things take the time they take: dealing with change in eating disorder recovery

There’s comfort in things that remain constant, which is often why people fear change. Change is frightening because there’s an element of the unknown and unpredictability. I for one, like consistency, and tend to maintain habitual vigilance by thinking, planning, and judging with little to no spontaneity. [insert: oh hello, eating disorder!]

I have always said that my eating disorder thrives off change. When my eating disorder senses the fear associated with change, he knows to latch on, he knows I’m weak, he knows my anxiety is spiked, and he knows I need to feel like all will be alright. Changes, even those that are highly anticipated, planned and known, can be disruptive and anxiety-provoking because, by definition, they disengage us from previously known and familiar contexts.

Changes occur from moment to moment, so it’s really impossible to avoid change. Change enables us to practice the art of perpetual motion. But this perpetual motion leads to mandated transitions and transformations, and impermanence is often a daunting reality. But just because change might be scary, doesn’t mean that change isn’t necessary, exciting, or life-altering, in a positive sense.

For those who follow us on social media, you may have seen that CJ and I moved into our own apartment after living with her generous parents for 2 ½ years. The past couple of weeks leading up to the move were invigorating and exciting. To us, the move symbolized a step forward and a sign of progress in our joint recovery. It represented a leap of faith and a certain level of newfound confidence that I am going to maintain recovery.

Aside from a minor series of now humorous, unfortunate events, the move was uneventful. In what seemed like a crash out of nowhere though, I found myself feeling panicked and overwhelmed by a “nameless dread”, a term I came up with the last time I was in treatment to describe an inexplicable, discombobulated feeling. There were no warning signs and the transition was unexpectedly challenging, startling, and unraveling. Being in a new space ended up evoking immobilizing fear and brought up trauma-related thoughts that I have not had in a while. I didn’t feel safe, and my brain couldn’t decipher the difference between the actual calm and the perceived or imminent storm.

It didn’t take long for my eating disorder to provide me with my greatest false safety net: restriction.

And it didn’t take long for me to succumb and move closer to endorsing the goals of my eating disorder. Like past experiences, I was seeking comfort and safety in the immediate.

And I did feel immediate relief, because eating disorders work (!) (for the moment) (kind of like alternative truths ;)). But here’s the thing: I also felt shame, good ole shame, my eating disorder’s best friend. I felt like I should be happy and grateful for being privileged enough to move into our own apartment. I felt like there was something wrong with me for struggling, and I simultaneously felt angry at myself for falling into my eating disorder’s trap once again.

But I’ve realized that I can’t help or change my truth. [and newsflash, neither can you]. And the truth is, that I was overcome with a sense of “present fatalism” (cite Psych 101: shout out to Zimbardo), convincing me that there will always be some situation powerful enough for my eating disorder to grab hold of. Historically speaking, I haven’t yet been strong enough to avoid relapsing, so I was inadvertently convincing myself that, perhaps I was just facing the inevitable.

Thanks, fatalistic point of view. Way to h. a . l . t . me every time.

As frustrating as it is to be caught in this mindset, in terms of human nature, I feel like it actually makes sense. Think about it:

If your behavior(s) never lead to the desired outcome (aka recovery), thenof course you’re going to stop trying, which in turn will eventually lead to a decrease in yearning for the desired outcome. It’s simultaneously a brilliant defense mechanism and horrendous human condition that leads to feeling powerless and fear.

So how have I dealt with the transition and associated eagerness of my eating disorder?

Some might call it bravery, I call it no-other-fucking-choice. There’s been some white knuckling, some tears, and some much appreciated added support, but I’ve made slipping a non-negotiable.

This week I’ve also learned that there’s a spiritual power to The Intentional Pause: a brief stop in a self-proclaimed place of refuge. I found clarity in simply being aware of my eating disorder’s heightened presence. Acknowledging its power and seductiveness, I was in a way holding hands with a greater truth than I have previously cultivated during triggering times. Pausing allowed me to attend to the very parts of myself that needed my attention to prevent the spiral and to heal.

I’m beginning to feel a tentative sense of safety and equilibrium in our new apartment. What once seemed immeasurably complex and terrifying is beginning to seem more beautifully simple. I’m [metaphorically] dancing with more courage and with the unknown; I’m taking chances; welcoming anxiety; and flaunting my insecurities with greater acceptance.

Regardless of the type of change or transition, know that however your body and mind react is right. To those of us prone to relying on maladaptive behaviors when we feel out of control, transitions such as moving can be triggering. Berating myself that it’s ridiculous to have gotten so unraveled “just” because I moved is not helpful. There’s no reason to justify the struggle. It is what it is and it is real.. Instead, you deserve to vocalize your experience with confidence and validation, rather than shame. Change is change is change is freakin’ hard, and things take the time they take.

Just like recovery rarely requires heroic choices that settle matters once and for all, it’s often the smallest shifts that can disrupt the system. But all that means is that it often only requires the smallest step forward to get back on track.

In strength and healing,

OJ

 

[feature image can be found here]

things take the time they take: dealing with change in eating disorder recovery

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