Simply put, anxiety sucks the life out of me. When I was deep in my eating disorder, anxiety was a starting point that triggered behaviors. It was like the gun that started the race to whatever coping mechanism was available to me at the moment.
Facing anxiety with an eating disorder…
Feeling stressed by school? Great! Drop all you are doing and go run X miles… you’ll feel better.
Had a fight with your partner? No problem. Restrict the next meal… that will teach him.
Feeling socially awkward? Why are you worried? Just go to the bathroom and purge. Boom. Fixed.
Now that I am in recovery and actively choosing to not engage in behaviors, the solutions are not as clear.
Facing anxiety without an eating disorder…
Stressful day at work? Anxiety high
Fight with my partner? Anxiety higher
My kids really need me, and I am overwhelmed to the point of tears… Anxiety off the charts
So how do I cope now?
What do I use to redirect my thoughts? How do I stop the madness my brain experiences when I allow myself to sit in the emotion of the moment instead of numbing it out? How do I cope with anxiety without the eating disorder?
These are questions I have only begun to face two years into recovery. So I want to talk about sitting in the in-between, because I know many of you are there.
The grey area:
When I was first in recovery from my eating disorder there was a focus. I had to chart my exchanges, meal prep for my day, check in with my treatment team, and focus on every breath and thought being recovery-focused. Who would have guessed that would be the easy part of the process?
I still had the urges to use ED behaviors, so my concentration to stay on track seemed clear. My eating disorder always liked rules… even if they were to keep it at bay.
The anxiety is not gone even without the eating disorder
Now, two years into my recovery, I have little to no urge to run, restrict, or purge on a regular basis… but what happens when the anxiety hits? It’s still there rearing its ugly head whenever it deems appropriate.
When I get anxious, I feel terrified. Like I can’t move. It’s as if any movement my body may cause me to resort back to an old behavior that I don’t want to succumb to. The privacy of the bathroom is always too available. The trash can could hide my half-eaten lunch at any moment. My running shoes scream “we can fix this! Just put us on!”
How do I deny the easy way out that leads to the hard reality of relapse?
I would love to say, “simple!” and give you a beautiful, poetic answer you can apply for your life this very second. But I don’t have that answer. But I know someone who does…
If you have ever experienced a break in your disordered behaviors, a crack in the foundation that your eating disorder worked so hard to build, you alone hold that answer for you.
For me, it is my voice. When I stifle my voice, my anxiety leads me to the familiar “safe” roads that promised freedom from pain and emotion. Yet they only led to destruction and suffering.
Recently, I had been suffering in my catastrophized thoughts and anxiety in solitude. After a hell of a week where unfair and unexplained tragic events rattled my normally mundane life, I couldn’t hold back my emotions anymore. Tears and words spilled out of my face to my unexpecting, yet understanding husband.
I just talked and cried and cried and talked. And you know what his response was? “Why has it taken so long for you to express this? Brooke, you know sickness grows in the dark for you. You cannot let ED silence you. Or he wins.”\
He was right.
When I don’t use my voice, ED wins. When I open up, ED loses. Spoken and written expression keep me on the recovered path.
What defeats those eating disorder thoughts for you? What shuts down those eating disorder behaviors on the spot?
Is it a text from a friend who understands? Or a song that takes you out of your head and into your heart? Is it a walk amongst nature’s beauty?
Is it throwing rotten fruit at a tree? (Hey, don’t judge it until you try it!) You know what it is that brings you back to you, and if you don’t, then make finding that your mission.
Find what brings you back to your wise mind and USE it. For heaven’s sake, use it.
Warrior, you are not alone, and you are worthy of freedom. I’ll keep fighting. Every. Day. And you can, too.