Guilt and Ghosts: Struggling in Eating Disorder Recovery
(Thank you to BetterHelp.com for sponsoring this post, with their link on anxiety included below. I received compensation as a thank-you for my participation, and believe offering links to resources like this may be of help to some.)
I still have so much anxiety about what and how much I eat because my body will stop at nothing to get what it wants–even if I think it doesn’t need it, even if I think I did everything right, even if I think I know what I am supposed to do.
Words from friends play over and over in my mind as I observe myself:
“Looks like you’ve got some meat on you now,” she says, gently pinching my arm.
I feel the heat rise in my face. Anger? Frustration? Guilt? Embarrassment?
“Yeah, I thought you looked different from the last time I saw you.”
Do they really see more fat? Do I see more fat? Have I gained more since they’ve seen me? What makes me skinny or fat? How am I supposed to know, how am I supposed to see the difference? How am I supposed to know anything about my body anymore if I don’t know how to eat?
I’m scared of hunger, yet I love it. I love eating. I love food. But is it my body that loves eating? I feel so detached from food when I am sitting at a meal. I’m scared to feel full, but I feel that my body wants to feel full.
What did the eating disorder give me?
It gave me a ravenous appetite that still has yet to fade. A confused body. I feel like a food addict, stuck in a cycle, yearning to be “like everyone else.” I wish for a rough, stressful day at school because it’s “normal,” and I would take that instead of the guilt and torment I put myself through at each meal. If I avoid eating, it puts me back in the euphoria of restricting, only to fall back into bingeing, when I feel I lose all control of my body.
I want to get rid of the guilt, to let it go. And some days it feels better. But most days? Most days it hurts. And every day I have to eat. And if I have to eat, guilt returns.
If it is not as strong today, it may be tomorrow, or next week, and it will still linger even on the good days because now I am breaking all the rules I strictly followed in the past.
The ghost of the voice, even after the death of “Rawchael,” keeps grasping my arms, whispering, reminding me of all the rules I had before. She reminds me of how I had been so good, so disciplined.
When my dietitian tells me I can do it, sometimes I believe her. And sometimes the ghost of Rawchael whispers that she’s wrong, that I should just try again, that I am so capable of gaining back what I had before…
How could I have fixed that last meal?
Why do I have to eat so much food?
Why can’t I eat like everyone else?
What is wrong with me?
The anxiety (link sponsored by BetterHelp.com) swirls through my mind–I know everyone eats. But my mind tells me that I am the only one in the world who eats. So when I walk to the cafeteria, when I pull out a meal in class . . . if I am ever seen eating when no one else is, I have to battle the Rachael that tells me, This is shameful, this is wrong, you hoarder, you pig, you glutton.
Sometimes it means waiting out the bad days, knowing that there is improvement in there somewhere. It is remembering that these frustrating times get fewer and farther apart. But the lessening of guilt is so gradual, so painful, and sometimes I wonder whether this is really recovery or just never-ending torture.
I learn to battle the guilt and reach for hope. It’s the only thing that keeps me going.
too many thoughts to share. I have my own, personal, fits-in-no-box/meets-no-set-of-specific-dsm-criteria ED/mental illness, yet I relate to your feelings so much. just wanted to write “best post yet”…you are not alone. praying for you and hope you will see God working on you and HANG ON to Him. He WILL heal us!
Thank you Ellie! You stay strong too, girl!
I wanted to say how courageous and brave you are for being so raw with your emotions. I’m in the midst of my eating disorder, anorexia to be more specific, and it feels incredibly lonely most of the time. The way you’ve just described your thoughts and feelings regarding the comments and eating is the exact same way I think and feel when it comes to those same things. Keep pushing through even if you slip up from time to time, it is an on-going process and you cannot let it get the best of you :) I also wanted to ask you question regarding the way your body rebelled-is rebelling. I seem to be retaining a lot of water, I can gain 10 lbs of fluid within 2-3 days and it drives me insane literally. Did you or do you have that problem as well? Thanx for the support and your openness xoxo
Hi V, thanks for your comment and encouragement.
I have not come across that water retention problem; at least, not that I know of. I no longer weigh myself so I don’t know by the scale if I’ve gained water weight or not, but some days I do feel more bloated than others. I drink a lot of water most of the time so I think that’s supposed to help avoid water retention. Also, if you haven’t been taking in enough carbs for a while and then start eating carbs again, you may suddenly gain some water weight. I think lack of salt in the diet causes you to retain water as well.
I hope this helps a little! Good luck with your journey, and thanks again for your comment!
Thanx a lot Rachael! I appreciate the time you are taking to answer my questions. I hope you will find inner peace, best of luck to you too.
I know you are lonely. That hurts. I also know you are beautiful and worthy of that wonderful life you have and you are going to beat this thing. The constant struggle will become a thing of the past. A shred will always be there, but you will come to enjoy a peaceful eating routine that you are comfortable with. Allow yourself time. Be patient with yourself. Listen to all the voices and wisely choose which ones make sense. You will know the right path in the end. You are one of the most intelligent people I know. You are hurt and damaged but you will come through this, scathed, but wiser and happier. The road you travel is bumpy and twisty, but you can remind yourself every time you doubt yourself that you can cope – and you will. It is a lonely journey but you have the support of innumerable people who care for you and whisper “you can do this” in your background. Hold onto your own self-supporting voice, and revel in the myriad voices of those who listen to you and truly hear you and will you to succeed. You are not totally alone when you remember this.
