It’s been three whole months since my last post here and I’ve come a long way. My sobriety then did not feel like Sobriety. It felt like an addiction to alcohol being replaced by an addiction to binge eating… while not drunk.
I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and made the decision to investigate my eating more thoroughly. For four entire years – April 2013 through March 2017, I had been stuck in a cycle of binge-restrict-exercise, repeat. My weight was on the low side and fairly stable most of that time. But each night, I went to sleep bloated on packaged food to make up for the calories I wasn’t consciously allowing myself to consume during waking hours. Then I would make a teeny breakfast, pack a carb-free salad for lunch, feel gassy and aggressive and ashamed all afternoon, workout hard, make a vegetarian dinner that was mostly greens, drink an entire bottle of wine, and binge.
The last 4-6 months of this four year span were mildly healthier-minded. I began listening to Health At Every Size (HAES) podcasts and wanting to adopt that principle. I found Christy Harrison’s Food Psych, Isabel Foxen Duke, Melissa Fabello, and Summer Innanen. I learned about the books Intuitive Eating and Health At Every Size. I discovered The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women by Naomi Wolf (which now is like my bible. You can read it in full here), and edited my social media feeds to include posts from fat activists such as Lindy West and Virgie Tovar. I loved everything I read and saw. I was more open-minded, slightly less judgmental, and very interested in learning more. I read a lot of blogs from women who decided to stop drinking in their 30s. Besides Hip Sobriety none really resonated with me. I scoured the internet for bloggers addressing both food and alcohol addiction, but those were difficult to find. (If you are interested & okay with possibly triggering language, here are very few links to what I did discover – one, two, three). Nobody’s story was enough like mine so that I read it and knew exactly what to do to get better. A lot of the eating disorder recovery and body positivity posts, like most of the internet, are image based. This had me stuck in diverse superficiality. Cue loneliness and hopelessness and binge eating. ARG!
I went back to the therapist I’d seen the year before. Once a week did not feel like enough. When I was left alone I would panic and binge eat. And, yes, I did feel like a toddler who’s afraid of the dark. And, yes, I did feel ashamed of that panic. I decided I’d had enough of my anxiety and started seeing a psychiatrist who helped me work my way down the list of medications as they each presented their annoying side effects. (For a while, I still drank on the pills even though you aren’t supposed to). Fast forward eight months, and I think I’m finally on the right anti-depressant for me. I can’t offer advice on what to do about medications. Trust your doctor and keep trying, or find a new doctor you like more! I found a new doctor.
What I am getting to with all this back story is that once I made the decision to start anti-depressants, stop high intensity exercise completely, try eat more intuitively, and – five months into that IE journey – finally quit alcohol, it became clear to me that my eating disorder had morphed but not disappeared.
So in mid-May this year I entered eating disorder treatment on an intensive outpatient level. The program consisted of three half days per week. We had group therapy, instruction on emotional regulation via CBT, self-esteem and body image work, individual therapy, and group dinners. I did it because somehow I was lucky enough to be covered by my insurance. All the therapy work I’d done on my own outside of treatment turned out to be necessary for my insurance to cover the next level of treatment, so it wasn’t all for naught. Still, by the time I got there I was ready to kick this things butt. I’ll admit that I was anxious to get treatment largely because my bingeing was making me heavier by the week and I was scared of getting fat.
SIDE NOTE: Whatever my weight, however, treatment came at the right time for me. It wasn’t because of my weight. It was necessary because all I could think about was food. It ruled my life and I was in a very unhealthy, unsustainable place. In fact, one of the main reasons I convinced myself I wasn’t sick was because I wasn’t as thin as I’d been when I’d been sick in the past. I was so afraid to enter treatment and be surrounded by people who looked like my former anorexic self. That they’d judge me for my size. What happened was this: not everybody in the program was thin. In groups, we barely ever talked about what exactly our specific behaviors were, but more about the emotions and situations surrounding them. The first two weeks, I was self-conscious about my body at treatment just like I am self-conscious about my body in every other part of my life. Then I started to get to know people. Sometimes we’d offer insight to each other, and the gratitude I felt for having helped someone, and the gratitude I felt having been helped by them began to feel much more important than my body. Then I started to remember how stable and comfortable “heavier” people looked to me when I was very underweight – I started to remember that feeling of hope I had when I’d see someone recovered who was happy – someone who looked very normal weight, who had once been where I was, being kind and patient with me. And I decided that was one really good thing my current body could do for someone there. That isn’t to say I’m healthy 100%, but I do feel better physically being a higher/”normal” weight.
So, now I am sober from both alcohol and bingeing. I haven’t binged in five weeks and that is a major accomplishment for me. On top of that, it had been about seven years since I’d been free of yo-yo diets/restriction and overexercise. I’m proud to say that now I don’t restrict or binge and I exercise only moderately. I have a relapse plan. I stopped weighing myself in November and do not plan to diet or step on a scale again.
While my body does not look entirely free of fat or super toned, I have gotten to the point where I feel neutral about it instead of negative. The time and energy I spent in an effort to look “airbrushed in real life” seems insane to me now. I’m happy it seems insane. I’m happy to leave it in the past. I have been this heavy one time before in my life, a weight that is still within (but on the higher side of) a healthy range. I still have the privileges of existing in a smaller body, though it is more difficult to find clothes that fit that I like. The more curves you have, the more individual your body becomes. So it’s more difficult to find mass produced clothing that fits in all the right places. This does not mean I’m too big or overweight. It means I’m one of a kind and could use an awesome tailor.
One thing that I’m excited about is that the longer I spend at this weight, the more normal and comfortable it feels to me. A large part of this has been switching from bingeing to feeding myself more frequently at regular intervals. As it turns out, I was not feeding myself enough at meal times even when trying to eat intuitively. When my body is fed regularly to the point of fullness, my urge to binge at any point during the day or night is decreased from about 8 or 9/10 to about 2 or 4/10. When the urge is that low, it is much easier for me to sit with and override that urge.
In hindsight, had I not had the money or time for treatment, I think a dietician who could have taken over my meal plan would have helped the most. I needed someone to weigh me, keep track of that themselves, and give me a good idea of how much I should be eating and when. Group support was/is a close second. In my real life, nobody knows about the depth of my issues with food and body. (I wonder how they couldn’t with my weight having been all over the place, but maybe the external changes aren’t as huge as they seem to me). Having a place to bare the secrets I held SO close and felt SO MUCH shame about was freeing. If you can, find group support!
I’m in a really good place now and I want to help other people stuck in this maddening cycle. Leaving this squirrely story here in hopes of helping you.