Saturday, 6 September 2008

the story of me

This isn't actually the story of me, because that is long and not very exciting. This, rather, is a look at how powerful The Story Of Me is in maintaining my eating problems.

Okay, it's going to start with a bit of the story of me. Here it is: I discovered Geneen Roth over a decade ago. Until that time, I really had no awareness of myself as a person with an eating disorder. I just thought I was fat and greedy and lazy and had no self control. And then I read When Food Is Love, and I spent the whole book thinking "THIS IS THE STORY OF ME!"

And that changed a lot of things. I stopped doing diets most of the time. I still bought the books, still planned to eat less, but I gave myself permission to eat, mostly. It helped a bit, though not enough.

But since that time, The Story of Me has had a significant plotline which is "The Story Of How I Have An Eating Disorder". It's a fairly confessional storyline - I tell people about it with the air of confiding a secret, though I don't know why. It's also a story I tell to myself a lot, mostly under the subtitle of "The Story Of Why I'm So Fat".

I have other plotlines, of course: there's "The Story Of Being A Recovering Christian", "The Story Of Suffering Two Major Depressions", "The Story Of Finally Meeting Someone Who Fancies Me" (there's a subplot of this story in which it turns out a number of people fancied me, but I was too dense and too insecure to notice it), and "The Story Of How I Write Books But Never Send Them To Anyone". The Story Of Me is pretty big and complicated, and has many twists and turns, but it does tend to keep coming back to "The Story Of How I Have An Eating Disorder".

And lately, with my ways of dealing with that eating disorder changing, and the subsequent mysterious backlash, I'm wondering a bit how much really trying to recover is setting itself up opposite The Story Of Me. By which I mean, how is recovery affecting my identity? And how is my identity, my self-told story, wrestling against my recovery, because it changes the whole damn story?

I've been telling this story for a really long time, both to myself and to others. I extend it far back in time to being a barely adolescent girl with enormous breasts and a mother who didn't understand that bodies are different. I've been flinging it out ahead of myself into the future. I have an eating disorder, I have had it, I will have it...

But for how long? And what happens if my recovery goes from recovery to recovered?

Now, truth be told, I am both navel-gazer and self-sabotager extraordinaire, so I manage to combine self-awareness with total failure to let myself get anywhere on a fairly regular basis. So I wonder if part of this weirdly conscious little relapse I'm having at the moment, where, having noticed actual progress, I'm having to make double the effort to stay conscious that I was before, is to do with the fact that The Story Of Me, at least the version I've been reading, hasn't ever toyed with a chapter which explores "The Story Of How I Got Better". Or "The Story Of How I Do Not Binge Eat Any More But Am Still Fat". That's quite a scary story for a person with an eating disorder - the whole of my story of eating problems revolves around "The Story Of How I Do Not Want To Be Fat". I'm working on changing that one, but the edits are far from finished.

But yesterday, for example, my acupuncturist was suggesting that I needed to avoid certain foods to help strengthen my spleen because that is causing some pretty enormous menstrual problems. (I don't know what that all means, but it works pretty well, so who am I to argue?) And I said, yes, that sounds fine, but just so you know, restricting my eating is an issue for me, because I Have An Eating Disorder.

Now, on one level, there's nothing wrong with that - she's suggesting dietary changes, I'm pointing out that it isn't that simple for me, which it isn't, and that although I will be aware of this and do what I can, I'm not promising anything.

But at the same time, she's not suggesting dietary changes so that I lose weight. This is the Chinese medicine version of saying telling me I'm allergic to wheat or I'm diabetic. There are dietary restrictions which are necessary to a person's ongoing survival and physical comfort that might or might not result in weight loss, but for which that weight loss is a totally irrelevant side effect. And you would think, actually, that mostly avoiding cheese and sugar and eating thick vegetable soups would be a relatively small price to pay to stop having five week long periods, especially since I like vegetable soup. And it would be, except that this is "The Story Of How I Have An Eating Disorder", and in this story, our heroine is incapable of taking any action at all that might hypothetically under certain circumstances possibly lead to weight loss even if they don't start out being for that purpose without eating everything in town. So she doesn't do that, and that leads to a certain level of control, and that's fine. (Sort of. This is the same story that led to me stopping doing an exercise activity which was definitely changing the amount of energy I had because I was also noticing a little weight loss. This is a powerfully confusing and contradictory story.)

