Recovery is not linear, and it should not be either because recovery is a journey that has to be experienced. You have to feel it all—the highs and lows and get through them, only then you will find true self-love and acceptance.
Rome wasn’t built in one day, and that’s why you shouldn’t think that you will be recovered in one day either. Your eating disorder had years to develop, and those destructive coping mechanisms and food rules don’t just disappear overnight. It can take years and several relapses to cut ties with your eating disorder because it has been part of you for longer than you can actually remember—at least that is what I have experienced.
I had always felt sort of comfortable living with my eating disorder because it was the only way I knew how to cope with unwanted feelings and emotions. Sudden outbursts of crying uncontrollably late at night would make me not eat the day after as some sort of punishment because I had allowed myself to feel. My eating disorder was reassuring in some way—made me feel like I was in control while I wasn’t at all. My eating disorder was; it was choosing when I should eat. Or even if I should eat, what I should eat and forced me to spend nearly three hours in the gym every single day when I was exhausted and on the verge of a breakdown. I never had the strength to tell my eating disorder to ‘fuck off ’.
My attempts to get rid of my eating disorder were futile and therefore unsuccessful because part of me did not want to let go of something so toxic and harmful for fear of the future—what is my life worth without this, who am I without my stupid eating disorder?is thought, this particular thought, had left me balancing on a thin wire for years debating whether or not I should actively engage in recovery.
My eating disorder was something no one knew about at first—I kept it well-hidden underneath a mask of bright smiles and faked happiness. It was something I kept denying, and even when I was diagnosed with an eating disorder, I refused to believe it. I remember it took me months before I would actually say the word ‘eating disorder’ out loud during my sixth session with my coach, Lianne when she asked me what I was feeding when I had relapsed and refused to eat lunch whereas a week before, I was eating lunch just fine (perhaps, even enjoying it).
“…but what are you feeding at the moment?”
“My relapse, my negative image of self, my self-worth which is non-existent. Literally, everything I should not be feeding,” I didn’t want to say the word ‘eating disorder’ out loud because I was too fragile to admit that I actually had an eating disorder.
“No, what are you feeding?”
“My… my eating disorder.”
I felt like I could cry an ocean of tears, and I think she could see it too, yet I didn’t.
e tears didn’t start to flow, and silence remained in the room for what felt like an eternity.at kind of aching and almost unbearable silence that makes your heart skip a beat or two.at kind of silence that forces you to think—to really process it all—was something I hated the most. I didn’t want to think about or process what I had just said/what had just slipped between my lips, I did not want to let it sink in. I could not make it sink in because I did not want to think about all the things my eating disorder had promised me but had failed to provide me with. I didn’t want to think about all the things I had lost when I decided to give my eating disorder the power to destroy my life.
After a few minutes of unbearable silence, the words that had left my mouth earlier had, indeed, sunken in. What the fuck was I doing to myself to jump right back into playing the victim card and allowing my eating disorder to fester once again? Why was I giving something so toxic the power to destroy me—to break down what was still left of me? It had already robbed me from my self-esteem and with that my self-worth and compassion for oneself and others. It had taken away more than I can actually remember, or feel comfortable enough to admit. My eating disorder had robbed me blind and I was terrified to take it all back; my self-worth and self-esteem, my self-love and compassion for others, but above all, I was too scared to take back control over my own life because I had given it to my eating disorder.
“I think you just love being a victim to your eating disorder,” she then said, leaving me dumbfounded.
It wasn’t necessarily love, because, in fact, I hated being a victim to my eating disorder —I despised myself because I was incredibly weak for allowing my eating disorder to abuse me like that. But its comfort was all I knew, and I was too afraid to break free.
“What? No… No, that’s… that’s not it.”
“Yes, it is. And I most certainly think you do love it. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have given in.”
Again, she wasn’t wrong here, either. e thing is, that when you find someone who goes above and beyond to help you because they see what you are worth (especially when
you’re blissfully unaware of your own self-worth), they will most certainly not be afraid to tell you the truth, unapologetically so.
I wanted to label this incident as a relapse, but I would be lying to myself to call it a relapse because I was enjoying this minor set-back way too much. My eating disorder had taken its chances when I felt broken and bruised—when I cried an entire day over nothing. However, my eating disorder saw this as the perfect opportunity to blame my pathetic crying on weight-gain and every other fear I had regarding recovery and convinced me that it was indeed true. Recovery would bring me more agony than my eating disorder would ever bring me, even though up until this point, my eating disorder/it had failed to keep its promises. Eating three or even two meals a day would result in immediate weight-gain; the calories would go straight to my thighs and stomach. A ridiculous thought, but even more ridiculous is that I believed it for many years. is was one of the reasons I put off recovery as long as possible; I did not want to gain weight because I had worked so hard to lose it in the first place.
“Why are you so afraid?”
I had no idea why I was so afraid, because, if I looked at it from a different perspective—with a clear mind, one that is/was not clouded by an eating disorder and depression—I would most definitely see that what I was doing to myself was wrong and that should have been more than enough reason to choose recovery.
“I don’t know, there are all sorts of reasons. Probably too many. I don’t even know.
I just don’t know,” I said while shrugging my shoulders as a sudden wave of unease washed over me. I didn’t know how to act—I had never known how to act when I felt uncomfortable in public or around someone else. So, I pushed it aside like I did with every other emotion.
