Recovery sucks sometimes. Okay, a lot of times.
The suckiness is quite different than the hell of the disorder itself. Anorexia was draining and exhausting, but it was familiar. It seemed oddly natural to restrict and overexercise and yes, even purge. Recovery was also exhausting and draining, but it was distinctly unnatural. I found eating and gaining weight with every fiber of my being. I hated it. It sucked.
I missed the eating disorder. Occasionally, I still do. The numbness was nice. So were the ideas (delusions?) that if I kept on the path I was going, I would one day be Thin and Perfect. Working on recovery meant giving up those hopes and dreams. It meant living, in all of its glory. People are great, don't get me wrong, but they also let you down.
Recovery meant uncertainty. The certainty of anorexia was, of course, misery and death, but I could count on the weak-kneed, shitty feeling. I knew what I would be eating for dinner next month, because it would be the same darn thing I was eating for dinner today. I missed that comfort.
Recovery, then, meant grief. A lot of it.
Part of the grief was this loss of certainty. And not just about what I would eat. It was about responses I had down pat: "No thanks." "I already ate." "Do you have this in a smaller size?" "Sorry but I'm really busy." Then, as the disorder dragged on, it became almost a weird sense of identity. I was the Girl Who Didn't Eat. Carrie the Weight Loss Wonder Goddess. She With Gym Shoes. The one who always studied. Who had a perfectly neat apartment. Who was always at the damn doctor's office.
I ultimately forgot how to live in this world as a healthy person. I felt driftless- what was I going to do? I felt anxious and sad without starvation blunting those emotions.
Then there was the grief about all the time I had lost to the disorder- nearly a decade. My twenties are, for all intensive purposes, gone. They're a blur of hospitals and treadmills. It's looking back and wondering why you don't have any close friends until the answer hits you: you've been too busy with the eating disorder. Or you've just pushed them all away.
I stumbled across a press release that found long-term grief in women actually activated the pleasure areas of the brain. Which I thought was interesting. Certainly grief isn't pleasurable, but grieving the loss of a loved one means ultimately letting go of the possibility than you'll see them again in this lifetime. Perhaps when those with chronic grief saw a picture of the lost loved one, the pleasure was from seeing them again and hoping that it would be for real.
And perhaps the grief in recovering from an eating disorder is similar. You hang on to the hope that you will be able to make everything work- life and the eating disorder. That you can recover and stay thin, or keep just the behaviors you find "useful." Yet here you are, having to let go of the idea that one day, you will be Thin and Perfect. That you will be able to interact with the world only on your terms. That you will be able to eat the right things in the right order, combined with the right amount of exercise. That Everything Will Be Okay.
To be sure, recovery is also about hope. Hope that you would NEED these things any more, hope that you will be able to eat without fear, hope that you will once again have meaningful relationships. Hope that you will be able to live in this world as a whole person, undimmed by an eating disorder.
Recovery sucks sometimes. Okay, a lot of times.
- binge eating disorder
- biology of EDs
- body image
- disordered eating
- eating disorder
- Grand Theory of Eating Disorders
- narrating anorexia
- normal eating
- obesity hysteria
- weight gain
- weight loss
- Carrie Arnold
- I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.
Drop me a line!
nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote
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