Posted by: innerpilgrimage | May 14, 2011

19 Months, and I’m Struggling With Anorexia

      Not really sure I want to put my weight down, since I actually am trying to gain weight, and it might look like a backslide. But it’s not. It’s actually gaining weight so I can be healthier.

      My husband once said, when I was compulsively bingeing, “You’re an anorexic who just got over it.” I went to the other extreme, rebelling the desire to be underweight. I have calculated and considered chasing simply to have been underweight twice in my life. . . and yes, I am totally aware that’s crazy! Part of finding balance is not going to one extreme or the other, which is part of the assumption that I either have to be model-skinny (size 0 or smaller) or just give up and punish my body with morbid obesity. My intuition says I should be about 165 lbs., a little underweight but healthy enough to do what I need to do. Definitely more muscular so I can lift and carry better. There is a part of me, however, which considers weighing more than 159 lbs. a failure. Hell, that same part of me considers me weighing over 149 lbs. to be a failure. And I’m feeling it in every moment of every day, that compulsion slipping in to either be all or nothing–to weigh 500 lbs. or 5 lbs., but nowhere in between.
      The only, and I mean only, path to serenity is to surrender to the reality that I’ve got a natural body weight and it’s just not self-care if I serve either desire. My scale is my master, and even though I do spend some days not on it, I watch it carefully.
      I am in a transitional period, where I am rebelling a little by eating within my food plan yet also eating things which aren’t as healthy for me as I would like to eat. I know what makes me feel good enough to live in a state of inspiration–where I can access the spiritual as needed. I do surrender-practice a lot, so at least I’m getting time in the chair, as it were. But I still look at 149 lbs. with the longing desire. Problem is, that 149 lbs. would turn into 145, then 140, then 135, then 130, then 125. To see if that magic number I was arbitrarily given years ago is the Magic Weight, the one which gives me the Perfection Gift Basket. However, at 155 lbs.? I feel weak and tired. There has to be a balanced place, where my weight has no bearing on things and my body feels strong and powerful and able to do what it needs to do to fulfill my purpose.
      Logically and inspirationally, I know this is right for me: Balance in all things. Living for today instead of fearing tomorrow or having guilt and shame over yesterday. Being at right-body and right-mind instead of distracted-by-exhaustion scrawny stick golem or distracted-by-overeating lumpy clay golem. Not too much money as to chase it, and not to little money as to have to struggle. Balance. Purpose.
      Yesterday, I tried to write an entry about synchronicity, yet things were put in my way to keep me from it. Perhaps it’s because that entry needs the end of the story to balance it in order to offer the experience, strength, and hope of living a synchronous life. I don’t know. Whatever it is, I was given purpose-driven tasks yesterday which got in the way. Well, when I was inspired to write . . . something. So an entry will come in about synchronicity in the next few days. Until then, here’s my entry about anorexia, and I am going to be as honest as I can to excise some of this disease, to exorcise the demon of addict-mind which is trying to convince me it’s recovery when I know it isn’t. See, I can’t just slide into the spiritual when I’m dealing with either food-control extreme (the control of denying myself food versus the control of rebelliously hoarding food and storing it on my body). Ascetic or glutton, neither is where I am supposed to be.
      Anyway, here is the weight stuff:
     
      October 27, 2009: 267 lbs, by a doctor’s scale.
      November 30, 2009: 253 lbs. by a scale at a store.
      December 21, 2009: 246 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      January 14, 2010: 232 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      February 14, 2010: 221 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      March 14, 2010: 214.4 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      April 14, 2010: 201.8 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      May 14, 2010: 195.6 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      June 14, 2010: 191.8 lbs. by the scale I currently use. Confirmed by the doctor’s scale.
      July 14, 2010: 181.4 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      August 14, 2010: 178.0 lbs. by the scale I currently use. I am at “goal weight”, within 5 lbs. up or down of 175 lbs.
      September 14, 2010: 180.0 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      October 14, 2010: 170.6 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      November 14, 2010: 164.8. lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      December 14, 2010: 164 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      January 14, 2011: 159.0 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      February 14, 2011: 160.6 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      March 14, 2011: 156.2 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      April 14, 2011: 158.4 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      May 14, 2011: 160.4 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
     
      Give me a minute, I’m going to rest my mind, meditate, and surrender organization of this post, since my monkey brain is like a bunch of freaked-out spider monkeys flying from limb to limb chattering wildly because there’s a bird of prey hunting in my mental treetops.
      . . . Okay. I’ve gotten the organization down to Experience, Strength, and Hope using Honesty, Open-Mindedness, and Willingness to scrape at the edges of the tumor of perception blocking my spiritual guidance from getting in.
     
