Hey there, lovely readers! I hope your week has been going well so far – I am feeling much better than I was Tuesday or Wednesday, and I have the day off today to rest up and take care of myself before I head into another busy day of work on Friday. On this lovely Thursday, I’m linking up with Amanda to share some of my recent thoughts with you all, and today, I’m thinking about rules.
The truth is, our lives are governed by rules. Call them what you wish – guidelines, boundaries, expectations…they all serve a purpose. We obey many of these rules for obvious reasons, such as public safety. If we drove wherever we damn well pleased all over the road, for example, it would be difficult to maintain a safe environment. If we never washed our hands after using the bathroom or before serving people food, we would be endangering the health of ourselves and those around us. These rules make sense, and they serve a function.
Although some rules exist for clear reasons, others are followed simply out of habit. I always put my napkin in my lap when I sit down at a restaurant, for example. Sure, it’s practical, but I do it primarily because it is what I was taught when I was younger and it is now something that I do habitually, not because I always spill food on my lap. Similarly, I always take my shoes off when I get home. Until I remove them, I feel a little bit off, as if something is out of place. I do these things unconsciously, but not doing them or doing them differently feels wrong in some way. My brain has adapted to a set of rules that don’t necessarily serve a purpose, but breaking them feels very strange.
Eating disorder rules are similar to any other rules in life – they are perpetuated out of habit. The sneaky thing about these rules is that they can go along unaddressed for quite some time if they are not actively challenged. If rules are not glaringly disordered, it may be tempting to just let them slide, but that is a way of letting a disorder keep its hold, even if it is only in a very small way.
Disordered rules are typically developed in a time when the brain is not functioning at full capacity, and they are so easily maintained without question because the brain simply gets used to following them. Initially, breaking these rules will probably feel very wrong. Whenever I challenge a rule that I often obey, I deal with feelings of shame and guilt from my disorder. Rule-breaking does get easier over time, though, and each time a rule is broken provides a chance for the brain to make new connections.
Recently, I have tried to confront some of my own disordered rules because I know that I am not fully pursuing recovery as long as I concede to them, as arbitrary as they may seem. In an effort to be honest with myself, I wrote out all of the rules that I can think of that I still tend to follow, the rules that lead to feelings of guilt when I break them. As I wrote them out, I realized how utterly ridiculous they are. I imagined myself telling somebody else about the rules, envisioning their reaction to the nonsensical guidelines that I follow. I almost laughed at how absurd they sounded.
Disorder-perpetuating rules can be something as small as only using the smallest dish to eat your snack or counting out the number of crackers or raisins that you eat. They can take the form of never eating before a certain time or after a certain time, or sneaking in a little extra exercise now and again to alleviate anxiety about eating. These rules can cause great inconvenience to us, or they can be so ingrained that we rarely think about their presence at all.
My challenge to you (and to myself) today is to break some rules. Use a different bowl, put salad dressing on your salad, eat at a different time (preferably when you start to feel hungry), or let somebody else cook for you. Walk the shortest route to the store instead of the longest. Do something that will show your disorder that you are the one in charge, and you are done following the rules that keep you sick. It may be scary, it may be stressful, but it will be in the best interest of recovery.