But it's ignoring "The Story Of How I Have Menstrual Problems", and the advice of someone who has treated me for a number of things over a long period of time and knows pretty well what she's talking about. But part of my own story is that I hear "less dairy and sweets", and I don't think "normal menstrual cycle and more energy". I think "Jesus H Christ, what if I lose weight?" and then I freak out because that is both too wonderful (according to "The Story Of How I Don't Want To Be Fat") and too terrifying to be believed in.

I really am totally fucking bugnuts, aren't I?

I think I need to start working on a different story, really. Maybe it's called "The Story Of How I Used To Have An Eating Disorder". Or maybe it doesn't mention the eating disorder at all. Maybe it's "The Story Of How I Am Healthy And Don't Overdo The Dairy Products Because They Cause Problems".

As always in this blog, I don't have any great answers. I'm just realising that my recovery isn't just going to be about consciousness (though that's great) or feelings (though they're great too). It's not just going to be about having no limits, or about managing things. It's going to involve a change of identity as well, and a new story to tell myself and others about who I am. In the same way that going from from having a constant internal struggle with my religious beliefs to not believing any of those things completely changed my life, my view of myself and the view of the world, the transition from the eating-disordered story to the recovered story is, I think, going to shake things up a lot.

Occasionally, I really just think all this psychological stuff is just waaaaay too much hard work. But I am hopeful that this new story is going to be a kickass good one.


Golda said...

Hey there! I'm just stopping by to say how much I enjoyed this post. I think you're doing really well.

I just want you to know that cutting out foods that you like is a big deal for nearly everyone, not just people who "Used To Have Eating Disorders" (I like this story the best.) So don't beat yourself up for having difficulty cutting out wheat and dairy.

Best of luck!

Ai Lu said...

Ah yes -- the important question of how our identity changes when we recover from the "illness" that has accompanied us for so long. Hmmm. No quick answers for now, only the acknowledgment, on my part, that it is indeed difficult to give up one identity and put on another. Sometimes our former identities decide the course of our present work; I began contemplating a career in clinical psychology after recovering from an eating disorder. I guess my story is "She who recovered from an eating disorder and went on to help others fight their own demons." My cousin, also a clinical psychologist, asks a really hard question: where will we be once all of the healing is over? What would we be doing if we didn't have to dedicate our time to getting better?

Just wanted to throw that out there. Where would you be if your story didn't and had never involved an eating disorder? What would you gain? What would you lose?

Ai Lu

Stephanie said...

(Came over via fatosphere. Hi!)

I tried to cut out some foods because I was having yeast issues (ick) but unfortunately, the foods I had to cut out were all the foods that I love in life -- bread and fruit mostly, but dairy and other sweet things as well. I ended up nauseated for three days straight, and decided it wasn't worth it.

I strongly suspect it was mostly psychosomatic -- I knew that the food I was eating was food I didn't really want (all I wanted for that whole time was a glass of orange juice). So I understand at least a smallish part of what's going on for you.

Best of luck!

Becka said...

Not to knock your acupuncturist's theory, but have you considered that long heavy periods may be a symptom of a non-dietary problem? I'm speaking from experience, as after years of complaining to my gynecologist she finally did an ultrasound and found a huge fibroid in my uterus. I had noticed my stomach getting bigger but had just assumed I had gotten fatter.

Anyway, this might not be your problem, but something to consider.

Piffle said...

I'm really enjoying your blog, I think your introspection makes a good read.

Tiana said...

To repeat what others have already said, I also enjoyed this post a lot and it resonated with me although I don't have an eating disorder (but other problems). And I agree with becka that unless you've already been to a thousand doctors who couldn't figure out what's wrong, maybe you should get yourself checked out by another. Not to say that dietary adjustments can't help, but it's always best to make sure that nothing dangerous is going on.

