I was reminded this week of one of the many moments in my eating disorder that now seems totally crazy. In the early stages of my stay as an inpatient in the US, the in-house cook would prepare our food. We would often have a side-salad as part of our meal and we had the option of choosing which dressing we would like. On this occasion, I had chosen balsamic vinegar, and when it was served to me, I had what can only be described as a total melt-down that lasted…days. I was totally convinced that I had been given more on my salad than normal. I cried my way through the meal and then needed a one-one session after lunch to talk through the ‘extra balsamic.’ I believed that the staff were out to get me and that I couldn’t trust them. I was terrified that the extra drizzle (that is all it could have been) would add 10lbs to me overnight.
Looking back on this moment I almost laugh at the insanity of my thinking, but even though it was five years ago, I can still feel the rage that filled my every crevice. I sat on the sofa after lunch and was unable to think of anything else. I couldn’t talk to my peers or engage properly in the afternoon’s sessions. All I could think about was the ‘extra’ dressing. I felt out of control, I was terrified of eating anymore that day, and believed the staff were untrustworthy. All complete bullshit of course. When my ED was challenged, I turned into some kind of total monster; my family referred to it at the ‘terrorist.’ So, to avoid the terrorist invading me, I used to obey it. I would listen to its every call, I would surrender to its every whim, and so for the most part it was happy. I wasn’t, but IT was.
An eating disorder is like a naughty child. It pushes the boundaries and if you give it an inch it runs a mile. The only way to silence it’s ‘tantrums’ is to not give into it’s ridiculous demands. The more you ignore it, the more it realises it no longer holds as much power and gives up. In the early days of my recovery I didn’t believe the terrorist would ever go away, and in fact the more I challenged it the louder it got. This is the most crucial time in someone’s recovery. It’s the time that requires every ounce of strength you have, to not give up. When the terrorist is threatened, when it’s clinging on – you must dig even deeper. You must be consistent and do your best not to waiver. At the time, you will feel rage bubble inside you. When a suggestion is made to your food plan, or you are asked to challenge a behaviour or thought, your eating disorder will kick and scream at you. You will become exhausted with the fight and want to quit. In the short-term this will work. The eating disorder will be quieter again, BUT only for a short time. Before you know it, you will be back to the craziness that’s imprisoning you.
I found it helpful to keep a list of all the things I could do if I was free from my eating disorder, otherwise I didn’t feel as though the battle was worth the fight. I wanted to be ‘normal.’ I wanted to be able to go out for lunch with friends and family, and not freak out about what was in my food, or how much oil or dressing was on my salad. To write this now, and to say that I enjoy food, I’m grateful when cooked for, and that the relationship is more important than the food is huge. The balsamic incident just seems so crazy, and a complete waste of headspace – but at the time it was my reality. It’s just another example of how incredibly illogical and hard to understand eating disorders are. There were times when it was helpful to stop analysing and questioning why I thought/behaved the way I did, and instead just get on with moving forwards. Keep reminding yourself of how you imagine your life to be without your eating disorder and all the gifts that you could receive if you were free. You do not deserve to be dictated to by anyone or anything. You might question why it is important to make even the smallest of changes, but believe me they make a huge difference. Don’t try and do it alone or you will tire before the battle is won; reach out to others. If you don’t have a treatment team, then reach out to anyone who is willing to hold you accountable. You must sit with your feelings, as excruciating as they may be, so that you can experience the other side. All I can tell you is that there is hope for everyone. I have been there, and never in a million years imagined living a life so full now.