The Strange Safety of My Eating Disorder

by thethreepennyguignol

So, it’s Eating Disorder Awareness Week this week, and I’ve been thinking since Monday on just what I want to write about EDs this year.

To catch up those uninitiated: I started dealing with an eating disorder back in 2017, and properly entered recovery in late 2019, with some slip-ups on the way. There have been ups and downs and backs and forth but I generally consider myself well into recovery at this point.

Which might be the reason that I’ve spent so long thinking of that to write this week. One of the best parts of recovery has been the freedom it’s given me. No, not the freedom to eat more than my ED-prescribed amount of calories a day, or freedom from exercising into the middle of the night, or the freedom not to stop in front of every reflective surface to grab at my body, because it took a long time for those to feel good enough to earn the title of “freedom”.

But the freedom that came with allowing myself to think of something other than my eating disorders. Eating disorders are the kind of mental illness that spreads out to engulf every part of your life and your being – in fact, that’s one of the reasons they can be so comforting, as the obsession required to maintain them doesn’t allow for any focus on anything else, including the bad stuff. The lack of sufficient nutrition along with the various methods of self-abuse and purging that come part and parcel with eating disorders exhaust your brain and body to the point that there isn’t room to focus on anything other than continuing this cycle.

My eating disorder was a good protective shield with which to hide myself from the realities of early-ish adulthood, the stresses in my life around me, the nightmarishly difficult handling of worsening OCD. I didn’t deal with it for as long as I did because I wasn’t getting something out of it, you know? There’s this notion, I think, that eating disorders are basically driven by the way that someone looks, but for me, it was more than just the safety and comfort of a more conventionally-acceptable body – it was the safety of barely having to live in it at all, because I was constantly spaced out on an eating disorder planet that had no connection to the real world. When I pulled down that shield, it was genuinely awful at first: everything I had been successfully hiding from from a couple of years was there, and I was meant to keep feeling this flood of horribleness, and that was meant to be freedom? I couldn’t fathom it.

But much as that shield protected me from a lot of hard stuff, it took away the things I loved, too. Took away my passion, my sociability, my energy, my time. And it look a long time for me to find those things again, as dusty as they’d gotten, but when they did – God. That was the freedom that I had been waiting for – life outside of an eating disorder. Do you know how boring EDs are? Remembering there’s a real world out there, and when that came flooding in – and in took a bloody long time – I just didn’t have as much space for my eating disorder anymore.

So, I think that the fact I didn’t have a huge amount to say about eating disorders this week is probably a good sign. A sign that the rest of my life is coming back into place again, where eating disordered behaviour and compulsions are not at the forefront of my mind day in and day out. This eating disorder awareness week, I’m less aware of my ED than ever – and that’s a good thing.

More of my writing on eating disorders:

Influencer Culture, Eating Disorders, and the Promise of Wellness

The Acceptable Eating Disorder

Sexual Harassment, Eating Disorders, and the Quest to De-Woman Myself

Every Good Thing Eating Disorder Recovery Has Done For Me

Let’s Talk About The Strange World of Online Eating Disorder Communities