Scattered Marbles said...

I just want to tell you how healing reading your blog has been for you. Thank you so much for opening up your story ... so that others can benefit from it. I am reaching the place where I really DO want to overcome this.. and find total healing and have a recovered story of my own.

Scattered Marbles said...

lol that first line SHOULD read

I just want to tell you how healing reading your blog has been for me!

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say I enjoyed this post. It's interesting how we organize our memories. I have a different set of stories, but I, too, have been noticing how they can be limiting.

KMTBERRY said...

The really long and hard periods might also be a symptom of hypothyroid. I learned that from the hypothyroid article at F words.

Maddie said...

Golda - Thanks very much. It hink I am too. And yeah, I know cutting out foods is a pain for everyone, it just triggers different behaviour in people with eating disorders, so it's a careful balance.

Ai Lu - That's a really good question, and I shall be contemplating it in the near future. :) It's a huge challenge to consider who I'd be without this.

Stephanie - I haven't changed anything yet, because I'm very aware of needing to be careful. But yeah, it's not so much fun. :)

Becka - This has been going on for years, and I've seen the gyno a couple of times, and I'm seeing her again soon, so we'll see. There may be other things, but there weren't went it all went wrong. I'm keeping open to any answers.

Piffle - Thank you! :) Sometimes I think I should be writing something a bit wider, but on the other hand, I set up here because I wanted to explore what was going eating-wise. And it seems to be going quite well. :)

Tiana - Thank you. :) I think the question of identity is one that applies across the board, really. How much of our identity and the stories we tell about ourselves actually hold us in place in those stories? As I said to Becka, I've been to the doctor, and am going again, and we'll see how it goes. I'm just trying different things.

scattered marbles - Thank you, I'm really pleased to hear that. :) Sometimes hearing about other people's experiences and discoveries can be a HUGE help, as I know from my own experience, so I'm very glad to be part of yours.

deeleigh - Thank you. It's definitely interesting how our stories form us, not just our past, but our present and future, and it's challenging to overcome the limits of the stories we've told to get through. But I think awareness of the stories we tell is helpful.

kmtberry - I've had thyroid tests in the past (this is a fairly long term problem), and they were all normal. But I'm going back to the gyno so we'll see what happens. Thanks. :)

spacedcowgirl said...

"The Story Of How I Do Not Binge Eat Any More But Am Still Fat".

Yikes... you're absolutely right that this is scary. So many parts of your post resonated with me. It can be a hard balance to strike between not denying or belittling your eating disorder, yet also not having the label affect you in a negative way or prevent you from moving forward (I'm having a hard time wording that, but hopefully it makes some sense). I don't think it helps that most people eat in a disordered way to one extent or another these days.

Maddie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maddie said...

Spacedcowgirl - (Or should I call you the gangster of love?) Yes, I'm still truly terrified by the "How I Do Not Binge Eat Any More But Am Still Fat" story. I mean, logically, I can see the absolute advantage in being recovered for its own sake. But the disorder is still strong enough that I really want its absence to also lead to being thinner. Probably not thin, but thinner. This is contrary to my belief that there's nothing wrong with being fat, but then, a lot of my gut feelings are contrary to that belief. It's a struggle.

But yes, it is difficult to find a way to acknowledge and accept and learn from and recover from your eating disorder while not letting it define you, especially when it's something that does define your life to a significant extent, the way you think, the way you spend your time, and when it's something that there's a need or desire to come out of the closet about fairly regularly. I haven't cracked it yet, I have to say. I am really not sure how to be a person who had an eating disorder, because being the person who has one really has been a defining factor in my life for so long.

You're right about the abundance of semi-disordered eating as well. Everyone's always on a diet, so the idea that a "normal" relationship with food and our bodies does not involve tormenting ourselves with how we can't eat chocolate because we are so fat is pretty radical and weird anyway. That's so normal now, it's terrifying.