So here I am: a daily drinker, hopeless anorexic, and eternal college student still living in my parents’ home at twenty-three years-old when I decided to dive head-first into treatment for the first time in five years. Sounds like a CHALLENGE!
My last treatment experience had been grueling and tumultuous: I was fighting ‘the process’ for the entire three months I spent attempting to address my eating disorder and then newly-diagnosed substance abuse issues. At nineteen, it was impossible for me to imagine spending my life sober AND at the prescribed weight goal that my doctors had set for me. I also left that round of treatment obsessed with numbers. Whether it was calories, vitals, shoe sizes, or bottles of beer on the wall, I counted anything and everything. It gave me an odd sense of peace and comfort when I felt the world around me was spiraling out of control. That guy I had been dating decided he didn’t want to see me anymore? Oh, well. I would just have to make sure I stayed under a certain amount of calories that day and I could forget about that jerk. I thought I had a perfect system, but the professionals were telling me that it was fatally flawed. A tiny, minuscule part of me may have agreed with them at that point, but it took hard convincing for me to see their side of the argument.
I stepped through (well, actually, I was wheeled through, you know . . . on a gurney) the gleaming entrance way of the Cambridge Eating Disorder Center in April of 2010 for the first (but certainly not the last!) time full of piss and vinegar. I was scared and I felt like a failure for being back in treatment again. Little did I know that I would have to get used to those feelings (and so many more) as they sometimes violently resurfaced during the healing process. As anorexia’s death-grip loosened on me at CEDC, I found myself feeling extremely raw and vulnerable. I was beginning to experience all those feelings that I had been avoiding by restricting, self-injuring and drinking myself into oblivion on a daily basis. Uncomfortable would not even begin to describe what it felt like sitting with these feelings. They were horrendous! No wonder why I was using my eating disorder for so long! Coming to these realizations about how my maladaptive coping strategies helped me get through difficult times in my life was a bit of a breakthrough. But knowing was only half the battle. (Actually, giving it half the battle would be extremely generous . . . knowing was probably about an eighth of the battle) Not only would I have to cope with how to function as a human being with this newly-discovered wiiiiiide range of emotions, but I would also have to accept that, as a human (and not a robot), I need to feed myself. Not too much, not too little. And little- if any- booze. I would have to take care of myself, which was the most daunting feat of all.
Taking care of yourself seems like something that a normal, real-life human should be able to do. You bathe yourself, clothe yourself, rest yourself, and feed yourself, but why? Because there is a part of yourself that is fully invested in your own health and well-being. Biologically, taking care of yourself allows your body to preserve your genes long enough so they can be passed on to the next generation.
Why was it so difficult for me to satisfy this terribly basic human need? Was I a robot? No, robots don’t drink rum. I certainly felt less-than human, and I owe that to the sexual trauma I experienced when I was younger. For many years, I held on to a strong core belief that I was a giant piece of shit. That I do not deserve nice things. In fact, if someone were to be dumb enough to give me nice things, I would probably throw that shit across the room and tell them to fuck off. To bring this core belief full-circle, giant pieces of shit do not need food. Giant pieces of shit do not deserve food. Or love. Or affection. Or attention (unless it’s negative, as in: “look at that bony piece of shit! She’s GROSS!”).
It was this belief that was playing like a repeating cassette tape over and over in my mind when I would impulsively put out cigarette after cigarette out on my forearm and drank myself into blackouts. It was this belief that fed the eating disorder that was eating me alive. This erroneous belief acted as the gasoline to fuel anorexia’s fire. To this day, I still struggle with fighting that negative core belief that I have held about myself for so long.
Anyone who had the pleasure of working with me during those years at CEDC may have felt like they were trying to teach coping skills to a sack full of rabid raccoons. I was loud, angry, obstinate, but mostly extremely fearful of what a life without my crutch would be like. In all honesty, I’m still angry and stubborn as an ass. I will always be loud, so there’s no use in trying to change that.
During these last four years, I’ve gotten many glimpses about what this fabled ‘life without Ed’ may look and feel like, perhaps even enough glimpses to build a solid foundation of recovery on. I’ve seen what the other side looks like, the side that is free of obsession, free of self-hatred and punishment, free of the twin daemons: anxiety and depression, free of addiction and co-dependence.
My hard work (and stubbornness) in treatment has inched me closer and closer to my ultimate goal – complete recovery from anorexia, the horrible disease that has held me captive for half of my life.
As I draw closer, my fear deepens.