began shouting louder, it continued to tell me I had to lose weight. How do you keep following the meal plan when day in, day out, you’re being told how fat you are, you’re eating too much, your greedy and you should engage in all behaviours to lose weight?
I had so many questions, if let go of my anorexia, who will I be? What will I do? What else will I think about? I was scared there would be nothing left, it felt like I would be nobody and I would be completely empty but as my recovery journey developed, I learnt who I was and things naturally became part of my life.
How could I stop weighing myself multiple times per day?…I had no idea how I would cope with not knowing how much I weigh!
How could I start eating chocolate?…what if I enjoy it?
How could I eat food if I didn’t know how many calories were in it?…then I wouldn’t know how much to restrict the next day!
How could I stop exercising?…how would I know how much food I’d earnt?
I confess, when I was in a full blown eating disorder intense recovery programme, I would engage in searching for the web for hints and tips about how to “stay anorexic”, how to stop the hunger pangs without eating, what foods had the fewest calories, how to exercise when exhausted and on the verge of fainting, it’s all there and it’s down right dangerous.
The ambivalence is unbearable, desperately wanting to recover but also, desperately not wanting to recover. I could see the pain I was causing those around me, I honestly did want to recover so I could live a “normal” life but at the same time, I wanted to lose more weight and cling onto certain aspects of my anorexia.
The lack of energy you have when starving yourself makes the fight even harder. The recovery journey is tough and the tougher it gets the easier it feels just to stay indulging in anorexic behaviour. It gets even scarier when you get to the point when anorexic behaviours aren’t second nature anymore, what now? I thought, “if I’m not anorexic but I’m not recovered, what am I?”. At this point the feelings of failure are rife. Feeling like a “failed anorexic” is all too common but feeling like you’ve failing at life is also a tough obstacle to overcome. At this point, it feels like there’s no way back but the way forward feels equally impossible.
I did make it though, I did put faith in the professionals, I started listening to my body, when it was hungry I would feed it, when it was tired I let it rest. The signals are mixed at first, hunger pangs are confused with feeling full, tiredness gets confused with a lack of motivation. I found it really hard, I’d spent so long ignoring my body I had a brain-body disconnect so initially trusting the professionals and going through the motions was all I could do. I had to trust that they’d been through this more often than I had! It does help when you hear it from people who’ve actually lived through it, when recovering I found it helpful to speak online to people at various stages of recovery.
For me, therapy was the most important part of my recovery but it couldn’t have engaged fully in it until I was properly nourishing my brain. I tried to kid myself that I could sort my brain out while still starving myself but I was wrong.
I may not be totally happy with my body but now I nourish my brain I’m able to think more objectively about it and see that now, my life is full of all sorts of other things that wouldn’t have had space if I’d not let go of my anorexia.