As I’ve talked about before, my eating disorder developed in large part from a need for control and order. I started to control my body and my eating habits because it was the only thing I felt I could control; staying small (or getting smaller) gave me an illusion of the stability I craved. Unfortunately, anorexia is just that: an illusion pretending to be whatever it is you need (or think you need). The longer I was in my traumatic situation, the stronger my need for control became and the worse my anorexia got.
The past (almost) month since separating myself from that experience has given me a chance to relinquish some of that need, but I’m Type A as hell. I’m always going to crave order, stability, and control. Not only that, I am still healing from the intensity of what I experienced; trauma doesn’t just “end” when you leave the situation causing it and neither do the resulting mental health repercussions, just like a sinus infection doesn’t go away with the first dose of antibiotic. Plus, mental illnesses like eating disorders are rarely cured entirely like a sinus infection — they behave more like mono, ebbing and flowing between periods of dormancy and relapse.
Just before I began my new job, I flowed into a pretty big relapse after several weeks of feeling settled into (relative) normalcy. It
was is frustrating as hell, especially because I just want to “be better” now that my situation has improved so dramatically. Because that’s how mental health works, right? Once you remove the trauma, it’s gone forever. No more depression, no more anorexia, no more anxiety. No systemic issues to see here!
Ha. Ha ha.
I’ve been working to ebb back into better health and I think I’ve been doing okay for the most part. A big part of my recovery has been finding healthy ways to exercise control when I need it so I don’t fall back into disordered habits; things like planning meals, making lists, and talking back to my anorexic voices have all been major aspects of putting “healthy control” into action.
Unfortunately, I’m still learning to be comfortable with the flexibility necessary to exist as a human being. I’m much more likely to give into destructive compulsions if I plan a meal but dinner plans change, if I make a to do list but not everything can get done, if my anorexic voices speak louder than my voices of reason and I make a disorder-driven choice.
On Wednesday, Boyfriend and I made sweet potato tacos for dinner. We were out of black beans and because Boyfriend is a Rational Human, he suggested we substitute garbanzo beans; we’ve made recipes that combine garbanzo beans and sweet potatoes before and so he knew they made sense together as ingredients. I almost had a panic attack in the middle of the kitchen because the very specific idea I had of our meal was modified ever so slightly. Anorexia is confusing enough for Boyfriend anyway, but the fact that I was freaking out about substituting one can of beans for another can of beans probably made him question the little sanity I may have left.
Eventually, I calmed down (mostly because I read the ingredient label and saw that, shockingly, black beans and garbanzo beans are quite similar nutritionally) and was frustrated at myself more than anything for letting anorexic-driven anxiety “win.” I ended up eating two candy bars after dinner, which I later realized was my anorexia voice’s way of “punishing” me for “losing control” of the meal — Ha, take that! Now you’ll wake up a little less small (read: worthy) tomorrow! Because that’s how one overindulgent meal works, right?
It’s challenging to remember that recovery is a malleable entity without set boundaries between “sick” and “not sick.” It is damn exhausting to know these are things I will struggle with for the rest of my life, because anorexia is damn exhausting. Mental illness is damn exhausting. I just want a quick and permanent fix for all the problems I’m entrenched in. I just want triggers to not be triggers so I can enjoy a meal with Boyfriend regardless of whether it exactly follows the recipe or not. Is that so much to ask??
I will hopefully get to a point where beans won’t cause me to lose my shit, but I’m not there yet. Recovery is still messy and confusing and inconsistent (and will always be to some degree). My goal is to one day have a better relationship with the balance between control and flexibility. To one day not panic if we need to use garbanzo beans instead of black beans. Wednesday was a day for “NO! Not THOSE beans!” but someday will be a day for “Yeah, that makes sense. Let’s try it!”
If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, there are plenty of resources to use! Something that has been helpful for me is the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) website. I used their online screening tool before I began therapy, which was one of the things that encouraged me to seek out support. The NEDA website and toll-free Information and Referral Helpline, 1-800-931-2237, provide extensive resources nationwide.