Los Angeles – It’s Valentine’s Day. In an ideal world, it’s a holiday for lovers to recommit to their relationship and find innovative ways to display their devotion to each other. A recent Groupon study shows most couples would rather share an experience together rather than being given a gift. In my case, it didn’t matter. When you are married, but more devoted to another than you are to your partner, flowers, candy, dinner or an exceptional experience doesn’t dissipate the loneliness and pain divided allegiances engender.
My lover of forty-six years was ED and he was my go-to guy – the one I turned to when I was sad, happy, distressed or lonely. And my husband – helpless to pull me away from ED’s perceived power – became a passive, though inwardly agitated, bystander.
ED was my Eating Disorder – bulimia: the binge-purge syndrome that began when I was in college and kept me ensnared in a web of deceit, lies and shame. ED was dependable. When I was raising my five boys, Ed was my reward for getting through the day with dignity, grace and effectiveness. When I was sad, energized or drained, ED was the one who replenished me. He allowed me to keep coping when my kids grew up and moved away. When I had to adjust to becoming a spoke, no longer the hub, in my sons’ lives, ED was my solace.
And with ED by my side, I could indulge in all those calorie-laden comfort foods I loved without the needle traveling north. Because when the scale hovered in the southern zone – when I was lean and thin – with enhanced curves and prominent cheek bones, I went from ordinary looking to worthy of a second glance. And who wouldn’t want that? I could shop without a put in my stomach. I felt visible. Empowered. Younger. Vibrant. Sought after.
How did I break free from the destructive behaviors and thought patterns I harbored to become the best version of myself? First, I had to own the problem and realize I couldn’t break-up with ED on my own. I had to realize that hope is not a plan; hope fuels the plan. So I devised a plan to seek professional help. I decided to enter an eating disorder treatment center as an out-patient, attending three four hour sessions weekly for a minimum of three months.
I had to step out of my comfort zone. I began letting others care for me, just as I care for others.
I had to learn the difference between emotional and physical hunger.
Emotional hunger is earring in response to how you are feeling. Emotional hunger is triggered by such things as anxiety, fatigue, anger, loneliness and yearnings.
Physical hunger is responding to your bodies need for fuel and nourishment. Growling stomach, head ache, weakness, lightheadedness, and inability to focus can all be a response to our bodies’ need to eat.
I learned that ED likes transitional times in life – times when things are in flux and times when resilience is required. Going to college. First job. Marriage. Divorce. Parenting. ED particularly likes to prey on those of us who aim for perfection. And he turns his charms to those of us in mid life snd beyond – especially during times of upheaval: job loss or retirement. Empty nest. Loss of friends and loved ones. Financial difficulties. Separation from family. Widowhood. Caregiving duties.
When I started thinking about breaking up with ED, I reached out to my family and individual by individual, I talked about my disordered eating. And through that reaching out a revelation emerged: I realized they loved me not because I was perfect, but in spite of my imperfections. It was an extremely liberating epiphany. And a necessary step toward ousting ED.
I reveled in the mouse bites of progress I was taking. And I realized incremental small steps are more easily sustainable than huge kangaroo leaps.
As we age, our bodies change. The detriments of aging set in and we no longer look the way we looked in out twenties. What I’ve discovered is that looking the best I can be instilling healthy measures is where I am most comfortable. I found my personal weight point – the weight I can most easily maintain by not dieting and by eating normal portions. I do gentle yoga. I eat healthily. When I’m tired, I rest. And I have found other ways to self soothe: knitting, walking, lunching with friends, spending quality time with my family.
Finding the strength to break-up with ED was a gradual process. The first thing I had to do was recognize that ED was serving a useful purpose in my life and I had to find less self destructive ways to get what ED was giving me.
Most importantly, I began working through my emotional issues – the coping node was abolished and I began to let myself feel and endure the discomfort instead of vomiting it up – as a temporary fix. I became comfortable with my feelings – the messiness- the disorder – the unfinished. When something disconcerting happens, I don’t immediately jump into coping mode, but work through my inner turmoil. I have learned to tolerate the internal pain and don’t use bingeing and purging to release me from the feelings prematurely. I don’t repress my emotions. I have learned to manage them.
Valentine’s Day, 2012, was the last time I binged and purged.
This Valentine’s Day, I am celebrating six years without ED by my side.
I’ve made peace with my body’s imperfections and my outside facade is now in sync with my inside state of well-being. The scale is no longer my barometer of self-worth and my husband, not ED, is the one I will be with on February 14. He’s the only one I’m cuddling with, flirting with and living fully with now.
My motto: is: recovery is possible at any stage and at any age. I did it. And you can, too.