Recovery is for life, not just for weight gain.
I think that many people—including therapists and sufferers—think that eating disorder recovery is just about gaining weight, and that after that it all goes away. And while gaining weight is so very important and it is true that the ED thoughts and behaviours are diluted with weight gain, it is not true in my experience that I simply stopped having Anorexia because I am a healthy weight. I think that being aware that recovery is for life has allowed me to stay recovered with less chance of relapse.
Okay, Initially recovery is about weight gain, because life cannot go on without weight gain. But after that?
After that, recovery is about hours turning into days turning into weeks turning into months turning into years. It’s about this bite in this moment becoming another meal eaten, and at some stage enjoyed, and then maybe one day: relished.
The hardest part for me, is not continuing to eat. It’s not even challenging myself to eat when I am not hungry or just don’t want to. I am well used to that now. I eat three meals a day interspersed with snacks whether I feel like it or not because I know that is just what I have to do. I love eating—I always have. Even when I couldn’t eat, it was never because I didn’t like food or enjoy eating; that’s simply not what Anorexia is about in my case.
I love to contrast Anorexia to cancer, and in my mind when someone suggests that a person with Anorexia doesn’t like to eat, it is rather like implying that a person with cancer doesn’t like their cells.
So if recovery isn’t primarily about eating for me now, what is the challenge?
The hardest part for me is the things that I don’t know I don’t know.
Anorexia is a sneaky disease. Sometimes it is really quiet, and I might even be fooled into thinking that it is no longer there. But it is— it’s just plotting. I have all these triggers and situations that I know Anorexia will use to try and make me sick again. You know, the usual: stress, happiness, grief, love, overload, boredom, a row, a fucking bad day, a bloody great day etc., etc. (Note: I’ve experienced that Anorexia is not fussy; triggers can be pleasant situations as well as the more “expected” negative ones.)
Those “obvious” triggers I can deal with. I see my eating disorder trying to come back a mile out. I’m on the lookout for the signs and I challenge anything that even smells like Anorexia. In fact, such is my confidence that I practically goad Anorexia and reach for an extra slice of cheese. Come on bitch, make my day.
It’s the triggers that I don’t know I don’t know that are the problem. An example is anything that randomly reminds me of University, because that is where I was at my sickest for the longest. Recently the smell of rain on tarmac reminded me of running around King Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh (where I went to Uni) in the rain. Part of my illness was my exercise obsession. Who would have thought the smell of rain would have sparked a memory that in turn allowed Anorexia to pipe up with “You used to be so much fitter … .”
Then I reminded Anorexia that I don’t give a shit that I used to run marathons on a daily basis. And that doing so almost killed me. And that I hated every second of it. I can do that now, but ten years ago all these micro-triggers caused me a lot of pain, and think I had a micro-relapse multiple times a day due to them.
(Is a micro-relapse a thing? I may have just made that up, but I’m using it to describe the tiny steps backward: running a bit farther than I know I should do; not having as much lunch as usual; buying semi-skimmed milk rather than whole milk; accidentally picking the “fat-reduced” ice cream rather than the regular.)
This may sound rather dismal, as if I am constantly having to battle with unexpected Anorexia crap as well as the usual expected Anorexia crap, but it’s really not that bad. I am so used to dismissing ED bullshit in my head these days that it honestly doesn’t phase me a tick. Water off a duck’s back … or something like that anyway.
Ironically through, knowing that there are triggers that I don’t know I don’t know, puts me exactly where I need to be in order to be ready for them.