Monday, November 5, 2012

Eating Disorder questions

A friend of mine recently taught a class on eating disorders. He asked me a bunch of questions, so he could share some of my story. I figured I'd share my answers here...

How did I view my body?
I hated it. Everything about it. The way it looked. The way it felt pain, hunger, thirst, or tired. I hated myself... hating my body was just an extension of that.

What were the reasons for restricting?

I didn't really "restrict" like most people. As a very little girl, I was a super picky eater. If told I had to eat the hot dog, or go hungry, I chose to go hungry.
When I was 10ish, I heard my parents stressing about money. In my mind, if I went without food, that would help them.

At 14, my dad punched my brother. He spent two weeks in the hospital with a ruptured spleen. I blamed myself, because I didn't do anything to protect Jeff. I got really depressed and lost my appetite. I found that not eating numbed my anger and my sadness. It made life more bearable.
At 17, when I went into treatment, my therapist would ask me why I didn't want to eat, and all I could come up with then was that I was crazy. I really didn't know.

I got a lot better from 18-29. I felt like I owed it to everyone else to be recovered. So I ate like I was supposed to. At 29, I just decided I was done... done living, done trying, done pleasing everyone else. Which took me right back to starving myself.

I went back to therapy, and this time talked about sexual abuse that I wasn't willing to talk about the first time. Talking about the abuse caused horrible flashbacks, nightmares, and intense painful "body memories". I felt like the only way to find relief from the flashbacks and body memories was to walk. I walked and walked and walked.

I went back into treatment mostly because I knew I could make myself eat, but I didn't know if I could make myself eat AND deal with all of the abuse and trauma that I needed to deal with.

How did religion play into your thought processes?
Religion was HUGE.
First, not eating was a very acceptable way to deal with problems. Alcohol and drugs were not an option, but not eating was not only NOT looked down upon, but thought to be a good thing. People (in general and in the church) still see my ability to fast for a long time and to exercise as a show of self-discipline. (I have heard several people say they wish they could be anorexic for a while, just so they could lose weight.)

There are many lessons about the spirit having power over the body. I can push my body to extremes that most people won't ever even try. (That's a good thing, by the way.) Being able to push my body meant I was more spiritual.

I was rewarded for not being selfish... for being aware of what everyone else needed and letting them have it. This played out in food. I (still) won't take the last piece of cake, because that feels selfish.

Fasting is a sacrifice that we make to God, so that he will answer our prayers. I fully believed that my not eating could help the people I love...

The LDS religion preaches perfection as the goal. It created very black and white thinking. The goal might be to BE perfect, but if you can't be perfect, at least LOOK perfect. Hide all imperfections, weaknesses, flaws, and make them go away. (Not eating was a way to make all the human flaws seem less... I had super human strength... It also made all human emotions go away. I didn't' feel angry, jealous, sad, or wanting. I didn't have strong opinions about anything (It's hard to feel passionate about anything when you're starving.)

Forgiveness in church means forgetting. Killing brain cells by starving MAKES you forget.
What was effective and what was not. Was there anything that wasn't effective the first time through but was the second? What had changed in you between the first and second time?
The first time I went, I was seventeen.
I was in the ER, and the Dr. gave me the choice of going into the hospital or going to Center for Change. I chose Center for Change (CFC). I thought I would be there for two weeks... just long enough to get some food in me.
I ended up staying almost three months. It was very helpful, but...
I wasn't ready to talk about a lot of things, so I shut down. I started doing a lot of eating disorder behaviors and hiding it even before I left.

There's also a sort of competition with eating disorders. It's like you have to be really REALLY sick to deserve any kind of help. Every time a new admit would come in, everyone would obsess about her body, and relapse in a way. They also made fun of the people that were working. (If someone took an extra helping of food, the other girls were AWFUL with their comments.) The staff was awesome, but the other patients made it really hard to do the work.

Being in the environment with the other patients is a big reason I didn't want to go back eleven years later.
My experience was SO different the second time.

CFC made a lot more rules to protect against people doing exactly what I had done. When I went the first time, they were only six months old. They learned a lot in that time.
I also REALLY wanted to be better. I was willing to do anything to feel good, so I was a SUPER stickler for all the rules. (I had a therapist tell me to stop following all the rules... Learn to trust myself and stop trying to be perfect. BEST advice ever.)

The other patients were amazing. I had told Paul (my therapist) that if the other patients were anything like they were my first time, I wouldn't stay. I was watching for the competition and the sabotaging each other.
I had been there about two weeks when a new girl came in. She was very sick - heart problems and seizures from detoxing off the diet pills she had been taking. Several of the girls sat in a circle, prayed for her, and then pinky promised to be done with the eating disorder. There have been many days when I felt too tired to keep going, and I remember that pinky promise. It's hard to describe how amazing that experience was if you have never seen what some treatment centers can be like.

Since I already knew how to make myself eat, my big focus was on dealing with the abuse. I worked HARD. I talked about things that I didn't want to talk about. I shared. I was open and honest. I gave therapy my ALL.

I knew what it was like to "just eat" and I wanted more than that. I was not (am still not) willing to live the way I had been: trying to please others, letting other people use and abuse me, and feeling helpless in my own life.

I stayed inpatient for three months, and then did day patient (going from 8 am - 8 pm) for another few months. The transition time of day patient was really helpful. I went back to work a few days a week, but still had a place to go to process everything.

I was really lucky. The church paid for my entire inpatient stay, and then family and friends helped pay for day patient. CFC also gave me a price break and two free weeks. Most people don't get to stay as long as I did or get the kind of transition time that I did. It's really REALLY sad to me that most people just have to figure out how to survive on their own, because there isn't insurance or other funding to help.

As far as food and weight gain, the second time, the focus was on intuitive eating. Learning to trust your body. Eat what you want, and know you'll be okay. That was really helpful too... Especially since I had been so focused on making everyone else happy and "proving" I was recovered for so long. With intuitive eating, you eat what YOU want... no more, no less.


  1. cool story to recovery. though not all parts of the story are very happy.

    thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you - I think most stories to recovery have a lot of sadness in them, it's just part of recovery.
      Hope you are well!