In the every day fight to reclaim my life and my health, one of the hardest things is to give up. That’s right – I said give up. We all know how important it is to not give up fighting to live and break free of the eating disorder. To not let depression overpower us, to not let the persistent thoughts that tell us we are worthless, stupid, bad, fat, whatever, stick without refuting and correcting them with the truth. But I don’t mean giving up all that.
One of the (very many!) reasons I stayed so sick for so long, which is still a reason – is that I find it so very difficult to let go. To give up the eating disorder’s habits, the rituals, the comforts. To give up even the aspects of it that torment me – feeling and seeing myself as fat and worthless, torturing myself physically and mentally, and so on. Hardest of all, I think, is to give up on ever having the body I thought I wanted.
I have come to realise that it doesn’t matter what kind of eating disorder you have – anorexia, bulimia, EDNOS, binge eating disorder,exercise obsession, orthorexia – if you want to be free of your disorder, you have to give up on the body that it promises you.
You can’t hang on to the eating disorder AND get better. So you can’t hang on to the lies that it feeds you either, and get better. While you are hanging on to some body ideal, you won’t recover.
It makes sense and goes without saying that someone who is underweight with their disorder needs to give up on weight loss (ever again – I mean never ever ever again) because it too often triggers the disease all over again – and because while you are trying to lose weight, you are denying yourself of the nutrition your body needs – (I am not going to dig too deeply into this aspect as I do not have much more than a layperson’s understanding of it), those who are overweight (and normal weight) also need to give up on the ideal body. Even if you are normal or overweight, having an eating disorder means chances are VERY high that you are actually malnourished – and you need to allow your body to renourish itself just as much as someone suffering from anorexia needs to. (Yes, it’s possible to be overweight and malnourished.)
When you are constantly trying to lose weight or ‘improve’ your body, you are in some way restricting what you give it, but more importantly, your focus is on YOU controlling your body. You are still trying to force it into some ideal without listening to it. And that’s an important part of getting better – listening to your body. Feeding it, looking after it, giving it everything it needs – without trying to cut down or cut back in any way. No matter what your weight is, your body has been through a really tough time with your disorder and it needs to recuperate. It needs to be able to trust you in order to start being able to function again as a healthy body should. And it can’t repair itself in all the ways it needs (many unseen and unfelt) when complete balanced nutrition might not be forthcoming or exercise constantly wears it out. (For a really good, insightful post about the relationship between your body’s trust in you and bingeing see Mundanebrain’s post.)
Apart from still being engaged in a war physically, hanging on means you are also not focussed totally on getting better. You still have at least part of your mind held hostage to the disease. And you are still basing your happiness on something you do not have right now. Something that may not even be achievable, or sustainable for the long term. Something that might make you very sick or even kill you.
While you are focussed on that “I’ll be happy and everything will be a lot better when…” dream, you are not dealing with what is making you unhappy or sick, finding out what made you need to obliterate those problems and almost yourself, too – with the eating disorder and the food and weight and clothes sizes and numbers and exercise and all that chaos. You are not even living in the right now, but off with the fairies in the future.
Heads up, people – it’s not your body that is the problem!! As long as you are trying to fix your body, your real problems are going to go unchanged.
Giving up on ever having that body is so hard for me. I still have a lot of weight to gain despite having gained so much already. I still am not coping with this weight gain at all. And I would love, dearly love to lose it, just dump it. I am highly aware all the time how easily I can do that if I choose, like the more than a hundred times I did that over the more sick years (going by the number of admissions for weight restoration!) But I know that if I do that, dump this weight – that’s it. I’m sick again, I lose all the ground I worked so hard for, and yes, it’s going to kill me.
I DID, in my teens, believe when things were rock bottom, that if I fixed my body and got my lean, strong dancer’s body back, all my problems would go away. I’d be the best dancer. I’d be happy. Wanker would go away and leave me alone. My family would have some sort of epiphany and personality transplant and actually become caring and loving and decent. Even when I’d lost my dance career I still believed that when I got my dancer’s body back i.e LOST weight, I’d get it back again. Can we say screwed up, insane? Definitely not rational. At the time I didn’t even know I had an eating disorder, everything was just a mess that was crumbling around me. But now I know better. I know that weight loss will NOT fix anything – it will make it worse. And yet it’s still really, really hard to let go.
What I miss most about it was that feeling, that comforting feeling of being convinced I was doing the right thing, I was working on the solution, that everything was going to be okay. Now I know that the only way I can guarantee that everything will be okay is to identify what the actual problems are, accept them, and ask for help to fix them.
I will never get that feeling back, not just because I know how untrue it is, but also because I will never again starve myself and exercise obsessively the way I did back then. However losing weight is still my predominant thought much of my time. I can’t do something properly, need to lose weight. I catch sight of myself in a window – fatty boomba, lose some weight! I just can’t stand my body or being in it. And despite that I have no choice, I have to tolerate it, and hope that with time the thoughts become less. I hate being so aware of it and so caught up in it because it really is a very shallow way of thinking and being, and there is so much that’s far more important. It’s also not pleasant to have everything you do overshadowed by that constant criticism. But I have to toughen up and learn to stay with the pain and fear. Tolerate feelings that aren’t nice to feel – because feelings will never kill me. Feeling fat won’t hurt me, but acting on those feelings might.
Letting go means getting humble and admitting that you aren’t okay, you aren’t in control, in fact you and your life are a mess, and things can’t go on this way. There is nothing to be ashamed of in accepting this. In fact it takes courage to do this – because we have so much pride as human beings and are so scared of failure. It’s not a failure at all. It’s being realistic and owning your own truths.
I now know and accept that it’s my life that’s screwed up, and myself, and that I will never fix it by concentrating on my body. Even if my body is ‘perfect’ I will still be sick and miserable. And if I want to work on my problems and have any chance of having a happy, healthy, fulfilling life – I have to let go of trying to change my body and let it look after me. And in order to let it look after me – I have to look after it. I don’t know what my future holds, but I know that I will be able to deal with it now, because I’m no longer in denial. I’m no longer sticking my fingers in my ears and singing “I need to lose weight and then everything will be better” – instead I’m taking a deep breath and facing my real problems head on.
Still got a long way to go – but what’s most important is that I’m definitely headed in the right direction.