Breaking Rules and Needing More Support

At this point it has been six days since I stopped actively restricting or counting calories.

It is hard. Really hard.

I don’t have any intention of stopping anytime soon, but I’m not sure how long I can keep this up. Every moment of every day is a struggle. I feel like I’m standing right on the edge and fighting to keep from sliding right back into the disorder.

Part of what made me want to stop restricting is that my therapist does not want me to have to go into inpatient or residential treatment again. I don’t want that, either. I think it can be tempting to surrender all control over to a treatment team that tells you exactly what to eat – how much should be starch, protein, dairy, vegetables, fruit, etc. They decide when you eat, where you eat, how you eat, what you do before and after you eat; they essentially make every decision around food for you.

Which can be very helpful, especially for someone in the throes of anorexia who is so malnourished and trapped in the disorder that they are in danger of dying if they don’t get calories. It can be simpler to follow the rules someone else is enforcing than to have to break your own rules.

But, in the end, it’s still about rules. And that is what my therapist and I are trying to avoid. Neither of us want me to trade my own rules around food for someone else’s. Part of why I have this disorder is because so much of my life was controlled, particularly regarding food. I was told what foods I liked and disliked. I was put on a diet as a toddler. I was deprived of the foods that I loved and forced to eat foods I hate.

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Done

It’s strange how so much can change in so little time.

In my last couple of posts, I’ve addressed the challenging nature of battling an active eating disorder. I felt so completely helpless and out of control. I could feel myself spiraling further into self-destruction and although I also felt a sense of urgency to grab hold of something – anything – to prevent further descent, I could not figure out how to do that.

However, it would appear that a series of well-placed events and interactions have finally opened up the space I needed to slow, if not stop, my free-fall into anorexia.

After my double session last Friday, I felt unsettled. Having an ED is sort of like living inside a very well fortified castle. I think that somehow the workshop at Renfrew, combined with my conversation with my psychiatrist about ED-specific treatment (where she recommended residential treatment), followed by an email, phone call, and two-hour session with my therapist somehow had enough force to breach the castle walls.

I couldn’t quite understand what had happened, and I still don’t really get it, but I just sensed that the eating disorder was struggling to maintain its hold. Restricting suddenly felt difficult, where it normally is effortless. I found myself questioning if starving indefinitely is truly what I want for myself and being curious about other options.

Then I saw my nieces and nephew.

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Losing Control

Dear Therapist,

I haven’t been restricting as much. I know this is what you want but I hate it. I feel so fat. I feel like such a worthless piece of shit loser. The number is technically still “restricting” but it feels too high. 

It IS too high. It’s not real anorexia. I’m on a diet. A fucking DIET! This is bullshit. I am shit. I hate myself and I hate that it feels like I’m losing control. I cannot give this up yet. I am not skinny enough yet. 

I worry that this treatment is working. I worry I am relaxing too much around food. I’m breaking my own rules and loosening my grip. 

And now I will get fat. I will never get to be skinny. 

I hate you. I hate me. I hate everything. 

-River

New Levels of Self-Hatred

My levels of self-hatred are at an impressive and nearly debilitating high right now. I recently wrote about my decision to not weigh myself every damn morning.

That lasted one week. Or six days, really.

Then Saturday came and I’d gained nearly 4lbs. Logically I knew this was likely water weight from having my period, but seeing that number threw me into a tailspin. I was devastated. I weighed myself on Sunday and was already back down 2lbs, but the emotional damage had been done.

I’ve weighed myself every morning since, seeing anything within a 5lb range of Saturday’s number. I either stay the same or gain.

That is unacceptable.

I could tell myself it’s hormones or water weight or even muscle weight since I’ve been doing more strength training and eating more calories to fuel those workouts. I can look at my intake and know, rationally, that it is impossible for me to have gained actual fat. I don’t even eat enough to fuel my body through its basic functions like breathing and pumping blood, so there’s no possibility that I could be eating an excess that would add fat to my body.

Yet still, I see that number go up and I immediately feel fatter. I look in the mirror and just KNOW I am fatter.

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(Un)tethered

I have weighed myself every single morning for the last year and a half.

Before that, I weighed myself maybe once or twice a month and it didn’t mean much. I think it was mostly just curiosity. The only scale we had in the house was a cheap dial scale that probably wasn’t even accurate.

But when I relapsed last November, one of the first things I did was order a fancier digital scale from Amazon. And from the moment it arrived at my doorstep, I have been tethered to that bright orange square of doom.

My therapist and I have recently begun tackling my eating disorder in sessions. I should have been doing this a very long time ago, but I refused to even acknowledge it was a thing. It wasn’t until it became concerning (enough) to others that I brought it up with her. I guess their concern somehow gave me “permission” to ask for help or something.

It’s been hard. I don’t make very much progress. Or at least I hadn’t been anyway (or maybe it just didn’t feel like it?). I wrote previously that my psychiatrist prescribed Ritalin to help me gain a more “top-down” way of using my brain, allowing for more executive control and rational thinking. That was about three weeks ago.

And I’ll be damned if that isn’t exactly what is happening.

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A Life In Numbers

Content Warning: Disordered Eating

After my therapist and I finished the conversation about scary movies, I changed the topic to food. November 4th marked one year since I relapsed into my eating disorder and I had a calorie tracking chart to show for it. I said,

“So I brought a document with me today.”

