Saturday, 30 August 2008

feeling and healing

I am doing well. It's funny to say that. It's rare to say that, mostly because I am extremely pedantic about the truth, and tend to assess every possible thing that could come under the heading of "well" and conclude that, actually, I'm not doing that well. I'm "okay", or "bleh", or, if we're really lucky, "fine".

But with specific reference to my eating disorder, I'm doing well. Actually well. This is radical news. I pointed this out to my husband last night and he said, "yes, I didn't like to say anything, but you have been."

Like this: I actually do not remember the last time I had a binge. Oh, I've eaten a couple of big meals, I suppose, but they've just been meals, and I'm becoming much more conscious of when my body is saying "enough food" and actually stopping at that point. There's been no compulsion (apart from the compulsion to clean my plate, but that's another issue), and no desperation. I just don't remember the last time I wanted to eat like that. Well, I suppose it was probably when I wrote this entry. And that was only the desire – it didn't result in any action. Actually, I'm planning a bit of a greedy lunch, but for the first time in possibly ever, I am just going to tell my husband what I had for lunch instead of hiding the evidence.

Like this: the other day, I was violently nervous about something that was happening in the afternoon, and yet I felt no desire to eat.

Like this: yesterday, I was extremely bored in the afternoon, and yet I felt no desire to eat. I had a cup of tea. A cup of TEA, people. I didn't even think about going to the canteen. I mean, sure, I'd had a late and fairly big lunch, but being full doesn't usually stop me.

Like this: I've been very distressed and stressed about certain family situations in the past couple of weeks, and yet I haven't felt the need to binge.

To be honest, this is pretty weird and confusing. I am so used to a particular, if painful and depressing, way of dealing with things that when I notice that I'm not doing it, I'm startled.

I have to put it down, mostly, to the fact that I have changed (am still in the process of changing) my habits in relation to dealing with my feelings. Instead of trying to remedy my bad feelings by stuffing them full of chocolate till they shut up, I've just been sitting down, saying "it's okay for you to be here" to whatever feeling it is, and letting it run. So sometimes I cry a bit, and that's okay. And it's okay for me to want to stab things or people (note: as long as I do not carry out this desire). It's even okay for me to feel really bad about myself and my body, as long as I just sit there quietly with it and feel whatever it is.

And here's the cool part: the feelings go away. Amazingly, when I give my full attention to feelings that I normally run from, they seem to lose momentum really quickly. I have no idea why this is.

The thing I've been realising is that I have invested a hell of a lot of time and energy over the years in trying not to feel things I don't like, and yet not one single thing I've ever done to avoid feeling bad has ever worked. Every time I've felt bad, I have been in a mad scramble to get back to this state of mind I call "normal", to just not feel off-kilter, and yet that scramble always seemed to make things worse, and to spark eating habits that weren't healthy and made me feel desperate and crazy.

And more than eating like a fairly normal human person, I feel...different, about my body, about myself. I'm up and down on most things in my life – I still don't like my job, or the town we live in, and there's always crap. But I feel...taller. Does that sound crazy? But I do. It's not like I'm waltzing around singing "I love me, I love me...", but I feel both more and less bound up in my body. I feel more connected to it, more aware of how it's feeling, but less concerned about its appearance or what people, including myself, are thinking about it.

Consider: this morning, I passed a couple of men in my workplace and walked up the stairs. As I did, I heard them laughing. In the past, I would assume they were laughing at my fat bum, which may be ridiculously self-involved, but is representative of the kind of paranoia I have felt about this, and felt depressed. (And yes, of course, this is an entirely internally generated issue – neither today nor at any other time did I have any real basis for the assumption that I was the object of the laughter.) Today, I thought "they could be laughing at my bum", and then I thought, "oh well, whatever makes them happy, why should I care?"

It's funny, actually, because I haven't really been noticing this as it's been going on. I've been thinking, hm, must update the blog, but wasn't really sure what to talk about. And then I realised, well, that's because things are changing.

