Whenever people ask how I did it—recovered from my ED—without the help of doctors or therapists or medication, I first mention Lazarus and ask how they think he emerged from the tomb. That’s right—not by himself. De profundis my cry for help was heard and I received intervention of the non-human kind. That alone deserves a lengthy post, but somehow this doesn’t feel like the time or place for that (yet).
Secondly, ‘recovered’ implies I’m 100% cured of an affliction and—though I wish it were so—it simply isn’t the case. Rather, I’m still recovering—a state in which I’m guessing I’ll likely remain for the rest of my life.
You may also be wondering about that picture of Adele at the top of this post. Well, that’s because whenever—early in my recovery process—I felt like giving up and returning to my old ways, I listened to her album, 21 instead. You could say her music was instrumental (no pun intended) in drowning out the negative voices of my head, though in truth, it was my way of grieving. Someone Like You is a very good break-up song—and I used it fittingly to bid goodbye to a toxic relationship with myself. So thank you, Adele. If you’re reading this, you have no idea. No idea.
The difference between me now and me then is this wonderful thing called hindsight. Having seen where certain choices have landed me in the past, and remembering how I suffered for them, I have learned how to navigate through this tricky minefield called my ‘interior life’.
Interior life? Most people have only heard of interior design, but I can assure you they’re not all that different. Generally speaking, both involve a personalized process of content curation—the selection and arrangement of items so as to fill a space purposefully and meaningfully—with the ultimate hope of bringing joy to the one who owns that space. If nothing else, my ED woke me up to the notion that such a place existed within me: one where competing forces were actively at work everyday. Call it the battle of good vs. evil, yin and yang, whatever—in my case, I learned pretty quickly how it’s never a good idea to only pay attention to one fixed set of thoughts of actions. Instead, I needed to plug in, listen, filter and discern (in that order) before acting. And, decidedly, if I could frame each thought and motion such that they led me away from, instead of toward the ED, that would be the secret of my success.
Turns out, I was right on the money.
However, I have to be clear on what I mean by success, per se. By that, I mean the ED is no longer actively controlling me, and I am on the whole able to manage it without letting it overwhelm all other aspects of my life. To employ a metaphor (or two), the ED was once a ferocious dragon that demanded to be fed all day, but now it’s but a pesky lizard that creeps up on me every now and then, trying to sell me the same lie in a myriad of disguises.
To date, I have by no means completely mastered the art of good discernment, but with practice and a great deal of trial-and-error, I found that pretty soon I was able to identify patterns of interior movement: my triggers and blindspots, my strengths and fortitude. This knowledge was therefore crucial in helping me stay on course.
I’ve learned that I’m especially vulnerable when I’ve grown complacent in my recovery, and thereby make less of an effort to filter my thoughts (i.e. discern). It’s typically when I take my recovery for granted that the lizard’s voice is uncharacteristically loud and persuasive, convincing me it actually has my best interests at heart. But when I grow passive and feel that familiar surge of self-hatred and compulsion to vomit my lunch or to take the day off to swim 50 laps in my condo pool, I’ll know I’ve unwittingly taken a wrong turn. Other times, the triggers are external—the sight of an attractively slim woman, a bad day at work, a quarrel with a friend, the kids acting up, an insensitive remark from the husband—and I quickly find myself in a state of extreme negativity: another fertile playground for the lizard. See? it says. The world doesn’t care how hard you try. If you can’t be loved, you might as well get skinny and look good. Then at least you’ll have something. Now you have nothing.
In the beginning, I fell for it a lot, and I went for long walks or starved/overate in a knee-jerk response to a difficult situation. But still, something in me was also irrevocably changed, thus preventing me from hurtling back into the abyss of my ED. It was my newfound awareness of my interior life and its movements. Like a third eye that had been opened, I could see objectively what kinds of effect various thoughts had on me and how my actions either served to exacerbate the pain, or bring me away from it. More than anything, I grasped the importance of actively resisting—nay, pushing back—against negativity.
I knew as long as I didn’t give up, I was still in the game, whereas if I threw in the towel, I had no fighting chance. It was a situation of sink or swim, and boy did I swim. I never swam harder for my life, and meanwhile I studied the ways of my enemy. To my surprise, two simple words proved most effective against its assaults.
The words: So what?
You know the saying, “If you can’t make it, fake it”? Even during times when the lizard’s taunts did rattle me, I acted like they didn’t. Instead, I gave the lizard and its finger-wagging, head-shaking reproofs a swift kick in the behind with a generous dose of indifference.
A quick demonstration:
Lizard: Blah blah blah, you nothing, you worthless [expletive], you could’ve been so skinny but just look at your fat face/arms/thighs/tummy.
Me: So what? Shut up and go away.
OK, that’s seven words, the extra five added for dramatic effect. But it worked, and it continues to work.
That’s because the ED only has power over you insofar as you care about what it says. Its potential to grow from pesky lizard to ferocious dragon is determined by none other than you. By refusing it the time of the day, it is silenced and retreats—not indefinitely, but at least until its next opportunity to strike. But by then you’ll know and be up for a fight.
Conversely, I discovered that if I truly listened and discerned to act in the interests of self-love and my general well-being, the ensuing results were [are] always peace, levity, joy and all the adjectives you can think of that mean ‘life-giving’.
This brings us back to Lazarus. I’m aware it isn’t an ideal comparison—he was a passive party when roused from the dead, whereas I worked actively toward (hope of eventual) recovery. But this much I know: we were both dead at one point, but death didn’t have the last word. For here I am, writing this, hoping to give answers to anyone seeking them.
Yes, life is possible after an ED, and yes, it’s a life worth fighting and coming back from the dead for.
[to be continued]