Friday, February 26, 2010

Building a Bridge from ED to Intuitive Eating, Part 2


An Itch Begging To Be Scratched… The Birth of Relapse

2009 was a year to remember, though not fondly. There was major health crisis with loved ones, death in the family, one of my dearest friends lost her only son suddenly and unexpectedly and needed emotional support. Upheaval became a constant theme. They say when it rains, it pours and in my neck of the woods, it was dropping by the bucketful. I began to feel overwhelmed. Every safe space seemed to be crowded with an ever-growing feeling of impending doom. My heart sank when the phone rang because it usually brought more bad news. My sense of anxiety began to grow as I realized that in life, there are no guarantees. This pushed play on some of the old tapes that used to run through my mind in the past. A sense of wondering when the other shoe was going to drop started to color all my experiences. I saw the reemergence of ED.

At first, it was an isolated incident… a binge here, some ‘careful’ eating there, then progressing to periods of ignored hunger and over-exercise. At first, I chalked it up to stress. I knew these coping mechanisms felt like comfort zones for me. Naturally, with my sense of overwhelm increasing my survival instincts would guide me to rely on old ways of dealing with difficult emotions and situations. This is the only way I have known to keep myself afloat since I was a little girl. I decided that if I could be more aware I could reel myself back in and reconnect with intuitive eating. It wasn’t that easy.

As my eating disorder behavior increased, the weight release came to a grinding halt. Once again my body was in crisis mode. My health started to nosedive. This only fueled the fire in my sense of urgency to ‘get back on track’. Medical doctors were admonishing me left and right to lose weight or else experience the consequences. Though they were pleased with the progress I had made up to that point with intuitive eating, it wasn’t good enough. When they saw the weight release stall, it upped the ante and each medical appointment only caused my frustration to grow. My doctors are aware of my eating disorder history. What I would like to let medical professionals know is that heaping this kind of pressure upon patients with these histories is irresponsible. It is like flipping the switch on the disorder. We need more compassion from the medical community. Slimness does not equal sound health. I am living proof of that fact in light of my personal history with eating disorder.

By October 2009 the balance reached the tipping point and I saw a full-blown relapse of my eating disorder. I exhibited non-purging bulimic behavior in full bloom. Days would go by where I would starve, existing off nothing more than a single fruit smoothie. Eventually, my biological drives would kick in and I would experience subsequent bingeing. The binges could last days on end. I stayed in this pattern for close to a month distracting myself by disassociating through over-work and over-extending myself. “No” ceased to be part of my vocabulary. I was stretching myself paper thin. Somehow, that intuitive voice that I had been nurturing inside all these years since beginning my healing process kicked in. I woke from my haze and realized I was in trouble. I needed help.

“Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”

ED has always been a shitty partner. ‘He’ expects so much of me and gives nothing in return. ‘He’ is a sadist… hell-bent on my submission. It’s ‘his’ way or the highway. Every time I try to use my voice and stand up for myself, ED tells me to ‘shut up’. ‘He’ is a gatekeeper and likes to have me under lock and key. ‘He’ will never let me have much freedom. ED isolates me from my friends, family, and the things that make my heart full. ‘He’ crowds out the spaces that allow room for my soul to smile. ‘He’ seeks to make me smaller… to strip me of my power. I’m so over ED. ‘He’ is a waste of time. Breaking up is hard to do, but it’s time for me to move on to greener pastures. Sorry ED, I’ve had a glimpse of the other side, and though the grass may not always be greener, in this case, it is. I already packed your bags. They’re waiting outside by the cab I called for you.

It may seem funny to describe eating disorder as a relationship, but that is exactly what it becomes. Anyone who has experienced the death grip of ED knows it’s like being in an abusive relationship with your self. You feel divided, as if there is a civil war going on within you complete with two dueling sides. One side wants recovery so badly it can nearly taste it and the other side doesn’t want to relinquish the control required to get free. At some point you have to dig deep and find that small still place inside… the place where the authentic you lives… and using all the strength you can muster, walk out that door toward a life that holds no space for ED in it. This is exactly what I have done.

I began by attending a day long workshop at Beyond Hunger that was led by one of the therapists who co-wrote the book, “It’s Not About Food.” This is the first time I ever sought any kind of eating disorder support for myself. It was an essential first step. The workshop was a condensed version of the book so I didn’t receive any monumental benefit from the experience. I didn’t let that discourage me. Sometimes, you have to be open to exploring your options when you first reach out for help. Serendipitously, there was a therapist attending the workshop who specializes in eating disorder. When I asked if there were any other ED support resources in the area she guided me to a free ANAD (Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders) support group that has weekly meetings in a neighboring city. When you reach out for help you may not get the answer you expect, but often are led to exactly what you need.

I have been attending weekly ANAD meetings and getting myself therapy with a specialist in eating disorders since December 2009. The experience has changed my life. There are so many things I understand about myself and the way I have moved through this world that I was completely unaware of. Some days are better than others. Opening up your self and peeling back the layers can feel scary at times. There are moments when the intensity of the emotions welling up in me takes my breath away. I’m learning to hold space for the suffering… not wallow in it… but invite it in to sit for a spell so I can learn from it, gain a better understanding of myself, then wish it well upon its’ way. Each day the part of me that wants recovery grows stronger. My emancipation is coming into view.

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