I have suffered with an eating disorder for 25 years. This is my path through recovery.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
An Answer A friend asked a really good set of questions on the "What's Eating Me?" post. He asked, "I've heard you discuss this behavior as self-protective in the past, and I've always been puzzled by that terminology. How is it self-protective? Against what (or whom) are you protecting yourself? Are there healthier alternatives available that will give you the same - or at least adequate - protection?"
That's a really good set of questions and I'm going to see what answers I have. The specifics are different for everyone, but eating disorders and other addictions in general are about control. In my case, it hearkens back to my high school years and even before when my entire life was controlled by my parents. I really never felt like I had any kind of autonomy and this was the way I exercised that for myself. They really did try to control my eating as well, but I found some pretty ingenious ways around that - like breaking into the locked freezer in our basement. Yes, they actually locked the freezer for the specific purpose of keeping me out of it.
I could go round and round with the blame game but that also doesn't serve a purpose any longer. It all just is what it is and I'm trying not to hold them responsible for choices I've made as an adult. I'll be honest - some days I still get very angry about things I remember, but I also remember that they did the very best they could. They never set out to hurt me - in fact I know that pretty much everything they ever did was what they felt was in my best interests. Sometimes that makes it worse because how can I be angry at someone who made choices they thought were best for me? It makes me feel like a horrible and undeserving daughter.
So...back to the self-protection issue because I've really not answered that yet. The shortest answer is the strangest - I protect myself from being hurt by hurting myself first. My brain follows a twisted and convoluted logic that is often paradoxical. I don't want to enter the labyrinth because there's a 50/50 chance that there just might be a minotaur at the center, so if I hobble myself at the outset then I never have to face that possibility.
My eating disorder provides me an excuse. "Well, it's not really ME they've rejected, it's my weight, which is clearly changeable, and I could change it any time I want to, so that proves that I don't have to." QED. Make sense? Yeah, not to me either, when I'm in my right mind, but when I'm immersed in my disease, this is a perfectly logical train of thought to me. In the end, I'm really terrified that someone - anyone - will reject ME, not just my weight. As long as I have the built-in excuse, I don't have to face reality - I can just live in that fantasy world where it's all the fault of my weight, not my choices. This is what Attila and I have been battling over for so long.
As for what are the healthier alternatives.... I'm not sure that "alternatives" are what I'm looking for. What I'm looking to do is combat that thinking altogether, not replace one bad choice with something a little less bad. First, I need to be able to recognize these thoughts for what they are when they come up. It's not as easy as it sounds because these thoughts are the disease speaking, and it's good at disguising its voice to make me think this is my good, solid logic speaking. Once I've recognized it, the second thing is to understand that these thoughts are, principally, lies. The next step is to combat these lies with the truth about myself. Then...believe these truths in the moment. This is the trickiest step because that voice is still there insisting that these lies ARE the truth - but I know they are not. I am not an ugly, horrible person. I am a nice, kind woman who has a lot of amazing and wonderful friends who are my friends because they LIKE me, not because they want something from me or because they pity me. (Yes, all these things are actual lies my disease tells me.) Sometimes I'm good at combating that, sometimes not, but every time I fight back, I get stronger and my disease gets weaker.
So tonight I'm having a few similar feelings to last night, but not to such extremes. My dinner was much more controlled than last night, but I recognized an urge that I can't remember recognizing before. Once I had eaten an appropriate plate of dinner, I went back to get the remaining portion of mashed potatoes. I realized as I was putting them on my plate that I could and should wait for a bit before having seconds so that my body could adjust to what I had already eaten. Immediately on the heels of that thought was the recognition that I did not wantto wait because I was afraid that I would hit my fullness point and would not get to eat the mashed potatoes.
Why fear? I don't understand what I'm so afraid of. I have never wanted for food in my life. I was not deprived either as a child nor as an adult. I cannot understand this pathological need to fill my body with food to the detriment of the rest of my life. I want to know what drives my need because maybe if I learn that I can figure out how to stop it.
I know, though, that the answer lies not in the comprehension, but rather in the obedience to what I know to be right action driven by God's will in my life. It's hard for me to stop myself and ask God if this is His will for me right now, but I have to begin to do it. The funny thing is, the very need to ask that question generally indicates that I already know the answer, but I don't like it. Here's the kicker: neither God, nor OA, nor Attila have ever told me I have to like it; in fact all I have to do is do it.
What's Eating Me?I wish I had an answer for that question. Eating the way I did today makes me feel less than human. I'm really outing myself today and laying my vulnerability bare here by talking about the specifics of what I ate, which is not something I usually do to this degree except with my most trusted inner circle of friends, but maybe I can learn something or help someone else learn something by bringing my secret bingeing out in the open.
Lunch was leftover sesame chicken (about half a standard Chinese restaurant serving, sans rice) followed by a soup bowl of homemade chicken and noodles. I knew while I was eating the sesame chicken that it would be sufficient on its own. I knew this, and yet there was this odd fear in my gut - a feeling that somehow it would be insufficient and that would be A Bad Thing. My gut, however, couldn't tell me anything about whyit would be A Bad Thing, it just did its utmost to convince me that my only path to survival lay in pretending I hadn't recognized my knowledge.
And so I did. In effect, I ate two lunches. This does nothing to convince me that I know what a proper portion size is, which was the topic of my latest conversation with Attila (my therapist). It also does nothing to convince me that I have any means at my disposal to actually defeat this ugly disease.
I followed the same foolish path with my dinner, only it was lemonade I filled up on, having not realized quite how thirsty I was until a large glassful had gone down. The funny thing is that that's a trick used by many dieters - drink a glass of water before eating so you will feel full faster. Ironic, seeing as I didn't wantto feel full so I could eat whatever I wanted. Musta been the rebel inside me because I did it anyway and am really pissed at myself for it. I ate 3 mutantly enormous cheese-stuffed mushrooms, a bowl of baked potato soup, a large garlic cheese-stuffed chicken breast (and as if the cheese were not enough fat, the chicken was lightly breaded and fried), asparagus, and a mountain of mashed potatoes. I ate all but half the mashed potatoes.
I'm still unhappy even sitting here writing about it, but all I can do now is pray for God's forgiveness (done), try to forgive myself (or at least not beat myself up about it), and use this as a "diagnostic moment" as my nutritionist calls it. I can think about what moved me to do this today, pray about it, and plan for the next time I feel like this - for when I feel that need to eat past my levels of comfortability and fullness; past that knowledge that this is not what is best for me, not what I need, not even what I really want. I need to plan to think about what hole I'm trying to fill and find a healthier way to fill it. I did try to think about this today, but I was all too willing to do what was comforting and familiar - the behaviors I've engaged in for the past almost thirty years - the very behaviors that no longer protect me the way they I designed them to do.