Man, all that is depressing. I’m ready to get to the less-depressing parts. 🙂
Eating disorders, simultaneously, are all about food and nothing about food. On the one hand, they are really about control. On the other, they involve food–a fundamental part of us and one we cannot escape. (I once heard someone talk about imagining a life where we didn’t need to eat three times a day, but that was clearly a pipe dream.) Thus, my parents could take me to as many nutritionists as they wanted to, and threaten me with all of the negative consequences; but if I still felt like food was the one thing I could control, I wouldn’t budge. At the same time, I could work on not controlling everything in my life, or realizing what was healthy taking charge and what was toxic control; but without a blueprint for how to rebuild healthy eating habits, I was screwed.
For me, rehab provided both of these things. Let me take a break for a minute here and point you to a TedX talk I recently heard and loved. Glennon Melton, of Momastery fame, gave a talk at TedX Traverse City titled “Everything I needed to know in life, I learned in a mental hospital.” Replace “mental hospital” with “rehab” or “treatment” (or just add them, because I’ve had experience with all three), and you have a talk I could give. One of the points she articulate quite well is the fact that when you are on a psych ward you really have nothing left to lose. Everything you are on the outside is immaterial. In the psych ward/treatment/rehab, you have no masks or capes or coping mechanisms left. You’re naked, so to speak. Which feels terribly, terribly frightening. It is you and your demons, face to face. Your scars, your fears, your monsters, your pain–you don’t have any insulation anymore. But that is not all.
In rehab, you also have other people. And you may not like these other people. You may hate them, or hate how they talk, or be scared of them because of prejudice, or scared because they are seeing you at your bottom. But they are there, and they are not going anywhere. In that safe, controlled, unfortunately-rare setting, you can choose one of two things: open up, be honest, be scared, be real–but SHOW UP–or shut down and pretend you still have your cape and refuse to get help.
I am not perfect. I spent a fair share of time in the shut down mode. But what I eventually learned was that I couldn’t afford it. I could not afford to not get help. I was going to die without out it, inside and outside. So I took that terrifyingly scary first step.
Back to how it applies to my ED: I have had to work on both pieces–the out of control feeling that spiraled me into it and developing healthy eating patterns that sustain and nourish me. But I absolutely cannot have one without the other. I need to be honest with my life. I have to show up in the “brutiful”-ness of live and live the pain and joy and fear. I can’t numb out–it’s too risky. And it sucks. And some days I have no clue what I’m doing, in eating or anything else. But I try, and pretend to be a normal person, and take care of myself, and call someone else who can tell me the truth when I can’t, and I stand back up.
Practically, I had to cut way back on checking my weight. I still do it at times, because…I can’t not, even though I know it might be better. But I’m not a slave to the scale. I check it, and I get off and call someone and am honest and then I go about my life. I eat normally, and when I’m in doubt I make sure I get carbs, protein, and fat at each meal and hang in there for when I can go back to eating by gut feel (literally). Here is the interplay: when I am having a bad food day, I have to make sure I talk about my feelings with someone so that I can keep the food from going crazy. If I have a bad feelings day, I have to make sure I’m eating enough to stay present to feel my feelings so that they don’t engender a food shut down. They’re a toxic, interrelated, crazy mix I can’t afford to mess with. And that is why I have learned to take care of my mental health as closely as my physical health.