This is what recovery from an eating disorder feels like to me.
I’m living in a swamp – full of mud and quicksand, snakes and leeches, dripping with potentially lethal pitfalls, occasionally sparsely populated with beautiful flowers, bouncing bunnies and exotic ferns.
I’m led to an impossibly wide river of fetid black waters and on the other side is a distant, thick, impenetrable fog. I can’t see into the fog and have no idea what’s there, but I’m told again and again, the other side is full of hope and freedom, rainbows and unicorns, and all things fantastic.
Nobody can articulate what that hope or freedom looks like, and they can’t promise I will get there, but they keep telling me it’s all going to be worth the trip. Just keep navigating the pitfalls, swim through the fetid waters, and trust that journeying into a foggy unknown is going to be worth it.
I never learned healthy coping mechanisms for emotional distress – my swamp is filled with self-loathing, shame, guilt and fear, all planted long before I can remember, but watered and nurtured by me as I grew.
The recovery process feels thick, viscous and horrifyingly distressing, but that unknown fog is more terrifying.
I know where the pitfalls in my swamp are – it feels better to live with the devil you know…
I understand how frustrating my irrational fears and behaviours are. I have watched with frustration when those I love buried themselves in alcohol, drugs, computer gaming or any other of the myriad ways humans have devised to dodge emotional pain. It doesn’t solve the problem – it just buries and numbs it. But it’s pretty jolly familiar, and the more you do it, the more normal it becomes and the harder it is to change.
For me to overcome my eating disorder, there are some massive mountains to climb and rivers to ford. Every one of these mountains feels insurmountable.
I don’t believe I can do it, but I’m terrified that I might.
I understand how miserable and dysfunctional my life has become and I don’t like it. Not one bit. But fear frequently hijacks my best efforts to “do the right thing”. To “move on”. To be willing to be willing to be willing. Fear of gaining weight is the biggest one. I feel I need to be underweight to recover – because then I have leeway when the kilos stack back on. But I also know, that no amount of skinny, will ever feel enough.
So, when I see people looking at me, and wondering why a middle-aged woman, who is otherwise sensible, reliable and educated, engages in destructive, painful behaviours, I want those same people to know I’m terrified. I’m terrified of keeping going. I’m terrified of stopping. I’m terrified of changing. I’m terrified of going back. When stuck in a lose-lose situation, it is natural to go for the easier option… It is comfortable. And when life is routinely miserable, we seek what comfort we can.
So, will I recover? I don’t know. I’m fording the river now.
I certainly know I want to see the rainbows and play with the unicorns, but I’m a little sceptical regarding their reality.
Do they really exist? Everyone keeps telling me they do. People I know and love and trust. So I take another step into the dark waters and hope that as I get a little closer to the other side, a few glimpses of light crack through the fog and show me that yes, it is going to be worth it.