Roadblocks to Recovery: The Trump Card

One of my therapy assignments this week was to write a pro/con list for fully recovering from my eating disorder. The idea of identifying the "cons" wasn't so much to figure out whether I should bother recovering, but more to identify the roadblocks I was likely to encounter on my way to recovery. I had quite a few cons, and it occurred to me that by addressing these issues head-on, I would probably have a better chance at recovery. So if recovery were a road, then these issues would be my roadblocks.

I thought that it would be an interesting or at least useful idea to address each of these roadblocks in its own post. This was also motivated by the fact that lumping everything together would make a novel-length post. I figured I would start out with the most significant of these roadblocks, which is:

Anorexia as my trump card

What in the hell do I mean by that? It goes something like this: I was good at losing weight and, even more importantly, I knew it. No one needed to tell me this. I'm aware that I'm smart and that I'm vaguely musical, but I'm only aware of these things because people have told me. It's not an internal state. So when I realized on my own that I was good at losing weight, it was the first time I remember feeling confident in any of my abilities (short of guzzling coffee at breakneck speeds). It was also the first time when I approached a task with an attitude of "Yeah, I can do this!"

The irony is, of course, that anorexia was a massive wrecking ball in my life and made me doubt my other abilities even more. But I was still good at losing weight. I was still good at eating less than anyone else. I was still good at exercising more. There was that. So the eating disorder essentially undermined all of my confidence in myself except where it came to my weight loss skills. I was Carrie the Weight Loss Wonder Goddess.

It's probably not surprising to learn that I began to use my anorexia as a way to feel better when something went wrong in my life. Get a bad grade on an exam? At least I only ate X calories. Get turned down on a job interview? It's okay- I've lost X pounds since the interview. F*ck the job. Get criticized by my boss/a friend/a family member? Whatever. I exercised for X hours and all is well with the world. No matter how badly I screwed up, no matter the disasters that might happen, whatever, at least I knew I had the anorexia. And the anorexia propped up what little was left of my shattered and broken self esteem. In other words, the anorexia functioned as my trump card--it made everything else much less relevant.

Now I'm left questioning and wondering- what the heck am I going to do without my trump card? How am I going to make things suck less?

One obvious answer would be to learn how to deal with the suckiness.

Another obvious answer would be to shore up my pitiful self-esteem such that bad things happening didn't mean that there was something wrong with me, that I was a bad person, or that I was doomed forever.

The thing is--I miss my trump card. I miss not knowing that feeling better is only a skipped meal away. I miss the self-confidence (however shallow and transient) that came with knowing at least I was good at something. Just one thing. It was my escape hatch, as there's no better way to escape from life than to be so starved you don't really know what's going on. It was my parachute, my Plan B. I've long since rid myself of the quasi-romantic notions that anorexia was wonderful and it helped my life and that it was all it was cracked up to be. Because it wasn't. Not by a long shot. But it was still there.

And I guess it still is there. It hasn't disappeared. I still know I'm "good" at it. It's just hard as I see through the lies and delusions of anorexia and have yet to find something to replace it.

Tomorrow's post is:
Roadblocks to Recovery: On Average

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rr said...

oh man, I am so excited for your recovery! Hearing that you are scared makes me think you are really going for it! (not that I am excited that you are uncomfortable, but I see it as a good sign.)

just remember, everyone was frightened, but everyone was brave. said...

I can identify with this... Although for me, anorexia nervosa (AN) was never about trying to lose weight (I was thin before I started to restrict food...), it was a sort of 'trump card'. My thoughts were along the line of:

"I like myself better when I restrict food."

"Eating only 'healthy' foods makes me feel cleaner and purer".

"Pushing myself really hard in exercise makes me feel powerful rather than weak and useless".

...And that's just a few the thoughts I had to challenge. Being able to stick to the rules of my AN made me feel better about myself, and I was terrified of hating myself if I broke my rules. And if I hated myself I might harm myself...

The 'satisfaction' didn't arise from losing weight, because I hated my thin body, my grey/purple skin tone and the fact that my thinness attracted attention from others.

Rather, the satisfaction came from being able to adhere to the rules I set myself.

Writing down such distorted thoughts was really positive, because I knew they didn't make logical sense. The problem is when our minds translate distorted/negative thoughts into positive feelings...

Cathy (UK) said...

Sorry, that was me, Cathy, who commented above. I filled in the identity thingy incorrectly... Duh...

Eva said...

This hits so close to home for me and today is a perfect example. I was so stressed about being unable to do chemistry work and ended up getting 0 out of 12 on an online assignment, my thought process was "Oh well, at least you will only eat X calories today."
Its ridiculous now that I think about it. It definitely an unhealthy way to think and live.
I hope you find your replacement trump card soon.. and me mine.

James Clayton said...

Absolutely identify with the thoughts here. It's all too easy in times of stress or sadness to use the eating disorder as a 'trump card' (I call it a safety blanket) to try and make yourself feel better.

It's an emotional crutch and it's something I'm trying to shift. It is distorted and false though and writing it down and actively challenging them definitely helps. Ultimately - though it may seem like anorexia makes things better - it doesn't help at all: it makes everything worse.

Here's to getting over the trump card...

The_Timekeeper said...

It is also a default for me (and, I think, most of us with eating disorders). It's a trump card in that it's so much easier, you don't have to feel like a failure for not recovering if you don't try. I have been successful in every other area of my life and achieved anything I set out to do ... except recover from anorexia. It's the one failure I seem willing to accept, so the challenge for me is how to make recovery-failure unacceptable.

