Recovery: Some of the things we talked about…

I did a recovery vodcast earlier this week. Because my recovery was so internalised and over-analysed, I forget that there are useful things that could be said. This is a recovery dump. It’s some of the things that we talked about that I had only talked to myself about. I don’t know whether they’ll be helpful. I’ve been so aware that my recovery has been different from his recovery – which is different from her recovery – that I’d forgotten the points where experiences collide, and that the more weapons you can rally up, the better.

It is not an easy battle, nor fought on a single front…

So, in no particular order, these are some of the things that we discussed.

Making the decision

I made the decision to recover on multiple occasions. I decided that it was a good idea time and time again. Each decision, though I didn’t realise it then, was a brick in the foundation; and, I started growing when the emphasis moved from what I would stop doing in relation to eating, to what I would start doing in relation to life. That subtle shift made all the difference. It tipped recovery into the positive, rather than making it all about what I was losing and giving up.

I didn’t make the decision

I’ve written before about ambivalence and waiting for the ‘aha’ recovery moment. It did not come. I don’t know whether it ever does. Right up until the point when I stopped bingeing, the uncertainty hung, and clung, and tempted me back. The same thing happened with gaining weight. I did not wake up one sunny morning and find that it had suddenly become okay: I had to start while I was still clouded with doubt.

Cold Turkey

I went ‘cold turkey’ on bingeing. I stopped, over night, because I couldn’t manage stopping for one day. It was all or nothing and, after years of daily purging, I couldn’t decipher the shades of grey. One day without it was unbearable – so I had to stop thinking about the one day and start thinking about the rest of my life.

I had attempted cold turkey before – but you don’t have to stop trying if it doesn’t work first time.

My ankles did not swell up (even though they had in the past). I did not treble in weight over night. My body did learn, within about a month, how to process food. I did find that one day was bearable and I did break the day down into hours. Oh yes, and I ate.

Recovery involves eating

It took a number of years for this to register. Eating makes it easier not to binge. It’s also a requirement if you need to gain weight. I’ll come back to this one…

Breaking bingeing routines

Going cold turkey on bingeing meant that everything changed. I won’t pretend that it’s easy. The first few months, it sapped my energy in the same way that the illness had sapped me. I made it through by…

  • Lowering the bar: I gave myself a break and didn’t expect to feel great. I didn’t fight the days when every minute stretched into an agonising hour, and I didn’t try and plaster over how I was feeling. I just allowed myself to be.
  • Distractions: Because there were hours to fill when I stopped bingeing and lonely gaps where other people should have been, I had a long list of basic things to keep myself going. Su du ku, films, magazines, card-making, the internet, walks. Nothing too demanding, but enough to get me through the day.
  • Eating: I could not stop bingeing while I still refused to eat. Simple – and yet so painfully hard. The first few months weren’t about weight gain, for me; they were about getting enough inside me to give me a fighting chance of fighting the bulimia. It is impossible to do this if you’re still in starvation mode.
  • Shops, reductions and associations: These were everywhere. I had a supermarket on my doorstep and a routine that was etched in stone. I knew the reduction time at every store and had managed to include most foods within my bingeing routine. Planning, preparation and risk management – I thought about what I was doing and put precautions in place long before I actually began.

If, then

We talked about my “if…then” strategy during the vodcast. After so much therapy, it had become second nature and totally ingrained. “If this happens then I will…” got me through some sticky stages and is a way of thinking that seemed to minimise the risks. “If I want to binge then I will remember that the feeling will pass in a few hours time”. “If I feel tempted not to eat, I will remember that I don’t need to feel guilty because eating will help me get nearer to life”. That kind of thing. It goes hand in hand with self talking, which is the other thing that got me through.

Self Talking

I lay in hospital one night worrying about how I would binge on a loaf of bread that had cost me 10p in the reduction bin. This is what an eating disorder does to you.

I reminded myself of this whenever I felt my resolve slipping. That my life was worth more than 10p. That I did not want to wake up and suddenly realise that I’d lost another 10 years. That eating was okay and gaining weight, totally acceptable, because I’d decided that I was going to give myself a shot at life.

And that people were more important, to me, than food.

Loneliness and re-engaging

It is the loneliness that got me – and the loneliness that spurred me onto being well. It could not be undone in a day, nor undone by anyone other than me.

For the first phase of my recovery, I remained alone, both in the long empty evenings, and because my head was in a different space. It was tempting, then, to be sucked back into the spiral – but that would just have kick started the cycle all over again. So I waited, and I talked to a few wonderful people who propped me up, and I started being more proactive when I had moved through the initial all-consuming stages of change.

