I mentioned the uncomfortable silence that stopping the compulsions and rituals that many of us with anorexia establish in a previous blog on lower-level movement here. This post is an elaboration on that.
A “spiritually enlightened” person once said this to me: “You have to first create space for new and better things if you want new and better things to fill the space.”
Now, usually I’m too cynical to listen much to anything that someone who describes themselves as “spiritually enlightened” tells me. Unfortunately, this little wisdom nugget held absolutely true for me.
Here is the catch I was in: I spent a lot of my day exercising and complying to movement-related rules and rituals. This left little time for “other things.” Gradually, friends stopped bothering to ask me to do “other things.” This left me with even more space to fill with movement-related rules and rituals and no friends to do other things with even if I had wanted to. When I understood that I had to stop all the movement, one of the many reasons that this felt difficult to justify doing was because I didn’t have anything else to do. I didn’t have anything else to do … because this is all I had been doing for years.
There didn’t seem any point in stopping the movement unless I had something better to do. Especially seeing as stopping the movement opened up all this time and space and made it even more painfully obvious that I had no friends and no interests and NO LIFE outside of anorexia.
After a while, one of the reasons I was filling my days with stupid anorexia rules and rituals was to distract me from the truth that I was lonely and had nothing better to do.
The catch is, that unless you create space for new things and new people to fill, they can’t come.
I wanted it the other way around. I wanted someone to come into my life and give me a reason not to go to the gym. A reason not walk to the shops to not buy anything. A reason not to vacuum my flat again. But while all these things were taking up space, there was no room for reasons not to do them to come in and take over.
It took me far too long to work out that I had to create space and sit there and wait for it to get filled with non-anorexia stuff.
Doing so was not comfortable. Stopping the gym and the walking and the cleaning left a gaping hole where my life should have been. It pointed out my loneliness, lack of meaningful purpose in life, and lack of interest in anything that wasn’t related to food and movement. I wanted to run away from that gaping hole. I wanted to fill my time with movement and rituals so I didn’t have to face it. But, that wouldn’t have been recovery, would it?
I had to sit there and wait and be uncomfortable in that silence and deal with all the emotions of doubt that the silence brought up before that silence eventually did begin to be interrupted with other interests and people.
It is rather like opening a lemonade stand on your front drive and then sitting there and waiting for customers to come wondering if they will come. Patience has never been one of my strong points, but pig-headedness is something I excel at. My experience taught me that when it came to withstanding that uncomfortable silence that not adhering to movement urges left me with, pig-headedness and determination came in very useful.
I forced myself to sit and rest. My brain pitched a fit about that initially, but then it learned that sitting and resting didn’t actually result in anything awful after all. It got used to it. It started to enjoy it. I began to discover other ways to fill my time.
It worked, by the way
My life did become filled with things. Glorious things. Friends yes. But also activities that my eating disorder would never have allowed. Like sitting and writing. Like sitting and reading. Like playing Donkey Kong on the SNES that my husband got me for no productive reason at all. (It is also the only video game I can play other than Mario World.)
I will never take my friends for granted because I am blessed with knowing what loneliness really feels like. I am busy, but not busy in the same way I used to be when I filled my time with bullshit pointless movement games. My days are filled with people (and plenty of animals) because when you can sit and hold a meaningful conversation and not have half your mind consumed with food and fear of stillness, other people like you more. I do wonderfully normal things like meet people for tea and lunch — more activities that I wouldn’t have been able to do without a good deal of stress before.
I was always worried I would be bored if I wasn’t moving. At least, that was a thought I had. Now I can see that I was so very bored with moving. My life is full in a way I never imagined it could be. It is hard to describe how being so very “normal” can be so very wonderful.
I had to sit though that uncomfortable silence to get here. If you have a complusive movement element you will have to do that too.
It is worth it.
This post came just the right time for me! I have followed your texts about lower-level-movement from the beginning. I have read those texts over and over again. I have reached some progress in my fight against anorexia. I am still busy with doing my “avoid sitting and being still”-things. But NOW, after a decade I have noticed that I am lonely. I have plenty on friends and they want to see me, but I can not see them if we a not going to gym or for a walk together. I want company and that is the step I have to take: leave my compulsions and fear of sitting and stillness behind. Is my world going to crash down, Do I die, If I sit and chat with my friends and play Legos with my niece? No, I get some company and relationships. And maybe my friends get more encouraged to ask me to cinema or just for a coffee with them. I hope that will happen, but that needs ME to do changes. I want and DO this!
You CAN do this Nella
There are so many opportunities to “be” with others and spend valuable time. It’s really hard and scary to sit through the not-moving, but being patient with yourself and talking yourself through it/distracting allows you to come out on the other side, where you will have endless wonderful memories spent with those you love, and who love you, and who want that time with you.
Wow. Tabitha. I sit here after having read this post with tears in my eyes. Realizing now the fears I’ve had around this topic and understanding why it’s been SO DAMN hard to stop moving and get living. I’m so sad about being lonely that I fill my days with more movement and food related bullshit. I’ve followed you for some time. Your posts, more often than not, speak DIRECTLY to me, as if you are me and I am you, and reflect my personal experiences and feelings extremely uncannily similar. I’m scared. I’m tired of being scared. I’m tired of literally running away. Perhaps now it’s time to stop running and get still. Thank you for sharing this message and for the work you do for those us recovered and recovering. Keep sharing the light <3
Time for some space and stillness in your life Heather xx
Dear Tabitha ,
I read all this and think yes come on , you’re going to the same
But then I think – wait but I’m eating an extra uncomfortable amount because I am in recovery – so I am eating to gain weight because I need to , so I’m eating more than normal and it’s very uncomfortable . A light walk is surely good for me and it’s not going to be forever , just while you’re gaining weight .
Doesn’t that make sense
But then I go into – oh yes you can do all your stretching rituals as long as you eat more and keep gaining weight then you’ll stop when you’re a healthy weight
Hi Tabitha! Your podcasts has been responsible for my transition to recovery and I am so grateful! But as I’m going throughthe extreme hunger phase right now, I have to ask you: does everything I’m learning really apply to someone who only had restrictive eating patterns for months, not years? So much of what I read talks about people who suffer for years – I am having a lot of trouble letting myself eat after gaining all the weight back so quickly, and after only a short time of restriction, and a weight loss of only 10% of my starting weight.
There’s no better/best eating disorder scale. Don’t compare yourself to others or judge. You’re entitled to healing, health, and a fulfilled life! If you’re hungry it’s because your body needs nourishment, and you’re allowed to eat. Every day. No matter what. just like everyone else
what do you do instead of moving? I need some ideas please
I think you can start by shifting your thinking about the idea of movement, shift your motivation. Try doing activities with other people, like cycling for the scenery, swimming in a lake or river, hiking in nature, or foraging. Gentle activities like gardening, throwing a ball with your dog, walking around a museum or gallery, or doing yoga. Restrict your activities to things you can do with a friend so you’re accountable to not being a crazy person about it/over-doing.
Fuck yeah, Donkey Kong.