      Experience
     
      This is going to take time to really pull out the anorexia-based memories, since it’s been indirect. I remember getting awareness of knowing that I had baby-fat, spoken of in the way that said I was not thin enough. That I would develop my thin-enoughness over time, as an entitlement. So I ate with abandon, using food as comfort and love, because I would just wake up thin one of those days . . . when I was finally grown up enough not to carry the baby fat. Of course, this baby fat myth had an arbitrary expiration date set by others. The expiration passed, and suddenly I was a fat kid. Not obese, mind you. Just overweight. Possibly on the high end of normal, but overweight nonetheless.
      My non-food-addicted friends were long and lanky and thin. I didn’t understand how they could be thin and I could be fat. In retrospect, it probably had more to do with the fact that I chased ice cream, candy, chips, and cookies instead of taking pleasure in eating a cucumber—something one of the neighbors did regularly. They enjoyed salads and balanced meals. Single sandwiches. And they were sated by one candy, a handful of chips, two or three cookies, and I rarely saw them eat ice cream except on special occasions. What they put in their bodies gave them the energy to run and climb and be active all day, living a cycle of physical health. My food choices led me to lethargy and sluggishness and just generally feeling out-of-sorts . . . which drove me to eat more to comfort myself whenever I felt off. Two lifestyles; two paths of physical results. But I didn’t see it, because I was supposed to be given the gift of thinness from G-d or a Fairy Godmother or some external salvation from my own choices. This, I did not know then, not being an adult.
      When I was at the edge of school-age, I got a nickname: Meatball. Yup, the neighborhood kids likened my round body to a ball of meat. And I ate, still waiting for my salvation, for the external savior which would allow me to wake up a sane eater and thin enough, even as I ate and ate and ate.
      How does this relate to anorexia, then? I was eating, right? Well, the mindset was already there. I had a right to be thin, to be the thinnest of them all. I just hadn’t considered that to have a thin body, I would have to think and eat like a thin person. Note that I am not saying, “healthy”, because health didn’t really enter into it–there was thin, there was fat. Thin was “healthy”, even if it meant being underweight. See, these non-food-addicts lived in that healthy enoughness, and I didn’t understand that they didn’t think like me. That was the first breakdown, thinking it was about the goal: thin or fat. They lived an active life every day, and that’s why they were thin. I waited for an active life to fall on me tomorrow, and that’s why I was fat.
      Then, I hit third grade and got my first taste of being thinner than someone. That person got hit with the insults, and by proxy it hurt. But I also felt good . . . I wasn’t the target any more. I wasn’t the fattest kid on the playground. I tried to make friends with the little obese girl, and we did spend time together. It didn’t last because she was gone by fourth grade, but at least something within me knew that it was about the person inside, not the vessel. So I was kind, even as I secretly felt pleased I wasn’t the person getting attacked directly. Indirectly? Yes. Being willing to play with the girl got me an indirect attack. As if I was less of a person for associating with someone who was obese. That lesson hit home, especially when I returned to tease-the-fattest-kid status. Again, I wasn’t obese . . . just overweight. However, the laser-like focus of others on my body made me feel like I was a round ball of meat.
      So, the dichotomy was set. Healthy had no value. There was thin; there was fat. And as long as I was thinner than everyone else? I was immune from the verbal attacks. Or at least that’s how I reasoned. And I hated it, that I would have to give up my only means of comfort-to-survive in order to avoid the attacks. I guess that’s when I rebelled. But the message was there, set as a very strong opinion:
     
      To be loved and wanted, not cast out and laughed at, I would have to be thinner than the thinnest kid around.
     
