There is a great campaign going on for the international ED awareness week. Check out the video below.
The idea is to thank the person which helped you get through recovery.
However when seeing this video I asked myself "what if you do not have such a hero?"
To be honest - during recovery I did not feel like there was anybody out there I could talk to - besides my therapist. Which was great, which helped a lot. But never I felt like I could talk about all those thoughts which were going on in my head, all those questions I kept asking myself during recovery.
My parents knew what was going on - but a) I was living in Paris and they are living in Germany and b) whenever I tried to talk to them I saw this absolutely terrified look on their faces, being scared for their daughter, being scared that I could not make it, being scared that I relapse, being scared for my health and my future. I tried talking about it despite this once or twice but I just ran into walls. They did not know how to react (obviously), they did not know what to say... and my parents tend to manage uncertainties with anger. I couldn't do this to them - so I just strictly avoided that topic.
The other person who know what was going on was my boyfriend of the time. And there - again: He was completely overstrained with this topic. He was living in Switzerland, I was living in Paris. That was the first difficulty because he simply could not always be there when I just needed a hug and some nice words. Plus - again - he did not know what to say. Which led to the fact that I called him up on day, in tears, I felt awful, disrupted on the inside, I did not think I was worth recovery, I did not think that I was sick obviously enough, even though I knew very well that I had a serious problem - it was a horrible situation. His answer on the phone: "Get your shit together and learn how to manage yourself, otherwise I'm gone." It was the worst answer he could have given me but in the end I cannot even be mad at him for that - he simply did not know how to react. Needless to say that starting there, I did not talk to him about this topic any more.
"What about your friends?" you will say. Well - this was a time where I did not really have a lot of friends. I had just finished my master studies, all friends which I had found at university started to move back to their home countries (at this international university in Paris, about 90% of the students were non-Parisian). And I did not (yet) have a lot of friends elsewhere. At least nobody who was close enough to talk to about this subject.
So no, not everybody has a recovery hero. I'm really happy for those of you who have one - I imagine that this is making recovery a little less hard. For those of you who are more like I was - learn to be your own hero. Learn to trust yourself. Learn to be good to yourself. Learn to listen to your inner voice, to the real voice of your ED, who in fact wants something else for you than "being skinny". Whenever the ED voice is coming back up, I am asking myself what is really missing in my life. What does it really want for me? Comfort? Being loved? Happiness? Lightness? Once you know what it wants, give it to yourself. Because you deserve it.
Some people think that having an eating disorder is a choice. Some people think it is a pathetic way to obtain attention from others. Some people think that EDs are no real diseases, but a way of living. Would those people say "a flu is not a sickness"? What they have not understood is that EDs are a symptom. Not a cause.
The real problem is not the ED. The real problem are the causes for the ED. The ED is more of a symptom, just like a cold is a symptom for a virus which the body is trying to get rid of.
The bad news are that this symptom can be mortal. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all psychological health issues. A cold does not kill you. Anorexia does.
The real issue we have to tackle is the root cause of this symptom. Like the virus in our cold-example. What is causing people do become anorexic / bulimic / etc.? This is the real question we have to ask ourselves. And honestly - I could not have tackled this subject without professional help. Then, all of a sudden, structures which have been in your brain forever get questioned. Is it normal to have a body image like that? Where does it come from? Does somebody in your family who has a big influence on you pay a lot of attention to anything related to food / sports / looks? Did that person maybe do that ever since you can even think? Was there that one skinny friend which you were always jealous of? Did somebody ever make fun of you because of being a little bit "chunky"? Do you think there is somebody in your life who made / makes you think that happiness is linked to weight? Do you think that overweight people can be happy?
There are a lot of questions like that you should ask yourself in order to find out the real cause of your ED. For me, it was important to know where it came from in order to make peace with it, forgive myself, and move on.
