I tend to talk a lot more about my experience as a recovering alcoholic than I do about my experience as a recovering bulimic. It’s certainly not less of a focus in my recovery nor is it something like my secondary illness. In fact, I would not be able to judge which disease brought more consequences. My preference when talking about recovery in terms of my alcoholism is really for simplicity’s sake. I don’t take a drink and treat my mind and spirit… period. There’s no option to where I just don’t eat, so it requires a bit more detail and most people aren’t interested. Fortunately for me, I have found a pretty simple recipe to keep free of my active eating disorder. It’s not perfect and it has changed many times over the past few years, but it does work. So here’s a little peek at my abstinence (abstinence is what many in food recovery call refraining from disease behavior or compulsive eating):
First, I just had to stop throwing up. That was the most obvious thing I had to change. After about two weeks without vomiting, I still felt terrible physically. I knew a lot of my discomfort was because of my nighttime eating. So, I added a blackout time of 10pm – 6am during which I could not eat any meals or snacks. I was amazed at how difficult it was for me to sleep for the next few weeks! I was so used to munching while watching television in bed well into the night that it was rough to go without. I got through my first night and then used the strength of having gotten through the night before to get through subsequent nights. I also used my phone to make SOS calls when I couldn’t do it alone. These two changes, no purging and no night eating, dramatically changed my relationship with food and gave me a ton of hope and relief. I have purged only a handful of times in four years and have loosened the blackout time on occasion (usually realizing within a short number of days that I need to tighten it up again). I have addressed many other ‘problem areas’ over the years as well. When I’m having trouble with grazing or restricting and need to place clear starts and ends to meal times, I set time windows for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. I have used tracker tools, which I currently do and have done for over a year now, where I log my day’s food intake in order to keep aware of both what I’m eating and what my body is asking for. I have turned on red lights for some foods and yellow lights for others. Red light foods are foods I don’t allow myself to eat. Yellows are foods I check in with myself and how I’m relating to food before I eat them. The easiest way for me to decide whether a yellow light food should be eaten or not is by asking myself, “Can I eat this food like a lady?” If I think that I may eat 10 portions instead of one, the answer is no and I don’t eat it. If I think it will pretty much guarantee that I cry and yell at the mirror the next time I’m in front of it, the answer is no and I don’t eat it. If I feel hungry and I have no desperate messages arriving in my head, I can enjoy that food. A food is really only red lighted if it causes me increased consequences on a consistent basis. For the most part, I interchange all these tools, except for the no purging and no night eating which are constant, depending on how they are impacting my recovery and my life.
There is a risk in having an abstinence that allows for so much flexibility and that exists within my own mind. Being that I’m the one making adjustments and deciding what defines my abstinence at any given time, I may get caught in my disease thought process and feed my addiction rather than my recovery. I don’t spend a whole lot of time worrying about this though because I’ve found that consequences present themselves quickly when I’m feeding my disease. These consequences are usually in the form of tears over how I look, what I don’t have to make me look better, anger that I’m not the weight I was at X time, distorted body image where I’m suddenly obese, or just plain old emotional sensitivity to all things normal and I decide that nobody really cares about me or likes me much at all.
After all the meal planning tools and an abstinence that works in my daily life, what I’m left with is the treatment of my mind and spirit. Simple as that. The same as any other addiction recovery. I get slightly uncomfortable if another recovering addict approaches me with awe and says I’ve overcome a lot, indicating that I have had more to overcome than they have. I believe to my core that I’ve had to do exactly the same thing they have. I had to stop my active disease behavior, and then the real work started. I had to seek relief for my mind and spirit. Once we are able to first put down the insert drug of choice here and others here, we can all then take our journeys towards sanity, an enriched life and a full heart.