Recovery from Anorexia & Bulimia
Turning Point in my journey? What was my process? My choice…choose life or death. Emotional and Technical, ie ‘ED” little green monster
Some of you may remember the old Daffy Duck cartoons where when Daffy was placed in a dilemma the Angel Daffy would appear on one shoulder telling him the good answer while Devil Daffy stood on the other telling him the fun of the bad decision. This is what living with Bulimia and Anorexia is like; these two diseases are akin; both contained in Devil Daffy and always pushing to be in control of the outcome. I picture Anorexia and Bulimia as an entity separate from myself, they are ED; a little green monster that pokes its head up whenever certain conditions are met. It never works alone; it loves the company of depression and sadness, pain, confusion, anger, and the lost feeling that accompanies being utterly overwhelmed with life.
It appears as a comforting friend that is welcomed and cherished, sometimes begged to come for a visit. In reality it is a monster that once allowed in, fights to maintain control, using everything at hand to continue a life of misery and continue a downward path to death. Sound dramatic? Possibly but this is my recovery story and one of the most unique features of Eating Disorders is the fact for each and every one of us survivors we see EDs attack differently. Placing Bulimia and Anorexia outside of my core being, recognizing ED as the attacking agent, allowed me to grasp who I was a lot better. With ED in the way I could see nothing, not my children, not my husband, not my friends. With my focus on EDs havoc I could not even see myself and how much I was losing life.
Some of my story may make you shake your head and say no way that’s not me while others might widen their eyes in recognition at my words. It does not really matter as each of us survivors have fought and will continue to fight ED. Personally I am considered ‘recovered’, after suffering Anorexia all of my life, I don’t remember when it began, then Bulimia as an adult and Mother. In my early thirties, as depression struck, ED became my sole answer. A reliable ‘friend’ from my teenage years it helped me cope with sexual, physical, and mental abuse. Its old comfort stepped in when marriage, 2 special needs children, and a powerful need to figure out who the hell I was overwhelmed me in my early thirties. I learned quickly that the comfort this old friend brought was at a high cost…but honestly I did not care.
It does not matter what the background issues are…be them abuse, stressful childhood, teen year complications or adulthood loss…the reasons ED attacks are numerous and vary as each survivor varies. Yes all the issues need to be dealt with but in the beginning they are not the key. In the beginning only one choice matters: Who is going to win? ED or life? There must be reasons put in place to choose life…maybe ones that are not immediately believed but reasons none the less to have hope. I believed at the beginning that me not existing, fading away, letting ED rule was my escape. If all my energy and focus was on it then I did not have to ‘deal’ with anything else. None of those triggers, none of the people, nothing else was important. Control became the key. I felt like I had lost control in all other areas of my life yet this one place, this one thing, I completely controlled: I said what went in and what went out of my body and no‐one could take that away from me. A litany in my head ran: This is mine, I own it, no one else, food to stops the pain, it manipulates and comforts, I can use it to play or starve…I am in control of this one thing in my life.
Food became the ultimate weapon: I could hit out at others with it or I could soothe myself. I remember screaming out of my car’s sun roof as I was driving down the highway that I was bloody strong, I had not eaten all day, I overcame hunger, I could rule the world!! Aren’t I strong and glorious? What a success, what an amazing thrill. It is a high hard to get anywhere else. To know that my mind could overcome this weak body and control it to my whim was a power fix impossible to find. It became a personal challenge to continue the fix…see how long it could be maintained…how many days on as little as possible…or better eat all I wanted and then throw it all up…working to make sure not any was left in my stomach…ultimate control.
But this is where the cost began. The harder I held on to the food, or lack of it, the faster I lost myself. I could see nothing but ED. I knew nothing but ED and I just couldn’t stop. As my body began to fail…as I began to fail…I believed with all of my being I was a failure. As Ed’s power increased I began to believe all of its lies: I am a bitch, I am horrible, everyone else would be better off without me, I am worthless, I am unloved, I should be destroyed.
Pleasant thoughts for someone now considered recovered? I read this myself and think…that is damned crazy. Yea, I was. That was me and in all my life I will remember the hold that ED had at that time. The spiralling pit depression had me in was the place where ED just dug in deeper, demanding all my energy, concentration, and life. The reasons I got into the pit were of no importance…I could not see me, much less that stuff. And this is where the hardest decision I ever had to make happened. I decision only I could make but one I could never have made without the people surrounding me. Forced in my face every day was the fact that I was loved, that I was worthwhile to others, that I was needed, that there was indeed an outside to the black pit I had fallen in. Every day, every hour, sometimes every minute I was reminded of that. Soon I started reminding myself of that. Slowly I started believing that maybe someone did love me and would be worse off if I did leave. One day that little bit of love did make me able to say NO to throwing up that one lunch. Days later another bit of love seeped through and I chose to eat that toast.
Please know that this was not an instantaneous choice…I wish it had been. This was a slow realization I gained as it was repetitively and patiently shown me. I fought ED every step of the way, sometimes covering my ears in an attempt to block out the lies. I soon realized that every time I said NO to ED’s demands I was a little stronger. Every time I ate with my inside screaming at me not to do it, I stood taller. Every time I walked away from the toilet I could see a little clearer. I could see the love offered, I could hold in my heart that I could live, even happily. It was not until later…when I could start looking at the reasons I fell into the pit to begin with that I realized every time I was saying NO to ED I was saying NO to death. I was choosing life. Sounds so passé to say this…so droll…yet for me it was that simple…I wanted to live and allowing ED to remain would never allow that.
Mary and Linda declared me ‘recovered’ in May 2005. Recovered is a very positive, hope filled word. I love it and was thrilled to hear it applied to me. But I was also hesitant and while rejoicing at my wellness I declared myself in ‘remission’ and have allowed myself 5 years grace. This may sound strange but part of my recovery was also in realizing that as the basic decision to choose life was not a simple and immediate choice…recovery is the same way. As I am sure must of you know ’slips’ are common…relapses frequent…but for me those words are at best unhelpful. Both imply a going back to where I was before…nonsense…I could never go back, none of us can. This path is a journey, a progression, and like climbing to any peak and back down the other side, there are ups and downs. A peak may be high, or a valley low, however the path always moves forward.
Daffy Duck’s Devil still occasionally appears on my shoulder…today Daffy’s Angel just has the strength to say ‘shove off!’ before the Devil gets a word in. Recovery for me is about choice, I choose everyday to live, to pray, to remember I am loved and I never forget my hiking shoes.