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Posted on Sep 14, 2012 in Dear Diary | 33 comments

Ghost

It has been a trying week.

Between the flooding at my house, the two consecutive car accidents in my brand new car within the span of 24 hours, the hours upon hours of time spent dealing with three separate insurance companies (with five separate claim numbers), some of the agents from whom have been downright mean to me (why?), the workload that had already piled up from being out sick two days last week, and the whiplash pain in my neck and shoulders, my resolve has been tested more than it has been in a long, long time.

I sit here typing this at 3:43 AM — the aftereffect of procuring an iPhone 5 preorder (huzzah!) but being unable to fall back asleep (boo-urns) — with a lead ball of anxiety in the pit of my stomach. Not only am I having to deal with the aftermath of the things that have already happened, but I feel like I am living in constant fear of something else happening. It’s like I’m just waiting for another catastrophe to pile on.

And even if it’s not of catastrophic proportions, every little thing seems somehow worse in the light of everything else that has happened this week. I sneezed yesterday morning and split my lip. I cried for like 15 minutes. A cockroach was on the ceiling above my desk — a coworker saw it, swatted it down, and killed it. I almost had a full-scale panic attack within eyeshot and earshot of an entire conference room full of federal employees.

If you have been reading this blog for any reasonable amount of time (or even just my About Me page), you know that I am pretty open about my past with regard to my food issues. I have struggled with binge and disordered eating for so long now that it feels old hat. And going through a week like this, while it does highlight how far I may have come, also serves to remind me of how very far I still have to go.

I have a warped and twisted relationship with food. I usually talk about myself in the past tense when I refer to my eating disorder (a term that I don’t actually like to use for myself since I’ve never been officially diagnosed, but is nonetheless apt) because I like to pretend that’s where it belongs: in the past. But the truth is that I have not yet fully escaped the effects that years and years of emotional eating and food obsession has had on my psyche. I still seek comfort from food. I still want it to fill any and all emotional voids I may feel. It still permeates my thoughts, influences my actions, has the power to make and break my moods.

I talk about how I’ve “freed myself from a toxic relationship with food” a lot here. It’s kind of a tagline of mine, a way to succinctly sum up my journey through disordered eating. But of course, I’m not really free. My eating, and more specifically, my attitude toward food, is still messed up. I may have a healthier diet, I may make better choices (usually), but I still put far too much weight on what I put into my mouth. I still overthink, overcalculate, overanalyze. Occasionally, I still have to actively fight against my urges to binge, to eat from boredom or emotion, to stuff myself to capacity. And when I do end up losing that battle, I have to fight even harder against the inclination to purge.

Food still holds power over me. Whether or not I actually end up giving into that power is a different story, and more often than not is evidence of my growth and healing. But the fact that it still affects me to such a degree is a major sign that I’m not nearly as free as I like to think.

Yesterday, I felt defeated. The events of the week have been wearing on me, and I felt defeated from the moment I woke up. It only got worse as the day went on. I found myself actively fixating on what I could eat as soon as I got off work. It probably didn’t help that I barely ate anything all day while AT work. I drove home anxious, as I now am every time I get behind the wheel, and failed to stop myself from pulling into the drive-through of a nearby McDonald’s. I got a large fries and a small Diet Coke. I ate them in the car.

Then, a little while after I got home, I stared into the refrigerator for 10 straight minutes. Not really hungry, of course. But I ate four chocolate mini cupcakes anyway, one right after another. And after that, I made myself a grilled cheese sandwich and a hot dog.

Okay. So, sure, that’s not really what a lot of people would call a binge. That’s not even what I would call a binge, if I were to compare it to what my binges used to be like. This was not multiple fast food value meals. This was not an entire large pizza. This was probably a fairly average day’s worth of calories — maybe even less — regardless of how devoid of nutrition those calories were. Purely from a diet perspective, it’s probably not going to throw me THAT far off track.

But that’s not really the point, is it?

I know myself. I know what unhealthy behavior looks like for me. And even though you could make a lot of arguments that I “wasn’t that bad”, what I ate isn’t really what this is about. It’s about the thought process I had going into it. It’s about how I went looking for it. It’s about how I wanted to be alone when I did it. I didn’t want anyone to find me, to interrupt me, to have the potential to judge me.

