“I’ll just have the starter size please as a main course.” This was my restaurant food order over and over again. I would always choose a starter because it allowed me to eat less. A starter size is less frightening, less calories, less everything. My life was about being ‘less’ in all aspects. Ironically less meant I was ‘superior’ to my anorexic warped way of thinking.
It wasn’t until I began my recovery journey, that I realised how much my behaviour in my eating disorder was so aligned to my behaviour around my finances. Spending money on others was easy in comparison to spending money on myself. I controlled and restricted my money like I controlled and restricted my food.
When I moved house recently I found piles of clothes still with the tags on them. Never worn; long forgotten in the back of my wardrobe. I used to ‘save’ them for a ‘special occasion, except the ‘special occasion’ never happened, so the tags remained in mint condition. If I ever did contemplate wearing them, I had long decided I know longer liked them.
In the move I also found food items that had never been opened. At the time of buying them, I’m sure I had every intention of eating them, but again the time never seemed right…for my eating disorder. Similarly, my behaviours also played out in saving up my calories until the end of the day, in case I needed to compensate somewhere else. I ate as little as possible, so that I could ‘enjoy’ the little I allowed myself in secret in the evening. To my anorexia, spending money on food was most definitely and unnecessary evil. It was a waste, just like excess calories were.
My financial anorexia also meant that my attention towards my self-care and appearance was also compromised. So much so, that eventually it was challenged by the staff when I was an inpatient at a treatment centre in California. Every day I was tasked with getting dressed before breakfast. Out with the track pants and hoodies, and in with jeans, skirt, dress…basically anything that demonstrated I had not rolled out of bed straight to the breakfast table. For most people getting dressed is as basic as brushing their teeth, but for me it was a big deal. Just as I couldn’t understand spending money on food or wasting calories, I couldn’t understand why I needed to look presentable when there was no ‘special occasion.’ But never one to rebel, I reluctantly agreed. After my initial resistance, and much to my surprise, I actually started to feel a change in how I presented myself in the group sessions. I felt more confident, more willing to engage. in myself. Instead of looking how I felt (which was scared, sad and angry) I felt more prepared for the day ahead.
I guess the reason I’m sharing this is because an eating disorder trickles into every aspect of the sufferers life. My ‘financial anorexia’ meant that I restricted myself in the most basic forms of self-care. From what I wore, to having a bath, to spending money on food. All of these routine acts that go unnoticed for the majority, seemed too indulgent for me.
Even in recovery, finances are still not my strong point, but I no longer wait for a ‘special occasion’ to have a pizza, a glass of wine, a bath or buy a new piece of clothing or jewellery. These things are part of my everyday life – not some great big event that needs days of preparation followed by days of analysis. Just as I’ve had to let go of my food restrictions, I’ve had to let go of quite frankly…being a ‘tightass.’
Recovery for me has fundamentally been about ‘letting go.’ It’s been about letting go and allowing myself to simply enjoy life, in every area. ‘Skimping’ on food, clothes and my appearance were all a way to skimp on nourishing myself. I had grown accustomed to denying myself everything. In treatment I spent time examining how my relationship with money modelled my relationship with food. After much journaling and tears, I worked hard at letting go of my restrictive behaviours, and discovered what it was that these protective mechanisms were really appeasing. I noted that ‘guilt’ was a primary factor in allowing myself pleasure. I felt bad, unworthy and shameful when I spent money on myself – it was in essence just another form of punishment. Past trauma and feelings of guilt that I had carried around with me for a decade, had to be unpacked and put in their appropriate place, before I could allow myself to truly enjoy life ‘guilt-free.’
That phrase ‘guilt-free’ is one that has seeped into our subconscious through repetitive narratives all around us. There is no stronger evidence of this, than within the food industry. We are constantly told we can eat food without guilt, by buying ‘sugar-free,’ ‘dairy-free,’ ‘meat-free,’ ‘gluten-free.’ When I began recovery, I wanted the exact opposite of this – I wanted to FREE. Like really free, from all this rubbish we are told. Why do we need to feel guilty about feeding ourselves? We are bombarded with messages that tell us to have ‘less,’ ‘be less.’ Well recovery for me, has been about having more, not less. And more without feeling guilty about it. So these days, I often find myself repeating the words of Oliver Twist – “Please Sir, can I have some more?”