Life cannot be predicted. We strive to do our best to control our surroundings, but in the end, we always fall short. As a 9th grade teacher, it is that beautiful time of year when we set up the ideal testing environment and ask kids to use all the wonderful knowledge we have bestowed in them throughout the year to preform miracles on the state mandated tests. Well, yesterday, our perfect testing environment was robbed by an unexpected fire alarm. We, the teachers and administration, worked for an entire year for our students to be ready for this glorifying moment, and it was interrupted by sirens and confusion. As we shuffled out the double doors to the safety of the grass, staff and students alike were dumbfounded by the inconvenience, and we as teachers had to scramble to come up with a new plan of action on the spot. We rolled with it, held the dismissal bell, and gave the kids the needed time to finish. Was it planned? No. Was it nerve wracking? Yes. But did we let panic ruin a whole year of hard work? No way. Thus is life; it cannot be predicted or controlled. Why would recovery be any different?
I remember so vividly having a conversation with a fellow eating disorder sufferer about “how do you know you are recovered?” My answer was simple- when you stop letting your eating disorder make your decisions that is when you can live in recovery. As I have recently surpassed my one year anniversary of being recovered from anorexia, I was reminded of the fact that recovered does not mean that I will always have control of my surroundings or that I will never hit a bump in the road. I had a tough experience yesterday that I feel compelled to share with those who feel like recovered means perfection; perfection does not exist, especially in recovery.
With a husband, two young kids, a full time job, a coach's wife, and anything and everything in-between, life is RARELY predictable. When I was deep in my disorder, if things got hairy in my life, I grasped on to many unhealthy ways to cope with the stress: over exercise, purging, restriction, obsessive cleaning… the list goes on. There are ways to healthily cope with stress, but when rituals and addictions begin to control your every move, the outcome can be dangerous. How did I know I needed help? I could no longer function in my life without my unhealthy coping mechanisms. I was drowning in my own mind and my body was becoming my own torture chamber. When I came back from residential treatment in April of 2016 I was accustomed to the safety that the secluded and controlled environment had to offer- my life at home was much more hectic.
Home- this brings me to my point: what happens when the safety and comfort of home is stripped from you? It could be a million things that cause this: fanatical strain, stress in the workplace that seeps into your personal life, time and changes in children’s ages and stages, relationship tension, extended house guests… all of these and more can put a wrench in the safe haven of home. In case you guessed it, all of the above examples have made an appearance in my home the past year. It is tough. Dealing with life in general is hard, but adding the extra pressure of staying clean in recovery when disorder is all you have known for years; it can be excruciating. My recovery has been tested lately. Recently, I went to the doctor to get my arm checked out, and low and behold, there sat the dreaded scale. I hopped on as directed and my weight was not what I expected. The number shook what I strive to believe daily to the core. I repeated to myself “I am not defined by that number, I am not defined by that number…” but the disordered part of my brain that can normally be tamed was screaming “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Yikes. Quick question: Have you ever been yelled at before? For people who suffer from eating disorders the ED voice is as loud as a drill sergeant screaming in the face of an ill preforming cadet… There I was, standing on the scale, with Lieutenant Dan blaring in my ear: “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!” Tears formed in my eyes and the nurse asked me if I was okay, and I blamed the pain of my arm that I was getting checked out, and she nodded in sympathy and moved on.
As I sat waiting for the doctor, my mind raced. The disordered thoughts and plans began to flood my judgment, and I mentally agreed with the ED part of my brain that “I must gain control of my weight.” As I was walking out of the office, ED leading the way, I was comforted by the old feelings of “I have this; I know how to fix this” for about 2 minutes. As I got in my car to drive home, my wise mind finally got the courage to stand up to my ED mind… It said, “What are you doing? Weight does not matter- joy matters- and there is NO joy in ED’s plans for you.” Boom. Just like that. It all comes to perspective.
While driving home, I reflected on what I had just experienced. Knowing my weight after I stepped on that scale had not changed a thing about me physically. I felt great about myself and my body up until I stepped on that scale- so why the change? Even though I am recovered, my ED rules and regulations still lurk in the back of my mind, and when things are chaotic around me, they seem to surface for that old feeling of control and comfort, but that type of control is false. There is no way to control my life circumstances by controlling my weight. If I skip dinner, the argument that my husband and I had the day before will still go unsolved. If I run (my exercise addiction that I have to stay away from), my house will still be in diseray when I return. If I purge, my kids will still be in the stage of “mommy, mommy, MOMMY!” when I am through in the bathroom… You see- me controlling my weight does not control my surroundings. There is actually NO way to control my surroundings. If we as humans believe we can do that, we will always be disappointed at some point. You cannot predict the fire alarms of life. I must continue to look within to use my voice, value my beliefs and morals (not the world’s), and continue to live in recovery if I want to be okay within ME.
We all have those moments, eating disorder or not, recovered or recovering, that we feel like we can DO something when all that we really can do it trust the process, keep our heads up, and continue to know that God’s plan is perfect; not ours. I will continue to fight the urge to control my life by controlling my weight. What holds me in recovery is that I am allowing my wise mind to fight the ED mind and win the war. Although recovery is possible, it is a choice; one that I must choose over again at times when I feel vulnerable and weak. Regardless of societal views, those who fight mental illness are the strongest people on the planet; I will always believe that.