AEDRA is pleased to introduce this blog post by a first time contributor (who has chosen not to add her name at this point)
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( trigger alert: this post contains first person descriptions of ED thinking processes and ED behaviours)
The Truth About Recovery
Institutionalised – the most surreal, eye opening, soul destroying experience of my life so far. But also – some of the safest days of my life. By being admitted to hospital in April of this year I was surrendering to my anorexia. Waving a huge white flag and saying I cannot be in control of myself anymore, I can’t be trusted with my own body anymore. For months and months, I have abused myself in a self-destructive frenzy of starvation, over exercising, purging and laxative abuse. Coming into hospital was finally giving myself up to be taken care of by someone else after I had failed time and time again to take care of myself.
Right up to the point of my surrender I was doing anything and everything in my power to lose weight at whatever cost to my health, my career, my relationships and my future. So reaching the conclusion that this desire to lose weight would have to be given up and I would have to work towards the opposite – gaining weight, was too painful to put into words. Every cell in my body was screaming at me telling me to run and run and run and never look back. I had to ignore every cell in my body and make this step for the people around me who are at their wits end – who have tried everything to help me, have been there for me every step of the way and just can’t bear to see me continue to self-destruct in this way. If I couldn’t conjure up the strength to do this for my poor self, I had to do it for those wonderful people in my life.
The everyday living in an institution takes a lot of getting used to. Learning to shit while maintaining eye contact with a nurse, not having access to a toilet when you want it, no social media or means of communication, away from home, scared, helpless and so bloody hungry. The anorexic related pain, on top of the everyday, was unimaginable and no words can fully depict the emotional agony that went on at that dinner table. Your soul is on fire with rage and devastation at what you’re being forced to do. Similar, I imagine, to being made to kill a puppy with your bare hands. And all that’s just with one bite, you have to endure this mental torture for multiple bites at multiple times a day while being forced to sit on your arse and do nothing. The desire to exercise is overwhelming. I had no other choice but to set alarms through the night to exercise in my room when night shift staff weren’t around, running on the spot for hours at a time whenever I could find a spot. All this, multiplied by a thousand, doubling in agony every day further into this challenge you get. All on top of the fact you can feel the kilograms of lard building on to your pathetic body. You feel your bones disappear, you see your face expanding and feel your clothes tightening. It is bloody hideous and a form of mental torture that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
You keep going, even when you think you can’t. You realise you’re a hell of a lot stronger than you think when being strong is the only option. Days and nights passed, they all blurred into one, helped somewhat by heavily sedating drugs. You trick yourself into thinking this isn’t your choice, you reassure your anorexia that it’s not you doing this, it’s the nasty nurses forcing you and whenever you escape them you will starve again and make up for this gluttony. I shifted the blame to someone else – I wasn’t choosing to eat a scone and butter – I was being forced and had no other choice, that is the only brief window of relief I could give myself and my anorexia. At this point, when you’ve been fighting this demon for so long, it becomes hard to differentiate between the demon inserting thoughts into your head and your own true thoughts.
Forcing yourself to detach your anorexia from your own personality is the first step of recovery. Recognising that, that voice in your head saying ‘don’t eat another bite, you’re so fat’ that is not a valid opinion, that is a poisonous insert from an evil parasite. That is not you. Once you’ve separated the two personas that have been blurred together for so long, the next step is stamping out that bitch in your head. The next step I say, as if it’s easy, as if it’s a choice.
It’s a journey worth taking, but my god is it tough. No-one really talks about this stage of an eating disorder, the stage when you get fatter and fatter and fatter and more depressed by the second. You are also completely beside yourself with hunger 24/7. This causes you to lose control and eat then purge either by making yourself sick, excessive exercise or laxatives. Most days it’s all 3. As your metabolism sky rockets, your hunger gets more overwhelming, you wake up multiple times a night with drenching night sweats soaking through your mattress. Eventually your metabolism takes another dramatic change – a steep downward spiral once you’re just about weight restored leading you into the over shooting phase. The phase where your body can finally slow down after being in starvation and it holds onto every ounce of fat it can find in case this starvation was to happen again. This is the most miserable time of all, when no one cares anymore cause you’re not remotely skinny, no-one can see how much you’re suffering. I would take the skinny, freezing, miserable days over the fat, eyes bleeding from vomiting so much, self-loathing, miserable days, any day.
You have to endure normal life with constant triggers sending you into absolute despair – friends boasting about weight loss or their new diet. Friends telling you what they did at the gym last night – a luxury that has been removed from your life after your illness proving you are no longer able to participate in exercise in a safe or healthy way. When people around you become ill with eating disorders – the biggest trigger of all. It’s such a competitive illness, nothing drives you to relapse like seeing someone around you suffering. You go to bed intending a massive relapse in the morning, then you have to wake up, force the thoughts away and eat your damn breakfast. Then get to work or school and calmly laugh off the comments said to you every day that makes you want to give up.
The part I’ve mastered – the separation part. But the part where I ignore the voices and change my own behaviours that’s at the top of a very high mountain. This mountain is going to take a long time to climb and it’s not going to be easy. Recovery is deciding you want to change, and then making that tough decision again and again and again multiple times a day for many months when everything inside you wants to quit. But I know deep down I will get there, I need to. Recovery is the only bloody option because life is too bloody short to not eat the damn cake, life is too short to not have the sangria in the sun with your best friends.