I had always imagined eating disorder recovery would be this smooth transition into simply ‘knowing better’, the way other people always seemed to ‘know better’ than me. I realized the journey through recovery didn’t even begin until I started writing down my eating disorder experience in a real way.
A long time ago, I made journaling a requirement and it lost all of its appeal.
I’ve started gratitude journals too many times to count. I’m sick with guilt every time I look at the forgotten notebook on my nightstand, serving as a reminder of my laziness. Finally, when I’ve had enough, I tuck the journal away in my nightstand drawer. I feel an immediate cleansing when the wood seals it. My relief is palpable. Years later I find myself plucking out the first 3 or 4 pages of thankfulness so I can repurpose another failed attempt at ‘starting a journal’.
Food journals were terrifying because I had stopped every single one I ever started.
They took me back to my yo-yo relationship with Weight Watchers. I would spend hours studying the food pamphlets and point systems. I was meticulous about logging in my food. Then I would slip up with a meal or unexpectedly pig out on something ‘bad’. I never counted those moments in my food journal.
I tried subtracting points from my head so no one would have to know. After one or two of these binge mistakes, the food logging ceased and I found myself paying off unused meetings until my membership expired. I never follow-through with anything. I can’t believe I yapped about my ‘latest diet try’ to so many people. Am I going to tell them I quit? I’m such an idiot. When are you going to learn your lesson?
I signed up privately the next few times I joined, but it was even easier to quit without letting friends or family members know my big plans for weight loss. This time I’ll do it. I’ll try harder. You’ll see.
I made my own lavish food diaries when I was serious about starting a health kick. I bought notebooks filled with grids to help me create an Ol’ Skool excel spreadsheet to track my workouts. My desk still stores the package of gold star stickers I bought for the original ‘workout plan log’. I wanted to give myself ‘non-food rewards’ to celebrate my ‘good’ days. After earning consecutive stickers, there always came a point when I stopped receiving stars due to my ‘bad’ days. When my ‘bad’ days added up, there was the inevitable slide back into a binge and purge. I can start tomorrow.
Trying to keep a daily journal practice only reminded me of how much I wasn’t writing. At some point in my twenties, I flipped through one of my diaries and I was disgusted while reading my ongoing pity party. I never had anything good to say. Every page was loaded with the tormented feelings of liking a guy who didn’t like me back, how upper management made me feel small or how hurt my feelings were from a friendship going down the drain. I wrote surface stuff.
I never wrote about the whole truth.
At the end of certain journal entries, especially the drama-laced stories of being wronged by others, I’d write myself messages at the end of the entry like, “tomorrow is a new day” or “begin again” or “start fresh”. This was my code for ‘so I got a little carried away today with binging and purging but it’s my last time’. I was terrified of writing down anything that said I was bulimic. I tried it a couple of times, but I stopped because seeing the words in print was too much proof to bear.
If I couldn’t find the courage to write about my eating disorder in my own journal, then I decided that I was going to quit journaling. If I wasn’t writing ‘the’ book, then it was best not write at all. I should be writing. I was too closed off to write about my bulimia. I didn’t know writing about it would help me so I ignored the calling.
Over 8 years passed before I tried writing the truth about my about my shame and secrets.
The most healing part of my recovery happened when I started writing about being bulimic in what I call, my “Muck Journal”. The daily diary with no rules. I could write down every thought I had felt was too despicable to say. I didn’t have to use full sentences or proper grammar. I didn’t have to write in it every day.
I didn’t have to write perfect, neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) words the way I had been trained to write by a former boss. I could just write it my way, a free flow of consciousness despite the language not being ‘right’. The Muck Journal saved me from some of my worst bulimic years.
At the time, my therapist kept inviting me to look at my surroundings and my feelings like an anthropologist. Witness the facts and move on to the next circumstance without judgement. I kept a small magenta notebook in my purse so I wouldn’t see it staring at me from my nightstand. I wrote about good thoughts and mini-triumphs in addition to the muck in my head.
I started to write down my anxiety-ridden and shameful thoughts without reservation. I jotted down a couple of sentences after I looked in the mirror, ate food in front of people or put on my clothes in the morning. anytime I had a negative thought, I tried to track it. I needed to see the words in order to make the cruelty tangible.
