Ride the Wave and Trust the Process
Eating disordered behaviors are often used as a way of coping. There is a “nature versus nurture” argument on both sides of the spectrum, but regardless, my struggle was real. Because of family chaos and feeling unstable as a child, I used eating disorder symptoms to numb out my emotions and distract myself from feeling sadness and pain. I learned from my life experiences that all good things would come to an end and there is struggle and hurt in everything. I remember telling my husband Derrick “Life is just a struggle- one struggle leads to the next. That is just how it is.”, and he looked at me in awe and disbelief. “Brooke, every day does not have to be a struggle!” To me, with my eating disorder leading the way, it was.
When I started on the road to recovery from anorexia and over- exercise, I had no idea on what I was getting myself into. In my disordered mind, I had a “few bad habits” I had to kick and I needed to cut back on my running. That was it. When I committed to going to residential treatment I figured I would be gone a month at tops, but I did not believe that I would emerge recovered. I didn’t even think it was possible. I decided to go through the program to appease my husband and my therapist, Dr. Burnett and to listen to what they said I needed to do in order to recover, but I assumed that I would just go back to what I was doing before (head back into the comfort zone of my ED) because that is what I knew. My eating disorder was my safety net. It was my constant in a life full of change. When I was in my first few weeks of treatment, I remember Face Timing Derrick and I said to him, “I can’t be here. I can’t do this. I feel as though they (the treatment center) are asking me to jump out of a plane without my parachute. My ED is my parachute and they have taken that away from me!” There was a pause on the phone, and then a sigh… Then Derrick said, “Oh Brooke…ED is the one kicking you out of the dang plane.”
Derrick was right. My eating disorder was something I used as a child to help me survive the pain, but it was now the thing that was taking my life. I was dying, and the eating disorder that I held most dear and at the upmost importance in my life was the very thing that was killing me. From that moment on I had to learn to ride the “emotional wave”. I had to deal with simple, everyday life issues without my ED in my pocket for protection. It was hard. It was grueling. There were a lot of tears, a lot of “whys”, and a lot of anger, fear, and defeat. But I learned that emotions are like waves. They have a build, a rise, a crest, and a fall. There is always a fall. But after the fall comes the calm. The wave always ends. Some waves are longer than others, but I had to learn to trust that the wave would not sink me. I was stronger than any wave that would come my way, and that ED behaviors[GB1] are not a life vest. I had to grab ahold of God, my faith, my support system when I was in the wave… not ED.
It took me a while to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I had to start my journey of recovery in disbelief of the possibility of a full recovery, even though so many professionals around me said it was possible. I thought I was “special” in my disorder - “other people may recover, but not me. I am in too deep.” I told this to a therapist one time and she looked at me and laughed. “Brooke, you are not special.” I stared at her offended, and she spoke again- “This eating disorder is not special, nor are you special in it. If you trust this process, recovery is possible, and you will then truly see what makes you special.” Boom. She got me, and she was right. I began to see sparks of hope in the dark tunnel I lived in for so long. Joy was like a candle flickering in a dark room; all of the sudden there would be times my anxiety would subside long enough for me to enjoy a meal. I would catch myself laughing at a movie with popcorn in my lap. I would realize that I just played a game with my kids without thinking of afternoon snack that was looming around the corner. At the end of my journey I even enjoyed conversation while eating a burger and fries with Dr. Burnett at McDonald’s. The feat that I thought was impossible was beginning to become my reality. Recovery was in my grasp, and I was holding it proudly.
Waves come and go, the process works, and joy is possible. All things that ED lied to me about over and over for 16 years debunked by my new-found freedom. There are things worth fighting for in this life, and freedom from an eating disorder is one of them. Fight on my friends. Ride the wave and trust the process.
I did. Now I’m free!
[GB1]I want you to remember that ED is a set of behaviors, and NOT an identity. I just like to make that distinction for folks because many believe that their behavior = their identity.