“A document? Well, that sounds…formal.”

I laughed and pulled out my folder. I explained that the 4th marked this specific anniversary and outlined the chart for her. The numbers are in different colors: green for “good”, yellow for “caution”, red for “bad”, and blue for “best”. Each day lists the exact number of calories I ate and the font corresponds with the appropriate color. The bottom of each column gives a monthly average and the bottom left corner has an overall average.

It is green.

After I explained all of this to her, I handed it over. She said, “Wow, okay, so this really is a ‘document’?”

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Finding Peace in Eating

Every once in a while I come across something that resonates so powerfully that it’s truly startling. Usually it’s song lyrics or book excerpts, but I recently stumbled across this incredible Ted Talk by Dr. Laura Hill entitled “Eating Disorders from the Inside Out”. It’s just under 20 minutes long, but if you have the time – it’s a wonderful representation of what it feels like to have an eating disorder:

She specifically talks about Anorexia and Bulimia, however I believe this version of self-talk and brain response is representative of many forms of disordered eating.

I’ve been slowly unraveling distortions and emotions around food on this blog (and in therapy itself) as I attempt to better understand and connect with River. The closer we get, the more access I gain to her daily experiences.

Dr. Hill talks about the noise that occurs around eating for people with eating disorders. She delves into brain anatomy (in a user-friendly way) to help explain the differences between brain reactions in individuals with versus without eating disorders. Something in particular that struck me was how she describes the absolute terror associated with even making a decision around food.

I relate to this so much.

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Trauma Memories and Body Image

I have been attempting to share more about this whole disordered eating mess with the therapist. I was talking about River and myself seemingly become less and less dissociated from each other, thus causing me to feel some of the intense emotions around food and body image that she regularly experiences.

But then I admitted that the body image issues aren’t entirely River’s fault. Yes, I do experience some of the very thoughts I know she sorta “sends” to me, but my relationship with this body has been complex since the beginning. Sharing a body with other Parts is in itself a strange and complicated way to live. But, also, as I’ve received more and more information about our collective history, it makes it very hard to feel comfortable or safe in this body.

I’ve always known that “I” was abused and raped by more than one person at various points throughout this life. I understood that on a factual level since the moment I came into existence around 2009 as the shiny new host of a System I didn’t even understand existed yet. What I didn’t initially have, however, was any emotional attachment to that fact. 

But throughout the last several years that has changed. As the internal walls start to come down, I feel more and more integrated with the memories and emotional experiences that are shared with me. There are moments where I feel completely overwhelmed – as if I’m drowning in the reality of that truth. 

I get these memories…these images and sensations and feelings that come to me, either in dreams or flashbacks or thoughts. As I piece them together, I get a clearer idea of what, exactly, was done to me. Most of the time I try to keep it far away from me. I create distance by reinforcing that this happened to another Part. 

Not me. Not Andi.

But I am them and they are me and we are all this body.

So in reality, those things did  happen to me. I AM that little girl. I AM that teenager. I AM the person who was hurt so many times. We all are.

And that information – the awareness of what was done to me and to this body is what makes it sometimes unbearable to exist inside it. It makes me hate it, hate myself, hate to look in the mirror, hate to exist at all. It makes me want to scream and cry and rip off all my skin. It makes me feel insane.

And, admittedly, it makes me want to starve until I disappear into nothingness. 

A nothing that no one can hurt ever again.

Meltdown

I don’t know how many of you struggle with disordered eating, but let me tell you – it is my very least favorite thing that I/we’ve ever had to face. It is a demon unlike any other and it has a way of permeating every moment of your life in a way that feels very similar to drowning.

For the system, our eating issues are mainly present in a teenaged part, River. She developed an eating disorder when she was the main fronting part back in the mid-late 90’s. In fact, our very first hospitalizations were centered around eating disorder recovery. It was seemingly the worst between the ages of 13 and 16. But being hospitalized and essentially forced to eat pushed River back inside and left room for another part to figure out how to get through this crazy life. This is around the time Julia took over as the full-time fronting part and our coping skills switched from starvation to self-mutilation. Not ideal, but somehow less deadly.

The severe distortions and behavior patterns around eating remained mostly dormant for a long time. I now know there were issues of purging in college, but I’m still not clear on what exactly was going on. And I’m fairly certain there has always been an underlying theme of “food is bad”, but it presented itself in less serious manifestations.

That is until five months ago.

I’m almost 100% sure that the exact moment River reappeared as a fronting part was the day my wife lost her job. I think that experience was intensely triggering to a system that has spent a good amount of time homeless and without proper access to food. Since River has started fronting again, I’ve also realized how truly fucking nuts my parents were around food. I now have memories of myself as a kid foraging for food and only finding packets of pudding to eat. In the powder form. Or the powder mix for corn muffins. Or dry pasta. Or plain mustard. It’s awful and devastating.

Then, a week later, when we were preparing for admission to a residential trauma treatment program, Zooey had to fill out this form to fax in. Although we hadn’t experienced truly disordered eating in a while, Zooey said she was going to check off “eating disorder” because of the unresolved nature of River’s issues around food. Then she asked me what I weigh (required on the form). I told her and it didn’t really bother me. But it bothered River a whole lot and I think that was the final trigger for her. Since that day, she’s been almost 100% controlling our food and liquid intake.

Not fun. And nowhere near enough intake.

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