In order to get to the cause, these questions might help you. Ask yourself if in any way you were taught at some point in your life that only skinny people can be happy / are successful / are "good" people. If so, you probably have engraved that pattern into your brain just as I used to. It is the "normal" image for you. Skinny equals success and happiness. You have become so used to that image that in the end, this is the "real world" to you. You are convinced that the skinner you are, the more successful you will be, the happier you will be, the more people will like you.
Just think of yourself. Do you have a "normal-weight" friend? An overweight one? Or a family member? Do you like that person less because they are not as skinny as you are? Are they really less successful? Less attractive? I for myself can say for sure that weighing 10 kilos less I was in no way happier than I am today. On the contrary. Are YOU really happier being more skinny? Try to think back - when you had more weight, were you less happy?
Be brave and attack the cause. Re-build the highway in a different direction. Keep telling yourself that skinny does not equal success or happiness. Keep telling yourself that there are plenty of reasons to love and trust yourself. Keep telling yourself that you have the right to recover, that you have the right to get help, that you are worth it!
In the beginning your brain will always try to take the easiest way - the one it knows. That's absolutely normal. Stay on that new-built, unknown way. This can actually be learned. Trust yourself. Tell yourself that you can do it. And that your new, happy and healthy yourself, will make the hard way worthwhile taking.
Here are some simple things which can help you build this new road and stay on it:
And last but not least: Stay with it. Don't give up. Don't ever get tired of telling yourself that you have the obligation to be good to yourself. Because in the end the only person you can always rely on is yourself.
One of my main aims when writing this blog is trying to fill the gap between those people whose ED has gotten so bad that they need to be hospitalized and those who have a severe ED, but have not (yet, luckily) lost enough weight to go to a clinic - or just do not feel quite ready to take this step.
Please let me point out first of all that I think that specialized clinics or ED recovery centers are probably the best and most efficient way to deal with your ED. However, I know that (and I am speaking for myself here), it's not easy to take that step. I did not manage to, I did not feel like I could leave my daily life, work, friends, colleagues, family, behind. I do not know if that was a wise decision, but that's just what I felt was the right way for myself. BUT: I would never have been able to recover without a great therapist who I saw once a week. And that's crucial. Even if ou think you can do it on your own - trust me, you need to get professional help.
But when do you get to a point where you have to decide "I need to get help"? That's very individual. For me, it was when I got physically sick. It was just a virus which everybody gets every once in a while. But due to the fact that my body was so weak, I literally could not move any more. I did not manage to get out of bed to go see a doctor. I did not manage to get up and make myself a tea. I could not move. And that scared the hell out of me. That's when I realized that I need to change something. Needless to say that because of that virus, I had again lost some weight. Which - for me - was the good part of it, pathetically. In the meantime I had been brought to my parents (I was living in Paris at the time), and they forced me to go see a doctor. I remember that the lady who was doing blood tests asked me when I had lost so much weight. And I told her "Well, I've never really been fat..." her response: "I know, but right now, you probably don't see it, but you're really a lot too skinny.". That sort of stuck in my head. And a couple of days later I decided that I needed professional help. I called a therapist (a German-speaking one in Paris) and my new life started.....
During recovery I realized that I always felt awkward calling myself "anorexic" - just because I have never had the "right" BMI. I also realized that part of my motivation to keep loosing weight was to be "sick enough" to have the right and get help. I was scared of somebody responding to me "Oh, you think you're anorexic? But you don't like like it!"
Writing that down and reading that makes me realize even more how pathetic this thought was. I knew I had a problem - so why didn't I just stop it before?
I know that I am not the only one who had those thoughts. But think about it:
There is no "I am not sick enough to get help". If you ever had that thought, go and get help. Now.
I took the longest time to realize that I cannot make anyone else responsible of what I'm feeling than myself. I am convinced that this is one of the keys we all have to learn during recovery.
