This post contains swear words. This is not an apology, I’m just letting you know. 😀
When I went through what I refer to now as my “Mid-Recovery Clusterfuck” I didn’t know what it was. I thought that — despite considering myself at the furthest end of the insanity scale already (just hiding it like a boss) — I was getting crazier. Turns out, years down the line and after having worked with other people in recovery from Anorexia I see that Mid-Recovery Clusterfuck (MRC) is a “thing.” It happens to most of us at some stage in recovery. In the midst of the weight restoration process, most of us experience an onslaught of emotion somewhere along the way.
MRC falls into the category of eating disorder recovery possibilities that people don’t tend to talk about too much. Like overshoot and recovery binge eating. Not talking about these things doesn’t help people avoid them. All it does is make them feel like something is going wrong, or that they are broken when they happen. All of these things are normal recovery possibilities. They may happen to you. They may not. We’ll only know when we get there. But in the meantime, let’s be prepared.
What is Mid-Recovery Clusterfuck?
According to Urban Dictionary, clusterfuck is a military term for an operation in which multiple things have gone wrong. Related to “SNAFU” (Situation Normal, All Fucked Up”) and “FUBAR” (Fucked Up Beyond All Repair).
In radio communication or polite conversation (i.e. with a very senior officer with whom you have no prior experience) the term “clusterfuck” will often be replaced by the NATO phonetic acronym “Charlie Foxtrot.”
For those of you who don’t like swearing, there are options. I happen to think that Clusterfuck hits the nail on the head, so I’ll stick with that. Feel free to think of it as Charlie Foxtrot if you prefer.
Mid-recovery clusterfuck is a term I use to describe what happened to me a couple months into weight restoration. Which, in short, was everything at once. I also use it to describe the mid-life crisis feeling that I experienced a little while later when I realized that I didn’t like the career I was in. I use MRC to describe many of the “holy crap” realisations about my life that I went through between starting recovery and reaching full recovery.
Being underweight has a numbing effect. Makes sense as the body is too low on resources to bother with emotions. The body is in hibernation mode and trying to conserve energy for vital functions. Many systems shut down or go into “go slow” mode, metabolism lowers, heart rate lowers, anything not directly related to staying alive could be considered superfluous. Emotional responses are dampened. I don’t think I cried properly in the whole time I was very underweight — which is wild because I had so much to cry about!
(It’s okay. I did all that crying later — like in recovery when I was trying to make myself eat.)
Anyhow. I started to gain weight, and a couple months into that a clusterfuck of emotion hit me like a freight train. Suddenly I felt everything. Ten years of emotion had consolidated and solidified and some nefarious force had put it in a slingshot and launched it at me. I was happy about getting better. I was mourning my eating disorder. I was lonely. I was frustrated. I was angry. I was bored. I was overwhelmed. I was excited. I was regretful. I was aspirational. I was hopeful. I was sad. Most of all, I was pissed off.
Oh … all those things I hadn’t thought about for 10 years started to come up again. Here I was, 27, and I was crying about something a boy said to me when I was 16? What? I didn’t even really like him. Maybe I was crying just because I was sad that this was the last time I’d ever been close to a boy at all so it was more of a pity cry? Maybe I was crying not about him at all but about the fact I’d now been alone for 10 years? Maybe it was more about regretting not slapping him in the face. … Maybe I’m just really hungry.
And then. I’m very upset with myself for not going to my friends wedding three years ago because I couldn’t handle the pressure of having to eat or looking so thin in the photographs so I made up some excuse about not being able to take time off work and now I feel like a shit. I didn’t feel like a shit at the time so why now? Why three years later? I’m such a bad friend. I messed that up. Who doesn’t go to a wedding. What sort of person am I? Maybe I should call her and tell the truth? Maybe I can make it up to her? … Maybe I’m just really hungry.