      Since some kids were naturally underweight? This posed a real quandary. Survive home or survive school. Eat to numb the pain of neglect and physical abuse by adults or deny myself that comfort in order to avoid my peers. Since I lived at home every day and I got breaks from my peers? The choice was logical: Survive where I lived and deny myself at eighteen, when I was out of the house and away.
      And I did. Well, I did it at seventeen, but I got my hands on a means to halt my hunger and got in with a very active person. And I became underweight for the first time in my life. Despite feeling tired and trashing my knee while running one evening because my body could not support being underweight as much as it could not support being overweight? I got into the 1980s size 10 skirt given to me by a friend. And the teary delight that I had a 26-inch waist made an indelible mark in my memory. I was happy (or so I thought). Wasn’t healthy. Was injured. Was even so thin that people became so concerned, they had an intervention and wouldn’t leave me alone until I ate a piece of toast after I had just . . . forgotten to eat for a day or two. Couldn’t please them thin. Couldn’t please them fat. Couldn’t please anyone.
      So, back to survival mode. Eat to comfort myself. And my weight bounced up thirty pounds, then up 55 lbs, where I sat until I met my first husband. He introduced me to “getting your money’s worth from an All-You-Can-Eat.” My weight slid around 175 to 200 lbs. because I was active. Then I got pregnant. And the sedentary life began, as did the weight gain.
      In the span of two years, I went from 175 lbs. to over 300 lbs.–significant by any means. I did settle around 250 lbs. not long after, but breaking 300 lbs. was quite an experience. As extreme, I believe, as reaching 145 lbs. in college.
      After the separation, I got down below 200 lbs., and the goal that was offered me went unmet (until February of this year, actually). So, I popped back up to 250 lbs., give or take 50 lbs., and I sat there for a decade. Through that ten years, I learned that I could vomit if put under enough stress, so I took advantage of it and put my hope into it. And that was exhausting AND made me feel even worse than usual–driving me toward the rebellion of overeating to numb myself.
      Enter OA. As in, enter the room on September 23, 2009. My initial intent was to get healthy. The weight kept coming off. When I broke 200 lbs., a switch flicked on. And I realized I wanted to be attractive, to lose weight in order to manipulate people into “loving” me. And that’s when the anorexia started.
      Hitting the healthy-weight wasn’t enough (it’s in the blog here, recorded). Down, down, down the rabbit hole. And today? I’ve been working to gain weight even as my inner addict is screaming at me that I’m going the wrong direction. That the goal is 125 lbs., not a healthy weight. And that is my anorexia at work, even as I live in perpetual, “If I can’t do it perfectly, then I’m going to go to the other extreme”. So, for the past week? I’ve not been sure if I’d make it to 19 months.
     
      Strength
     
      I value my connection to my Higher Power more than anything, because my life enters a place of peace and serenity. I feel joyful when I am connected to my Higher Power. I feel grateful. I can show love. I can listen. I can celebrate people. I can give from a place of abundance. I even self-care. Touching that life, even a little every day, has the reward of living a serene life outside of the perpetual anxiety and sense of having no direction, of feeling lost, of having the dread I am wasting my life. When I am living a balanced life? I have no anxiety. I live a peaceful life. I have direction. I don’t feel lost. And even though I’m not clear on my purpose? I know I am working toward it.
      Compulsive restriction and compulsive hoarding both distract me from enjoying life as it comes. Or even enjoying life at all. So, when I feel that anxiety, that sense of dread, that feeling of being utterly lost? I have a choice–drown in the misery and sabotage my abstinence or take conscious action to shift mental gears toward surrender to a Higher Power.
      At that moment of choice (and since OA, I have tended to choose to reconnect, even if it’s just a little bit for that day), I choose the footwork to get that reconnection started. I seek a place of silence so I can enter the now. I accept that I’m struggling to control things, then ask for my Higher Power to help me, to guide me, to move me out of that place and into a connection. Then I wait in silence, in the now. It generally happens pretty fast, that comfort I am not alone. And I smile, because when I surrender? I feel it. I feel the peace flow from my core outward. My body relaxes. It’s like getting a hug from one of my sons or from my spouse–I feel the love, know it’s going to be okay. And then . . . I surrender to intuitive practice. I take the time to follow the guidance of my Higher Power to where or what action will keep me connected for even a half-hour.
      Easy ways for me to kick over are stopping and looking around, then saying aloud how grateful I am for such a great day. I look for something beautiful and feel thankful for it in that moment–for having been part of that moment. I smile or laugh, embracing joy. And even for a little bit, the food goes away.
      Every time I practice something, I get better at it. Practicing connection to my Higher Power is like anything learned. I have to start from my head to clear a path to my heart. Certain things, I’ve learned, are shortcuts to that connection, ones which I’ve practiced enough that even doing that can get the initial connection started. Keeping it going takes stepping outside of my expectations and into a sense of a greater purpose at work. My petty desire to be 125 lbs. goes away. My petty desire to sabotage my abstinence goes away. All of the petty things I think I need get put into perspective, and I relax and just let them go.
     
