Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Fighting, Facing--and Finally Embracing--Food

Let me take a moment here to talk about food. Yes, that’s right: food.

In the wild ride that is life, some of us seek to find control in food. We use it to make ourselves feel better or worse. We restrict. We binge. We purge. We deprive. We use. Why food? Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? It’s just like anything else—some people use alcohol. Some use drugs. Some use exercise. Some use video games.

Addictions. Vices. Habits. Whatever they are—whatever you want to call them—they can be self-destructive. It takes time, patience, effort, and desire, but we can learn to co-exist with the very things that make us crazy or take us on a downward spiral into pain and emptiness.

There were times in my life I fasted for days, consuming nothing but water or diet Coke. There were days when I’d allow myself a mere granola bar to get my body moving for an entire morning, afternoon, and evening. I had moments of ravenous hunger where I’d eat a salad or a bowl of soup with such ferocity that I was afraid people would notice. Sometimes, as I went between wanting to recover and wanting to wallow in my disease, I’d eat one meal a day—dinner—which was not nearly enough to satisfy my deprived body and mind. I remember summers of living on rice cakes at night after a 12 hour day of work.

I did not have a good relationship with food.

When I taught at the Boys and Girls Club and supervised the kids at lunch time, I would eat my packed lunch with a dedication I’d never experienced before (and it was rough), because I didn’t want to set a bad example for the little girls who were sitting there with me. I wanted to be good and real and helpful. I ate for them.

I remember pretending to go out for food on my dinner break when I worked at the mall and coming back with just a Sprite. I remember obvious habits that caused my parents to scream at me, cry for me, and feel helpless. I used to have a lifestyle that made my room mate crazy with worry. I was obsessively worried about eating in public. I would stand near a counter of muffins, deciding for ten minutes which one I would choose, changing my mind back and forth. I was, in short, a mess.

I came to a crossroads. I really wanted to recover. Really wanted to be all right. Really really wanted it. Wasn’t just wishing, wasn’t just hoping—I was willing to do something about it. I was willing to work, to learn, to try.

I got good at just saying “No.” That’s right: “No.” When I’d feel that familiar grip of anorexia, I’d say, “No.” Figuratively, literally, whatever it took. I was bold with myself—with my disease. I did not take shit. When I was feeling low, I’d do something good to pick myself up. I learned to cope without using food. When I felt myself slipping, I’d say, “No.” I’d push the disorder away, say I didn’t want it, and I’d say, “NO.” Sounds simple, and it is. But you can’t just go about it half-assed. You have to scream it, mean it, use it like a weapon. You’re better than all the crap bringing you down. Remember that and just say “NO” when you feel you’re being pulled in the wrong direction. It takes a lot of willpower. More willpower than it takes to starve.

I wrote. Oh, I wrote. Daily. I used my writing to help me, to save me, to direct me. I stopped using food to control and to deprive. I stopped using food as something mental. I tried to embrace it. It was difficult. I didn’t like it.

Then, I forgot about food. I focused on my eating disorder for what it was without the elements of food. There was so much more to my problems other than food. I mean, come on, food doesn’t have the ability to destroy.

I learned about myself, sought to love myself, wrote about my pain and my feelings, wrote about my struggles. I began to feel better. I began to stop counting. This was tough—to forget about sizes, forget about calories, forget about a number on a scale. I didn’t weigh myself. I had no scale. I did this purposely. It was weird and it was hard. I wanted to weigh myself. But I didn’t have a scale. I kept wanting to weigh myself. It went on, but I had no scale. And eventually, I stopped wanting to weigh myself. It didn’t matter. An inkling of curiosity wasn’t the same as an aching need.

I still don’t weigh myself.

I don’t care now.

You can get to that point—to that point where it doesn’t matter—but you have to work at it. You have to be strong and not allow yourself to give in. And in time you will be okay. You won’t be a slave to a device that conquers your mood and your sense of well-being. And let me tell you, without a number to dictate your daily mood, you begin to listen to yourself and to how you feel without that number. You know yourself as you never knew her before. You feel good. You feel free. You begin to finally see that you feel so good that there is no way you’d ever want to go back to that dark, horrible place you were before. You want out with a passion when before you just wanted out with a desperation.

I was eating. And I was trying not to think about it much. It was necessary, but not enjoyable. I was okay with it as long as I didn’t think on it too long. I had moments of worry and panic, moments of stress and distaste, but I got through. I just plodded through. Food and I were still not friends. But we were no longer enemies.

I trudged on, doing well, but worrying that I might relapse into old ways. I gained weight, but instead of being horrified by the way I looked, I appreciated the curves that were slowly showing themselves. The mirror was—strangely, I thought—more of a friend to me when I had put on some pounds than it was when I was sickly thin and longing to be thinner. I felt good, so I looked good. I was learning to love my body. It was fascinating, liberating, and astounding. I felt like a different person.

I surrounded myself with the right people, I tried to stop worrying about what others would think. This was a big one. I still have to remind myself not to concern myself with what others think. It’s not easy. But it’s possible. If I couldn’t stop myself from worrying what they might think, I tried at least not to spend too much time on it. As I grew to be happy with myself as a person and as a woman, I found that I was content to cook food and eat it. More than that—I enjoyed cooking. And I enjoyed eating what I’d taken the time to make. It took me a while to get over the shock of this.

It remains the same. I like to cook and I like to eat. Yes, you heard me correctly: I like to eat. I eat when I’m hungry. I stop when I’m full. I enjoy letting myself enjoy. I cook for my fiancĂ© (husband in one more month!) and he loves it and appreciates it, which is so nice. He cooks for me. We eat together. We nourish. We’re healthy.

So how can a girl/woman who suffered from anorexia and had such an unbearable relationship with food come to love it and live with it? Well, I just told you. But words on a page are not actions, and the actions are much harder to accomplish than writing the words. And don’t forget that it doesn’t happen overnight. It can take years.

You have to try it for yourself…when you’re ready…but I can tell you one thing: It’s worth it.



Alexandra said...

Thanks for your comment in my blog. You're story is inspirational!

Arielle said...

Thanks, Alexandra. :) You're so sweet. I'm glad you stopped by the blog and I've bookmarked yours so I can keep visiting. Talk to you soon!

Much love,

Arielle said...

Hi there -

I just found your blog as I struggle with recovery from bulimia. This post especially really connects with me. Saying NO is so hard, but reading that "it takes a lot of willpower. More willpower than it takes to starve," really hit home.

I also "used" to write. That is, in the two years I've suffered from bulimia, I have sadly stopped. Compulsive exercise really took over and then binging and purging became my way of filling up spare time. You've made me feel like it might be something I can add to my life, and particularly my recovery, once again. Thanks for that.

I'm going slowly through your posts. If you know any blogs about bulimia recovery, I would love for you to share.

Also, well, I feel that finding a blog about recovery by another Arielle is just some sort of sign, you know?

All the best,


Arielle Bair (Becker) said...

Arielle -

Welcome. :) I'm glad you are liking the blog. Recovery is definitely possible. I am now recovered and have been for a few years. I lead a support group and know many women who struggle with bulimia or who have struggled. Don't give up. It's nice to meet a fellow Arielle too? Out of curiosity, how old are you? I never yet met an Arielle who was old than I am. I'm 26 next month.

Take care of yourself!