CG said...

Carrie, I LOVE your blog now. I loved it before, but I love, love, love it now. And I am so excited for the new strategy you are following. I hope you can start to 'know' instinctively how brilliant and talented you are, no matter your caloric intake. xoxo

Angela Elain Gambrel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Angela Elain Gambrel said...

You sound ready to recover, and I am so happy for you!

But you keep making me think about my own recovery; sometimes you're as bad as Dr. S!!! (LOL, I hope you appreciate that for the compliment it is. But it scares me to think, because ... well, it's because I'm on the edge of deciding - recovery or no.)

I miss so many things about anorexia and sometimes want to dive right back into my relapse, which is still so tantalizingly close. For me, part of it was about losing weight, which was odd because I already was thin (and have been most of my life; often too thin even before developing full-blown anorexia.)

Then the other day, a thought popped into my head unbidden - Being thin is an outward manifestation of my inner pain.

I realized the thinner I became, the more I was saying I hurt mentally, I have no confidence and don't believe anything I've done is worthwhile, I dislike everything about myself, I have such strong feelings of failure ... — without saying one word. I had no voice to express these feelings, but I had a powerful way of showing these feelings by continuously reducing myself.

I miss feeling empty, I still hate the feeling of food - any food - inside me; I miss knowing I could eat less than anyone and still perform at my job (until I couldn't), I miss the security of counting every calorie and watching the food intake and pounds get less and less; god, I even sometimes miss the feelings of blacking out and getting dizzy. And it kills me to admit, but I miss being the thinnest one around.

After I went into IP the first time, my eyes were opened and I hated it. I could no longer ignore my emaciated body, and I can't now after my recent relapse. I can no longer pretend I'm just "thin" when my husband tells me I look anorexic. I can see what's there in the mirror, and it isn't attractive. Now I have to challenge why I miss those ED feelings in spite of knowing that none of the ED feelings are ultimately helpful, and learn how to keep the feelings and behaviors at bay.

And you also have to challenge what you miss about ED, and eventually find things to replace those feelings in order to crash through your roadblocks to recovery. You're going to have to throw away your trump card, because it no longer serves you.

I know you can succeed at recovery, and then think of the things you can do! Use your imagination - what would you do if you were completely free of anorexia?

anne said...

I think this has to do with the ability to tolerate distress and uncomfortable, upset feelings. The ability to LIVE with those feelings and just let them be until they wear out their welcome and dissipate on their own. And they do dissipate with time. When someone is angry with you. Or you get a bad grade. Or you lose a job. These ARE upsetting things for everyone. I don't starve myself over something like this (I am more likely to down a cup of hot chocolate--the opposite reaction). I talk to my husband or my mother. I cry a lot. I talk some more (sometimes my husband is sick of hearing about it, but he listens anyway). I think a lot about upsetting events. I think of different ways to handle it. I come up with a plan. I run things by him (poor husband!). I talk my way out of my upset usually and into some sort of action. It takes time. The feelings lessen gradually into something more manageable. In the end, I think that is my trump card. I care, and I think I can figure my way out of tough situations by facing them. That is usually a process and it doesn't always happen immediately. It helps to have people who can be sounding boards for you. I also try to 'let things go' as much as I can--the Buddhist approach. That isn't always easy and I don't always manage it. But, being brave, being uncomfortable, figuring things out, facing things I'm afraid of-- that makes me feel in control and more powerful in the long run.

Lauren said...

I nodded my head in agreement and empathy throughout this entire post -- yes, yes, yes.
I was able to recognize and verbalize the same fear and challenge -- finding a new "trump card" -- a few months ago during a therapy session and am still on the hunt for one.
I was uncomfortable with the thought of gaining more weight and looking and being "normal," like an average, healthy 30-year-old woman. I had been so exceptionally good at being tiny and had gotten attention for it in the form of cute little nicknames from friends, classmates and co-workers. What would they call me now? "Average Girl?" What would be my new "thing" if it wasn't staying thin, having "willpower" around office desserts and being a dedicated gym-goer?
Like you, I've always been smart and good in school. But I don't really have any great skills: I can't paint or sew or knit or sing or play a sport or bake ... I'm just OK at most things. So, I guess, in the hunt for my trump card, here's to being OK. :)

OrNursGirl said...

So I just now found your blog as I'm trying to get over my 15 year battle with anorexia and LOVE your blog. Well the trump card almost made me laugh out loud because it describes my relationship with food perfectly!!!!

Anonymous said...

Trump card. Genius! You literally put in words what I've been trying to describe for months! That missing buzz and kick, what is left? Well, when I was obsessed with my ed , and unlike fellow readers I was never a boys size 8 or anything like that, I just looked skinnier than your average joe..or should I say ho? haha oh dear that really wasn't funny. Moving on! I found myself in hospital from bullimia and depression and literally had nowhere to get happiness from. I always had wanted to learn the guitar but was always preoccupied with thinking about when I was going to exercise , my next meal ect, that putting real time and effort into it seemed impossible. Since recovering I have now learnt the guitar, written songs and performed numerous times at my university getting pretty good responses! So what I'm trying to say is, noone has 'nothing' there is always something, just think about something you've wanted to do but never could put your heart into it because of your ed holding you back. You now can do it! I did.

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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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