This week has not been the easiest week for me. While it may not make sense to many, one thing I’ve learned in recovery is that restriction begets further restriction for me. When I under-eat for a day or two, it tends to begin a cycle of continued under-eating rather than signaling me to eat more. Ultimately, I end up hungry, anxious, and under the thumb of disordered thoughts. It seems quite contrary to common sense, really. One would think that the logical reaction to hunger is increased consumption of food, and for many that is most likely the case. However, my experience with an eating disorder has been far from logical.
I’m being upfront about this most recent slip because I want what I write here to be authentic. I do not want to pretend that recovery is a linear, encouraging and uplifting process each and every day, because it most certainly is not. It is fluid, with many ups and downs. This week happened to have a few more downs than ups. At times like this, my tendency is to let my disorder bargain with me. It starts coaxing me in, telling me that tolerating hunger isn’t really that bad, that it’s possible to maintain a low level of hunger while acting normal and keeping everybody else happy, therefore not having to deal with this tricky issue of feeding my body. My disorder promises me that I can have the best of both worlds. I can function in this world while still keeping the sense of control over my body that anorexia gives me by depriving my body of food, or by exercising beyond its desires.
The reality, however, is that I cannot live the life I want to live with anorexia’s influence looming over me. The reality is that the true me was never in control in the worst days of my eating disorder. Starvation was in control, and it made me miserable and nearly insane. The reality is that I deserve better than the best that this disorder can offer. I deserve to go out to dinner and not just act like I’m having fun, but genuinely have fun because I am eating enough for my body and I can focus on the people I’m with. I deserve to believe that my body is trustworthy.
I think that I struggle with allowing myself to eat adequately when I’m hungry because I still struggle to admit to myself that I can’t control everything about my body, and that going on a diet was all for nothing. When I embarked on my dieting journey, I bought into the lie that the answer to weight loss, and thus happiness, is getting control and gaining willpower. When I learned that I could turn down food even when hungry, something that goes against all human instincts, I felt powerful and in control. I felt that I had finally conquered my flawed nature.
In recovery, learning that my body is smarter than my brain has been incredibly difficult. Learning that I can’t trick myself into being full by eating a shit ton of vegetables has been a reality check, as has learning that copious amounts of caffeine cannot replace sleep, and that chewing gum isn’t a substitute for food. I have had to become reacquainted with my humanity, something that makes me rather uncomfortable. Anorexia stole nearly every part of the things that made me human. I was an anxious, starving shell. I could not have reproduced, I could not think, I either slept like a corpse or not at all. My skin was barely holding itself together and my hair had given up hope. Yet I continued to deny myself food, the most basic of needs. I continued to deny that I was a human that needed nourishment in the same way that every other living thing on this planet needs such nourishment (except plants because they can photosynthesize, which is unbelievably cool).
Admitting my humanity and my fallible human nature is a true challenge of recovery for me. Learning to trust my body implicitly, trust that it knows its needs and will tell me of them, seems too good to be true. I never believed in my body enough to trust that it could know such things. However, I know quite certainly that the pages of fitness magazines do not know my body. I know that even doctors, with their years upon years of education, do not know my body. My body knows itself, and that is one of the most beautiful aspects of being fully human.
As long as I fear my whole, human self, I am allowing my eating disorder to keep the reigns pulled tight on my life. As long as I deny my body food when it is hungry, or feel guilt for feeding my body when it is telling me to eat, I am attempting to live as less than the real, complex human that I am. For a time, I saw what living as subhuman was like, and I never want to return to that state again.
This week was tough, but it was a reminder that I am fighting for so much more than partially recovered. I have worked too damn hard to allow even the smallest bit of this disorder to occupy my thoughts and my time. Taking a chance on recovery has been worth it thus far. It has been worth all of the fear and anxiety that have come with it. I have to believe, once again, that trusting myself and trusting this process will be worth the challenges I may face along the way.