I have always been competitive. I’ve always wanted to win. Boardgames, kickball, first grade soccer games – you name it, I’ve felt the thrill of victory and the cold, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach upon defeat.
Up until this point, recovery for me has sort of been an all-encompassing word for going to therapy, working on my disordered eating habits and picking up the pieces my eating disorder left at its worst. I’ve worked on finding healthy coping mechanisms (writing, reading, drawing), I’ve worked on how I view myself and others, and I’ve worked on separating my disordered thoughts from my rational thoughts.
But I’ve never wanted to win.
Until I did some soul-searching this week, and some major ED blog catch-up. I read a lot of inspirational quotes, found out some cool new “This is how you start to like yourself” tricks, and read a lot about body image and comparisons.
I see my recovery in a different light after doing all of this…”research.” It’s a battle everyday, but everyday I am winning. Even on bad days, when winning means just being able to consume all of the food I need to in order to not be restricting. And much more so on the good days, when I could care less about weight gain, calories, and the size of my clothes because I’m engaged in something I’m passionate about.
I like to think of the difference in this approach as “offense vs. defense.” Until today, I’ve been in defense-mode; I’ve been putting out fires that my ED caused, trying to pick myself out of disordered thinking after it’s already started, and putting myself through some very disordered behaviors regarding body image – such as body checking and comparisons.
What does offense even look like? By definition, offense is when the “ball is in your court.” I’m going to call the shots, I’m going to be aggressive, and I’m going to be attacking my eating disorder and all that has been entrenched in me by it.
That sounds like such a daunting task that it’s hard to know where to start. How can I really, truly stand up and fight my disorder? How can I attack my “trump card” – the illness that made me feel special when I felt like no one, that felt comforting in stressful situations, and the familiar voice in my head that sounds so much like my own it’s hard to discriminate?
By remembering. Remembering what I lost the last two years, and remembering how hard it was to pick up “immediate” wreckage early on in recovery.
Two years ago, I started selling my soul to an illness in exchange for significant weight loss. I ended up losing weight, but losing my health in the process. I lost my womanhood. I lost my smile. I lost my silliness, my creativity, my compassion, my selflessness. I lost my good-nature, my warm heart, and my incredible sense of humor. I lost my intelligence because I couldn’t focus for more than five minutes at a time.
I lost two birthdays, two Thanksgivings and two Christmases. I lost half my college experience, and I lost two swim seasons in different ways. I lost time spent on breaks worrying about how I was going to exercise and restrict. I lost nights out with friends. I lost touch with good friends. I wasted money on food I would never eat.
I lost countless minutes standing in front of the mirror staring at my abdominal area, thinking how it would never be flat enough. I lost hours dedicated to counting calories on my cell phone, iPod, or in a notebook when I was being “really serious.”
I lost energy, I lost warmth, I lost the ability to take care of myself. I lost independence. I lost celebrations. I lost happiness. I lost enthusiasm. I lost muscle. I lost my period. I lost the ability to cope. I lost the ability to feel. I lost the ability to connect. I lost the ability to look with excitement and enthusiasm about the future – because I had lost the future.
I was only a shell – a physical version of myself, but not really alive anymore. My days revolved around the scale, counting calories, subtracting for exercise, and isolating myself. The only important things to me were my weight and my swimming performance. I stopped calling friends and family, I stopped making plans. I was too busy reading recipes, watching food network and trying to find the perfect food (i.e. one that tasted awesome but didn’t have calories).
I lost a lot. I almost lost it all.
What did I gain from my eating disorder?
I gained self-loathing. I gained hate for a body that many people would like to have. I gained anxiety, I gained fear, I gained rigidity. I gained shame. I gained mistrust. I gained denial. I gained addiction. I gained numbness. I gained loneliness. I gained misery. I gained anger, regret, and sadness. I gained a series of messed-up relationships. I gained an illness that stole my mind and warped my body into something unnatural.
Throughout my recovery I’ve often gone back and forth. Rationally, I’ve known that my ED is unhealthy. Yet, I’ve fallen back – even if minimally – during stressful times.
Now is my time to channel my inner competitive spirit for a good cause. Everyday is a struggle with my ED, but I’m prepared for that daily struggle now. I used to wake up everyday and hope it wouldn’t come. Now, I wake up and know that at some point during the day, I will be triggered or have disordered thoughts but also that I will win. I will beat those thoughts. I will catch myself before I do a body check or comparison. If it so happens that I do get bogged down in unhealthy thoughts or behaviors, I WILL stop myself.
What’s the best part about winning something everyday? Celebration, obviously! I go to bed every night – maybe entertaining some leftover disordered thoughts, but also knowing in my heart that I beat my ED today. And, really, that’s all I can ask of myself.