My head is midnight in a dangerous neighborhood
Well, there’s another year gone. And I don’t mean 2013. Though, that too, obviously.
January 2nd is my double anniversary. 8 years ago I stopped eating sugar, grains and starches and put boundaries around my eating. And 2 years ago I started writing this blog. So there are 2 things I want to talk about. But the theme is getting out of my head.
First, writing. And this blog. And how my life has seemed to change at warp speed since I started writing it.
I love the saying “I’m only as sick as my secrets.” Secrets are burdens. They are shame. They have this magic power. But it’s black magic. Dark magic. Secrets take my worries and doubts and fears, and amplify them. Secrets limit my options and play every story through to the worst possible conclusion. Secrets make the worst possible conclusion the only possible conclusion. Secrets make the thoughts that live in my head as real and inescapable as the chair I’m sitting on to write this. Secrets cause me to manifest the very things I am most terrified of. I know this. I have known this for a long time.
But then 2 years ago I started this blog. And I started to realize that there have been things that have lived in my head, and festered and swelled, that I didn’t even think of as secrets. That I didn’t know had grown toxic. Septic. I thought they were simply things I would rather not say out loud.
But it is, of course, the saying out loud that shifts everything. That gives me proper perspective and makes everything right-sized again. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.
I was an actor for a while. And a singer. I could get up on stage in front of a packed theater and not think twice about being nervous. But my knees often shake if I go up to sing karaoke in a neighborhood bar. In other words, I am better in front of a big crowd.
This blog has been about performing in front of a big crowd. I’m not telling my family or my friends something (though they are reading it too), I am telling nameless, faceless strangers.
Two years ago I made a decision. That I would tell a bunch of nameless, faceless strangers a bunch of things I would rather not say out loud. And the course of my life has shifted more drastically than I could ever have imagined. I have changed the way I thought about myself, my love, and my worth. And I have continually taken risks that I never would have taken on December 31, 2011. And the rewards have been beyond my wildest dreams. Love, adventure, travel, freedom, security. That is what has happened just from getting the ideas out of my head and on a page.
But then there’s 8 years of dealing with the food. And the importance of the actual boundaries. And what they mean in practical terms.
See there’s this thing that I have heard that upsets me deeply. That it is “normal” for people with eating disorders to have relapses. (I’m looking at you, “Psychology Today.”) And I have even heard that it is inevitable. And it upsets me for 2 reasons. The first is for myself. It fills me with a sense of fear and dread. What don’t I know that will send me into a tail-spin? What is my future going to be like if I relapse? Will I lose everything? My self-respect? My relationship? Not to mention the body…
But then I also fear that hearing that will give people who are suffering from eating disorders a serious case of the f***-its. I don’t want to spread the message that it’s normal or inevitable to relapse into bingeing or purging. I want to spread the message that there are ways to keep your eating under control. That while I don’t believe there is a cure for eating disorders, there is hope. That there are ways to keep them on a short leash.
And now, I’m not dead yet, so I don’t know what will happen in the future, but for 8 consecutive years, I have maintained control over my eating. And I am very much interested in continuing this streak. I do not want to go into relapse. And I work every day, in small but significant ways, to remember that I have eating disorders, and to renew my commitment to keep them under control.
When I hear that relapse is normal, and I start to feel anxious and frightened about the unforeseeable future and what will happen to me “when” I have a relapse, I remember that I have boundaries around my eating. That one meal at a time, I can maintain those boundaries. That people have maintained boundaries around their eating for multiple decades. That I don’t have to believe everything I read about eating disorders. Even if it comes from a respected, major journal.
My boundaries are not wishy-washy concepts and ideas about “moderation” and “satisfaction.” I’m talking about clearly defined rules. I’m talking about definitions. I’m talking about quantifiable, measurable, and specific. I am either within my boundaries or I am not. There are very few times when I have to “use my judgment” to figure out if something is within my boundaries. There are times, but they are rare. And I have a friend I get to ask if I feel uncomfortable about making the decision myself.
If you are wondering why I would possibly feel uncomfortable about making a decision about food for myself, let me explain (or remind you) that I weighed 300 lbs at 19 years old. My judgment about food and eating is…well, just plain bad. This is why I have rules and boundaries.
I also want to clarify that I am certainly not implying that there is shame in relapse. Everybody has their own story. Their own life. Their own journey. I am sick when it comes to food too. I am not immune to relapse. If I were, this idea of it being normal would not scare the bajeezus out of me, like it does. I just don’t think it’s fair to those of us who are suffering from eating disorders to hear that we are hopeless. That hurting and punishing ourselves with food is “normal.” Because that is what we do when we act out with food. We hurt ourselves.
Now in this past 8 years, there have been things that have happened in my head that might be considered “relapse.” For example, I have had spells of overwhelming body-dismorphia. Where I look at myself in the mirror and I see a hugely fat woman. And my rational brain cannot comprehend the truth. That I am in a healthy, smaller than average body. Or I have become “afraid” of certain foods that are well within my eating boundaries. And I have stopped eating them because the thought of them made me nauseous. Or sometimes literally made my cry.
But that was in my head. It had nothing to do with how or when or how much I ate. The food has been under control the whole time. And I know that it has. I’m clear that it has. Because all I have to do is ask myself if I have broken my rules or stepped out of my boundaries. And the answer is no. No I have not.
For me, relapse is about the food. Because the food is the one thing that I can control. My actions. When, where, and how my hand goes to my mouth. I cannot make my eating disorders disappear. I cannot just eat like a “normal” person. I have made the decision to accept that I am not now, and never will be normal around food. But I don’t have to binge. Or starve. Or restrict. Or vomit. Or use laxatives. Because I have a definition for “binge.” And one for “starve.” And “restrict.” Because these things are not gray areas for me. These are not merely ideas. I make sure they have strict grounding in reality.
In other words, I make sure these things don’t just live in my head. That like my secrets and the things I would rather not say out loud, that what goes on with my food sees the light of day. My head can be midnight in a dangerous neighborhood. I make sure not to wander off alone.