Then vs. Now

In one of the comments from the other day's post, one of my readers posted the following comment:

You know... I relate to a lot of what you said... but a couple things popped out at me, and it made me wonder if you're remembering the eating disorder in a distortedly positive light? For instance, you said, "Starving made me feel better. Life...didn't." If you really think about it, do you really think starving made you feel better? For me, I know that I thought I preferred to feel starved. I know that I didn't feel as much self-disgust or as much constant anxiety. But I did feel cold, I cried a lot, I had a recording of calorie counts on repeat in my head, and my world was very narrow. That didn't really feel better than life. I just thought it did. And it's easy to explain to other people that you "feel better" in the eating disorder... but you only feel better in the eating disorder when you're still in the eating disorder. But really take a second to pause and try to remember the eating disorder accurately. Did you really feel better in a starved state?

It's true on many levels.

I think it gets to how we remember the eating disorder. Memory is a funny thing- it's not a videorecording of exactly what happened. It's a highly edited version of what happened, and we tend to remember different facets of different events. What got ingrained in my memory was the quick feel-better sensation that restricting and over-exercising gave me.

Which is true, of course. It's a primal feeling. And the relief from anxiety and depression were things that my brain really wanted to hang on to.

What got edited out, however, was all of the nasty stuff that followed. The cold. The despair. The loneliness. Those were later, further down the line, and therefore distanced as consequences of the eating disordered behavior. It's like when doctors and therapists told me that I would die if I didn't start eating. The reason that sort of warning never really worked was that potential death was nebulous and hazy, as well as sometime in the future. The terror about eating was right here, right now, and very, very real. When your brain kicks into fear mode, it's focused on ways to get rid of the fear NOW. Not five minutes from now, not five seconds from now, NOW.

Still, I can make myself remember that the quick fix and anxiety relief always bring less-than-pleasant consequences. That it's all too easy to romanticize anorexia and forget that it really does make you miserable. Anorexia had benefits, yes, but those benefits were very short-term and wore off all too quickly.

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HungryMac said...

I needed to read all of this today. Thank you for the honesty (both to the reader who comments and to you for your follow up). It's a great reminder.

Anonymous said...

I really do miss the "numbness" that came with my eating disorder. I did not care about anything else, but food and exercise. I was cold, miserable, mean and lonely, but I didn't have to feel the anxiety that is always in my head. I also felt strong, that sense of control was amazing. Now further into my recovery I find that I have to be stronger now more than ever. I have to live with anxiety and worry. I have to fight with my OCD and ED on a daily basis. I know this is sick, but knowing I can go back to ED is somewhat comforting. I know ED is always there if I need it.
I know that I look back when I was my sickest and just remember not feeling the anxiety. I do have to consistently remind myself of the bad things ED brought too. If not it is too easy to slip back into old ways.

Ashleigh said...

Wow, wow, wow. That truly touched me. I felt as if you were re-telling my experience of anorexia down to a tee. Thank you for your blog, your thoughts and your passion kicking ed's butt!

Ashleigh said...

your passion *for kicking

Viviankiki said...

I think it's a bit like an addiction, where its gone so far you don't any longer enjoy the high/drink/etc.
It's not that the not-eating feels good, it's more that it feels better than facing the fearful alternative.
(The act of eating can feel like a high killer, bringing up a lot of bad feelings, and the addict's guilt that comes after those bad feelings.) Hence the horrible repeating of the cycle.

Brittnie said...

So very true. It is funny how the mind will play tricks on us and I do agree that we tend to remember edited versions of our disorders/addictions. At least this was also true for me and my battle with anorexia. Great thoughts.

C-Girl said...

I would have to say, this made more sense to me than anything I've read all week. The ED never made me feel happy…. the ED put the power in my hand to have control… and that satisfied me, that control of my emotions and my day made me feel as though I had everything together, that I may be "happy". But the more I push into recovery and look back to reflect on where I came from, the more I see the utter disparity it left me in… and those days that I am itching to kick back into old habits, I, too, remember that the quick-fix may cause a long-term downward spiral. And I don't want to be back there. I love your honesty and ability to let your gut and intuition speak untamed and vulnerable.

HikerRD said...

I often say it's like the way we recall an old boyfriend/relationship. We speak of it in loving, warm terms, as if all was wonderful, later coming to our senses to recall that it sucked, that we were miserable, that he make me feel like crap... Oh, how quickly we forget. Yes, talk about distorted recall!

Kat said...

Great post! I've been thinking about this lately. I'm just started believing I might be really recovered this time. And it feels different to the "fake recovery" periods in between relapses. OK, I feel a tiny bit wistful when I remember the anchor anorexia provided me with for 12 long horrible years. But only a tiny bit. I think it's necessary to acknowledge the positive, comforting, immediate gratification of an eating disorder in balance with the bad. When I was in treatment, they would only let me acknowledge the negatives and perils and that alienated me. I needed them to offer me something better than the ED and it felt at the time that they were trying to make me give up the only positive thing in my (half) life. To be disgustingly honest, I think I can only move on now because I know I took my ED to the extreme and stayed there at rock bottom long enough to own the experience. Pathetic but true :(

I remember reading in the Golden Cage by Hilda Bruch, I paraphrase but she says something along the lines of: An anorexic can never be considered past the risk of relapse until they have admitted to the horrors of being anorexic and voiced their inability to ever go back to that.

PS. Love this blog, Carrie. I used to read it to be triggered while telling myself I was reading it to further my recovery. Now I read it much less often but always recommend it.

Anonymous said...

I think this is really important to remember, but all to easy to forget! When we remember the positive light our eating disorders portray themselves in, we can not be sucked back into them as easily.

Thanks so much for sharing :)


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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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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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