It’s mid-afternoon on Friday, I am facilitating a workshop this evening and planned to get coffee with a friend beforehand. Instead, I’m propped up at my kitchen table writing this as a distraction from the some intense pain and discomfort. For a few moments, I was confused as to why I felt like this. I then realized I ate a meal without restriction portion or food groups for the first time in weeks. I got myself together and went grocery shopping, made a meal and ate it before I got too overwhelmed. I’m still proud of myself, but despite years of experience, totally forgot I would had some side effects due to my body not being used to eating regular portions.
This is a less-talked about aspect of recovery from restrictive eating. It’s not inspiring or doesn’t have that trauma-porn style of intrigue that many “recovery” stories hold. I didn’t struggle as much through this meal or any other recent meals than I did a year and a half ago when I was in treatment, or a year before than in the rare time I would attempt to eat a full meal. That was a whole different kind of terrible, which often involved a lot of crying and anxiety. Today, I cooked and ate and felt guilty and enjoyed it and texted some friends and listened to The Internet. I sent an email afterwards and did my laundry. 20 minutes later, as my body tried to digest this meal, I was struck with intense pain, I feel like the wind has been knocked out of me. I’m hot and exhausted. My body is currently working overtime to handle the amount and type of food that it is not used to. This part of recovery is not the hardest, it’s not inspiring. It just is. It’s an after effect of the years of deprivation and damage, my body has experienced. This has happened to me before and will happen again. Each time it gets a little worse – so if you don’t suffer from an eating disorder you may wonder, well why don’t you just keep eating normal amounts and avoid this?
I used to be really hurt by these questions, but for one, not many people ask anymore, I’m weight restored and am better at strategically using highlighter. Secondly, I have a bit of distance from the depth of my disorder and I kinda understand it now. Why can’t I just eat? I am fully aware that this happens. I am rational, intelligent and has work and academic experience in food and food security. None of this matters. It doesn’t matter how smart or experienced I am, anorexia [as well as other restrictive eating disorders] has an powerful hold on those of us that suffer. Most of the time, I don’t even want to be extremely thin anymore, but the desire to achieve some sort of celestial ideal of deprivation and thinness captures me. I feel trapped by this whether or not I am acting on these desires. I have learned to go through the motions to keep myself relatively well but not to the point where my body and mind has been able to rest and heal.
A couple of years ago when I was posting more regularly, someone asked me if I was uncomfortable with people knowing my vulnerabilities. I hadn’t thought too much about it at the time so the question made me deeply uncomfortable, however, over the last few years, I have come to understand that allowing myself to be vulnerable and open is an integral part of my healing process. Shame doesn’t survive in the light and writing my experiences exposes them to light, it gives me a feeling of validity and I hope, raises the consciousness of others. I hope those who love someone with an eating disorder can learn how to better support them. I hope that if someone reading this is struggling, especially, if they are at the beginning stages, that they will seek help. I imagine sometimes how different my life would be if I accessed treatment 10 years ago. I know my body would have been through the things I have dragged it [us] through. Perhaps, recovery would be less of daunting task if I knew what it was like to be an adult and to be well [for more than a couple of months]. I do experience embarrassment and shame at being almost 28 years old and struggling to feed myself, however, in order to dissipate that shame, I have to bring it to the light. So here I am. Writing this three days before my 28th birthday, having cried once over my thesis and twice over my body. I am not where I want to be, but I can feel the light blessing me.