Letting Real Life In

Guess what? I’m still alive! The last few months have been a whirlwind, and I have gone from writing almost every day to being completely incommunicative. My bad. Things in my world have been a bit out of control lately, and writing simply hasn’t been at the forefront of my consciousness, but I decided to check in to write about something I have realized over the last few months, because I feel that it is pretty important. Today, I’m writing about an absolute truth that has become clear to me recently: If you let your life in, it will squeeze your eating disorder out.

An eating disorder, like any destructive behavior, will linger for as long as it serves a purpose. It will be a part of your life for as long as its presence feels necessary. In the first two years of my recovery, I made leaps and bounds. I gave up a good deal of my disordered behaviors, I stopped weighing myself, and I fought the fear of gaining weight and let it happen. Yet I still felt lost without my eating disorder. I still felt incomplete when I wasn’t obsessing over exercise and food, and I still allowed it to control a portion of my life. I eliminated many problematic behaviors, but I clung to the ones that felt impossible to abandon. Rather than fully give up my eating disorder, I found small ways to keep it with me. I scheduled plans in a way that meant I could still feel some control over my food, and I didn’t veer from my food plans if I could help it. I prioritized exercise above most other things, and I found ways to justify that prioritization so that I didn’t have to look too closely at it. I knew that I wasn’t living the life that I wanted to live, but I didn’t know how to change. I felt like I had tried my best, and perhaps this would be as far as I would go in recovery.

And then, I fell in love, and everything changed. I found somebody who values me for exactly who I am, who would rather I spend time with him than spend time working out. I found somebody who does not shame me for my appearance or expect me to diet. To the contrary, he tells me that I’m beautiful. He saves the last bite of something especially delicious for me, and he always offers me another glass of wine. He appreciates high-quality ingredients, but he doesn’t judge me for enjoying a cheap beer or a handful of potato chips. He delights in taking me to restaurants that he loves, and he has never made me feel guilty or ashamed for eating. Knowing and loving this person has drastically changed me for the better, and it has helped me gradually push out some behaviors that I was still clinging to.

I feel fortunate to have found myself in this place, and I know that it is something that I had to wait for, in a sense. There have been other people that I have dated who I didn’t feel ready to give up my behaviors for, and that was part of why I knew they weren’t the right person for me. In fact, I can distinctly remember times when I have stubbornly chosen my eating disorder over something else, simply because that person or thing did not feel any better to me than what I knew, which was my eating disorder. When you meet the person or find the passion that outweighs your disordered habits, you will find that your eating disorder is no longer all that important, and it will gradually take up less and less space in your life.

Although this post might seem rathe optimistic, ironically, 2016 has been one of the worst years of my life. Both of my parents have been diagnosed with cancer in the last seven months, and the future feels uncertain and more than a little bit scary, but somehow I feel okay. I am living the life that I want to live, and that has given me a sense of gratitude that I never could have achieved otherwise. It has taken anorexia and recovery to heal my relationship with myself and others, and I’m overwhelmingly grateful to have arrived at this place. Moments of fear and tragedy can be fertile ground for relapse, and I’m happy to say that the opposite has happened with me. Rather than dive farther into disordered behaviors because of the uncertainty in my life, I have realized how meaningless it is to waste a life full of promise on the never-ending goal to reach a state of physical perfection. It wasn’t until I reached a place where I began to see that life is too short to waste it in a small space of disordered eating and exercise that I met somebody who helped pull me farther out of that dark and lonely space, and he has helped me remember how much life there is to be lived.

This is on my mind in a big way today, because I just spent a week with my significant other, who lives in another town. It was Thanksgiving weekend in the US, and I wasn’t with any immediate family, which was hard. But for the entire week, I didn’t obsess about exercise. For a whole week, I didn’t overthink how much I was eating or drinking. And, because of that, I have a wonderful week’s worth of memories with this person. If I had told him that he couldn’t come because it would interfere with my exercise routine, or hadn’t let him stay with me because I felt the need to retain control over my food choices, which I most certainly would have done in the past, I would have missed out on the opportunity to grow closer to this person and to enrich our relationship, all in the interest of maintaining my comfort. After a week working out and controlling my food, I would have felt lonely and isolated in a time of great stress, with little support around me. Perhaps I would have felt slightly more secure in my body knowing I hadn’t missed a workout, or slightly safer about the way in which I ate because my food was being controlled, but to what end? If your obsession with food and exercise keeps you from living your actual life, it is absolutely not worth it. But you won’t know it’s not worth it until you give that real life a chance, and that has to come at the right time. It has to come at a time when you feel strong enough to take some risks, courageous enough to step off of the ledge and see what happens, and supported enough to deal with the fallout. And, sometimes, it takes a wakeup call to remind you how short this life can be, and to help you realize that life and love are the only valuable pursuits.

Nobody can tell you when your eating disorder will feel like it no longer serves you. And, as much as I would love to promise that it will happen in a timely and calculated way, that simply isn’t true. There are things that you can do to help that time come, though, and I wholeheartedly believe that they help. You can surround yourself with support, and with people who you genuinely love and enjoy. You can try to keep a distance from those who are food and exercise obsessed, so that you can focus your attention elsewhere. You can research things that interest you, go to events that sound fun, and make an effort to meet new people. It may take a while, but with some hard work and a lot of faith, you will reach a point where your real life is millions of times more important than your eating disorder. There may be moments when it still feels important, but you will find that they are fewer and farther between. I don’t believe that it is every too late, and I don’t believe that it is possible to have too many second chances. If you are willing to work for it and wait for it, it can happen, and it is the most liberating feeling in the world when it does.

As always, thanks to Amanda for the opportunity to link up today. I hope you all have a wonderful start to the last month of the year, full of light and love.

  1. I’m so happy for you. I’m also so sad for you and your family situation. But man, these words just couldn’t be more true. I think this is the slow fade of recovery- when an eating disorder becomes just a tad too inconvenient for the life we’re trying to live. My now husband played a huge role in filling some voids for me and making my ED both unnecessary and terribly inconvenient.
    These are such strong, beautiful words. Thank you for the reminder.
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  2. Beautifully said, Erin. Real life is so much more deeply satisfying and enriching than the fake life of disordered eating, isn’t it? Congratulations on building a loving relationship with your self and another. Prayers for your parents’ continued healing.

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