How I'm Moving Forward With The Next Step In My Recovery
I've been having a difficult time.
I ended treatment recently, and was left feeling incredibly overwhelmed due to the lack of options available for me. I was also slightly panicked at how strong my eating disorder still presented itself, and was fearful for what my future would look like.
I cried several times in desperation. Quite frankly, I was not listening to the advice I gave you in my previous post about rising up (and not letting defeat and discouragement get to me). I was feeling EXTREMELY defeated AND discouraged, and while life had briefly shown me moments of hope, the dark cloud that occasionally lives over my head had moved over me once again.
I resorted to familiar (and unhealthy) patterns in order to cope with the two "D words".
But then, I had a moment of clarity. I first heard about the research on the link between eating disorders and habits when I was in treatment in New York last year. The research team there was exploring whether or not changing certain habits around food and meal time could change the way our eating disorders manifest themselves.
One of the researchers gave the example of sitting down to a meal and picking up your fork with your left hand, despite always using your right hand to eat. A shift like that could maybe change the way you experience a meal.
To be honest, I am not sure whether or not the research team in New York, or others in the field, have come to any conclusions regarding eating disorders and habits. But the whole topic got me thinking: what if I worked on my eating habits (and consequently my rigidity) in order to make strides in my own recovery journey?
I have never been diagnosed with OCD, but coupling perfectionism with anorexia has led me to become a very, very rigid (and obsession-driven) person. For example, I used to have very specific meal times. Dinner had to be on the table at exactly 6:30pm - at 6:32pm, I would start to panic. When I chewed gum, it was on twenty minute intervals - after twenty minutes, I could spit out one piece and pop in another. After dinner, I used to feel compelled to go up and down the stairs at least ten times, and when I served myself a plate of food, the plate had to be oriented in a specific way (protein on the left, veggies on the right, and carbs at the top).
I've worked on my rigidity a lot over the years, though, and I now try to be more flexible when it comes to food and everything surrounding food.
So the other day, it dawned on me: instead of focusing so much on the food/weight aspect of my illness (which is currently getting me nowhere), what if I start "turning the wheels" of recovery by changing certain of my habits?
When I ate dinner that night, I kept certain aspects of the meal "the same", but changed others. (I won't go into more detail than that because I do think it is important to keep in mind that everyone's recovery process, including what happens at meals, can vary vastly).
The point is, I felt almost... liberated. I felt less bound by my strict eating disorder food rules and rituals. I didn't do a complete 180 - I changed only a couple of things (including a couple of food items). But doing so allowed me to almost "relax" a little.
My one condition for changing my food rules and rituals is that I cannot eat LESS. If I eat the same amount, calorically, then that is okay (although I know that weight gain is the eventual goal). But I cannot swap one thing for another and have the switch result in a calorie deficit. That would simply go against the notion of recovery from anorexia.
I'm not really sure whether changing my habits surrounding food will have any direct effect on my recovery process. But, I'm willing to try anything at this point. I'm willing to put myself into a position that may bring about anxiety (flexibility with food is NOT a skill I have mastered yet) to see if I can make progress as an outpatient.
Usually, when I am in a similar position, I check myself in to an inpatient treatment where my eating habits (rules and all) are quite literally taken away from me. So what if I exercise some form of habit breaking and habit formation from the comfort of my own home?
How did I feel hours after I broke some habits? Anxious. Extremely anxious. I looked at myself in the mirror and immediately saw my cheeks fuller and my thighs bigger. (Challenging those irrational thoughts is the only way to go, but they do sometimes get the best of me. I'm only human after all). So, I felt like I had gained weight instantly, even though I'm not sure if I even ate MORE than usual. But the fact that I ate DIFFERENTLY made the eating disorder thoughts run wild in my head. Go figure.
I will definitely keep you guys posted as to whether or not changing food and mealtime habits helps me along. Right now, I'm willing to try anything new. Maybe this will simply be the kickstart I need - only time shall tell. But I'm optimistic. The dark cloud has moved away ever so slightly.