Roadblocks to Recovery: It’s complicated
Life is enormously complicated. There are interpersonal relationships (friends, family, co-workers, etc) and there are any number of variables that we flat-out don’t have any control over. Although I don’t think an ED is “about” control, control is a theme in many eating disorders, and mine was no exception.
I don’t get nostalgic for the good ol‘ days of AN much anymore, but when I do, it’s usually because life has gotten complicated and I miss the AN simplicity. Which brings me to my next roadblock to recovery:
An ED Makes Life Simpler
When I am in the midst of my eating disorder, I care about three things and three things only: how much I ate, how much I exercised, and how much I weigh. I might not have any clue how I’m going to tackle the next big project at work, but it’s all good- I’m losing weight. I might be getting really nervous about how I’m going to pay all my bills, but it’s all good- I’m exercising a lot. Ta-da! It’s simple. As long as I can have an iron control over what I (don’t) eat, then life becomes tremendously simple because nothing else matters.
Of course, the fact that starvation makes your brain fixate on OMG FOOD only makes the simplicity more pronounced. Because literally, the only thing you can think about is food. Even when I needed to think of something else, I couldn’t. My life was all about food and how to avoid it. Granted, the mental and emotional gymnastics I had to perform to make sure I avoided food was far from simple. I tried to anticipate any and every circumstance that might possibly disrupt my planned food or my exercise routine. Nonetheless, these mental gymnastics were far simpler than life in general. I learned to deny, isolate, lie, and hide to maintain my disorder and the seeming simplicity it brought.
When I was acutely ill, I wasn’t all that worried about the distant future- I rather assumed the eating disorder would kill me. I also had anorexia as my trump card, so as long as I was alive on surviving on minimal food, then the future didn’t matter all that much.
Food. Weight. Calories. Exercise. These things are so simple to manage when compared to the complex world of relationships and getting your oil changed, of paying bills and taking care of loved ones. Life requires all of us to juggle many different roles, many different tasks, and many different personas depending on what is required of us at the moment. When a friend asks me over for dinner, I have to determine whether this conflicts with other responsibilities, whether those responsibilities can be cancelled, whether an aging grandparent might also need my help, and how likely it is I will be asked to work late. When an active eating disorder is in that picture, I just decline the dinner invitation because dinner=food=eating. It’s an easy decision. Selfish, perhaps, but definitely simple.
Recovery means accepting the full catastrophe of life. It means juggling many different roles and tasks, and it also means that you won’t be everything to everyone. It means dealing with people rather than calorie counting manuals. It means–and this is a big one for me–accepting uncertainty and imperfection.