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Expansion Set

I feel like, growing up in the throes of my anxieties and eating disorder, and borderline compulsive behavior; my world was so small.

The vast majority of my time was spent thinking about the small things. My attention was hyper-focused on the tiniest details of myself.

I spent hours exercising, tidying my room, making my bed, cleaning the house, cooking. I would cook for my sister or my family. Not for me. I still don’t cook much for me. I didn’t have many hobbies at that time. Reading, writing, cleaning, exercising, not eating.

It surprising how much time, energy, and thought went into not eating. And also into not thinking about not eating. Every fiber of my being, every ounce of my spare concentration was so narrowly focused.

And for what? I have nothing to show for all that effort. Years of my life that I could have spent on other things are gone. I could have gotten better before now if I had had the room in my brain to think about it. But I didn’t.

And maybe that is the point. Maybe my eating disorder saved me in a way. Maybe it saved me from being destroyed by what was happening to me. I couldn’t focus on all the abuse because I was too busy not eating.

It has taken me 20 years to stop thinking about not eating and start thinking about all that other stuff. 20 years later. Now that I am safe and emotionally mature enough to deal with all that.

It’s so strange to have the space in my head available to start thinking about other things. I feel like my own mind was confining me for so long.

And now I feel like I’ve let myself get away. Sometimes my brain comes back to that confinement. My mind is kind of obsessed with tying itself up.

But now that my mind has opened up wider than it ever has been before; I suddenly have room to consider the strangest thoughts that never occurred to me before.

I feel like my life is expanding. And it feels so good.

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Power

I had a realization today that totally shocked me. I was thinking about eating and not eating and trying to remember the first time I intentionally went hungry. And I remembered something that, while I hadn’t forgotten it, I somehow never made the connection.

When I was 10, my mom was still trying to force me to eat things. I was an extremely picky eater (I still am) and would vomit if I ate something I didn’t like. I don’t even remember what she made. Something I didn’t want.

And when I didn’t eat it; she threatened to serve it to me for breakfast the next day. I know that is a common threat. But she actually did it. And I didn’t care. I didn’t get breakfast. Or lunch. Or dinner. And it went the same the next day.

Finally, on the second or third day she relented. I was always a very thin child. She grew worried about me going so long without eating. From then on she always let me have a peanut butter sandwich if I didn’t want dinner.

It was an unbelievably powerful moment for me. I had won. My parents never relented. They were strict, abusive, unreasonable people. They never apologized, they never admitted to being wrong. Not ever.

Logic didn’t work on them. Or emotional appeals. No amount of reasoning or conversation could sway them. There was no conversation. It was always their way because they were the adults.

Children have very limited power over their own lives. And in my family, we had none. But I had won. I had beaten my mother at her own game. I had shown her how stubborn I could be.

And all I had to do was not eat.

Which I continued to do for the next 20 years. And nobody ever seemed to notice. I barely noticed what I was doing. I was always just “not hungry.” At sleepovers, my friends would bring soda and chips. I would bring water and bread rolls.

And nobody ever confronted me. Nobody asked me a single question about it.

Anorexia

I am reading this book about anorexia. And I am so glad I am. I can’t believe I have never read anything about it before. But then, I never thought I had a problem the way I know I do now.

I feel like I was destined to develop an eating disorder. It would have been somehow shocking or impossible for me to have not had one.

Apparently there is a genetic marker that is related to depression, alcoholism, and mental disorders. And having those things in my family predisposes me to getting an eating disorder. Studies have shown that anorexia is a combination of genetics, personality, and upbringing.

Other things that can predict an eating disorder: either parent having one, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, growing up in a chaotic household, perfectionism, self-esteem issues, intelligence, being an overachiever, feeling guilt or obligation to your parents, being neat and well behaved.

I have been working on a photo-journal of everything I eat every day. They say you are supposed to write down everything you eat to keep you mindful of it. But taking pictures works just as well.

Not Eating

I was talking to my therapist about eating disorders and she said two things I want to try to remember:

Alcoholics get to slay their dragons; anorexics and bulimics have to kiss theirs.

Eating disorders are the hardest things to overcome. Alcoholics can stop going to bars, stop buying alcohol, stop drinking. Drug addicts can do the same. Gamblers can avoid casinos. People with eating disorders can’t avoid food. I can’t stop eating. Not eating IS the problem. I have to face it three times a day, every day, for the rest of my life. And I will probably never stop having disordered thoughts about food. I’ll probably never stop having disordered behaviors and desires and impulses. All I can do is try every day to behave as healthily as I can.

