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.