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An Eating Disorder is Like an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

23rd November 2018

Having an eating disorder is like being in an emotionally abusive relationship – with your Siamese twin. Better yet, it’s like being trapped in a room on the top floor of a burning building. Your only escape from the fire that surrounds you is the source that started the fire in the first place. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface.

Something which started out as a monster in the closet of your childhood bedroom, which grew louder as time went on. It started out simple, with rules to follow. You were not an addict. You had too much discipline to be one of those. Then the rules kept changing, distorting your world and twisting themselves around you until two people lived inside of your body. Every birthday party, every Christmas, every single conversation you ever had was swallowed whole by this monster you’d become. Every photograph was drenched in fear and counting, every memory was stolen by size. When you are an addict, you go to rehab. You starve yourself of drugs until they no longer swim restless laps in your bloodstream. You avoid bars and nightclubs, you avoid parties where you might be tempted to become the old you. It only takes one time. You will always be an addict, but you can avoid the streets. You can survive in the miserable sobriety.

When you have a phobia of water, you don’t go swimming. If you are afraid of heights, it’s likely you won’t be climbing any mountains. But let’s just say your biggest fear was the air. And you couldn’t live without it. The thing you are afraid of is the thing you need to survive. With an eating disorder, it is as complex as having a fear of the air… because you cannot avoid your enemy. Your only medicine is the very source of your pain.

So you ask yourself, why do I do it? If I could only figure out why, I could find a way to change it. When I started asking myself these questions, I began to keep track of the ways in which I’d interact with people and with myself, how I reacted to the world that spun around me. I noticed a number of things.

The first was that it was very difficult to keep a log of how you interact with people when you really don’t do a whole lot of interacting. I realised I actually spent very little time interacting with people on a personal level. This lead me to the realisation that I was so unused to other people’s company due to my obsessive organising, dietary restrictions and exercise that I believed people were the source of my fears. If I could avoid people then I could do things perfectly and make myself better, which of course was not the truth.

The second thing I realised was that when my life was not in a ‘stressful phase’, I’d magically start to recover – until something stressful happened and I could just say it was a circumstantial relapse. These stressful phases arrived in two main categories; relationships and college. So when I tried to stay on the well-adjusted path and veer towards a more fed future, something else had to take the edge away. Something else had to keep me still while the world spun on.

I’d call myself ‘recovered’, while I fed the monster with alcohol or people who made me feel empty. I’d find the human equivalent of the voice in my head and I’d start dating him, and eventually I’d go right back down the rabbit hole, or the toilet bowl. And eventually what I realised was that there was no material way of filling that void. There was no quick fix, there was no fix at all. There was just me and the world that wouldn’t stop spinning.

I wanted my memories back, I wanted to be that friend or that daughter in the photographs in real life. I wanted to look at me and my friends at the lake and see the happy memory, not the one I knew where I spent the whole day counting. I had spent so much time trying to figure out why I was the way I was and I thought I had it figured out, so I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t fix it. I thought I had all the answers, but what could I do with them? Did understanding the root cause of my fears mean that I could finally escape them?

The answer is bleak, but the answer is no. The reason for this is the mind is a labyrinth, an ever twisting and distorting place where the rules are always changing. The source of the problem when you were five is not the source of the problem now. You are not as you were. Your addictions grow up with you. They morph with you. They graduate with you. So maybe the best thing to do is to stop asking yourself; why am I the way that I am?

The answers are not sitting inside a folder in a cranky file cabinet in the doctor’s office. They’re not swimming in the bottom of a gin and tonic that should have been left at the bar, or sitting in your childhood bedroom wrapped safely in the warm blankets of a home you once knew. That would be too easy. And life is not, nor will it ever be easy. The answer changes every day, with every new person you meet, every new problem that comes your way. The world will not stop spinning. So stop trying to make it stand still, and learn to become part of the chaos – as you are, as of now.

Shannon