Death or death?

A long, long, so very long time since I last *tip tapped* (the sound of my keyboard) away on my little blog site!! Third year of uni is insane & my energy to do anything other than uni work, feed myself and sleep has been well… non existent! However, for the last week or so I’ve had the urge to write again so here I am…

Okay so the title of this one is a bit misleading (initially) but my end message will help it make sense (hopefully) because today’s word vomit is about grief. Not grief in the usual sense though; grief for an eating disorder. I am writing about this from personal experience…

I’ve heard eating disorders likened to relationships and I can see this. Recovering from an eating disorder is much the same process as a break up (I am simplifying it a little but bear with me). My eating disorder developed around the age of 11 and is still present in my life at the age of 23. It has lasted longer than most friendships and (let’s be honest) most marriages. By recovering from your eating disorder, you lose a best friend, your other half and the most trusted person in your life.

When I made the firm decision to actively recover from anorexia nervosa, I was surprised by the sadness that I felt (I was equally surprised by the excitement I felt). I was terrified of losing my eating disorder, my constant companion, & yet did not want to spend one more excruciating, exhausting & lifeless day with it. I was distraught by the amount of energy I had wasted in my life with my eating disorder and yet wondered if pursuing a new life without anorexia would be worthwhile. 

I 100% stick by the decision I made, to recover. I would not change it for anything however, the journey to feel like this hasn’t been an easy one. After going through the process, I understand why so many of us who suffer turn back to the eating disorder partway through recovery (as I had done myself many times before). This grieving process isn’t spoken about enough…

Eating disorders take up so much of our time, energy and thoughts, it’s only natural to feel lost and scared as we lose parts of it. It’s understandable that we feel alone and anxious at the thought of no longer having an eating disorder around 24/7. Eating disorders worm their way into every aspect of our lives & lead us to believe we are nothing without them.

Whilst the rose-tinted glasses have been removed and I now realise that isn’t true, unlearning those thoughts has been — and continues to be — difficult and messy. I had based my worth & entire identity around my eating disorder.

Initially, the early stages of the recovery process are the ‘easiest’ (they’re not for many other reasons but in this case…), you begin to eat normally (in my case, gain weight ((& energy & motivation)) ) and you question how you ever listened to the shit spouted by the eating disorder.

However, as I got to a less physically damaging weight I realised that I had NO IDEA who I was without anorexia. I had grown up and developed with & alongside ‘my’ anorexia. For so long, not eating was all I did and having an eating disorder became who I was. And, I began to miss my eating disorder. I missed the comfort it brought me. I missed the promises it made me. I missed my child-like body & mind. I missed it and miss it in the same ways that you miss anything. And I hate to type that. I hate to admit how much I yearned for an illness, an illness that has tarnished all my childhood, teenage & young adulthood memories. An illness that stole so much time from me. Yet I missed how it made me feel.

And I began to question what I was without anorexia nervosa.

These are the stages of grief I felt as I went through recovery:

  • Denial. Pretending something isn’t happening. Thinking life with an eating disorder can still continue despite knowing better.
  • Anger. Which I directed at myself for not being ‘good enough’ to maintain my eating disorder or be the ‘best’ anorexic.
  • Bargaining. Looking for ways to regain control when control has been lost. It’s those moments of, ‘You would be better with me Emma, you can control me & what we do’ (which, btw, in reality is NOT the case – your ED controls you. End of.)
  • Depression. I felt like my life, nor me, had any value if I wasn’t sick. Being sick was my purpose to fulfil.
  • And finally… acceptance

… For me, acceptance is understanding what I have lost, but also knowing what I can now gain, and understanding how my life is going to be different (& so much brighter).

Recovering from an eating disorder is never not a positive thing, because eating disorders are cruel, malicious and wicked. They will stop at nothing to keep you trapped in their web of lies for eternity.

However, it’s okay to need to mourn their loss. An eating disorder is often a way of coping when you have nothing else to help you cope. It isn’t weird or pathetic. It’s normal to miss something that was once a great force in your life, and you can do that whilst knowing you are better off without it. You can miss your eating disorder AND still want recovery. Those feelings CAN coexist.

Grief can be all over the place. You can grieve for things that you once found comfort in. You can grieve for things that have been influential parts of your life. And then you can move on as a compassionate, understanding, more authentic version of yourself.

It’s understandable why we mourn the loss of EDs, but what’s important is that we don’t view the life our EDs offer as more meaningful as the one recovery offers, the one that allows us to pursue our real passions and pour energy into what truly makes us happy to be alive.

For me, that’s everything my eating disorder prohibited; from enjoying growing up, from going on family holidays, writing, going for walks, focusing on my education, dancing, and making true relationships with my friends.

Be kind to yourself, the grieving process is difficult and scary. But the grieving process is not a sign to return to your eating disorder. It is a sign that you are ready to move on.

Choose the death of your eating disorder, not your own… Told you the title would make sense eventually.

Choose the life YOU want to live. And if you don’t know what that is yet, that’s okay. You’ll find it. And you’ll find it without your eating disorder. You are worth more than what your eating disorder tries to convince you of. You deserve happiness. You deserve life – your life.

Love, as always, E x

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