I have a question that’s been bothering me the last little while. Why am I recovering when so many others can’t get out of ED’s grasp? When I was at Melrose, why did I have joy and such determination to recover even on days ED’s voice pounded in my head? Why did I know without a doubt that it would be my one and only stay at Melrose when many of the others had been there multiple times? Why have I never skipped a food tally? (at least not intentionally – I missed a milk one day on accident.) When I left Melrose my therapist warned me how hard it was going to be, that if I missed a tally I needed to make it up by the next meal so that I wouldn’t just throw in the towel. That hasn’t been the case for me. I”m deathly afraid of missing my tallies. I don’t want to give ED a foothold, to wake up the next morning with his evil little voice in my head congratulating me for letting him win the day before. I do not want ED to win. Why? Why am I not embarrassed to open my life to the world and confess all my ED weaknesses past and present? Why am I still scared to think of taking that first step off my driveway for a morning run? Why do I know that I can’t do that? Why do I continue with my recovery plan when I know that even since Melrose I’ve gained weight, that the parts of my body I hated pre-eating disorder, the parts I spent 17 years “fixing” are returning to the shape I hated? Why do I desperately want to find a pair of jeans that I can love? Why do I look forward to go to my therapist? Why did I enjoy eating food again at Melrose when I watched other girls physically struggle to get one bite down? Why, after 17 years of manipulating food and buying only the lowest calorie options, fat free options, the healthiest options, find myself loving beef, making casseroles where everything is all mashed together which means I might not get more meat than vegetables in a meal, looking forward to one dessert every night for my snack, wanting to go out for lunch with friends instead of hiding in my house where I can safely eat without being watched, not obsessively thinking about food all day long? Why am I recovering when I know people still gripped in their fight? What makes me different? I feel guilt for being where I am in my fight while I know others want to give up.
I can’t truly explain to anyone who has not experienced an eating disorder the freedom I have in a life defined by recovery. I used to wake up in the morning and my first thoughts, my first thoughts at 4:30 in the morning, were first, recapping what I had eaten the day before and deciding if I should feel guilty today or not, and second, what I had planned for supper that night. I knew what I would be having for breakfast, lunch and snack that day – it was always the same – but supper was the meal ED would give me permission to eat based on how well I obeyed him that day. So those were always my first thoughts, followed by an hour and a half to two hours of exercise. And then when that was done, I felt relief because I was “safe” for that day. I had obeyed ED and knew that he would leave me alone for awhile. I would eat my pre-ordained breakfast, but sometimes I was just too hungry and would sneak extra bites. Then I would feel guilty because I was too full and full equalled fat. I remember driving to school, turning on to the bumpy back driveway of Unity and realizing that I could feel the “fat” around my waist jiggle. Holy cow. I about lost it. ED punished me good for that one. I vowed I would get it to go away. I vowed to cut out any extra bites from then on. I’d make it go away so I’d never have to feel anything wiggle on my body ever again.
Morning break would roll around and I’d avoid the lounge like the plague, especially on days someone had brought treats. I never talked to anyone; I didn’t want someone to offer me a plate, even though I don’t think anyone ever would because they knew I’d say no. All day I walked around comparing my body to all those walking around me. It was a constant pat on the back for being skinnier than that one followed by a slap on the face for allowing this one to be skinnier. I’d feel bad about myself because I wondered why I didn’t have any friends at school, why the other teachers always laughed with each other while I stood on the sideline or quickly went to my classroom to avoid the reality of feeling like a loser with no friends. Then I would teach kids and wonder why I didn’t have a connection to these children like the other teachers, why they didn’t ever say hi to me in the halls. How could they say hi to me when all I concentrated on was comparing myself to each of them? How could I converse with people when my brain was consumed by ED’s thoughts, by our conversations. I always fell behind on grading because I was not allowed to sit down in the afternoon. I had to be on my feet doing something, burning calories, working, walking. The only time that left me to do school work was at night on the couch after supper, when I had earned my right to sit. But of course by then I was so tired from getting up at 4:30, from not eating properly throughout the day, usually feeling guilty again because I had eaten too much for supper. How could I not overeat when I had saved all my calories for the end of the day, when I was allowed to reward myself for a job well done that day, for doing what ED had told me to, for winning in the comparison wars, for burning enough calories?