It’s something I have to live with, intimately. There will never be some great battle where I defeat my issues. I’ll just hopefully, eventually learn to deal with it.

Size Matters

The strangest thing about having an eating disorder is how long it took me to realize I had one. I mean, I used to be really, really thin. If I am being honest (and why not on an anonymous blog) I was unhealthily thin. But I was actually still a size 6. I mean, yeah I was over 6 feet tall. And yeah, I sometimes went 3 or 4 days without eating. But I thought it was because I just wasn’t hungry.

 

Even though I thought about food obsessively. It’s not like I was eating until I hated myself and then vomiting it up. I mean, except for the times I did exactly that. And that did happen more than once or twice.

 

Despite the way I always hated my body. How repulsive I thought it was. I always thought I was fine. Despite thinking that gaining any weight would make me disgusting and fat. I was terrified of that.

 

Even despite the complicated, intricate food rules I still have to live by and can’t logically explain to anyone. Despite the fact that I ate nothing but an apple for lunch for three years in middle school. Despite the obsessive working out that I did every day starting when I was 10 (yes, 10).

 

I somehow knew that I was fine. I couldn’t possibly have an eating disorder. That was for pretty, rich girls with nothing better to do. It was for people shallowly obsessed with their appearance (in ways far inferior to the way I was shallowly obsessed with my appearance). Lastly, it was for girls that were actually thin. But not thin the way I was thin. It was for skeletal, emaciated girls on the verge of death. That’s how I could be so convinced that I was fine.

 

I never wore size 6 clothes. I didn’t want anyone to really see how thin I was. I still don’t like wearing anything too tight. I don’t like showing off my body. It’s funny how I still rationalize things. I have actually said, out loud. “You just haven’t seen me naked. I look way better in clothes.”

 

I’m a size 12 now. I’ve gained almost 100lbs in the past 10 years since graduating high school. Nobody in their right mind would say I was fat. But I still do. And I still genuinely think it.

 

I’m still shallowly obsessed with my appearance. I still have an eating disorder. Only now you wouldn’t know it to look at me. That scares me. I’m scared people won’t believe I have a problem because I am not underweight anymore. I’m afraid people will judge me the way I used to judge myself. That I must be healthy and normal because my weight is healthy and normal.

 

I usually eat now too. And I am much less obsessed with eating “healthy” foods. I do still skip meals, but still, only because I am “not hungry.” Though I’ve found my hunger seems to be based more on my emotional state than anything physical.

 

I rarely go more than 24 hours without eating anymore, which is a huge improvement. I eat things I used to never allow myself. I am actually waiting for a pizza delivery as I type this. But I am still so picky about every detail of my diet. I will still vomit up something I find “gross.” I still make myself vomit sometimes. I would still rather not eat than eat something I don’t feel like eating. I’ll still eat an apple as a meal.

 

Most people think I am just extremely picky and uptight. Which I am. Almost nobody knows I have a real problem. So, what changed?

 

Four years ago I was doing an extremely strenuous workout. And for the first time in my life, I couldn’t force my body to do what I wanted. I couldn’t understand why it was failing me. This was during my super fitness phase. I got angry with myself. I hated my own weakness. I hated my body. And for the first time I realized, I hated myself.

 

Approximately two weeks later I found out that I had a heart defect and needed immediate emergency heart surgery. I could have died. I almost did die. I thought back to that day when I hated myself so viscerally. I hadn’t been weak. I was ill. I cried, thinking about hard I had always been on myself.

 

I decided to eat all the foods I had been denying myself. I was waiting to have the second of what would ultimately be 5 heart surgeries. I didn’t want to die without eating pumpkin pie one last time. Or ice cream. Or fried chicken.

 

And then I was eating whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. Since I was so sick, I wasn’t able to exercise either. I couldn’t even walk to the bathroom at times and would have to crawl to get there. I immediately began putting on weight.

 

And now I’m here, uncomfortable with my weight. Enormous in my mind. Self-conscious of the way shirts cling to my chest and stomach. Convinced everyone is silently staring and judging me. Envying those thin girls that I see.

 

I still hate my body. But I also like it more now than I ever have. There was never a weight that made me feel pretty, or good about myself, and there never will be. Sometimes I think “If only I could get back to 180.” But, when I was 180, I wanted to be 160. And when I was 160, I wanted to be 150. It will never be enough. Even with the insight I have now, even with the hindsight…

 

The problem isn’t my weight. It never has been. The problem is with my mind.