I started reading Body Positive Power. I’ve read about 40 pages at this point. I did not expect those pages to drop me to my knees so quickly, to peel back the scab of things I thought long healed. I felt vulnerable reading those pages … not because of anything necessarily profound it was saying – truthfully I’ve heard most of that before. But that it was done in a way that touched a part of me already raw from admitting that I need to change things. Those pages left me feeling that before I can step forward, before I can really commit to being open and honest here about whatever is coming, I need to be open and raw and vulnerable about where I’ve been.
I need to talk about my eating disorder.
I was going to save this entry for a couple of weeks from now. I was already thinking about maybe touching on this because February 1st to 7th is Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and that seemed like a great time to speak on the subject. But if I’m being honest, I probably was only going to brush the surface of it … to talk about the “yeah, I had one, but I’m in recovery”. While a lot of people know I’ve had an ED, and I might have even told you which one, I can’t say that I’ve ever gone in-depth about it, not even with romantic partners. And while I can’t promise to go over every detail, I think it’s important that before I go on this vulnerable journey of body positivity and truly learning to fall in love with myself, I need to acknowledge how I got here, and how far I’ve come since my diagnosis.
** In the vein of total honesty I will go into some details about ED behaviours I have engaged in. I do this not to glorify the disorder but to highlight how it can present in one individual and how it’s not a simple as the cruder names some of them are known as. **
I’m going to gloss over a lot of childhood stuff because (a) I can’t remember a ton and (b) there is only one important point from it. I grew up in the generation that crammed down everyone’s throat the idea of “good foods” and “bad foods”. That the good foods you can eat as much as you want and the bad foods you should have very sparingly. This idea would become the crux of my disorder and be one of the hardest things I had to overcome to get to recovery. I still hear a voice in my head that tells me not to eat so much of certain foods, I still crave a specific subset of food as “comfort” foods and have labelled them bad in my mind. I am much better but this idea is something that has stuck with me for as long as I can remember.
My ED journey starts at 14. I got a job – my first job! I’m working weekends at the Bingo Hall my Dad works at, and boy-oh-boy, I felt rich every time I got that $150 pay cheque. No longer was I restricted to taking a lunch to school (and at this point I was just putting a slice of cheese between bread and pretending like I ate it … so sorry Mom). The entire world of food (within my limited picky desires) was open to me and no one could stop me. My body image was pitiful. I remember being embarrassed by my acne and feeling like I was “big”. Every time I see a picture of teenage me I am shocked at how normal I look.
My next memory is my early 20s. I am not happy at home, still living with my parents and brother (and, for a year, Wasband). I am not happy in my job, feeling overworked and underpaid and no idea how to advocate for myself. I drown my sorrows in fast food. I can eat a double quarterpounder, a large fries, and a large milkshake in the 5 minutes I wait for a bus after work. I go home and eat a normal-sized dinner with my family every night. I am definitely bigger than I’ve ever been and I start letting it consume me. I hate every picture of me taken during these years. On my last day at this job (I was being laid off), I walked back to our production/shipping department to take one last look around. After making sure no one is looking I step on the shipping scale and see a number that shocks me. I resolve to never see this number on a scale again.
A lot of bad things happen at once and then something good and I move to Windsor to start school. I start dropping a ton of weight because I’m walking every where and living on a very limited budget. I throw myself into my school work, but don’t really go out of my way to be social at first. In time a meet someone, and I begin living a polyamourous lifestyle. 1 year into my relationship with my new boyfriend I find out some things he had been keeping from me. In response to this information I hide in my room for a solid week – I don’t go to school, I don’t eat except for one giant food binge at night. I (thankfully) realize something is obviously not right if this is my go-to response for finding out about someone else’s behaviour is to punish myself. I seek out help.
I go for my intake evaluations to start treatment for my eating behaviour “issues” as I called it. Having studied them a bit in school and I surmise that I have Binge Eating Disorder (B.E.D) at worst, and just problematic food tendencies at best. As part of the intake they ask me if I have a goal weight and a fear weight. I push back – I don’t want to put numbers to this, I just want help. She shrugs and tells me that these numbers don’t mean anything, just something they need to ask … I can say any number I want. For a goal weight I pick a number half way between what the BMI says I should weigh and what I think I currently weigh … my goal weight is now 175. She asks about my fear weight and I hesitate a moment, then say the weight I saw on the scale before I left my last job … my fear weight is 254. I will never forget these numbers and the significance they place in my psyche.
2 months later I come in for my diagnosis and the paper is put in front of me – Bulimia, non-purging sub-type (since my diagnosis this sub-type no longer exists in the DSM). My world spins and stops for a bit. How is it possibly this bad? I learn that my daily routine of eating one large meal and then nothing until the next day is a form of calories in/calories out. I don’t notice my weight fluctuating too much because of this eating style, but I definitely notice how tired and run down I am all the time.
