I’ve written about Mid-Recovery Clusterfuck stuff before, more in the sense of the emotions that blow up when your brain starts to care more about other people and life experiences than it does about obsessing over food and exercise. And the discomfort and grief that comes with the realisation that you have missed out on a lot of life over the years of being sick. That post is here.
This post is more focused on the relationship with your body and the feeling of intense guilt and grief around how you have treated it that can emerge when you finally start to have compassion for it.
(“Mid-recovery” is a bit of a blanket term. We all develop differently in recovery, so for some people this sort of thing happens earlier and for some later.)
When anorexia was active, by body was just a thing. A thing that I had very little emotional connection to. I would mercilessly push it and push it in order to satisfy my exercise compulsion. I was angry at it if it got sick. I resented it when it needed to rest. I don’t feel much towards it other than contempt.
I remember vividly, numerous times when I would continue running despite an injury. For a while I had an ongoing repetitive strain injury which gave me a considerable amount of pain in my left foot. I was so furious with my body for that. Not only did I not stop running or exercise to allow my foot to heal, I think in some twisted anorexia logic I actually pushed myself harder. As if feeling pain was weakness I had to remedy by working out more. As I write that it is rather disturbing to me how fucked up that is.
Needless to say, I never stopped working out due to illness either. Nope. I rarely got ill, but if I did, I would push myself harder in my workouts. I think I heard some idiot in the gym once say that the best way to get over a cold or the flu was to sweat it out. I very much doubt there is any scientific proof for that, but I choose to believe it because it suited me at the time. So there I was, coughing and sweating on the treadmill or the stairclimber. Jeez, no wonder I was miserable all the time.
I understand now, that when your brain thinks that you need to migrate due to famine, it knows that you cannot afford to rest because you are sick or because something hurts. A migrating bird can’t just stop because a wing started to hurt halfway across the ocean. Acknowledging pain or sickness would be a threat to survival for a migrating animal. So our pain thresholds increase, and our brains somehow develop an ability to buffer us from the reality of our situation. That’s more clinically know as anosognosia — when you do not correctly perceive how unwell you are.
Your perception creates your reality. If your brain is not allowing you to perceive how sick you are, your reality is that you are okay. Hence, when anorexia was active, I didn’t perceive that in pushing my aching and hurting body I was being cruel to myself. I wasn’t purposefully being mean. This was not intentional self harm. It felt like the right thing to do at the time because at that time, by brain perceived that it was the right thing to do.
When I moved to a certain point in recovery, this changed. My brain moved out of thinking that I needed to migrate. And as a result of that, the protective barrier of anosognosia was lifted. Gradually, my ability to feel my body, to feel pain in my body, and more importantly to translate that pain as a problem, increased. My perception shifted. My understanding of the correct way to treat my body shifted. I began to be much less able to justify ignoring the requests of my body. Hunger being the primary example here. I had once been very able to ignore hunger — I had even gotten reward-like feelings for doing so. Those reward feelings disappeared, and hunger became as tolerable to me as nails on a chalkboard. Alongside this, my ability to ignore or tolerate pain and tiredness diminished. In short, whatever barrier had blocked my communication pathways with my body lifted. Like it or not, I no longer had the ability to block communication from my body in the way I had done when anorexia was active. And … all of that makes complete biological sense from the point of view of a migrating mammal. When the famine is over, and not until the famine is over, normal functioning can resume.
All this is well and good and the opening of communication pathways with our body is a stage of recovery for most of us. But there is often shame and grief that comes with the realisation of how much damage one has done to oneself that adds to the clusterfuck of the mid-way recovery emotional whirlwind.
I was hit with a wall of compassion for my body. I still remember this and it was one of the most emotional things I have been through. I felt an incredible surge of love for my body — proper love. And I don’t use the “L-word” often. This was both one of the most wonderful things I have ever felt, and the most emotionally guilt-ridden. The guilt that came with this really, really hurt. Because it was like for years I had been in a blissful ignorance as to how badly I was treating my body. And when this lifted, I felt like a complete shit. I had treated a living thing with utter contempt and cruelness. My wonderful, incredible body, was totally innocent in all this. All it had ever done was try its best to serve me, and I had utterly let it down.
All the times my body had hurt and I had ignored it came flooding back to me. All the times my body had been hungry and rather than feeding it, I had felt disgust and contempt. All the times my body had felt tired, and rather than allowing it to rest, I had pushed it harder. The understanding that I had abused this wonderful gift of a body felt awful.
Now, thank goodness, I was also able to understand that while these had been my actions towards my body, that I was under the influence of anorexia when I had taken these actions. I was also able to understand, that my perception had changed, and what didn’t feel wrong before felt wrong now, so I should not judge the past me by the newly improved standards of the current me.
Even through I felt a lot of guilt, I was also able to be compassionate towards myself and understand that this was not because I was a bad or mean person. It was just because that is what anorexia does. I was able to allow myself to feel all that guilt and then use it productively rather than destructively. I used those feelings to help me to commit then and there to looking after my precious body to the very best of my abilities at all times. And I still do. If I am tired, I rest. If I am hungry, I eat. I am a very responsible and loving body-owner these days.
This post has been sitting in the back of my mind for a long time, but I was inspired to get it written this week as a couple of my clients have experienced this facet of mid-recovery clusterfuck recently This is often such a hard emotional time for people going through it, but for me, watching from the sidelines, what I feel for them is excitement. You see, once you feel that compassion for your body again, it is like you just passed the post of no return. Emotionally hard as that might be, for most people whom I have witnessed cross this line, going back — not feeding and looking after ones body — ceases to be an option.
Your body is really, really, wonderful thing. You have a great future together.