If I’m completely honest, there are times when I miss my eating disorder.
It’s destructive, illogical and completely counter-intuitive, I know.
But I still feel it.
The demise of my relationship with anorexia was akin to burying a toxic and abusive partner – I was glad (so glad!) to see the end of that relationship, but I had come to know and associate with anorexia for so long that it felt like I was losing a massive part of myself.
In many ways, I was.
I knew that I deserved better than to be held down by the chains of its toxic clutches, but for so long I’d believed that I wouldn’t be able to live with out it.
I had to grieve anorexia.
And, like any death, sometimes I’m still stricken by moments of mourning the loss of a relationship that controlled me, entirely, for so long.
Sometimes, the grief hits me.
I miss the sense of control, I miss having it as a security blanket there to comfort me when people let me down. I miss the feeling of numbness and despite how full and alive and complete I feel these days, sometimes I miss feeling hollow and empty. I miss feeling completely vulnerable, breakable and fragile, and the knowing that because of that, no one would depend or rely on me for anything. I miss feeling like I was better than everyone else; that I, somehow, had managed to conquer basic physiology and somehow function whilst depriving myself of what my body supposedly needed. I miss feeling like I was proving everyone wrong.
It creeps up behind me, like someone playing a cruel practical joke, in my moments of negative body image.
Sometimes, it hits me that I’ve now been recovered for longer than I suffered, and the small part of anorexia that will always lie dormant in my brain twists and turns those thoughts into a betrayal of the self.
I’ll be looking in the mirror, forgetting how far I’ve come in mental and physical health, and that little voice that used to be so deeply ingrained in my own tells me that maybe, just maybe, it’s because I’m still not good enough. Not thin enough. Not beautiful enough. Too much of everything, and not enough of nothing.
“It’s part of me! Who am I to deny something that will always be in me? What am I?”
I’m a fearless, powerful warrior – that’s what.
And that’s why I’ll never go back, despite however much my occasional thoughts of grief may tempt me.
Because for every moment spent mourning my loss of “control”, I’ve experienced happiness and freedom from restriction.
Yes, I’ve gained weight, but I’ve gained so much more.
Health. Self love. Self worth. Compassion. Understanding. Acceptance.
My thighs are thicker than they once were, but so is my hair and smile.
My stomach doesn’t sit flat when I sit down, but I can stand tall.
My ribs can no longer be played like a broken xylophone, but my heart is so full of love and gratitude that holds my chest together.
The nights are no longer scary, because the dark doesn’t find its home in my mind.
I need more mascara than I used to need, but only because my lashes don’t clump together with tears.
And my booty jiggles when I walk, and my blood pumps ferociously through my veins.
My desire to be alive has been surpassed, but only by my desire to do more than just stay alive.
And although I haven’t found acceptance in everyone else, I haven’t needed it, for it has come from myself.
I refuse to be controlled by self-abuse and toxicity, ever again.
I know that grief will come and go – it’s just an emotion, and I will let it wash over me; never letting it falter my sense of worth and drive and abundance and passion.
If you’re reading this right now, and you too have suffered from an eating disorder and know the sense of grief that I speak of… welcome. You are safe here.
And that sense of grief? It’s normal.
It sucks, but it’s normal.
When recovering from an eating disorder, it’s important to not become too rigid in your definition of recovery because truthfully, recovery is hard to define and it can be difficult to know if you’re “there” or not.
Recovery can be indicated by a restoration of a healthy weight and your vital organs performing as they should. However, it’s more than just physical. Eating disorders are mental illnesses, after all, and there’s a lot that needs to happen in your mind before you’re recovered.
A healthy relationship with food and exercise is just part of the mental work that makes up recovery and because those are such broad and all-encompassing issues, those can take time to heal (so if you’re physically recovered but not yet mentally, it’s okay! Keep going!).
And, when we’re talking about eating disorders like Anorexia Nervosa, we now know through emerging research that they’re largely neurobiological conditions that can be genetic (For instance, many bulimia sufferers generally have abnormally low serotonin and cholecystokinin levels as well as imbalances of neuropeptide Y and peptide YY, and many anorexia sufferers often have an abnormality in the way that the brain processes hunger signals, caused by a problem in or around the hypothalamus. Additionally, many anorexia sufferers have wildly varying serotonin levels).
This means that although the onset of your condition may have been sparked by external variables like going on a diet, a parent’s toxic relationship with food or over-exposure to unhealthy media messages, the building blocks for your disorder may have been within you all along and may remain within you forever. Recent studies show that up to 1/3 of eating disorder sufferers can fully recover which is promising, but this is is why it’s crucial to understand that recovery is a journey, and staying well means choosing a healthy path every single day of your life (even years after you’ve “recovered” fully).
If you find yourself grieving your eating disorder or missing the way it used to make you feel, try some of these tips:
- Make sure you’re not stopping just before the finish line. It’s easy to miss your ED if you don’t set up new non-restrictive neural patterns in response to your usual triggers. This is why it’s important to set responsible recovery goals to ensure that you’re not unknowingly holding yourself back in your disorder.
- Take a step back and reflect on any victories you’ve made so far in battling your disorder – even if they’re only small victories, they still count for so much!
- Allow yourself to feel the emotions, rather than running from them. Fear and shame are huge driving forces behind eating disorders, and instinctively shaking your head, saying “NO NO NO NO!” and immediately trying to distract yourself from the thoughts will only set you up for a fear-based cycle that may damage yourself in the long run. Instead, hear the thoughts, and then reframe them as you allow them to leave (just as I have written above, for example).
- Speak up. Eating disorders love secrecy and when you’re alone with those thoughts, they can feel terrifying beyond measure. Reach out to someone around you – a friend, family member or even an anonymous support line – there is help available, and being heard is a powerful step in overcoming your thoughts of missing your disorder. If you feel that these thoughts are sparking the onset of a full-blown relapse, it’s imperative that you seek help early to minimise the damage as much as possible. Click here for an international list of help resources.
Remember, you are not alone.
Grief is a normal part of healing, and it’s okay to feel confused. The important thing is to get back up, keep going and keep choosing a life of happiness, health and recovery every day.