I feel that what you are talking about, can be applied to other inner struggles as well. For a long time I didn’t know if I had depression, if I was just crazy, or if I was just letting my mind wonder to places that it shouldn’t. When you struggle with when, and how much to eat and the fear of letting it take over, it made me think about how I always have too be busy to keep my mind occupied, for fear of overthinking things.
Exactly! And I think that is the way people have to see eating disorders–as just another form of any internal struggle. So really, we can all understand each other’s struggles in life when you look at the big picture like this.
I agree with you Rachael. Every inner struggle is really quite the same. I have to say the one I understand the most out of your post is the guilt. Guilt over what you do and what happens to you has driven me to truly do some pretty interesting things, and then I feel guilty later for feeling guilty! It’s crazy. Keep it up with putting down “Rawchael.” One day her voice will cease to amaze and create sound. I sometimes fantasize that my other half and I are fighting somewhere with samurai swords in a dualistic sense; im wearing white, she’s wearing black, in a field or forest somewhere….I don’t always win, but I never stop the fight.
I think it’s so interesting how you talk about your body being in control and fighting what it wants: it wants to be full but at the same time it’s fighting away wanting food. Is it your body that feels like it’s fighting or is it your mind that feels like it’s fighting?
I also really liked how at the end you talk about how you may pull out a snack in class or when you go get a meal you call yourself a glutton and all those other things, because whenever I have seen you eat a snack, I always thought that it was healthy and actually admired that you could do that, and I’d feel bad about choosing some sugary or salty snack that I probably don’t really need. So it’s interesting how there’s two different views on that.
Good question! I feel like my mind is fighting my body for the most part; my mind doesn’t want to eat, but my body is telling me to eat. And when my body gets hungry enough, even though the “motivated” side of my brain doesn’t want to eat, another personality in my brain seems to come out and thinks of nothing but of how to get my hands on food…which can lead to a binge, etc. Not fun. :/ I hope that makes sense!
Thanks for your perspective! I’ve learned to assure myself that no one thinks badly about my food, but I have this notion in my mind where I feel like I am the only one in the world who eats. I know this is false logic, but it’s how my brain works thanks to my bad relationship with food haha. So basically I see that eating at all in front of anyone makes me a “bad” person, as if I am committing a shameful act for everyone to see. I feel that eating is such a private, awkward thing to do, and I’m trying to coax my mind and body into believing that everyone eats, so it’s okay for me to eat in front of everyone as well. It’s funny, I actually find myself embarrassed if I am seen walking towards the cafeteria even if I’m not going in that building to eat; just the act of me walking towards there sends thoughts racing through my brain “telepathically” telling people, “I swear, I’m not eating!” Haha.
So yeah, as normal as I try to make it look when I eat in public, my mind is screaming at me the entire time. It’s frustrating, but the “screaming” is getting quieter with time.
Thanks again for your questions–it helps me to see what is misunderstood or confusing to outside perspectives.
To the question: “Why can’t I eat like everybody else?” I will be the first to admit that sometimes I get commended in public for eating healthy, or for turning down seconds; sometimes though, I eat like a pig. I eat it and I don’t care (at the time, of course). How people eat in public can be far from how they eat in private. This is just to help squash that particular concern. :) It’s not at all a slight at how you, personally, eat.
Thanks for your perspective on this! :)
Thanks again for sharing. Your post really reminded me of a conversation my friends and I had recently about the “self” and if it exists, separate from the physical body or if it is just something made up. It seems that you are having this argument in a bit more literal sense with yourself. I think the fact that you are fighting this hard is strong evidence that you are winning, even though it may not seem like that some days.
Having read some of your writing before (Creative Writing class, last year?) I’ve seen so many metaphors for your eating disorder. I’ve seen you take your disorder and wrap it in the flow of poetry, tying pretty words around it like a big bow. A pretty present to distract from the gruesome reality that lies in the box you’ve presented. It’s almost a relief to see your thoughts on your disorder laid bare. Just you and the struggle. I have always thought there is beauty in simplicity. While there is nothing beautiful about an eating disorder, regardless of which disorder it is, there is something beautiful about the way you have overcome, and are strong enough to simply tell the world.
Everyone has that one thing. That one thing they keep going back to, that one vice that your mind just can’t get away from, however small or large. I know I have it. Some ignore it, fall into despondency, and never consider it. The way you consider it minimizes it. Your mind (as much as we struggle with our minds) is capable for such great things. The simple fact that you consider it, make art about it, fall in and out of it, makes you human and worthy!
Again, I love this post. You go girl, being so brave with your emotions. I know what you mean about feeling split– as if there are two you’s, one who wants to not eat and one who wants to eat everything! I think with this whole recovery process it’s about mediating between the two (even those not struggling with a disorder do this, I’d imagine, as in our culture it’s often tempting to eat when we’re not even hungry). I don’t know if you’ve read “Breaking Free From Emotional Eating” and I apologize if this is a repeat, but she has some excellent eating guidelines that help us understand what our body needs. Hope that can help! Keep at it keep at it keep at it, recovery is never linear :)
Awesome, thanks for the recommendation! I’ll check it out.
I think I had a poetry class with you at this point in your blog? The insight given here is unbelievable. You let us into your thoughts and mind and it’s as if I’m walking around in there. Never mind the fact that I think you’re ridiculously brave for writing about such a personal issue and dealing with it head on, but you’re an incredible writer. I’m just so looking forward to reading more. Keep it up, lady.