I am often asked what changed? How, after a nine year struggle with Bulimia, did I finally manage to break free? The answer isn’t simple. For every step forward in my recovery it seemed there were two steps back, and detours, and loops that seemed to put me right back where I started. When it comes to recovery from an eating disorder, there is no straightforward answer, no clear-cut solution, there’s only a story of the journey and the hope that in sharing that story somehow, someone will find hope.
So the answer to the question what changed is: a lot. There’s a lot that has changed and most of it has been on the inside. My mind, my heart, my spirit are all completely different than they were seven years ago. But the fundamental changes are in the way that I perceived food, the way I engaged in exercise, the way I looked at myself in the mirror and the way life ‘felt.’ It’s all so different now, here’s how in changed:
Food used to intimidate me. I was scared of it. I felt like it had power over me that I could not control. In the process of becoming anorexic and them bulimic I’d crafted a view of food that was completely unhealthy. A scaffolding of sorts that I’d erected around food, rules that I couldn’t have this or that because it would make me “fat.” I tried to limit my choices in hopes that in doing so I’d gain control over it. So when faced with an abundance of food, I would lose all control. I’d binge, then purge. I made food “scarce.” Now I don’t have rules, I don’t make food scarce. Instead I approach it from a perspective of abundance. Food is there to be enjoyed sometimes in large quantities. I eat when I’m hungry. Sometimes I eat when I’m not hungry. When something looks good and I want it. I stop when I’m full. And sometimes I don’t stop when I’m full. When I made all food “available” (no food off limits) is when the shift happened and food lots it’s control over me.
When I was a kid I moved because I was competitive. As a sixth grader I spend hours outside in the driveway honing my hook shot and my post-up moves because Rebecca Lobo was my hero and I wanted to play on the USA Women’s Basketball team. I didn’t give a thought to calories or my weight. But somewhere around the end of high school that competitive drive that drove me to be the best basketball player morphed into a competition with myself to be the skinniest I could be. And exercise stopped being about hook shots and spin moves and started being about burning calories and shedding pounds. There was a time when running was just another cog in the machine of my addiction and for a time I left it behind. But when I rediscovered running seven years ago it was about the competition again. And that’s what it’s about now, instead of hook shots and spin moves it’s repeats on the track and 5K’s on the road. I’m in competition with myself to be the best that I can be and on race day I’m in competition with the people who toe the line with me. Exercises now is about setting goals and seeing if, with hard work and persistence, I can turn them into reality.
To enter into an eating disorder, you must first be dissatisfied with your body. The level of that dissatisfaction is what determines whether your cross over the line from a healthy desire to change to an obsession. The level of self-loathing required to maintain a restrictive diet is staggering.
I can remember looking in the mirror and berating myself my appearance, using it as fuel to skip meals or push myself to exercises even when there were no calories there to burn. It was as if I disassociated myself from myself, to become this external voice of absolute criticism. I was so unkind to myself. One of the biggest components of my recovery was un-doing the negative self-talk that had gone on for nine years. Little by little my internal voice became kinder, more understanding, more forgiving until finally I stopped pitting my mind against my body and started living in acceptance. There are times when I look in the mirror and feel dissatisfied, it is probably a fairly common sentiment. The difference is I don’t act on that dissatisfaction and am quick to quiet the negative self talk. When I look in the mirror I see me. The only me that will ever be. So I am kind to her.
Addiction in any form causes you to disengage from real life. You live in a constant state of obsession, preoccupied with the substance of your addiction. In my case the substance of choice was control. And someone who is addicted to control has a very hard time enjoying life. For nine years that was me: present in body, but absent in mind. So completely preoccupied by what I could and could not control that I had a hard time engaging with the people that loved me. When I faced my bulimia as what it was: and addiction, slowly the preoccupation and obsession subsided. It took time, but I began to re-engage with the people around me. My memories of the past seven years are so much stronger because I’ve been here. Not just in body, but in mind. I’m in the moment, not lost in obsession over the food I’ve eaten or my weight. I’m living life, the way it was meant to be lived.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder please click HERE for links to resources that may help.
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Email: RunFarGirl [at] gmail [dot] com
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