A year into the process and I’ve learned a lot about my disorder, more than the textbooks in my sociology and psychology classes could ever teach me. I’ve also started seeing a personal trainer, because exercise is an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. My boyfriend is constantly complimenting how great I look, and I’m getting tons of flattery for the first time in my life when I go out to events. I’m only eating one meal a day. I push myself hard with my trainer, then immediately leave the gym to binge on fast food. I’m not eating as much in this binges as I used to, so I tell myself I’m getting better. I constantly crave the flattery even though I know I can’t afford a trainer forever. An injury ends my current workout schedule for months. I never really get back on it.
I recall about 18 months into treatment, in my 2nd group, and I’ve been asked to meet with my clinician about why I feel like I’m stalling. I’m not sharing often in group any more, and using a lot more humour-to-deflect each week. I confess that I don’t feel like I should be in the group. My disorder isn’t as bad as others. I’m taking away a spot from someone who deserves to be here. She tells me that all of us deserve recovery. No one person’s disorder is worse than the others. Mine is specific to me, even if a lot of us share the same disorder on paper. She pushes, as she doesn’t think this is the real reason I’ve been closed off. We talk more about a tool used in group that I’m not doing – a thought record. I deflect a lot, saying I don’t need to really go into it. I know what is going on when I get frustrated or angry or upset, but she asks me to do one with her. We pick a recent troubling scenario and walk through the thought record. At each point she pushes more and more, telling me that we need to get to root of all these thoughts. I push back harder, explaining the emotion is all it is, nothing more. She prods and prods until finally it comes out … the hot thought. The thought driving all my feelings, driving my ED, driving my fears: I’m not good enough.
At long last the day has arrived. I sit down and a paper is put in front of me that says remission. I’m officially considered “in recovery”. This is impressive, considering I’m still healing from my first real broken heart. While I delight in telling everyone I’m in recovery, I don’t tell them exactly what it means – it means that when something bad or triggering happens my first go-to is not to punish myself with food or the lack of it. What I don’t say is that I start to withdraw a lot more from social gatherings. I’m losing pleasure in almost everything that used to give me joy. I may be recovered, but I feel like a shell of my former self.
By the time I reach my first recovery anniversary I am in survival mode. My marriage is over, having experienced the same betrayal twice in one year. Wasband has officially filed for divorce, deciding that living up to his promises wasn’t worth it any more. I have been working at a new job for a few months and I’m terrified of losing it. I know I’m good at what I do, but if I’m out of work there is no one to support me for the first time ever. My life becomes mostly work-home-work-home, but I’m starting to feel parts of former me come out again. As I learn to stand on my own two feet I’m discovering who I am on my own, and I’m starting to like this person. Eating is still fraught and inconsistent, but I’m not binging any more, and I’m not restricting any more … I’m just on a tight budget and/or not actually hungry sometimes. I’m okay with these baby steps. I’m eating out more for lunch, but I’d rather eat something than nothing.
One more year passes, and things are looking much better. I’m still at the same job with a permanent position in the company (which included a raise!). I met someone who is patient and kind and doesn’t mind that I’m going through a world of firsts as we start dating. He’s the type of person I didn’t know I needed, and we both lean on each other as we’re putting ourselves back together after separations/divorces. My office moves in the summer and my eating out options become much more limited. I start to bring lunch more often than not, but I can’t tell if it has any positive effects as my stress load triples when my workload doubles. I feel myself start to retreat again as I try to manage my hectic work life, but I’m grateful to have someone by my side supporting me and trying to keep me calm.
Today I am 3+ months out of my next recovery anniversary. I am happier with who I am, but I recognize I have more work to do – not because someone tells me I need to, or someone is trying to sell me the idea … but because I’ve been hiding for a long time trying to manage my ED. I let my ED be my identity, instead of it just being one part of who I am. I no longer want to define myself by my disorder, and I want to do the work to make that true.
I’m writing this entry and thinking of how far I’ve come.
– I haven’t had an ED-related food binge in over a year (meaning emotionally driven)
– I’ve been eating 3 meals a day (5 days a week) for 4 weeks solid now
– I have legitimate hunger pangs that actually tell me that I need to eat
– And these hunger pangs are also showing me that I need to eat more substance in certain meals to get through the day
– I’m getting better at self-care and knowing when I need to relax and take it easy
– I’ve push myself to try new foods whenever I feel comfortable and safe to do so
So while I feel uncomfortable in my skin I also know it has zero to do with my size. I am not unhappy with my shape. I think clothing fits weird because I’m not updating my wardrobe as my body fluctuates, so I’m trying to make it fit into clothes are a bit too small for who I am now. I think I feel uncomfortable in my skin because I’ve been leading a more sedentary lifestyle. I don’t want to care if I lose or gain weight, but I recognize I still have some work to do that so any fluctuating numbers don’t have a huge impact on my self-worth. I am still working on maintaining balanced eating habits, and I’m happy with the progress I’ve made so far.
Writing this all out, laying it all out in a timeline, has been a bit eye opening. While I’ve talked at points about each of these moments there is something powerful about seeing it all. When I think about where I am today, considering what the last 15/10/5/1 years has been I feel proud. Proud that I didn’t give up, proud that I never shrugged my shoulders and just said that this was just how my life was going to be. I am still working at my recovery every day. I am still working to improve myself because I want that for me, not because someone tells me I’m not yet enough. I want to be the best me I can be because I see I have the potential for more.