And then. I cannot believe I spoke to mum like that at Christmas dinner in 2002. What a total bitch I am? Who yells at their mum on Christmas Day just because she offered some gravy? Who does that? What is wrong with me? I wonder if mum remembers. I wonder if it hurt her at the time. I wonder if it is too late to apologize. Maybe I should call her? I’m such a bellend. Maybe I can make a special effort this Christmas? … Maybe I’m just really hungry.
And then. I hate my career. I hate it. Who am I kidding, I don’t have a career. I wasted 4 years at university. I have wasted by degree. It’s too late. It’s over. What am I going to do with my life?
And so on and so forth … you get the picture. What you might not get is that rather than being isolated moments of emotion, these sorts of things — and so many more — seemed to hit me all at once. I’d not been totally void of all emotion at all times before. Sure, I had felt regret and loneliness and sadness and snippets of hope. But watered-down versions. And not all at the time time. Hence: clusterfuck.
Another layer on top of this was a very intense feeling of impatience and frustration. I wanted it over. I was done. I wanted a life and NOW. But I had no idea how to get to where I wanted to be. In some respects things had been easier before I had any ambition to have a life. Now I had the desire, but not the roadmap. Oh … and I was scared. Best stay where you are, Anorexia told me. Best not take any risks.
But listening to Anorexia didn’t feel like an option either. I did not know what to do. Because for 10 years Anorexia’s answer to everything had been to not eat. And look where that got me: sick.
So I did what I had always done pre-eating disorder when I didn’t know what to do. I ate. Seriously.
I felt like an emotional wreak. Anorexia convinced me that because I was eating that I had developed some emotional eating disorder overnight — so I had that to contend with in the mix. Turns out, I was just very hungry. My emotions were wild for a while, and the slightest thing overwhelmed me, but it settled down.
If you hit something like this Mid-Recovery Clusterfuck, do what you need to do. I had to remove all social events from my calendar, build a fort in my flat, fill it with food, and hunker down for a while. Anorexia hates any disruption to schedule at the best of times, and it worried me as I felt this was getting worse, not better. I thought I was supposed to get less reclusive if I get better, and I was worried that I was going backwards. Looking back I know that was my body kicking back to life a little and requesting a little reboot time. It wanted a cocoon.
If Mid-Recovery Clusterfuck hits you can’t stop eating
MRC didn’t feel nice. Overwhelming doesn’t cut it. I wanted it to stop. Anorexia said: It will stop if you restrict. It will stop if you exercise. Anorexia beckoned; come on over here, i’ll save, you, I know just the thing to make you feel better. To make it all go away. Anorexia wanted me to stop eating, and I have to admit … tempted.
It’s a trap. Anorexia is full of them. The nasty truth is that not eating will dull things and not eating can make us feel instantaneously better due to the affect of negative energy deficit. I knew that. You know that. I had to keep eating, and so do you.
No it wasn’t easy. Yes I doubted myself. But I ate. I ate out of anger. I ate out of fear. I ate out of bliss. I ate out of loneliness. I ate out of hate. I ate out of regret. I ate out of exhaustion.
Some would call that comfort eating. Some would call it emotional eating. I would say: stop trying to label things to make sense out of them. I have a mental illness that makes me starve myself. It makes no sense. I don’t have to have a reason to eat. I don’t have to have a neat label to put on what and why I am eating. I am eating because I have been starving for years. I am eating. That is all.
And anyway, if it were emotional eating then I had ten years to make up for. So out of my way and make me a cheeseburger. Double.
Don’t be discouraged
Mid-Recovery Clusterfuck is disconcerting. It’s both enjoyable and painful at times. For most of us it settles down just like your appetite and hunger will do. For some people it seems to happen shortly after they begin on recovery eating. Some people (like me) much further down the line. I marks a death and a birth and is pretty indescribable — as I re-read what I have written above, I still don’t know if there is any way to truly depict this shit show.
Enjoy it if it happens. MRC is neither the start nor the end — but it is somewhere in between. That is worth celebrating!