Last night I sat down in a comfy chair with the book "Gaining: The Truth About Life After Eating Disorders," that I referred to in Monday's post and didn't move until I finished it three and a half hours later. It is so fascinating to me that someone can put into words my exact feelings and emotions. Even though the author, Aimee Liu, interviewed several different people with eating disorders for this book, it felt like one big interview of my inner most thoughts.
If I could quote the entire book, I would, but I will spare all of you the boredom and just highly recommend you get your hands on this book as soon as possible.
In the fifth chapter, Liu interviews a woman named Sheila Reindl, a counselor at Harvard University, and asks what Reindl the key to a full recovery is:
"A woman has to lose her conception of who she thought she was or thought she should be... She has to relinquish her effort to craft a constructed self and instead must let herself be who she is."
A few pages later, Reindl continues,
"We all have to integrate the light with the dark," Reindl sail, "the noble and the ignoble aspects of ourselves. That's a normal developmental task. It's just harder for people with eating disorders."
With anorexia, the act of losing weight serves as a metaphor for the feeling that one is emotionally invisible. "The kid who's going to become anorexic typically takes pride in her disciplined emptiness, imagining it as perfect beauty. So the message for her is that you don't have to be perfect to be loved.
The bulimic, on the other hand, binges and purges in secret - hiding the beast she knows is in there. The issues of shame are stronger. I think that's why when anorexics hit a bulimic patch in recovery or difficulties even later in life, they often want to go back to the anorexia. It felt cleaner and tidier - they didn't have to deal with all these messy feelings and conflicts."
The most enduring obstacle to health in the aftermath of anorexia and bulimia, Reindl believes, is the question of enough. "The women in my study - one to four years after recovery - were still vulnerable to the sense of not being enough.
It's confusing because you need to accept yourself as you are and yet keep striving to embrace more of who you are."
"That sounds like enough means more."
She smiled. "It also means separating feeling from judgment. I meet so many people who are afraid of feeling pain, of having their heart broken, of loneliness. They're afraid pain mirrors something bad in themselves. It must mean I'm unlovable, unworthy. Maybe it just means, I'm lonely."
At first this bit of information was a little confusing to me; I have to let go of who I used to be, but also embrace who I am? Without my eating disorder I had no idea who I was, where I was going in life, or how to cope with anything. I truly believed my eating disorder was who I was.
If I was no longer good enough for my eating disorder, what was I good enough for?
As I continue to recover, each day I am finding a small piece of myself. Someday those small pieces will come together to form one whole piece and I will find myself. Until then, however, it is so incredibly comforting to know that I am not alone (or crazy) for feeling the way I do.