Telling people

I told people. This is hard. It is particularly hard if you’re ashamed of your behaviour, or if you’ve said that you’ll change so many times that it starts to fall on deaf ears. It is hard if you’re scared that you’re not sure you’re ready to change, and you’re therefore creating a space to be challenged by someone else.

I was surprised.

When I really started fighting the bulimia, the people who were aware of what I was doing completely held me up. They did not judge me and they kept me going; and, a little bit later, when I got cold feet, their support and my gratitude stopped me slipping back.

Gritting my teeth

I am still not very good with certain foods and don’t like being out of control. Over the past year, I’ve got good at gritting my teeth. There are things that you have to do in recovery that are hard and challenging and upsetting – and, sometimes, you just have to grit your teeth and remember that the feelings will pass. So, if I want to spend time with my friends without food spoiling the evening, I need to get on with it; and, if I’m in a meeting at work and lunch consists of a platter of sandwiches, then I have to remember that work is part of my future and push on through. It gets easier, though it starts off feeling impossibly hard.

There is no right or wrong way to recover

I spent a long time looking for this. It does not exist.

Different things work for different people, and different things work at different times. You just have to keep trying, if you can, because however impossible it feels, please don’t give up.

Nothing is impossible

I thought I would never recover. Enough said.

There is much much more….but we only had half an hour and it was hard to jump back. Please feel free to add any other ideas or things that made a diffference – because recovery is a lot easier if you’re not battling alone.

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6 Responses to “Recovery: Some of the things we talked about…”

  1. magicplum says:

    Lots of this sounds so familiar! Making the decision on mulitple occasions, and then not really making the decision as such – yet recovery seems to begin to come.
    Like you say – What you start doing in relation to Life – that’s the key i think. xx

  2. James says:

    Thanks for posting all this up Melissa. There are so many helpful, inspiring and hopeful points here – it’s well worth coming back to over and over again.

    I’m looking forward to hearing the vodcast. :)

  3. Afterglow05 says:

    Melissa – I really like this post. It may even reflect that flimmer of hope in my direction. I feel like I’ve attempted all(most) of these at different times but the key may be using all of the different facets together. I, like you have gone from the anorexia spectrum to bulimia and back again. I feel as though its almost one way or the other at this point. Thank you for your continued support!

  4. Melissa says:

    Thanks guys –

    Magicplum – Yes. I do think it’s the key. Or, it was for me anyway. When you think about stopping and giving up and changing, it all feels quite overwhelming; but when you think about gaining and exploring and the bigger picture, things seem worth the fight.

    James – And this only skimmed the surface….! I guess the other message is that there are always things to try and things to re-try, because it takes a while for the different pieces to click into place.

    Afterglow – thank you and I think you’re right – it’s the combination and the timing, and not giving up because something hasn’t worked straight away. xx

  5. Joanna Cake says:

    During the second half of my three decades as an anorexic, I didn’t binge or starve myself. Having the children made that more difficult because I wanted to introduce them to good eating patterns. I had hoped that, as a mother, I wouldnt still be an anorexic but I discovered that the root cause was my own lack of self esteem. If I felt beautiful, I didnt need to starve myself. As a new mum, my child’s need of me somehow made me beautiful. As they grew older and my husband’s affection diminished, the old feelings came back and, at times of increased stress, just took over.

    I firmly believe that if you can learn to love yourself and override whatever trigger it was that stopped you from being able to do that, you can control the urges to binge/starve.

    However, I cant help thinking that if you have a tendency towards this type of obsessive/compulsive behaviour, it will always be lurking. It is up to the individual to be aware of the triggers and learn how to react positively rather than in the old negative ways. And be aware of other ways that it can manifest – special diets due to ‘allergies’, etc.

    For me, blogging was crucial in that I could write it down and start admitting it to others and to myself. That acknowledgement is key because, so often, we just kid ourselves that we want to get better. The bad, controlling part of our brain doesnt want that and it’s up to the rational part to override it. Small steps with lots of affirmation from those around us.

    An eating disorder is such a ‘lonely’ thing. We hide it away because we are ashamed and other people wont call us out on it because they dont understand how someone could not want to eat or binge and then vomit. They dont know what to do so they tend to ignore it. If you can share it with someone, somehow it makes it easier. Maybe it’s all part of some kind of attention seeking thing? If people care enough to ask…

    And exposing my body to the gaze of others helped me to understand what they saw, not what my warped mind emphasised when I looked in the mirror.

    Coming out and admitting my anorexia was one of the best things I ever did.

  6. ellie says:

    Hey…

    I know this is an old post but I only found your blog today and have been reading from the last update and couldn’t NOT respond to this. It was exactly what I needed to read this evening…

    I don’t know if you will remember me, but I was at The Royal Free with you and always wondered how you were doing- hence the backreading tonight. I am so happy things have gotten better for you and so incredibly thankful that so much of your journey is documented here!