“I skipped lunch, didn’t eat anything at work because…,” I felt so uncomfortable I didn’t know what to do with my hands, so I folded them and tucked them between my knees while my eyes were focussing on anything but my coach. I couldn’t look her in the eye when I told her the following:
“I feel fat again. I am convinced I am fat, and even though there is no evidence that I have gained weight because I have not weighed myself in two weeks, I still believe that I have.” My persuasion was based on nothing other than what my eating disorder was telling me, constantly/over and over again. ere was no evidence that I had, indeed, gained weight —my colleague, whom I had asked if she could see I had gained weight, told me that I had not gained weight and even if I had it wouldn’t be a bad thing either.
“You have no evidence of weight-gain whatsoever, yet you are convinced that you have—this is your eating disorder talking, trying to regain control over you.”
I just nodded in response. I saw truth in lies and deceit and was convinced of everything, anything my eating disorder threw in my direction. ‘You are a fat whore’ and ‘do you seriously think people will love you, that somehow you deserve affection from others? Listen, honey, you are a fat whore, and fat people do not deserve affection from others’. I believed it all, and even though—when I was able to see things from a different perspective, and my mind wasn’t clouded by my eating disorder—I knew it wasn’t entirely true, but I just couldn’t stand up against my eating disorder.
“I know, I most definitely know that my fear is based on nothing but my own insecurities,” and before I realised this particular sentence had left my mouth, I felt a weight had already started to shift within me.
“Remember when you came to me, and we sat on the couch?”
I did (and still do) remember us sitting on the couch of her apartment on the top floor of those typical Amsterdam mansions. I remember when mum and I drove to Amsterdam, and the closer we got to our destination, the more nervous I became. I walked four flights of stairs with wobbly knees and visibly shaking and thought to myself ‘I cannot do this, I made a mistake. Nothing is wrong with me. Everything is fine’.
“You looked terrible, you were so wrapped up in the eating disorder that you told me that you were fine at least five times during our conversation.” It was true, I refused to believe that I was destroying my body and in addition to that myself altogether.
“Last week, you were full of life, and it was actually clearly visible. You were eating at work, making small, though huge steps towards a better life and it looked so good on you, it still would look so good on you,” she reminded me of/about something I had already forgotten and wanted to forget because I missed the comfort and security of my eating disorder more than I wanted to admit in the first place. I wanted to go back to living my life in literal hell because I thought I deserved it.
“You didn’t look well at all.D e first time we met, you looked exhausted—drained.”
I was sitting on the couch, legs crossed and hands tucked underneath. I did not want to show that I was incredibly nervous, so I hid my shaking hands, hoping my legs would stop shaking soon after. Yet it was my voice that ultimately gave away my anxiety and stress regarding recovery. I didn’t know where to look and focussed on everything but her when I would answer or tell her things about my eating disorder and what I wanted to accomplish in my life—whether easily attainable or not.
Recovery, even the word itself let alone its definition, seemed unattainable. Yet those two weeks, when I told my eating disorder to seriously ‘fuck off ’ and proved myself capable enough to take charge of my own life, recovery seemed something I could not have. In reality, it was just the fear of feeling good about myself and how long my road to recovery would be as I thought it would be a long and exhausting one. In my mind, it was better to suffer a life-time than working on self-acceptance and self-worth for a couple of years and living your best life whilst being recovered. Not only that, but there was also this looming and firm belief that once I was recovered certain things as relapses and minor set-backs, which would most definitely happen, were not allowed and would be frowned upon by other people because I had so-called cut ties with my eating disorder and was not allowed to let it back into my life. But, letting your eating disorder back in your life did not mean that you weren’t allowed to struggle or have a hard time eating out, yet I was convinced it was. Recovery, in my mind, meant that your eating disorder would be gone for good and if you had a relapse or minor setback, it would be seen as attention-seeking of some sort. Not only that, but I was convinced that people would think that I had faked being so stressed about food. I believed that my struggles regarding food were nothing more than cries for attention because everyone had seen me eat in public more than once. I thought that once you had cut ties with your eating disorder, it was frowned upon and almost forbidden to question whether or not you should eat that ham and cheese toastie from Starbucks because it had meat and a lot of calories. You weren’t allowed to physically struggle, at least not anymore.
Recovery was all about the physical changes as well; it was about weight-gain and eating in public as well as not physically struggling anymore—eating without trying to burn off the calories by wiggling your feet up and down in a rapid fashion.
“I should just stop overthinking and just go for it, regardless of what others might think of me,” I blurted out before I realised what I had just said.
“Maybe you should, I think you should,” she agreed, wholeheartedly.
“I am too wrapped up with the idea of what other people might think of me that I lose focus why I started recovery in the first place,” I had started recovery because I was terrified to lose my job. Eventually, I chose recovery because I owed that to myself. Because I realised that I was worth more than this endless suffering and stupid food rules.
“I wrote that email to you because I was caught in this haze of full-blown anxiety of losing, or rather the possibility of losing my job that I could have never imagined that after just a few sessions I would actually choose recovery for me—just for me and not for every other reason that actually did not matter.”
“Who would have thought.”
“I didn’t. In fact, I could have never thought that this is where we would be at, at the moment or at any given moment because I was convinced I was incapable of being kind to myself,” I admitted, chuckling slightly because I had regained/rediscovered some of my strength and willpower to fight back and tell my eating disorder to ‘fuck off ’ for a second time.