I had a dream last night that I was in some type of group therapy, and we all had to go around and talk about the hardest thing that had ever happened in our life.
When everyone was sharing, I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to talk about the death of my mom or the time when I was in treatment from the eating disorder in 2006.
I decided on briefly sharing both, but explained that the only reason why the event of my mother dying wasn’t at the top of the list was because my eating disorder prevented me from grieving properly. So I chose to talk more about the eating disorder and saying how letting go of it and choosing recovery was the hardest thing I had ever had to do.
And now that I’m awake and thinking that over, I know it’s true. Being in treatment was such an overwhelming experience that I probably cried more there than I did when my mom died five years earlier. And the reasoning is because as soon as she died, I picked up the eating disorder as a coping mechanism. At the time I hardly ever cried over her and rarely felt sad about her death. I used to say it was because somehow she took my pain away, and maybe on some spiritual level that’s true, but I’m pretty sure my eating disorder and the denial of her being gone were bigger reasons for that.
And the reason why getting treatment for the eating disorder was much harder than losing her was because once I had to start processing all my real feelings, all that grief suddenly came back and I was forced to look at her death without running away from it with food (or lack of food). I remember being on a phone conference with my dad and my counselor, and he asked me, “Why don’t you ever think or talk about Mom?” I replied that it was just too hard and not thinking about her was easier than admitting she was gone.
When my mom died, I lost the one person that I loved the most. When my eating disorder “died,” I lost the one thing that I loved the most. And that something was the one thing that kept me going after she died. So now that I had neither of them, it felt like my entire world was crashing down around me.
Having to learn how to relive my life without the eating disorder was devastating. It was hard. It was intense. I had to relearn how to eat. I had to relearn how to handle situations. I had to learn how to manage and control my anger. I had to learn how to be more assertive. I had to learn how to set boundaries with others. I had to learn how to let others be who they were and focus on myself. I had to stop blaming other people and things on my problems. I had to make new online friends (a lot were ED people). I had to adopt a completely new lifestyle in order to completely shed the eating disorder, and it was the most difficult thing I had to do.
I cried and cried over it, and my counselor said I was in a state of mourning. I was grieving my eating disorder. And she was right. I literally felt like I was losing a loved one all over again, and I was scared to death with the idea of never seeing that loved one again.
Needless to say that loved one was resurrected and we are old chums again — but will I ever get to a point where I can say goodbye again? Will it be as hard as it was back in 2006? In treatment I had the notion that I would NEVER see anorexia ever again in my lifetime, which was why it was so incredibly hard to let go. But now that I don’t have a treatment team around me, I have that comforting thought of, “Sure, I’ll get back into recovery, but it’ll never be like it was. I’ll always be this way.” And realistically I know it can’t be both recovery AND eating disorder. It’s one or the other.