I was so amazed at how pivotal and positive this weekend was that I felt the need to share it with other sufferers and recoverers, to instil hope in everyone.
I’ll start by looking at how things could have been so different had this weekend happened six months ago. No point trying to dress it up; the date in my diary would’ve been a huge black blot on the landscape. A wedding. Of all the social occasions to be dragged along to, it was a wedding. A day when people eat and drink at unconventional times. The marriage was to be between my boyfriend’s friends – fun, lovely people who I had met a few times and really got on with. I should have been excited at the prospect; a chance to glam up, travel to a city I love (Bristol) and party in great company.
But six months ago, the date in the diary would’ve sat there like a brooding monster, accumulating strength, size and ferocity as the day crept closer. I’d have found a way to decipher the itinerary in advance – I’d probably have nagged my poor boyfriend to get all the details from the groom. It would have been essential to have known at what times meals were coming, what they consisted of and in what format they would be served. There would have been no compromise; I couldn’t possibly have bargained with my internal anorexic demons to let me have just ONE DAY off from being the pawn in their cruel game.
Along with planning exactly which parts of the menu I would eat and when (and probably sourcing a large enough clutch bag to hold alternatives that I could privately munch in the loo), I would have calculated an exercise regime for the following morning. This exercise would earn me my breakfast, as we’d planned to meet my brother and his girlfriend the morning after the wedding.
So, six months ago this wedding weekend – a potentially heart-warming, pleasurable occasion with the added bonus of catching up with my brother who lives in the same city – would’ve been nothing but an endurance. At best I’d have viewed it as a challenge; something I was being ‘forced’ through, with my mind firmly fixed on Sunday evening when I was back in my house, alone, relieved that it was all over so could get back to the strict routines imposed by the anorexia demons.
But the wedding didn’t happen six months ago, when after a decade of carrying anorexia around my neck I had deteriorated into the final danger zone and was teetering on the edge of being hospitalised, or dying, or both. Instead this weekend occurred in the present day, when I am in recovery. In the weeks and days running up to the wedding, I stressed a lot about what to wear. My body is changing and I had rather normal concerns about covering up the bits I felt uncomfortable about. I also practised hair styles and walked about in new shoes to wear them in. Every so often, my mind would drift to the food; and I’d sort of sit there and wait for the panic to set in. How could it be that I was spending valuable thinking time worrying about my fringe when I had a weekend of food, drink and exercise to navigate?! However the predicated intense panic just didn’t appear. So I just got on with my life, assuming that as the day drew closer the anorexic thoughts would get serious and the familiar cloud of dread would start to accumulate.
They didn’t. Against all my predictions, and despite almost waiting for the anorexic thoughts to catch up with me and come on board, they lay dormant for much of the weekend. So I tentatively got on with enjoying myself and had a wonderful time. And on Sunday evening, I didn’t view the whole things as an ordeal that I had survived; I actually saw it as a happy life experience that I would like to repeat some time.
Obviously it wasn’t a completely smooth ride – being ‘in recovery’ rather than ‘recovered’, I still spend every day negotiating with anorexic thoughts. But the really nasty, fearsome gremlins seem to have been replaced with more complacent ones, and I find these far easier to live with. They crop up and try to make me feel awfully guilty about eating without first earning it through exercise…but provided I’m feeling strong enough to fight, I form a reasoned mental argument. I think carefully about how I DESERVE a nice bit of food without needing to exercise already, because the human body requires nutrition, rest and recuperation in order to function daily – it can’t just be a treat every so often. Additionally the emotional and physical pain of an eating disorder alone is enough to have ‘earned’ me the right to eat whatever I want, and live whatever lifestyle I choose, for the remainder of my time on Earth.
And what I am increasingly discovering with recovery is that the anorexic thoughts, weaker by the day, will give up the fight in the face of reason. They haven’t got the energy to constantly battle against you anymore; you’re becoming too strong for them and perhaps the only outcome for them is to surrender and die. Oh how anorexia and I have switched places, since six months ago.