Anorexia Is Not A Choice.
How could I have done this to myself?
I have asked myself this question over and over and over again during my recovery.
When day after day my body swells, I say, “How could I have done this to myself?”
When my weight is at it’s absolute highest with no sign of budging or going back to normal, I cry, “How could I have done this to myself?”
When I yet again receive scary news from a doctor, I lay in bed weeping, "How could I have done this to myself?"
When I am shopping at the store, trying to find something that will fit my oddly shaped, overweight, foreign body with mirrors everywhere showing me every nook and cranny, I drop my head in shame and say, “How could I have done this to myself?”
When I feel like not eating dinner because yet again something has triggered my eating disorder, I think, “How could I have done this to myself?”
How could I let myself be anorexic? How did I let this happen? How did I let it go on for seven years? How did I not know what I was doing to my body? How did I do this to my body? How could I have been so stupid? HOW COULD I HAVE DONE THIS TO MYSELF?
I have beat myself up with this question a million (possibly a billion) times over the past two years. This situation I’m in, I blame myself. I resent myself and talk poorly to myself about it. Every time I hit a low point or feel hopeless, all I do is sit in a pool of regret and anger with myself for letting this happen.
The other day, at my support group, I was sharing my current frustration with my body because I had found out some medical news that was scary. I was in tears and kept saying, “I can’t believe I did this to myself.. now I’m stuck like this and I don’t know if I will ever be able to recover or feel normal again.” The group therapist looked at me and said, “Sara, tell me about the time you chose to be anorexic….”
I kind of looked at her blankly and launched into this explanation of how I didn’t really choose to be anorexic, it just kind of happened. I was exercising and dieting and some bad things happened in my life and then all of a sudden, seven years later I realized I have a huge problem and then immediately got help.
She looked at me and said, “Exactly. You DIDN’T choose to be anorexic. Anorexia is a mental and physical illness and you are fighting to recover from it!”
There are a lot of things that happened that caused me to be anorexic, but the truth is that I in fact did NOT choose to be anorexic. I did not wake up one day and say to myself, “You know what Sara, lets go ahead and starve and exercise to death because we just can’t deal with this situation over here well.” It just didn’t happen that way. Anorexia is a nasty combination of genetics, pre-disposed character traits, body image issues, traumatic experiences, environmental factors, diet culture, lack of coping skills or even the need for a coping skill and control. I have met a LOT of women with anorexia or other eating disorders and I have yet to meet one that says they made a conscious choice to have it. It just HAPPENS. Sure, there are choices we make every day that support the eating disorder, like exercising a ton and restricting our food intake. But these choices aren’t really a choice at all, the only way I can describe this would be the same way a person decides to eat, or a drug addict goes back for one more hit. You have the choice, but not really. The power that an eating disorder has over the mind is massive. If you don’t restrict or don’t work out or lose another pound, then the depression, loss of control, failure and worthlessness that hits is terrifying. The mind and the eating disorder take over and it is very very VERY hard to recover from.
What I realized at my support group that week was, while this did happen to my body, and while it was me who starved and ran and counted calories and lost myself to anorexia, I did NOT consciously choose to do it, and therefore I have to stop blaming myself for “doing this to myself.” I didn’t know I was doing it to myself, and when I did, I got help. I entered recovery and have never looked back.
I’m a big believer in taking responsibility for ones own actions. I think this is why it’s really hard for me not to take on all the guilt and fault for my eating disorder. If I’m not responsible for it, then who or what is? The eating disorder. That’s who.
Recovery has been brutal. Mentally, physically and emotionally. It is SO easy on the hard days (almost every day) to get down on myself and mad at myself for what happened, but I’m learning that I MUST stop blaming myself for it. I have to forgive myself for now knowing. I have to extend myself grace for what I did to my body under the guise and control of an anorexic and starved brain and body. My eating disorder came about for a reason. It helped me cope with a lot of hard stuff, even if it was a terrible way to do it. It was the best I could do with what I had at the moment and I need to forgive myself for that. I also have to take responsibility in the way that I choose how to move forward now that I know. I may not be wholly responsible for my eating disorder, but I AM responsible for my recovery.
So I choose to recover. Every day I choose to eat and to keep my exercise in check. I choose to cope with issues in a healthy way and not with my food and the manipulation of my body. I choose to attend my support group, therapy sessions, doctors appointments and do what my dietician teaches me is healthy.
At least three times a week the thought, how could I have done this to myself, pops into my head, and now instead of just believing that thought and falling into a deep tub of self pity I respond differently. I say, “Sara, you didn’t choose to do this to yourself. It happened for a LOT of different reasons. Let’s let go of the past and press on towards our goal of recovery.”
If you are recovering from an eating disorder and stuck in a place of self hatred and self blame for what you went through, please extend your self some compassion and grace. Eating disorders are complicated and nasty. You did the best you could with what you had. Learn from it and move on. Concentrate on your healing and your recovery. I have to remind myself to do this daily. The past cannot be changed, but the future is full of possibilities!
- Sara -