Here are actual excerpts from my Muck Journal.
-Caught a friend looking at my stomach at that bar. She did it twice. Wave of shame. I’m so huge right now. Got into it with Mike on the way home about stupid sh!t. Wanted to binge but didn’t. Turned off the TV and went to bed after he was asleep.
-I still overeat at every meal. I feel heartburn in my throat and bloat in my belly. I still eat too fast. In my opinion, overeating is just as much of a problem as bulimia. I don’t like going to therapy. I sometimes binge and purge on those days. I have to keep reminding myself ‘one day at a time’. I let my head thoughts control my outlook on life.
-I just caught myself hating my body. But look at your stomach. You have a long way to go. You need to be better each and every day. You need to be good. Right now you are in this place because you are bad. You didn’t try hard enough today. You cheated and you overate two times yesterday. Might as well just decide to stay fat. This is what you want. Otherwise you would be in a different physical body by now. Wait a minute…wait a minute…I’m doing the best I can in this moment. If I keep having healthy moments, I will continue to have progress. You got this! Hang in there!
– Yesterday I walked around that lake near my house. I repeatedly had to remind myself to not be judgmental for ‘only’ walking the lake as exercise. I was moving, that’s what mattered most.
-Tomorrow night I’m picking up groceries after work. I need to pack a healthy snack for the drive home so I’m not hungry at the grocery store and starving by the time I get to be home. Mike’s going to be out of town tomorrow night. I need to set up a plan.
-Do not read into the relapse that happened yesterday. Move on. You stopped writing after your last relapse 3 weeks ago. Don’t do that again. Yesterday happened. Keep going.
-I’ve started looking at my body with a lot of hate again. I had two small binges so far this week. Each one happened at meal time. This will probably be my next step in recovering. That one small binge a day thing. I remember that growing up. Stomach pooch is back. Feel double chin. Feel uncomfortable in work clothes.
-Wanted a piece of cheese but told myself it was too late for cheese. Instead I’ll eat chips, salsa, mango salsa, salt & vinegar chips and crackers. I peer my head into the fridge. What else? What else? Am I even hungry? I can’t tell. I can’t feel my stomach. I am out of touch with my body. I only feel the urgency to put food into my mouth. To think I was actually telling myself on the way home how good I felt, despite overeating at breakfast and lunch. I still made time to exercise and tried to finish my night with water. I got home and old habits took hold. What if I had just given myself permission to eat that stinking piece of cheese?
-Binged on Cheetos last night and purged before therapy yesterday. Felt suffocated from ‘having to’ do things and ‘having to’ meet up with people. But I like having things to do and having people to meet when I’m not coming off of a B&P. Don’t I?
-I liked myself in the bathroom mirror all day at work. That felt different than usual. I wanted Nachos so I ordered them for lunch and we all shared. It hit the spot. It’s what I was craving and I ate an ideal amount for my hunger level. I didn’t sneak food on the way home from work. I ate a snack quickly but I tasted it. It wasn’t the usual scenario of driving home and eating leftover banquet food. I’m seeing changes.
The writing was the truest I had ever written and the healing kept hanging around longer.
My Muck Journal is what shifted my bulimia from something that I could pretend to overlook to something that finally felt as real as the eating disorder itself.
Once I saw the words forming on the page, I felt validated. This is really helping. Sometimes I was amazed at how indifferent I could be about a relapse. Move on. So what. I could see the progression of my thoughts becoming more hopeful the more I practiced self-care for my body and mind. Try something different. I started hearing and following the internal queues my body was giving me to eat less, buy healthier foods, stretch and move, and be still.
I waited 24 years to write down my real experiences with bulimia and binge eating disorder. Now that I write honestly about all the stuff I used to never talk about, I realize sharing my stories and following my childhood dreams was the point all along! I felt my heart nudging me a different direction for decades and I flat-out ignored it. I spent every day with the guilt of not living my life’s purpose.
A few nights ago I was nudged to write in my Muck Journal about some recent overeating behaviors. The writing helped me then and it still helps me now.