Last week, I spent my first night in this new apartment. Storage totes lined up in the livingroom and bedroom. Piles of items to sort and find a place for. With the chaos of moving, I spent the entire day slowly going through pieces of my life I haven’t looked at in years. Scrapbooks, old photographs, yearbooks, and journals I’ve had tucked away in storage. Amidst this drastic change in my life, it only took a moment to bring me back to reality. A reminder that eating disorder recovery really is a life-long journey.
If you didn’t read my last blog post, I shared this transition I’m going through. Leaving behind a family I’ve lived with for four years to have my own space in this crazy world. Catch up here if you’d like: “Him’s My Lissa” | My Life as a Nanny
It was my first night here in a place that didn’t quite yet feel like home. With an empty fridge, one box of macaroni and cheese, and no pots and pans, I did what most movers do — ordered a pizza.
I cleared off a section on the kitchen table and sat down for my first meal in this place. Opened the pizza box and, for the first time in years, engaged in completely mindless eating. To clarify, this sort of mindless eating is the like driving home from work, pulling in the driveway, and not remembering which way you took to get there because you were so distracted.
A huge mess surrounded me and the pizza was disappearing without me even noticing. I focused on what I needed to do, things I needed to buy, and a running to-do list in my head tried to derail all the work I put into maintaining my eating disorder recovery mission.
When I noticed half the pizza was gone, I stood up and started walking toward the bathroom thinking, “I need to get rid of it.”
And in that moment, I stopped.
It will be nine years this summer since I have forced myself to purge. I can’t even remember the last time I seriously considered doing this because it’s been such a distant habit. So, why now?
My eating disorder was my primary coping mechanism for most of my life. Food, bingeing, purging, restricting, and exercise served emotional purposes. The most challenging part of my eating disorder recovery process was rebuilding my relationship with food.
In my kitchen, ten years later, these old habits tried to make a comeback.
It’s bizarre how the mind works sometimes. Hours before I sat down with the pizza, I washed coffee mugs I’ve moved from Wausau, to Alaska, then to La Crosse and back to Wausau. A pottery set I bought in Hayward many years ago. All these items have somehow played a part in this journey.
My eating disorder was right there with me when I left home for the first time and moved to Alaska. Extreme dieting, restricting, and exercise replaced the bingeing and purging while I lived there. Then, the eating disorder, in all of its forms, took over my life when I didn’t know how to manage returning to Wisconsin.
In ten years, I learned not to rely on food as a source of comfort. I learned how to deal with the changes and challenges life grants me in healthier, more productive ways.
Making life changes and going through transitions is a common time for relapse. This most recent move is something I needed, though, and I planned for it. I knew when the right place came along, things would fall into place. This is why I was only caught off guard and did not slip into a relapse. Perhaps it was a moment I needed to remind myself how far I have come?
January 23, 2017 marks my tenth anniversary of the day I entered treatment for an eating disorder.
I’m a different person today than the timid, ornery girl who walked into the clinic that day with her head down, refusing to make eye contact with anyone. It amazes me now, ten years later, I am working for the hospital that helped give me a better life.
Back then, my mind was a constant loop of horrible thoughts. Negative thinking, self-loathing, my weight, and food consumed me. If I wasn’t thinking about how fat I was, I was thinking about what I was going to eat, not eat, or where I was going to vomit.
For a while during recovery, I would have to work hard and focus tremendous amounts of energy on all these things that come naturally now. My eating habits aren’t perfect and I don’t exercise like I should. But my soul is happy. I don’t worry about my weight.
In fact, when I became sick several years ago and was losing weight, I bought a scale. Being in recovery, this worried me, but I was more worried about the drastic weight loss and the fact no one believed it wasn’t a relapse of my eating disorder. I never got rid of the scale, but I can’t even remember the last time I stepped on it. This coming from the girl who used to weigh herself multiple times a day.
People I know who have quit smoking will tell me they still crave cigarettes, even after years of not smoking. I certainly do not crave bingeing and purging. There is no aspect of my eating disorder I would take back to trade for what I have now.
While January 23rd marks my tenth anniversary of the beginning of treatment, January also has another milestone. On the 21st, I will celebrate my 4th year working in Behavioral Health. This role has played an important part in this recovery journey. I don’t dwell on what my life would have been like without an eating disorder because I wouldn’t be here.
And I love it here.