“Why does recovery have to have so many curve balls?” A grandmother asked today. The Christmas holiday season was not easy for her. With members of her usual treatment team on holiday, her eating disorder has had a bit of a runaway picnic in her mind, encouraging and enticing her to go to the gym even though her therapist has said “No gym for two years”. There is, of course, a very good medical reason for the therapist to say “No gym”. I don’t want osteoporosis and I’m sure you don’t, either. But that nasty eating disorder does not care two hoots if we are falling over and breaking our hip bones before we are eighty. Not a nice way for those of us who love to exercise, to end up. It does not care if we wait until our husband is at work before we go to the gym, so that he won’t know we are harming our self (see what I mean by our eating disorder having a picnic – nibbling holes in our sense of self and our trusted relationships with others).
Moderation is the key, but an eating disorder does not know that word. All it knows is “extreme” – whatever exercise we managed to do yesterday, is not enough today. We must do more, more, MORE. Or we will feel terribly guilty, right? And punish ourselves with MORE exercise. This is why the grandmother’s therapist has said “no gym for two years”. I’m sure she also meant “no gym until you have achieved recovery”. (And don’t let your eating disorder kid yourself that you are recovered, when you know you are not).
We need to be like Ginger Cat, who is an extrovert, loves the outdoors, but also knows how to pace himself. No eating disorder is bothering Ginger. He knows when to take life easy. He is totally at home with himself, even though he has moved house with me at least 12 times in the past 12 years. Ginger knows exactly how to keep anxiety at bay. No stress balls or curve balls for him. Unlike me – I know what it is like to have a will greater than my own bossing me around, causing me to deceive myself and others. It is horrid.
We may temporarily tell ourself that we feel better, our anxiety is appeased, we can manage this thing that talks so persuasively in our minds, no matter what our loved ones and our therapists are telling us. No we can’t. We must have help. There is no part way with an eating disorder. We cannot have a day of rest from being on alert to its tricky ways until we have recovered. I had to learn to recognise the thoughts that belonged to my eating disorder and in particular to recognise those thoughts that wanted to hurt me. I had to learn to grab those thoughts and hit the delete button on them before they ran away with me. I learnt to accept the guidance of others until I gained the courage to love and care for me as I would my best friend. Honesty at all times was crucial, and remains so.
Therefore, if we have gone to the gym after our husband or partner has gone to work, we somehow need to get the courage to tell him and tell him quickly. We need to tell him quickly, before our illness drives us to go to the gym again, and again. Because we know how quickly one little slip can become a landslide.
Recovery is one step at a time. It is as much about being honest and truthful with ourselves and our recovery guides, as eating our three meals and three snacks a day. Recovery is when we recognise the impulse or thought that wants us to defy everyone who cares about us and go to the gym; recovery is when we defuse that trigger before it goes off.
Would we be happy if our husband or partner was doing something not good for their health, and was doing it behind our back? No, we would not be happy! One step at a time. That’s all it takes. One small step at a time. If the eating disorder does get the better of us every now and then, no sweat, don’t beat ourselves up, forgive ourselves, get back on track, one step at a time. And what we find is that gradually, our steps become easier, they become lighter and faster; there are less slips; and eventually we are running, we are soaring. We are at home with ourselves.
Holiday time is a difficult time. I encourage you to reach out to those you know you can trust, and share, always share. With practice you will manage to reach out before the illness trigger goes off; sometimes it may catch you unawares, and when this happens, and you realise what has happened, don’t berate yourself. Be brave and share, and it will be easier next time. Those curve balls will dissipate, evaporate, and you will be free to be beautiful you.