This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness week and a friend of mine recently asked me to help her with a little project. She wanted a clip or 2 about the positive and/or negative effects the eating disorder has had on my life. She wanted to give a voice to all sides of the eating disorder. So I sat down to write what she asked…a clip or 2. This is what happened:
When everything in my life went haywire, my eating disorder gave me a sense of control. It helped me cope with the crazy. It distracted me from the pain and the hard truths that had become my reality. In those ways, I think the eating disorder helped me survive. That’s one of the reasons it’s so hard to give it up. It was there with me through those dark spots in my life. It’s reliable. I know it works. It’s effective. It brings me a sense of stability.
But it’s all a lie. The control is just a huge illusion. In truth, the eating disorder controls ME; not I it. It takes over my thoughts. Sure, it distracted me from the chaos and pain in my life, but it also distracts me from the good. It makes it impossible for me to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. The ever-present calculator in my mind is all consuming. Numbers become more important than people. Relationships suffer. My brain is starving, which makes me ineffective and unproductive at my job. My thoughts are jumbled, my memory is useless, and my concentration is non-existent. What brought me stability now throws me into turmoil. I am perpetually unsettled. Floundering. I am unreliable as a friend and as a worker. Does that sound like control? No. It sounds like torture.
The eating disorder takes something reasonable and manipulates it. It does so subtly, so you don’t see the lies until it’s too late. Until your relationships, your work, your body…they all start to suffer. And even then it’s difficult to recognize how unreasonable the whole thing is. The eating disorder is a master of deceit. It even goes so far as to deceive you into deceiving yourself. Which makes it even more difficult to dispute and reject. Because by that point in time, disputing the eating disorder means you’re disputing yourself, which goes against everything we’re wired to do as humans.
You know, there are two schools of thought out there when it comes to recovery. One school of thought says “once an addict, always an addict” (and by addict, I mean anorexic). The other says that you don’t have to be defined by a label. Now I believe in the healing power of Jesus. Please believe me when I say this. And I believe that there are people in the world who have truly been set free from the chains of their eating disorders. And I’ve asked myself more than once why I’m not one of those people. But the truth is I’m not. I have come to accept the first school of thought as my reality, or I will always remain under the control of my eating disorder. The phrase “once an addict, always an addict” reminds me to be vigilant. It keeps me on guard. It makes me listen for the lies instead of pretending they no longer exist for me. Because the minute I believe school of thought number two, is the minute the eating disorder starts feeding me lies disguised as truth. For me, accepting school of thought number one is the key to freedom…despite the label.
What has the eating disorder stolen from me? Time. I can’t begin to comprehend the amount of time I have lost to my eating disorder. Time that could have been invested in my family, friends, education, and career. I never finished my undergraduate degree, I’ve disappeared from the social scene to enter treatment countless times, I’ve strained relationships within my family through the illness. My body has even lost time. I’m 29 years old and it is predicted that I will need a hip replacement within the next 5-10 years.
Yet I will still sit in front of my treatment team advocating for the control my eating disorder provides over my life. That’s the kind of power I have allowed this illness to have.
I recently attended a seminar in which the speaker talked about eating disorder memoirs. She said they all focus on how bad the eating disorder was…how intense the treatment process was…bad, bad, negative, bad, bad, bad. Because that’s what’s “interesting.” Then the last 2 pages say something along the lines of “and then I was set free.” People rarely write about what that freedom looks like or how recovery works. I don’t want this post to mimic such memoirs, but I also don’t want to lie. And it is my intention to one day write a memoir of my own; one that will bring both tears and laughter. One that will speak truth and hope into the lives of its readers. Some days, that intention is all that keeps me focused on reaching and maintaining recovering.
I do fight the eating disorder. I reach a place where I recognize the lies for what they are. Where I’m tired of being manipulated. Where I want life more than the illusion of control. Where I’m ready to reclaim and rebuild my life. I call a relapse for what it is and I set to fight against it. And I like to think I reach this moment of realization a little earlier each time. The interventions required to re-establish recovery become less intense. I am more easily able to combat the lies with truth; even if I don’t always believe it. Where I realize the importance of a meal plan. Where I’m reminded that while the eating disorder is not a lifestyle choice, actively disputing it is. And it’s a choice I want to make more frequently than not. So I think Brittany gets a little stronger each time. And recovery becomes more concrete each time. My vigilance becomes more robust each time. And the eating disorder becomes less powerful each time.
The eating disorder has always been a source of comfort, but it has also brought destruction. It has always been a coping mechanism, but it has also created more problems with which I need to cope. It has always been a friend, but it has also stolen friendships. It helped me survive some darkness, but it also threatened to kill me…more than once. That’s what makes the struggle so real. That’s what makes the fight so hard. That’s what causes so much inner turmoil. That’s what makes treatment so serious.
There are no easy answers. The eating disorder is a chameleon. It serves its purpose well. But the havoc it brings is devastating, sometimes irreversible, and sadly often deadly. So I say to you what I say to myself daily: stand up, fight, and have hope. Fight lies with truth. Surrender control to gain it. Life is more than an illusion. We were not created to survive, we were created to thrive.
I never really thought to give a voice to the “positive” side of my eating disorder. I don’t exactly know why. I suppose I wanted to come off as a fighter. A warrior. Fighting the good fight against the enemy. But the truth is I wouldn’t have developed an eating disorder if it didn’t serve some sort of purpose. The eating disorder is in my life for a reason.
My friend made a good point in asking me for these clips. I don’t know what her project is, but I know what it inspired within me. And I hope it inspired something within you. If you are a person who struggles with an eating disorder, I hope you know you’re not alone. You’re not crazy for wanting to keep a piece of your disorder. You’re not insane for returning to it more than once in your life. You are not alone and you are reasonable and you are strong and you are a fighter. And you are so much more than an illness.
For those of you who don’t struggle with an eating disorder, it is predicted that one out of every two of you know someone who does. I’m hoping that this post gave you some insight into the complexities your friend, family member, or co-worker might be facing in their personal battle against the eating disorder. And the understanding spirit of a support person is just another weapon in the arsenal your acquaintance can use against the eating disorder. Understanding is powerful. I hope you gained some today.
If you or a loved one is battling an eating disorder, there is hope and treatment and a future. Call the NEDA helpline (800-931-2237) or visit NEDA or National Eating Disorders Awareness Week to start a journey toward wellness today.