Jealousy and empowerment

In yesterday's tips, I mentioned how acknowledging my jealousy of others was ultimately empowering.  One of my readers asked how this was possible.  How did I move from wanting to stab out my own eyeball to a calmer understanding of what was going on?

At first, when people would talk about food, weight, and dieting, I got seriously pissed.  I was so tremendously angry that they "got to" restrict their food, get smaller sizes, etc, while I "had to" gain weight and buy larger clothes.  I was furious at their seeming smugness.  I stewed in anger for a while, a sort of quiet rage that poisoned everything.  I was angry at the world for any number of things, not just our dieting culture, but that was part of it.

Then I read something online where a women mentioned that she used to get angry at impulsive people who would flake out on her.  She was legitimately angry, yes, but she was also jealous of their ability to blow off mundane tasks in favor of the more exciting.  The mundane tasks got left to her, but she was really insanely jealous of their ability to take the world less seriously.

That's what I understood why I was so angry and frustrated: I was jealous.  I wanted to be able to restrict my food.  I wanted to blab non-stop about the gym.  Essentially, I wanted the social sanctioning for what I did during my eating disorder.  ED symptoms were a "get to," but recovery was a "had to."

I suppose I could have tried to see recovery as a "get to," but frankly, the thought never occurred to me.  Most people don't initially see recovery as the gift it is.  Recovery was a burden, a literal pain in the ass that I resented.  Being able to reconcile both my anger at being jolted into recovery and my jealousy of others' disordered eating habits was tremendously empowering.

So how in the hell did that happen?

I utlimately had to come to terms with the fact that I could go back to my eating disorder if I really wanted to.  I wouldn't have any money or a place to live, and I'd have to give up the cat, but yeah, I could go back to starving myself.  But I didn't want to lose all those things.  I didn't want to disappoint my parents or cause them the anguish that kicking me out would cause.  I didn't want to drop out of school.  I didn't want to quit my job.  So I began, over time, to reframe recovery as a choice*.

I didn't always like my options--my old therapist called this "choice amongst lack of alternatives."  I stayed with recovery because the alternatives were worse.  Slowly, I was able to reframe the situation not as "I can't restrict my food," but as "nothing good will come out of restricting my food, and so I won't do it."  It made me a powerful adult instead of a petulant child.  I didn't always feel the choice, and my treatment team would have stepped in if I made it, but nonetheless, I gave myself that power to decide.

That was the empowering bit.  The realization that I could want to restrict, acknowledge that wanting, and still stick with recovery.

I still hate diet talk with a vengance, but I don't usually find it triggering.  I still want to stab out my own eyeball, sometimes, but mostly out of boredom and annoyance.  I, myself, am choosing not to engage in self-destructive behaviors.  I can miss it all I want, but I can also reclaim my power over my behaviors.

*I didn't really choose recovery, because I was dragged there kicking and screaming, against every fiber of my being.  I think people should be given the option to choose their recovery, but it isn't always possible, and recovery shouldn't hinge on a sufferer "choosing" it.

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hm said...

*Thinking on this.

Not in that place yet, where I feel the "choice" of all this- still in the place where my treatment team members keep saying, "You always have choices" while at the same time restricting my choices profusely and (what feels like) unfairly.

My jeans are getting too tight and it makes me want to sob buckets until I puke from crying. Not fair, not fair, not fair.

I've NEVER wanted to talk diet talk. I prefer the secret knowing that I'm doing more than what anyone else is saying, without ever saying a word.

I've lost myself. They talk, and I don't know who to be. I feel frantic, resentful, and for sure jealous.

But you're saying (I think) that relief from the frantic jealousy, along with so many other things, comes with time, and with persevering through the recovery process, right? And the internal sense of power, of knowing that I can make these choices for myself- it appears that, for you, these things went hand in hand- that makes sense- if you are actively making choice B and desiring choice B, you won't be pining over NOT choosing choice A.

It seems that the research supports this- that along with weight, nutrition, and health comes mental clarity- maybe losing the awful mental noise resulting from my jealousy will be part of my process someday too, if I am able to just stay on this road.

Almost everything you say with regards to recovery amounts to the same thing- Keep it up, and someday you'll feel the benefits. It is so hard to trust that. And what if it isn't true for me? What if I get to the end of this road and find that I'm still frantic, but my out of practice body can't take a relapse into old comforting behaviors anymore?

I like how confident you are- to say that you can want to restrict, acknowledge that want, and still stick to recovery. I love that. Right now it feels as if there is a battle going on for my body between Anorexia and my Treatment Team. And I'm caught in the middle, not making any choices at all- just being victim to whichever side is pulling harder at any given time.

Sorry for writing a book- so much on my mind as I think these things over.

Cammy said...

I definitely feel you on the jealousy issue. It triggers really complex feelings in me when I hear someone mention that they "never eat breakfast" or just "forgot to eat" or when I see people reading calorie counts at the store, etc. My mom, my friends, even my boyfriend have several habits that, if I did them would certainly be attributed to the ED, but are ok for them because they're "normal."

Really great that you addressed this issue in this and the last post, because I do think it's something that fades with recovery. When I first took on recovery seriously several years ago, I spent a lot of time being pissed at people eating salads in the food court on campus, when I was weighed down with my prescribed weight-restoration meal. Over time I've felt a shift in that, like you describe, as recovery starts to feel more like something you're *doing* and less like something being *done to* you, there is less to resent and more to feel strong about.

Love how insightful all of your posts are.

elizabeth marley said...