If I think about it, I always had a self-confidence issue. Even though I think I never had a real reason to. Anyways, that lack of self-confidence is probably something all people who are facing an ED have. Which led, in my case, to the fact that I tended to wanting to give the responsibility over myself to other people. Compliments turned into "Oh, really, you think I look good, skinny like that?" - confirmation, so continue to lose weight. Non-compliments turned into "You don't think I'm pretty, you probably think I'm fat - you're so right, I look like a big pig." - loose more weight!
The peek of the entire responsibility thing was probably attained when I asked my boyfriend at the time to "Tell me if you think I'm TOO skinny". Guess what - he never told me. So I kept losing weight more and more...... and that was also when I got to the least weight I ever had - 44kg. And of course - it was his fault! After all he didn't tell me that I had gotten too skinny.
YOU are responsible of yourself. Don't ever give that responsibility to anybody else. It's not your Mom, it's not your partner, it's not your best friend - it's YOU. It's not fair to give such a huge responsibility to anybody else but you. The other person does not know how to deal with it - how's he supposed to?
YOU decide. And you should decide to treat yourself well because you will be the only person who will always be with you. Think about it. Treat yourself well.
The toughest part about giving that responsibility to nobody but yourself is that usually if you have an ED, you probably do not trust yourself. That's the first step: Learn how to trust yourself. It takes time, a lot of time. But when you start doing it, you have made a huge step to the bright side of life.
As things aren't necessarily as evident for us (ex-) ED's, here's some things you can do and tell yourself in order to do mini-steps towards trusting yourself more than anybody else:
Non-Perfection is the real perfection.
Let's be honest - we all have a self-control issue. It doesn't really matter where it comes from, we will avoid digging into the past too much - we just have to learn how to manage it.
Not eating has always been - and still is - a matter of control for me. A matter of feeling powerful. Like "Look at me, I'm great because I have so much self-control." Screw that.
If I had an ounce of self-confidence, I would be able to feel good without having to control myself. But in the world of eating disorders, the act of controlling myself gave me confidence. I knew I was good when I saw the number on the scale I liked. I knew I was good when I ate only what I had planned to eat a week ahead and written down in my food diary. I knew I had the right to feel good about myself if I had exercised for three hours a day. THAT's what gave me confidence in myself. The equality is simple: Control = Confidence = Happiness.
Because that equality only works when you stick to the pathetic rules which you are imposing on yourself. A number on the scale. A size in clothing. An amount of calorie intake. And you know for yourself that you set your goals in a way that it was more or less impossible to reach them all the time. And if you could reach them, you rework them. Less calories. Less weight. At some point of time this has to lead to the situation where you eat one peanut more than you had the right to after your food diary. At one point in time you will be invited to a birthday dinner. Or a business lunch. Not the kind where you can get out of with some stupid excuses, but one you actually really have to go to. You start compensating three days ahead by eating even less, exercising even more. And the day of the event - you don't eat anything but that meal you cannot skip. And after the long working day you work out for hours in order to get rid of those calories. And that's where the control which can make you feel good for a while makes you feel like the most disgusting person in the world.
There is a German saying which goes "Trust is good, control is better". For people affected by an eating disorder this might be one of the most stupid sayings there is.
Think about it - does control really make you feel better about yourself? Does it make you happy?
Control has become a habit. You are used to spending your time counting calories, thinking about ways to exercise harder, thinking about ways out of the next invitation to dinner. It occupies you so much that it has become sort of a full-time job.
What you need to ask yourself is: Imagine you did not have an eating disorder. What would you be doing instead? It is crucial to know how to fill that gap - and it has been one of the hardest questions my therapist has asked me over and over again. I did not know how to fill the gap. What would I be thinking about if it wasn't about food or my body? Think about it - it will take a while to find the answer.
It might be a hobby which occupies your mind enough to not think about anything else (exercise doesn't count). Read a book. Organize weekends away with your friends or partner. Start learning a language. Start playing an instrument. Write a blog :-) There are tons of things you can do. It's just tough to change habits. As soon as your mind is free, it will fall back into the habits. Be prepared for it.