This has only been going on for a couple of weeks, to be sure. But you have to realise that, in twenty two goddamn years, this hasn't happened. I don't recall a time in twenty two years in which this wasn't a constant, every-day battle, when every shop I passed wasn't calling my name, where every thought of food brought guilt and shame and yet a desperate desire that I couldn't control.

So here's what I've learned which is helping me a huge amount, both in relation to my eating disorder and other aspects of my life:

1. It is okay to feel how you feel. It's okay to be sad. It's okay to be angry. It's okay to feel desperate and out of control and full of the compulsion to shovel food into your mouth to temporarily numb the desperation.

2. There are no bad feelings, there are just feelings. Some of them feel better than others, sure, but there aren't any morally superior ones. You are not a bad person because you feel however you feel, and you don't have to feel bad about feeling what you feel. Pretending you don't feel it will not make you a better person, and it certainly won't make you a happier person.

3. Avoiding your feelings doesn't make them go away. Even if you fill them up with KFC and chocolate, they will still be there, and if you refuse to recognise them as yourself, they will come back as an alien intruder. (Thank you again, Stephen Cope.) You're way better off giving yourself permission to be where you are. I'm not saying that you should wallow, or talk endlessly about it. You probably aren't feeling it properly if you're telling the story about how miserable you are. But just, when you can, take a few minutes to sit quietly and feel it, only feeling, no talking and no action.

4. Bad feelings are almost certainly not as bad as you fear. Seriously, I know some bad feelings. I have a lot of them, and really facing them is not easy. But for me at least, I've been astonished by how hard it is to hold onto misery when you're really giving yourself permission to be as intensely miserable as you can.

Now, of course, the issues are not gone. I still look in the mirror and want to be thinner. I am still worried about my health. I still am in the habit of eating more than I actually need because I'm not attuned to when I've had enough. I don't know what tomorrow will hold in terms of my desire to be thin, and I don't know how I will deal with it. That's okay too.

A lot has happened, really, in just a couple of weeks.

(Note: This has been completely helpful for me, and I'd strongly recommend it as well worth a go, but I don't know your emotional states or if you're suffering from any other emotional disorders, so I can't guarantee that it'll work for you like it has for me, especially if you're suffering from depression or something similar.)


Twistie said...

This is fabulous, Maddie! It's a huge breakthrough, and I'm delighted for you.

Besides, once you let yourself actually experience sorrow and anger and depression, it makes joy that much better.

ClpX said...

This was really awesome to read, for me, today. Just right for an uncertain morning when the nagging thought of bingeing is around, but the drive isn't yet, and I indecision... But now I have a plan for what to DO. (Or not do :D) Thank you for sharing. :)

Scattered Marbles said...

I am so glad for you, this was such a hope filled post for me. I knwo that I am a very emotional eater.. I eat when I can't deal with my emotions. I really long to break those chains that food have around me and to have it be simply used for fuel when my body tells me I need it. I know the secret to this is learning to sit with my emotions and deal with them instead of running away and it is such a ray of hope to hear that things are working for you! Thank you so much !

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I had a bad night last night and this post really helped me get through it.

Maddie said...

Twistie - Thank you. And that's definitely true. Though, more than joy at the moment, I'm finding a place where there is peace.

clpx - I'm really glad that this entry helped you. It isn't an easy action plan by any means, but it's worked for me better than anything else I've tried.

scattered marbles - You're welcome. :) Like you, I often eat to control my feelings. And the thing is, increasingly I'm realising that it doesn't work. They're not controlled, they're just crushed. I hope that this helps you as much as it has helped me.

shorinkyo - I'm really glad if anything I've said has helped you. I hope your nights and days get easier.

Anonymous said...

*claps hands*

Hehe. I am SO happy to read this from you. I've been wondering how things were going and this is the best I could hope for. :)