I have a really hard time explaining why I'm jealous of my friends who get to diet, but I think everyone here would completely understand.

That said, I recently mentioned to a friend (who is quickly becoming a person I do not want to be friends with) that I had to buy my jeans a size bigger this time around and she took a smug tone with me. It was as if to suggest "Ha, you're getting fat and I'm getting thin."

The lesson I've learned is that the ED has taken me out of the "normal" population. When I see diet ads or articles about "slimming down" I need to remind myself that they are not intended for me. The ED means that I am not the target audience, I do not live by normal rules, and I need to give myself a break because of that.

Jealousy is a funny thing, and it's everywhere.

HikerRD said...

Great post, Carrie. and nice that you can end it on a high note, leaving your posts, as always, inspiring.
I like that you get the "choice" aspect of recovery.

I like to frame it as a package deal, so to speak, with my clients. Yes, you could restrict (or purge) and drop weight--that's your choice. But in that package comes all the negatives we often fail to acknowledge.
To me, the magical thinking that accompanies thoughts of slipping back away from recovery are like memories of old boyfriends. It's easy, in retrospect, to recall all the good times, shedding a positive light on everything you two experienced. And then you recall how shitty he/she made you feel.
Kind of like the EDz in many ways.

Angela Elain Gambrel said...

I didn't choose recovery. It chose me, and I opened the door and finally allowed it in instead of giving it the boot.

Speaking of choice - the word verification for this comment is "force." Hmm....makes me wonder. I felt forced to stay in my eating disorder, felt there was no way out. Until I found out there was as long as I am willing to do the hard work and deal with everything recovery churns up.

I am no longer jealous of those who are caught up in the diet trap. I want freedom from AN, not days of caloriecounting.restricting.anxiety.depression.nolifetall. I want life.

cheryl said...

Oh how much i understand the triggerig "diet" talk.. how much i wanted to restrict like the old days and finally realized recovery isn't fun. its really really hard and at times agonizing but the alternative is much worse. too much to lose if i go back to anorexia. So on the days when I get pissed at someone talking about restricting calories or dieting..I just remember how far I have come and how much farther I can go. love to all, cheryl

hm said...

Ok- I think I've got something here- Correct me if I'm wrong-

You became "empowered" when your healthy mind was stronger than your anorexic mind. When the anorexic mind is in charge, its feelings and reactions are of primary importance- hence, the jealous feelings trigger behaviors and induce a sense of all-encompassing panic. That makes sense. When the healthy mind is in charge, it can acknowledge the feelings of the anorexic mind, but its healthy desires for physical health and life are now primary, and the jealous urges of the anorexic mind are subjugated.

The healthy mind, of course, needs time, nutrition, and therapeutic "workouts" to grow to a place where it is strong enough to subjugate the anorexic mind.

It makes total sense that after decades of working out and nurturing the growth of my anorexic mind, it would be much stronger than ANY sort of thought or feeling my healthy mind might have. I suppose I can forgive myself then for that, and recognize that it's not even about "trust"- it's just logical. If I practice health, my healthy mind should begin to grow, and someday if I practice it long enough, it will indeed grow stronger than my anorexic mind- which, logically, should atrophy at a rate inversely proportional to the growth and development of my healthy mind.

Hmmm- This also means that the two minds should balance out about equal in strength somewhere in the middle of this recovery process, and then after the midpoint things should tip in the healthy mind's direction- so I may not have to wait till the "end" of this road to start seeing the benefits of relief and clarity.

Deep breath- and continuing on then.

Briony said...

I like this post. I have to put up with a lot of 'diet talk' at work and it drives me mad. It never occured to me that I was jealous, but I think that is a part of it. I have no desire to return to my ED, but I do miss the early stages of it: everything was so simple and black and white, and it felt so good to lose weight. Other people are allowed that, but I'm not.

I'm also jealous, though, of how flippantly people can take their eating habits: 'I ate no breakfast and had no carbs with lunch today- aren't I wonderful?' when they've been snacking on biscuits all morning. I'm simply incapable, at the moment, of not counting every single meal, snack and drink that passes my lips.

It sounds like it gets easier though, and I have to admit that I think I'm getting better at coping with it already.

Anonymous said...

As a mom of a teenager recovering from an eating disorder, I don't think she made a choice to get better just as she didn't make a choice to be sick. She just had treatment for her illness. But now she is choosing to take care of herself. I don't think of it as a choice to have an eating disorder or not-that's in her biology, but she can choose to take care of herself and stay well.

That's very adult and Carrie you are so right about that. Radical acceptance that your body needs something different than someone else's. And doing what you have to do. It's maturity that really seems to come during the process of giving your brain back all that nutrition that has been lost, plus the tincture of time.

That's a mom's eye view anyway.

Carrie Arnold said...

Anon Mom,

That's exactly what I was getting at. It's hard to express exactly what I'm thinking when I talk about choice and recovery. Ongoing recovery is a series of choices, and it can be successfully made even if the initial process of recovery wasn't the person's choice.

Anonymous said...

Mom here again. Yes, I agree with you Carrie, it does get hopelessly convoluted if you start thinking about it too much!!! I like keeping things simple, even if they are over simplified. I want my daughter to think it is a doable process, not something she can't even get her head around!

I love your blog!

Carrie Arnold said...

Anon Mom,

The convoluted thinking is one of the many reasons my philosophy class in college gave me a massive headache (only vaguely alleviated by the fact that the prof looked like Shaggy from Scooby Doo). :)

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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.

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