Into the light

Like many people, I have been following the story of the Chilean miners and the rescue. As a writer/storyteller, the saga has been enthralling.

But my friend Charlotte had this to say:

"I spent all day yesterday weeping, watching the Chilean miners coming up. All I could think of was that this was what it must have been like for my d, in the depths of ed, a dark and frightening place. H, other d and I strapped her into her tiny capsule and have heaved and heaved and she is now above ground, learning to take off her sunglasses.

IMHO, you need to strap your d in her capsule and start pulling. Think of bringing her out of the darkness and back into the light. It is a terrifying and claustrophobic journey, but well worth it in the end."

Except with an eating disorder, you're not entirely sure you want to come to the surface. You start to find the darkness comforting, and you find you forget what it's like to be on the surface. The darkness is simple, predictable. You know exactly what to expect. And the longer you are down in the hole, the more frightening it becomes to even think about coming to the surface.

I would climb into the rescue capsule on occasion, but as soon as I started leaving the darkness of my eating disorder, I panicked and climbed back down.

Even though I've been on the surface for some time, I often think about the safety of the darkness. That as much as I'm enjoying being back in the land of the living, I still think about my time down below. I'm not debating going back to the eating disorder--that's not it. It's that the ambivalence about recovery can persist. You ask yourself: Did I do the right thing by coming to the surface? Wouldn't it be easier to stay in a cold, dark hole?

The answer to that last question is definitely yes. But life isn't about easy. Easy is boring. It can be lonely. I'm still adjusting to the sunlight, but I am, in fact, adjusting.

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Holly said...

yes. I still feel the ambivalence at times. the difficulty is, I suppose, in acknowledging its validity without indulging the fear behind it.

hm said...

Also important to mention how remembering the "comfort" aspect of the ed is, in fact, another of the ed's lies- Think back- Were you REALLY comfortable? Or was it hell? Think hard- We idealize it for some reason, but when we're in the depths of it, it is in fact harsh, abusive, and painful- not comforting.

Cathy (UK) said...

I felt ambivalent about recovery for a long time after I'd gained weight. I wasn't ambivalent because of the weight gain. I welcomed that because looked much more human and less alien/skeletal/ugly.

Rather, I was ambivalent because I couldn't cope with all my emotions, terrible anxiety and lack of ED rituals which had made me feel 'safe' and 'in control'. This was despite me knowing logically that my AN had almost killed me and that the rituals left me anything but safe and in control.


Fellow OCD Sufferer said...

My goodness I can relate to this - except, as usual, in terms of OCD. I find comfort in knowing that others have experienced such "ambivalence about recovery." I sometimes feel alone with this among other OCD sufferers - many, if they could, would instantly banish their disorder. But even if it were an easy transition I'm not entirely sure I would quit clingy to my OCD. Everyday I face challenges on different levels: on one level I am facing my OCD fears and trying to overcome them. On the other I am facing the fear of recovery itself, unsure whether I really want to get better at times. Somewhere inside, I know that I do, but I at other times I question myself. I wish that this "fear of recovery" was mentioned more often in the OCD community. Too often it is assumed that OCD sufferers wish to abolish their disorder, but I don't think this is always the case. There is a fear not about the process of getting better, but of whether or not being better in the first place is something desirable. I have heard this sort of ambivalence referred to as something that separates EDs from OCD, but like many other noted differences between the two, I don't think they are as well-defined as some seem to think, and this is one example of that.

Anonymous said...

Hi Carrie,

I need to ask for your advice about something private, extremely important and ED-related. I think you might have some good ideas. I didn't see any contact info on the blog, so could you perhaps send a message to with an email address for you if you're comfortable? Thanks so much.

Anonymous said...

This blog post really spoke to me, it makes so much sense and is beautifully written. Recover is so hard because you're leaving behind what you know and I think the longer you've been suffering the harder it is because you get to the point when you can't remember what life on the surface was like before you became ill. The whole thing is terrifying but at the same time a big part of you knows that what is on the surface is better than what is below. Thank you for your words today :) xxx

Katie said...

I was the same as Cathy. When I was ill I felt as if I had a choice between being mentally stable but anorexic, or physically healthy but really mentally unstable. For that reason, being anorexic felt safe to me rather than punishing. I always had trouble with people saying that recovering from anorexia involved learning to like/love/respect yourself, because I didn't mind being me and I felt as if I was protecting myself by staying underweight. At times I would have chosen death by eating disorder over another bout of suicidal depression. In a way, I was copping out of having to make a choice between living and dying. Suicide by inaction.

I think I came to the same conclusion as you, Carrie - staying sick might make things easier, but easy is boring ;) I actually told myself I'd give recovery five years, and if I wanted to give up after that time then sure, I could go back to being sick. Eighteen months on, if I had to choose now (and of course I do, several times a day) I'd stay in recovery.

Unknown said...

I liken my ED to being in a basement. I often say, "no one wants me to come out of the basement." more often than not, it feels like no one wants me out of the basement. No one wants the real me, the messy emotional me, the one that doesn't always have it together, to fully recover.

But coming up I am - whether people want me to or not.

