This month at Libero Magazine we are talking about Friendship, and so I thought I'd take this opportunity to write a letter to you - my friends. I suppose you could call this an 'open letter', but I want you to know that I wrote it with each and every one of you in mind. I hope you will understand the intentions behind this - this is not to instill guilt in anyone, or to send out a 'woe is me' message; I want you to know that I am in a better place than I have ever been, and that the purpose of this letter is to simply explain what that means, and why sometimes I may behave in ways that are confusing or may seem selfish. Moreover, the purpose of this letter, although it is meant to relate to my personal situation, is to give you a bit of an 'inside view' of what life is like after an eating disorder, and how I continue to put my recovery first every day and in every situation...
“People think you’re like a car in a body shop. You go in, they fix you and you’re out. It doesn’t work like that. It takes constant fixing.” – Demi Lovato
There’s something I want you to know about my eating disorder, and that is that it didn’t magically disappear. Although I refer to myself as ‘recovered’ the reality is that just as a former alcoholic is always ‘recovering’, to an extent, this will be the same for me.
No, I do not engage in anorexic behaviours anymore, and it has been nearly two years since I last purged (yay me!) and I am at a healthy weight (though this was also the case during my bulimia); however, this is not to say I do not on occasion become overwhelmed by tempting thoughts telling me to restrict/binge/purge – this still happens- my ‘Eating Disorder’ voice has not completely gone away. And it is important to me that you know this.
But more important, still, is that you understand what this means…
Sometimes I disappear, sometimes I’m not very present, and sometimes I don’t show up. When this happens it is not because I don’t care, or because I have better things to do – it’s because I’m working on getting back on track. See, with an alcoholic, part of becoming sober means giving up alcohol entirely (and, most likely, for the rest of your life) – with an Eating Disorder (especially bulimia) food was your alcohol, but you can’t just stay away from food for the rest of your life – you have to eat. So imagine if an alcoholic had to stay in recovery while having a drink three times a day (but no more) to stay alive without letting it turn into a drinking binge. Well, that’s what my situation is like – and some days it’s no problem but other days it seems nearly impossible.
And when my eating is thrown off – whether by a holiday, a stressful day, a busy day, or even a meal at a restaurant* – it can take a matter of hours or a matter of days for me to get back ‘in tune’ and in control of my appetite, and the longer I wait to get back on the right track, the more I am putting myself at risk of a relapse. And so this is when I have to ‘switch gears’ and focus on Recovery, because Recovery always comes first.
**note: I am not saying that EVERY time I eat out, or have a busy day etc… my eating is thrown off track, I am simply referring to the rare times when this is the case
For the rest of my life recovery will always come first.
So if I say I can’t meet for lunch or if I cancel plans last minute, or even say I won’t be able to make it to your party, I want you to know it’s not that I don’t care about you, it’s just that in that moment that is how I need to put my recovery first.
I understand this is selfish – but recovery is the one place where you have no choice but to be selfish, because it is life or death.
And sometimes ‘putting recovery first’ means responding in a certain way to a conversation, or avoiding the conversation completely.
I want you to understand that when you talk about your weight or things you want to change about your body or your diet or your recent decision to cut out carbs – these are incredibly triggering conversations for me. And I will most likely respond with a passionate argument – but this is not because I’m trying to be catty; it’s because I need to argue for my own sake – lest I get sucked back into old behaviours and thought processes.
I also, want you to know that sometimes things that may seem like ‘normal activities’ are actually incredibly stressful for me – especially when I’m going through a rough patch. These include eating out, attending parties focused around food, and even showing up to an event with a scheduled meal time. And so if I seem distracted/anxious/stressed, or if I show up after the meal – again, that is me putting my recovery first and/or avoiding a potentially stressful situation that I may just not have the energy for.
Finally, and most importantly, I want you to know that I appreciate you – even when my actions may confuse you – and that I am so blessed by the support you have all given me.
I hope that through this letter you will see that I am in a good place now, but that I still have my days or even weeks that are hard; however, as long as I continue to put my recovery first I know I will be OK. And so I ask that you offer me grace and understanding as I make these decisions – and that you don’t take any of them personally.
I am so thankful to have you with me as I continue to walk this journey,