One thing I love about therapy is those little revelations that mean so much. You know, when either you, someone in the group, or your therapist says something utterly x-rayish, which goes to the root of what you feel and aligns some of the mess of feelings into something understandable.
I thought I’d share just such a revelation that I experience on Wednesday in the Eating Disorders Group I’m part of at Sussex Uni. This is a university counselling service group, different from the Compulsive Eating Workshop, which I started. The group is made up entirely of young women, all under 30. There are some bulimics, some anorexics, and me, a recovering anorexic and bulimic with compulsive eating issues.
On Wednesday, one of the anorexics of the group started talking about faith to recover. The belief that you can recover, can get better, can start to have a more normal attitude to your body and food. Obviously, none of us talk about ‘normal’. We have agreed that normal eating does not occur very often for women in Western societies. However, most women also don’t have problems to the extent that we do, either. So this was the revelation – that I don’t have belief in my own recovery.
For me, recovery means fully adopting the feminist way to eat set out by Susie Orbach in Fat Is A Feminist Issue; eating whatever I want, eating whenever I am hungry, stopping when I feel full, dealing with my problems without food, being relaxed about all this. But that in itself is radical, something most women in society wouldn’t be willing to try. When I tell them I’ve already lost weight doing it, however, and have started to find my body more beautiful than ever before, they become very interested.
Anyway, the revelation was about belief. The anorexic who discussed it said she has started to believe she can get better. That she can imagine, now, what her life without anorexia will be like. What her body will, or might, be like. What her relationships might be, or might turn in to.
And I was trying to work out why it’s so, so hard for me to see this for myself – my own recovery from twenty years of compulsive overeating, anorexia and bulimia. Perhaps because I’ve had eating problems almost my entire life. They started when I began Primary School (another recent revelation). I have hardly ever known anything except worry, confusion, desperation, addiction and fear around food. I have also over exercised my belief abilities. I’ve been overweight almost my entire life, and I’ve also been dieting almost my entire life, and depriving myself, or stuffing myself. At the start of every new diet, I’ve talked myself into believing that this will work – this will be the eating regime I will somehow be able to stick to forever and be thin, or at least not forever, but for the summer.
In the past few years, this has become harder and harder. As I read more feminist texts and uncovered the truth about diets, about the 95% recidivism rate, about the psychology surrounding restriction, I could no longer believe that any diet would work. It became a massive struggle to force myself to believe in this latest one, and I started to just hope for losing weight for a very short time – perhaps a month of blessed thinness. And eventually, it stopped working completely. I could not believe any more. And, without wishing to use any overtly religious language, I despaired.
I was very scared. Had I given up? Become incapable of caring for myself? The terrifying arena of non-dieting loomed before me. I put on some weight, although not much. And I read Fat Is A Feminist Issue. And I started the Compulsive Eating Workshop. Months went by with no change, but the more I talked about my issues with food, and examined them with other women who understood, and read the book, and tried to listen to my body, the easier it got, until last week. When I realised that I had actually lost some weight, although I will stress that I am still trying to make that not the most important thing about recovery in my head.
I’m still finding it hard to accept that I might have found a way to eat that is secure, adapted to my body and my hunger and appetite. That isn’t ruled over by anything, even my brain, but is instead dictated by my stomach and my tastebuds. I still can’t believe. But I know that I need to start believing again. Unlike any previous plans, however, I’m giving myself time. I’ve managed to get weighing myself down to once a month. If I don’t lose any more weight for months, or even years, I think I’m ok with it. I just want to eat well, and eat for my body, and start to accept it, and promote my bodily autonomy. Nothing that happens in my life should make me reach for food. I am developing an emotionally literate mental army against the things that used to send me to the fridge. Slowly. It does feel different, however.
Perhaps feeling different is the start of believing different.