I was recently asked to speak about my recovery at a fundraising event being hosted by the treatment center where I went for treatment. I was thankful and excited for the opportunity to share my story, because I don’t think the binge eating end of the spectrum gets as much air time, but I was also nervous to publicly share and be vulnerable standing up in front of a room full of strangers. I feel much safer writing, because until I hit the publish button (and really even after) I have as many do-overs as I want, until it feels “good enough” (which is really a subject that needs to be revisited. Often.). I can delete and re-write and re-edit until the cows come home, but standing in front of people, I just have that one shot.
I talked for a few minutes about how I came upon my diagnosis somewhat by accident. I don’t think I’ve ever even told y’all the story about how I had gone to the library in search of a book on juicing, because I had just watched a movie about how a 30-90 day juice fast was totally going to solve all of my problems (HA!). But the universe had different plans for me that day. On top of the shelf where I was supposed to find juice books, there was a special display with an outward facing book that had “Food Addiction” in the title (here’s a link to that book, if you’re interested) and I just thought “YES, THIS IS IT.” That was the first in a long line of books that helped me make sense of my struggle.
It’s not that I hadn’t tried to get help for my issues with food and weight and eating before, but by the age of 30, after 25 years of being scolded about my weight by doctors and other adults and at least 15 years of taking various and frequently dangerous/harmful medications and supplements, not a single one of them had ever uttered the words “Eating Disorder” to me.
I was pretty lucky, because my awareness on the subject happened to coincide with changes in diagnostics, insurance and laws that allowed me to be diagnosed (because BED was added to the DSM) and get treatment (because of new requirements for equal coverage of mental disorders).
It’s been about 4. 5 years since that day in the library and my life, thoughts, and behaviors have changed pretty dramatically in that time, so I wrote something that reflected that progression that brought me to the point of standing in front of a room full of people and reading my story to them:
My Recovery in 3 Chapters
I knew I needed help when I started believing that driving my car off the road was a reasonable way to solve my problems.
I thought “surely a few weeks in the hospital would be the least shameful way to get a break from trying to escape the mediocrity, worthlessness, and self-hatred that I felt all the time.” And if I happened to die in a *tragic* accident, that would be OK, too. Maybe by lightning… Please God? Send lightning. Come quickly.
I started sneaking off to a therapist. I don’t even remember where I said I was going. I don’t remember a lot of things, because my thoughts were always consumed. Thoughts about whether my husband would still love me, if he knew he married a fraud. Thoughts about that time I ate all the ice cream cones and visited 5 grocery stores to try to replace them before he got home, but they were all sold out. Thoughts about how ashamed I felt when he discovered my “crime.” “You ate all of them?” he asked, trying to hide his disappointment, not, SURELY, at the fact that that he just wanted an ice cream cone, but because he finally saw me for my greatest shameful secret. It wasn’t *his* fault that the “person” he married was fictional. “Now God? PLEASE send lightning?”
I don’t remember what happened after that. I was too full to think. Too full to feel anything other than my aching abdomen and trying to squeeze in tiny breaths that didn’t make me expand any more. Sleep. Start a new diet tomorrow. Really be serious this time.
“It seems to me the problem is that you don’t love yourself,” my secret therapist said. How dare she? I mean, I couldn’t even speak the words “I love myself,” because it felt like such a heinous, outrageous lie, but that wasn’t the point. I was not to BLAME. It wasn’t my FAULT. RIGHT? But anger turned to shame anyway.
Changing my geography didn’t work the last three times, but I was determined to try harder this time. Really make it work. A fresh start, a new life. So we moved again. I still don’t know how my demons arrived before the furniture.
I kept trying and failing. Trying and failing. Was I really even trying? My dad always said I could do anything I set my mind to. Is my mind not set? I try even harder. Failing and failing and failing. It must be me.
I’m granted the luxury of residential treatment. I feel totally indulgent. Lazy. Cowardly. Too weak to face my challenges on my own. Completely unworthy of the concern and care given to me. I’m lost in my thoughts, consumed by the narrative of the inevitable end. Cut short by insurance. Thrown into the wind, with wings that can’t fly. Destined to crash and burn.
My brain becomes the valiant defender of my fragile heart, too busy layering elaborate thoughts on top of sophisticated words, bound together by complicated sentences, to *feel* anything. More evidence that recovery is not for me. I feel empty. Uninhabited. Like the hollow shell of the person who was supposed to have this life. I wonder who she is, what she is like, if I would like her? I go through the motions. “Fake it till you make it,” they say. But will you still make it if you fake faking it? They’re fighting for me, but I’m pretty sure I don’t deserve it.
I start to feel some things. I only recognize sadness. I don’t know how to BE, when I’m not anxiously tangled, twisted into a tense little knot. I don’t really know who I am when I don’t hate myself. I feel more things. I still don’t recognize them. Is the absence of anxiety a feeling? Is this what joy feels like?
My enoughness is reflected back to me by the recovery warriors fighting for their lives alongside me. I love them with my whole heart, even though they are just like me. I love them, therefore they are lovable. If they love me, am I, therefore, loveable, too? A seed is planted and it grows. Did you know that love multiplies? The more you love, the more you love. Has everything always been this beautiful?
I no longer see the glass as half empty, because I AM THE GLASS. A perfect vessel to contain my multitudes. I fill my glass with things that work and things that don’t. Very well then. Just like Whitman, I contradict myself. I pour out the contents a million times over, until I find some things that fill my glass AND my emptiness. *I* decide what stays. I discover the things that make my glass sparkle and sing. Spreading Love. My community of peers. Mountains. Art. Music. Filling my lungs with air, breathing into my whole body. Taking another breath and another one and being so very thankful.
Here are some examples of those things filling my glass.