All of this was my day, but I shared it with no one. All my friendships were surface because ED wanted them that way. Then I would never have to explain my exercise or eating to them. I couldn’t really go out with friends because most of the time that involved eating. Then my anxiety level would sky rocket trying to figure out how to get out of eating what they were eating. I didn’t talk to Benj about any of this. No way would I talk to him about what most of my day had been consumed with because then he’d have proof of his suspicions that I had an eating disorder. So if this was all that consumed my thoughts and I couldn’t share it with my husband, it’s no wonder I felt separated from him so much. I did that. I caused his worry, stress, anger, frustration, isolation. I wondered why our marriage seemed so lifeless. Because how can a marriage have life if one of the partners is sucking it all away.
But hey, ED was happy. That was all that mattered.
Notice that in my day there is no mention of God. I left no room for him. I justified myself to him. So what if I didn’t do regular devotions everyday? I couldn’t spend quality time with God because I had no quality time left in my day. I left no time for him. And frankly, I felt like a fake when I did try to pray because I knew deep down that God wasn’t my number one. That was ED’s spot. But I sure could lie to myself that I had a vibrant faith. God was real to me, but I didn’t know how to fit him in. ED made sure that I was busy from 4:30 in the morning until the day was done. And at the end, I was too tired to do anything but crawl into bed and simultaneously fall asleep. I felt guilty because I knew deep in my heart that I was ignoring God, but even that guilt couldn’t overcome ED’s power. I felt guilty for asking forgiveness when I knew I’d do it all again tomorrow because ED told me to. What was more important to me – the guilt of pushing God away or the guilt ED made me feel for not following his rules? ED won every time.
Why am I recovering when so many others can’t get out of ED’s grasp?
Why? Because my fake life came crashing down on me sitting on a bed in Melrose watching my husband walk away. I will always, always, come back to that point as the climax of my life. In that one moment God zeroed my focus to magnified perfect vision of the true emptiness that ED had achieved in my life. God stood two ultra opposite lives against each other – one ED ruled and the other God infused. It was as if I balanced on the bow of a sinking boat. I could stay in the boat, bailing water, hoping against reason I’d be able to save myself before getting sucked down with the sinking boat, or I could jump into the unknown, the cold, bottomless ocean and swim away from the down pull. Why did I jump into an ocean of icey water head first without looking back and without wishing I’d stayed in the boat? Because the boat was empty. The boat was riddled with leaks. The boat promised me a death preempted by isolation and loneliness. At least the ice water promised feeling. I was cold blasted into feeling again. And when I came up for air, I screamed for help and raised my arms to anyone who would help pull me out.
And God was there first. He’s always first.
And then he takes with him his cloud of witnesses. Because we are community. That first night at Melrose, as I fell to sleep crying, I also prayed knowing that I had no one else there but God. And the next morning I woke up and my life changed, one meeting at a time, one challenge at a time, one memory at a time. From my point of surrender, from the other side of emptiness, I clearly understood the comparison to a life of joy. When you taste true joy for the first time, going back to empty is never an option. True joy in a life of freedom in Christ’s arms compels life forward.
Why am I fully committed to recovery when so many still struggle? Because God handed me life and gave me the community of support to back it up and the joy to fill it. I don’t think it’s possible to recover without God handing over his glasses of perfect vision to see what life is supposed to feel like. And it’s impossible to recover without becoming shamelessly open, refusing to hide, bringing ED into the light of life. I’ve said it before, ED is death. He is lifeless pursuit of self. Why do I recover? Life. I have life. That encompasses all the questions and defuses all the guilt. I am allowed to recover because God gave me life. His gifts are not to be taken lightly. He doesn’t give thoughtlessly. He gave me life because he wants me to use it. And so I will. And so I am.