Katie said...

Jesus, this is the third time in less than two months that you've taken someone else's totally unrelated struggle and compared it to your ED (the other two being GLBT issues and 9/11). GET OVER YOURSELF.

Here are the posts, if anyone cares to dispute this:

hm said...

Wow, Katie, why do you care? If you don't like her posts, stop reading.

Carrie Arnold said...


Of course I'm comparing two completely unrelated things. That's the definition of metaphor.

It's like saying "The sun's rays warmed and soothed my back like a good massage." Sunshine is totally different from a massage. I'm not trying to say that they're the same. I don't know- I just guessed my readers were beyond needing a remedial writing class. Apparently not all of them are.

Charlotte UK said...


I am immensely flattered to have quoted by you and I am glad that so many others can relate to what I was trying to say

Katie, I wrote the analogy and Carrie was trying to explain what it was like from the sufferer's point of view, rather than the carer's. When you live down the rabbit hole of ed, whether you are suffering or trying to care for someone who is suffering, there is a point when you have to try and make sense of the world and you have to grab every bit of hope and good news when you can, being surrounded by the dim and dismal world economic situation as we are.

I KNOW that I am infinitely more empathic and sympathetic now than I was a year ago and I was pretty good at the compassion thing then!

I do understand that Hades is a comfortable safe place for an sufferers but I do so want you all to come and enjoy the sun rising over the Chilean desert (even if you need to keep the sunnies on for a while). It may be harsh and cold in the early dawn, but it is b.... beautiful.



Charlotte UK said...

PS There are times when we all need our sunglasses.

Katie said...

I know what a metaphor is. I don't even see how that's an argument. I didn't claim that you were trying to say that the two were the same. I had an issue with the fact that you're constantly making posts that start off discussing the suffering of others and then turning it into something about your problems.
"Hey, shit sucks for (x)/because of (x), let's see how I can make it ALL ABOUT ME!"

hm said...

Once again a reminder: This is a free country. No one is forcing you to waste your time reading things that make you feel upset. Go away and let the rest of us enjoy these incredible posts.

Anonymous said...

so, very true! and, let me tell you (although it seems like you know already) , you DON'T want to go back to the darkness.

i lived above ground, in the light of nearly full recovery for almost 2 full years. And, still there was something about the darkness that beckoned me. When i went through some hard life transitions (room mate problems, uncertain job situation), i returned to the safe darkness.

After being above ground, the depths of an eating disorder feel unbearable. I am trying to come back above ground. I know if i did it before i can do it again. But, it is funny how much easier it is to relapse than recover.

Relapsing becomes easier, more automatic, each time you do it, i think. Whereas recovery is still as scary as ever.

Carrie Arnold said...

I was never trying to say that my experiences were "the same as" anything else. I was using them as a way to explain what it was like to have an eating disorder.

Actually, if you go back and read the "It Gets Better" post, you'll see that I only used it as an interlude as a way to tell people that recovery does get better. I don't see how this is ALL ABOUT ME. I don't say that I know what it's like to be gay because I have an eating disorder. Nor do I say that I know what it's like to be stuck in a freaking mine a mile below the Earth's surface and that my suffering is more important. I was using the mine thing as a metaphor, that having an eating disorder is like being stuck in a small dark place. You seem to be the only person who failed to get that point.

Yes, I do frequently use current events as a jumping off point to explain things about eating disorders. It's not a way to compare suffering or inflate my own sense of self-importance. It's a way to help explain what I can find it so hard to explain.

And even if it was just an opportunity to make everything ALL ABOUT ME--this is MY BLOG. I'm ALLOWED to do such things. My hit statistics tell me that plenty of other people actually seem to enjoy reading what you seem to think is pathetic navel gazing.

Frankly, there's lots of good stuff to read out there, so I don't understand why you don't have anything better to do than complain.

This discussion is over. Hate my writing, but I'm not letting your whinging take up any of my time.

Katie said...

hm - "No one is forcing you to waste your time reading things that make you feel upset."

That applies to my comments as well.

Anyway, it's all in the way it's done. I agree that your blog is all about you. That's what it's for. I don't have an issue with having one. Hell, I don't have an issue with navel gazing. I just think it's incredibly tacky to use issues like that as a "jumping-off point" without acknowledging the people involved and their feelings. If you want to talk about them, talk about them. If you want to talk about you, talk about you. It's possible to be reflective without being whiny.

Katie said...

Oh, and-

"I was using the mine thing as a metaphor, that having an eating disorder is like being stuck in a small dark place."

It would have been quite easy to say that having an eating disorder is like being stuck in a small dark place without mentioning the Chilean miners.
My issue is just that you come across as not giving a fuck about anyone other than yourself*.

*And perhaps a few other people with eating disorders. Any other issues can suck it.

Carrie Arnold said...

I'm closing comments on this post. We're clearly not getting anywhere.

As a writer, it is common courtesy to give credit to the ideas you don't come up with yourself. That's what I was doing.

This is a blog about eating disorders. That's what I focus on. It's not about not giving a shit about anything else. And I'm not going to apologize for giving a fuck about such things.

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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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