      Hope
     
      Saying, “Relax and let go” really doesn’t help unless one has experienced it. This did take time and practice to be able to shift mental gears in less than a minute. To be aware that the anxiety means I blocked the connection with ego messages. To accept I chose my self-serving ego over surrender. Yet, I also accept that it’s not a failure or a mistake. It’s part of being human–having a mind that creates meaning from perception. That’s something everyone does, and I am no different. It’s part of reality, a gift of having an analytical and logical mind at my disposal. It’s how I access the spiritual in this world–by reading, learning, listening, observing. Sometimes it goes into the holding pen of my self-serving messages; sometimes it goes through and opens the spiritual wide. It’s out of my control. But I can see it, be aware of it, accept it, and realign myself by taking steps to get out of my self-obsessed headspace, where I believe I can control reality and set it up neatly around me like a museum diorama. Life doesn’t work like that, and I honor it by accepting that life is about growth and change, of endings and beginnings, of understanding that the imperfect system has allowed me to enjoy synchronicity simply by sometimes being ordered on a level far above what I can comprehend with my limited imagination.
      This is anyone’s gift to take, if one is willing to step off the mental treadmill and actually get out into the world for a spiritual walk. Yes, it takes practice to find out what works for us, personally. But it is not only reachable? I’ve found that in the 12-Step rooms where people who are working the steps to keep that spiritual connection open, those people live a life outside of food-related thoughts. Outside of controlling one’s body shape and size, even trying to will it to be something that our bodies cannot be due to height and frame size. Being able to achieve the real instead of chase perceived perfection is a great gift, one which does come from practicing talking and listening for the intuitive clues.
      And to deal with my anorexia? I use the precise same methods I use to deal with my binge cravings or my social anorexia or my desire to manipulate people into giving me my approval-hit. I will never be cured of this, but I have a solution which can feel precisely like a cure. I can live a whole day out of compulsion by letting go. Yes, I did get choices along the way, but I chose the path not of martyrdom but of serenity and lack of conflict. I chose the path of finding the precious lessons hidden in the things which normally trigger an ego-based survival response. That stuff I consciously could let go because the goal was to grow and learn and listen. My ego had no place in that, because conflict stops the flow of honest ideas. And my opinion is just thoughts which can change with insight and inspiration, so stating my opinion in order to create conflict has no value to me or to anyone else.
      Can I do it all of the time? Nope. The slide into the ego is gentle and almost imperceptible. I really notice it when the anxiety hits, when I am chasing down every last life experiment I did to see if one did not fail or perhaps could succeed if I tweak it a little. When I start to get frenetic, I know I’m in the ego. And that’s when I either choose more addict-mind thinking or choose recovery. I think my threshold of addict-mind discomfort is lowering, because I see it and make course corrections quicker. I know I want peace and serenity. Those are a combined a desire I ask for then put intent toward and have a burning passion to achieve. It pushes aside the conflicting messages of “I want to be thin so I can be loved by other people” and “I want to eat what I want when I want in whatever quantity I want so I don’t have to rely on other people for love.” And the balance between? Is a healthy mind, body, and spirit.
      And that is achievable by anyone who wants peace and serenity with a burning passion and the willingness to do whatever it takes to get there . . . even surrender to reality and go with the flow.
     
      My name is Jess. I am an addict. I obsessively try to control food; I obsessively try to control approval by other people. I also let go to my Higher Power and wonder at the beauty of the day, at the impossibilities dropped in my lap because of synchronicity, and at the intense relief I get at stepping out of the illusion that I control the Universe and into the reality that I’m just a part of a big, beautiful, ever-changing world. And that is right where I belong.
     
      Yes, I will struggle with addiction. But I don’t have to give up and choose all or choose nothing. I can choose balance, and I can choose to progress toward it every day by practicing a balanced life. And that is a wonderful gift that recovery has offered me.

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