“The Perfect Storm”
My therapist actually used this phrase when referring to why someone would develop an eating disorder.
“It’s not just one big thing that causes it,” she says, “it can be a lot of things happening all at once.”
A couple weeks ago I went on Vacation. The days leading up to this event were both exciting and nerve-wracking.
Exciting for obvious reasons: Disney land! No work, sleeping in, and I get to spend quality time with my family.
And nerve-wracking due to the lingering control ED has over me. Smaller clothes, “bikini season,” diet fads. Stuff like that.
Before recovery, ED would make me restrict before vacation. I remember increasing my already vigorous exercise routine. I dreaded the thought of being surrounded by beautiful, thin girls in their bikinis. Simultaneously, the thought of my own body made me cringe. So, naturally, ED made me work harder to change my own skin.
I honestly would do anything to feel the excitement others had about going away. But while they were anticipating adventure, I was overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety and inadequacy.
Thankfully, vacation thoughts POST-recovery are much more up-lifting. And with much gratitude, I can say I do feel that sense of excitement I always wanted.
However, EDs way of thinking has been ingrained in me for seven years, so I can’t expect all of them to dissipate after only 2 years in recovery. But, I do my best to shut them down when they creep in.
This can be challenging because even those WITHOUT an eating disorder tend to have disordered behaviors around this time of year (due of course to society’s impossible expectations of women)
It isn’t uncommon for women to change their exercise/food habits with the season. Not to mention all the negative self-talk that goes along with it.
To give an example: A co-worker of mine was talking to me about the warm weather approaching. Another co-worker chimed in. She was eating a salad and said “I know! Bikini season is coming. That’s why I’ve been eating like this. It’s time I get my life together.”
The weather and how to nourish your body are completely separate things. Yet, people pair them together. It is disgusting how normal this is. Not to mention, getting one’s life together should not be associated with losing weight!
Mind you, she said this in front of a 10 year old girl, who can very easily pick up on those ideals—this bothered me most.
I used to partake in that way of thinking to such an extreme, that I developed an eating disorder. So obviously, it makes me angry to hear others passing those ideals along (… you never know who’s delicate mind you are influencing).
Often times within my own head, ED will seize an opportunity like this to tell me I should go back to him: “It’s not disordered. Everyone’s doing it. They are just taking care of their body by making sure they look good. And that’s what is important in life, after all. That woman is going to feel good in her bikini. SHE’S earning herself confidence for the summer time. What will you feel on the beach, Tasha? Fat. Because you decided to give me up…”
Of course, HE IS WRONG. But he is sneaky and mean, and I have to keep my guard up when other women say things that he agrees with (which, like I said, does happen in this society).
(Just a tip: pay attention to the people in life who tend to follow ED’s standards. Those who do not follow ED do not put their worth in their image, and tend to have a much happier life. Those are the people you need to surround yourself with.)
So I know that the warm weather can be challenging. And vacations trigger past desires to restrict. And finally, going away tends to mean dining out every meal.
All of this may seem like a “storm,” but I can tooootally handle it (a little positive thinking there…)
But, seriously, I have my supports, my therapist, a plan, my journal! And I’ve conquered two summers in recovery. Easy, peasy.
During the past two years, I have conquered almost every fear food. I have take out with my boyfriend weekly. I haven’t binged, been tempted to look at the calories, or purged at a restaurant in a very long time.
As I said earlier, there are people that do not follow the recovery standards that I follow, and we cannot always avoid people like this. My example above was work, and this time its family.
This vacation involved going out to eat everyday with someone who doesn’t eat carbs, diary, or fats. ED loves comparing my plates to hers. He likes to point out (very often I might add) that if you take my recovery meal plan and cut it in half: you have what she eats. (“Which is why you, Tasha, are fat,” ED adds)
Okay, this is sounding more and more like a storm. But seriously, I am strong, and I’ve been challenged before. I CAN handle this.
Due to all my anticipatory anxiety, the idea of packing became very difficult. I procrastinated until the very last minute. And eventually an hour before our flight, I just throw all my summer clothes in my luggage.
We finally landed in Florida. And my anxiety was replaced with excitement. With the new, challenging weather, I chose “SAFE” clothing to wear. For instance, stretchy yoga pants, loose shirts, and a flowy romper.
When I finally worked up the nerve to pull on a pair of shorts, something happened that i absolutely did not prepare for. They were too small. Non of my old summer clothes seemed to fit me.
My storm just went from passing thunderclouds to a whole world wind of emotions. I tried to hold it together as I finally picked out the “least tight” pair… I used my skills. I sat on the bed, I breathed deeply—in and out, in and out. I closed my eyes and tried to meditate. But all I could think about was the fact that my cheeks were probably hanging out of the bottom end of my pants.
Finally, as we drove to dinner I started severely panicking. Now how am I going to handle all ED’s other little comments in the restaurant if I cant even shut him up about my body right now. I’m not strong enough to handle ED wanting to compare plates while I’m being suffocated by my clothes.
ED’s voice chanted “your fat, your fat, your fat, your fat.”
Finally I burst into tears. My dad motioned my mom and sister to go into the restaurant so that he could sit in the car and listen to me.
I told him about all the challenges. The restaurant struggles, the uncomfortable heat. And finally how my clothes not fitting were the last straw.
I told him how upset I was that I gained weight, how all my fears came true about recovery, and that recovery may work for everyone else but it doesn’t seem to be working for me!
I was allowing all of my natural fears and emotions to surface which was alleviating the pressure.
On a different note, sometimes I feel bad when I talk about my supports because I know not everyone has someone to talk to. And honestly I was very lucky to have my dad in that situation. He was the perfect person right in that moment. But, when I’m in my right mind I do truly believe that we are sent down paths for a reason. The right coping skill will be there when you need it and when you have faith in your recovery and in yourself. This is just one example, but breakdowns have happened when I was alone in the past. In those moments, my journal or painting was the coping skill that helped shift my mood—and I’ve curbed intense urges on my own. It is absolutely possible to do it on your own. Just know when you need to reach out as well.
My dad then used very careful words to respond(which I appreciate, when ED lives in my head, I get very sensitive).
He wanted to address my weight, since in that moment that seemed to be what was upsetting me the most.
My dad then went onto explain all the things hes noticed about me lately. I just started a desk job (no more on my feet all day running around with children).
How I’ve just had to learn 2 brand new jobs, because along with a career change in the office, I started bartanding.
He acknowledged the difficulty of having to be around people that tend to focus on their food intake and body image.
He was proud of me for getting through a challenging winter.
He validated how difficult it must be to know when you are eating out of emotions or hunger and learning when to say “yes or no” to food in recovery.
He understood the difficulty of trying not to hate exercise after learning the hardship it caused me prior to treatment.
He called it a storm.
And he brought to my attention how strong I am for enduring it.
I had dinner in the restaurant soon after. And honestly, I have no idea what I ate which is the best part. I just know I was with my dad that night.
My vacation was a whirl wind of challenges and emotions.
But that’s not ALL it was.
I bonded with my dad in a way I never imagined. At 25 years old, my dad can still pick me up when I’m an absolute mess.
And there were some amazinggggg ED-free memories. On the rides, at Cinderella’s castle, even slurping up my ice cream cone while I watched a parade.
Seriously–I could even thank ED. When he interferes in my life, it allows me to open my heart up to supports, it makes me grow as a person, and it gives me strength for life’s next challenge.
Look, there will be storms. You just need to have faith that you’ll know what to do when they hit the hardest.