I met Chase at a coffee shop. Small talk about his tattooed sleeves led us to chat about what we both did for work. Never in a million years did I think I’d be telling strangers that I write about recovering from a 24-year relationship with bulimia. It was a big transition to start opening up about the one thing I kept secret for most of my life.
I don’t always disclose what my memoir is about. I usually gauge how a person will respond if I tell them the whole truth about what “I do”. Sometimes I’m right in my assumptions- it’s too much information to disclose. Other times I’m still surprised when they tell me they’ve had or still have an eating disorder. On occasion they know someone who’s having a hard time.
Chase was inquisitive and kind of adorable. He probed me for more details, “So what exactly do you write about?” I looked into his warm eyes behind his thick, black-framed glasses and decided to tell him all the way.
“I write about weight, bulimia and what it was like to grow up ashamed of being big and tall.” I explained that my book is about overcoming shame and how I’ve learned to use my inner critic as a reminder to be good to myself instead of using it as a my pilot to self-destruction.
This is when Chase shared about his long-term relationship with binge eating disorder. Not in a self-pity, woe-is-me sort of way, but rather in an honest account of what it was like to be insecure about being an overweight, gay man. He said, “I only recently heard about binge eating disorder but it felt like such a relief to put a definition on what I do when no one’s around. It was like, I belong somewhere and this all means something.”
I haven’t spent a moment being that real with a total stranger in a long time.
I felt honored that he trusted me enough to share about his relationship with binge eating disorder. Our time together was limited and I didn’t say much about the recovery piece. I wish I had been able to tell him the truth: eating disorder recovery takes time, loads of time. There’s no finish line, so we have to get comfortable with the idea of ‘beginning again’ for as long as it takes.
Just because I no longer purge, doesn’t mean I’ve mastered letting go of overeating meals or occasional binges. My current binges never have the same hold on me like me my previous, pre-recovery binges, but they are binges nonetheless.
In the past, my mind couldn’t get out of a binge & purge impulse. Once the feelings came on, I was a goner. My mind stayed stuck in the fire and time and time again, I let myself get burned. It’s how I coped with life.
It was my feel-good buzz, even though it left me broken for days.
I could count on the binging and purging because I knew I can control this. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out where I stood on an invisible scale of goodness and badness. I was out of control. I was in control. Should I eat that? Should I not eat that? Did she mean that or did she mean this? Did I do it right? Why can’t I do anything right?
It was April 2013 when I started seeing an eating disorder recovery therapist. One of the first mantras she offered me was, “purging is no longer an option.” It took me about a year and half to commit to this promise. I had plenty of relapses along the way.
I had to learn how to let go of the guilt and shame I felt for purging in the first place. I had to make the experience of purging judgment-free. If I purged, I told my therapist and eventually I learned how to share these experiences with my husband. Sharing my secret changed the way I felt about purging because the shame dissipated.
I’m still learning how to make loving choices for myself.
More often than not, I choose whole foods over junk, I eat balanced meals loaded with veggies and I prepare my meals in advance so I know I’ll have healthy options on hand. Food is no longer good or bad. It’s just healthy or unhealthy. Unhealthy foods are no longer off limits or devoured in secret, typically they’re savored.
There are plenty of days where I still choose to overeat my meals and sometimes those overeating sessions can turn into an unexpected binge. A binge feels like I could eat forever and still never be satisfied.
I’ve learned that binging has never been about the food, it’s always been about the feelings I’m not letting myself explore. When I overeat, it’s typically because my feelings are running the show. Food has been my go-to for all the tough stuff I haven’t known how to express; anger, fear, disappointment, hurt feelings, sadness, anxiety or the pressure I’ve placed on myself to ‘get it right the first time’.
Just like purging, I’m learning to no longer beat myself up about overeating or binges.
This means I’m able to love myself despite the occasional self-created stomachaches. I’m not approving my behavior to overeat or to binge, but much like purging, I’m no longer giving those behaviors the same power I used to give them. I can’t continue to fixate my entire self-worth on how much food I put into my body. My life is about paying attention and celebrating each moment I catch myself reverting back into old eating disordered ways of thinking.
Truth be told, I’m not quite ready for a new mantra like, “binging is no longer an option”, but I know its coming, I can feel it. For right now, I’ll continue to use any over-fullness as a reminder that I’m a work in progress and to #KeepGoing.
So Chase, the reality about eating disorder recovery is this: Your commitment to recovering is the only part of you that has to be different this time around. Stick to getting it done, no matter what.