This is What Recovery Looks Like

* This blog describes bingeing in detail and may be triggering for people who are struggling with disordered eating. 

Copyright @Women Magazine 
I forget. I forget I have an eating disorder. In fact that I ‘had’ an eating disorder. Right now, I don’t have one. I wouldn’t qualify for treatment, I am not sick enough. I am in recovery. But it lurks there, in the background, often quiet and in the back of my mind. I can ignore it. That voice, the voice that tells me that I am sick. Sometimes I don’t hear it at all. It blends into the background of life’s noises and I forget that it is there. But at other times, it screams at me. It shouts over every part of the day reminding me that it still lurks there, waiting.

I was diagnosed with having a Binge Eating Disorder (BED) in April 2016. I wrote about it the experiences of BED here.  I finished treatment 6 months ago this week. I remember the day of my diagnosis so clearly. A friend had convinced me to go. I thought it was madness that I could have an eating disorder. I was neither young enough, skinny enough nor sick enough to have one. But when I started speaking, and I heard from my own mouth the true story of what I had been managing for over a decade, I realised then, I needed help. At the time I was bingeing between 2 -4 times a day, over 5 days a week. My life was consumed by my bingeing. I cancelled nights out with my friends, trips with my family, and dates with my boyfriend. I essentially existed to work and binge, everything else in between disappeared. I was diagnosed as having Binge Eating Disorder, with a Bulimic mindset. Binge Eating aims to manage feelings. It’s a coping mechanism for life, a way of sedating and suppressing feelings, and creating a beautiful numbness, which helped me navigate through life. My bulimic mindset made me restrict, to diet, to weigh, to try and change my shape. I used to think I had no willpower and was a terrible dieter, but on reflection, I can diet like a complete champ. Surviving on green juice for seven days? I’ve done it. I survived for two months on only 600 calories of milkshakes and yet I thought I was the problem. Insane. 

As soon as I got my diagnosis I felt relief. There was a plan for help and I took it. I started Dialectical Behavioural Therapy in September 2016. I missed my first group session as I was sunning my body in Turkey, and when I entered the room and seven other women were talking openly about bingeing, I had to grit my teeth and force myself to stay there. It blew my mind that other people were talking about bingeing so openly. I had hidden my behaviours for so long, the thought of confessing my most shameful moments openly in a group made my chest tighten. I remained in an anxious state of paranoia for the first four sessions and nodded along as everyone else described their binges in the most vivid details. At first I thought the sessions were a load of hog shit. I came back from each session feeling more anxious, more stressed and keen to binge than ever. I was told not to diet, and yet all I did was watch my calories, weigh myself and try and change my shape. On reflection, I don’t think I wanted to get better. I didn’t want to stop bingeing. 

I remember my first binge as if I had done it only yesterday. I was 21 years old and I had been on a fluid only diet for 2 months. I was malnourished, hungry and highly anxious. I was the thinnest I had ever been and people told me how good I looked, but I was miserable. I hated myself, I hated how I looked, I hated how I was and I just felt sad. I wanted to eat. So I went and bought a chocolate bar. As soon as I purchased it, I felt myself feeling calmer. As I sat in my room and shoved it into my mouth I felt elated, I felt numb. All the sadness I had been holding for those months just disappeared into the blackness as the sugar rushed around my body. It was one of the most enjoyable feelings I have ever had. I loved it. Within 10 minutes I was on the floor in crippling pain as my stomach attempted to digest it’s first bit of food in months. But it felt totally worth it. From then on I kept chasing that numbness. The binges got larger as I required more and more food to suppress the new feelings of shame and guilt that were arising. I just didn’t want to feel anymore. I wanted to continue bingeing. 

I went a decade without feeling emotion. Whenever I felt, I binged. I binged in the car, in my bedroom, in kitchens when no one could see. I did not want to stop bingeing, because I did not want to feel. I told my therapist I hated her. I hated her taking this from me, making me feel. 

Copyright @Women Magazine
When the emotions rushed back in and I didn’t have my binges to rely on it was hard. I cried. I cried a lot. I cried in therapy, out of therapy and in between. I binged too. I binged when I couldn’t take it anymore, when the pain felt too raw, too hard to hold, and then I told my therapist and the group and rather than pity or sadness they asked me why. Why had I chosen the easy way out, to block, to be numb, why couldn’t I just feel? I learnt that bingeing was my coping mechanism, but it was also a choice. I needed to choose not to binge. 

Over five months of treatment I learnt new ways of coping with my emotions. It isn’t easy and there are some emotions I am better at holding than others. My main triggers are feeling tired, anxiety and being hormonal (way to go body)! I find anxiety my biggest hurdle and it hits me like a brick on most occasions. But I don’t binge. I sometimes have panic attacks and I feel stupid and annoyed at myself for struggling to cope. But I don’t binge. I miss the warm, sleepy feeling of over eating and wish for that release, but I don’t binge. I breathe, I take time out, I reassure myself that this feeling is only temporary and then I repeat that cycle until the urges disappear. Recovery has been beautiful at times. I have mended friendships; I have danced, and sung, and shouted and laughed and been silly. I have lived. It has been glorious. 

On the occasions when I have relapsed and fallen back into old habits, I stop quite quickly after and work through why I chose to binge today. I can often find my trigger and know for next time in the hope of sating that voice inside me. It remains there, the voice of my eating disorder. I used to think it was my voice, I was convinced I had no choice but to listen to it, to do what it said, to believe what it thought. I hear it sometimes, and sometimes it blends into the background of life’s noises, and that’s where I am hoping it stays.