When I tried to think of a name for this blog, I thought about various denigrating names for recovery, but then dismissed them as rather one-sided. After all, I’m hoping recovery is a good thing. At least, everyone tells me it is, and that it’s worth the hell I’m currently in. I came up with the blog name when I realized that I’d gotten to the point one afternoon before going out to run errands when I had to pack a lunch bag with various “safe” foods so that I would eat something moderately decent so I could avoid the freaking-out-from-hunger-but-there’s-nothing-safe drama, and as I’m picking foods that my dietician and I had agreed on, I sat there counting Triscuits and wondering if a broken Triscuit counted as half or a third of one cracker. In a way, it was brilliant. I had come up with my own one-question quiz to see if you have an eating disorder:
Question: Have you ever spent twenty minutes debating whether a broken tasteless cracker should be rounded up to the nearest whole cracker?
Or even better –
Question: Have you ever freaked out in line at Dunkin’ Donuts because you weren’t sure you deserved a skim decaf skinny mocha rather than plain herbal tea with no-calorie sweetener?
Or how about –
Question: Do you feel guilty for eating broccoli because you put some no-calorie butter spray on it?
I could go on and on. So to me, you may have an eating disorder, or you may not, but if you are counting crackers like your life depended on your accuracy, then something’s not quite right.
So I promised phase 2 of my story, and since it’s not something I’ve got down pat (like phase 1), it’s a little harder for me to talk about. I lost weight – about 30 pounds – through Weight Watchers, and it was awesome. I never thought I could be thin, and now I had these points, and these daily goals to eat vegetables and stuff, and I got stars and stickers on my smartphone when I did the right thing! Wow, it was like manna from heaven for a control freak like me who particularly loves technology and statistics. The only thing that would have made it better was if I could have run a regression analysis on every time my weight didn’t act like it was supposed to, so I could predict what I did wrong. I didn’t think I’d have a problem with my ED since I’d been in recovery for nearly a decade. My ED was in the past – I’d worked with a T and gotten through it! Problem solved. Now I lost weight, felt great, started running again, started competing (badly) in some local races – all good! I rarely felt the urge to purge and I restricted, but in a safe and healthy and sanctioned way. Yea me!
I wondered back then if it was such a good idea, but for the first time in my life, I actually started to like my body and feel in control of it. There were whispers and nasty rumors in and around my family of an eating disorder, but they had no idea what they were talking about. I was maintaining my weight very tightly, and yes, I did have to fudge my height a little on the WW application to get to my ideal weight, but I looked awesome, my doctor wasn’t concerned, and all was right with the world.
Then everything changed. T came up with a pile of ten really awful things that came up in a very short period, from a death in my immediate family after a horrid bout of cancer to becoming my father’s caretaker as he battled Alzheimer’s, lost jobs, pay cuts, seriously ill child… etc. Far more drama than I could ever accept, and each problem came with a matching set of really difficult emotions, which I continually packed into the closet of “I don’t want to deal with these ever so I’ll just slam the door and ignore ’em.” I started to purge. I started restricting. I started to self-harm. And I started to freak myself out. I found places on my commute home from work where I could pull off and puke in the woods. I started carrying a “pain kit” in my bag of little razors, alcohol gel, and band-aids. When that didn’t become enough, I started to use blown-out matches to burn holes in my skin. “Bug bites,” I called them.
I went back to therapy with someone new. I accepted that the chronic fatigue, inability to make even basic decisions, emotional exhaustion, and feeling distant from my kids was probably depression, and I agreed to go back on antidepressants – but only if I could go on one that didn’t make me gain weight. God forbid I should gain a pound or two. I started seeing a dietician for the first time in my life, and I still haven’t figured out quite what D does to help with all of this. So my little trio now is P (psychiatrist) who gives me meds, T (therapist) who is a psychologist and tells me when my reasoning is completely bonkers, and D (dietician) who has pictures of food all over her office but doesn’t understand why I’m uncomfortable. What a merry band of women!
My point to all of this isn’t to hash through how I got here, but to acknowledge where I am and where a lot of us wind up. Life happens. Recovery happens with a hell of a lot of work and prayer and help. But sometimes even recovery isn’t strong enough to keep us going when God starts to play ping-pong with our lives. When you have no emotional bandwidth, even the smallest things can put you over the edge. And sometimes those things are broken Triscuits.
That’s it. I promise not to bore you anymore with my life story. But in the interest of honesty and openness, I wanted to tell you how I fell off the path and how I’m working my tail off to get back on it. When you’re in AA, part of what you do to keep sober is to attend meetings and work the steps, and to give back in some way, which they call “service.” I haven’t yet found a meeting for EDs that is at all remotely near me, and I don’t know if twelve-stepping (or even two-stepping) will get me back to recovery, but I feel that part of my service is to share some of the things that reflect weird eating disordery type of thinking. Because maybe it will make sense to you.