And just like that, it all came flooding back. The memories, the emotions, the actions of my past, all rushing my mind like ghosts of my former life. All that time I used to spend hiding burgers at the bottom of my purse. Shoveling spoonfuls of mac and cheese into my mouth at lightning speed so I could finish before my roommates came home, or at least pretend like I started out with a much smaller portion than I did. Locking the door after picking up a pizza so I could gorge myself in privacy. Shoving whatever I was eating under my pillow, or under the bed, or behind a bookshelf whenever someone would knock on my door and interrupt my binge.

As I was lying in bed a little while ago, trying to fall back to my even-more-fitful-than-usual sleep, I remembered all of the times that I would go out to eat with my friends. Upon finishing my meal, which was a restaurant portion (read: huge) that I likely ate in its entirety, I remember the feeling of yearning I had toward any unfinished food on my friends’ plates. I always wanted to eat that too. Their leftover french fries, the last quarter of their burger, that last couple of chicken wings. My friends probably (hopefully) didn’t know this. I like to think they didn’t notice the longing in my eyes, the twitching of my fingers. Because it would never even occur to them. They had control of their eating. They didn’t feel the need to stuff themselves to the limit and beyond. They would never even contemplate being completely full and yet still desiring to pick off the plates of their eating companions just because the food was THERE. Were it not for the general social decency that stayed my hand, I can guarantee that I would have eaten every morsel on their plates. And that kind of messed-up thinking doesn’t just disappear. Or, at least, it hasn’t yet.

Yes, I am different now. My obsession with eating has evolved into a marginally healthier obsession with food itself. I love to cook, I appreciate the artistry of haute cuisine, and I consider myself a real foodie. I have given myself a foundation for a healthy(er) diet, I have lobbed off a considerable amount of the weight that my eating disorder had helped me pack on, and I have accomplished a great many things that I would never have thought possible. I now win far more fights than I lose when it comes to my eating issues, and that is a commendable thing.

But there are still cracks in my foundation. I still hear the whispered call of the numbing satisfaction that stuffing my cakehole will bring me — however brief I know it will be. I am still haunted. This doesn’t necessarily mean I will give in. Bad days get better. This week will end. The stress that has been whittling away at my resolve will be alleviated. But I am not yet free. I’m just kidding myself when I say that I am. My eating disorder still has a presence in my life. A weak and listless one on most days, I am thankful to say, but a presence nonetheless. I am fighting for my freedom, but it is still there. Lurking just behind the curtain, ready to pounce at any sign of weakness.

This was not the first battle. It will not be the last.

33 Comments

  1. Yeah, eating issues take a looooooooooooong time to really feel like they’re gone. I don’t know why that is, but years after recovery you can still find yourself having these wtf moments during times of stress or vulnerability. After a time, though, what you’re dealing with is not the disorder itself but its ghost — which in my opinion is a totally different thing. But it’s important, mentally, to realize when you’ve reached that point. (And you will.)

    I’m sorry you’re having such a tough week, Gretchen. What often helps me when I’m dealing with a lot at once is trying to maintain my perspective — like, x, y and z all might be going wrong or a, b and c might all be a huge pain in the ass, but the rest of the alphabet is still fine. Make sense? Trying not to let these things take over my life helps me to remember that I do have control still.

  2. You are SO incredibly brave and strong to have even pointed these feelings and behaviors out! I am not sure if you realize it but I think you are amazing to have just stopped and reflected on yourself and your actions this week and not beat yourself up but rather examine what’s going on. To recognize what you are doing is step 1. I have no doubt now you can move past the old habits that we all fight on sometimes a daily or hourly basis and remember your new habits you have worked hard to make. Life is hard. And right now you’ve had a really sh*tty week. But just have faith that no matter how crappy it was you can and are getting through it! Hang in there! I’m rooting for you! And I know you can do it!

  3. Thank you for writing this post. I can relate to everything you have said, and it feels good to know that I am not alone in this!

  4. 1. You are NOT defeated.
    2. I struggled with an eating disorder for years and years, and at one point, when I would have considered myself “free” and “recovered,” I was so discouraged to see thoughts and behaviors creeping back into my life. My nutritionist reminded me that recovery is not linear. It’s not a straight line on a graph rising higher and higher until we reach perfection. Like weight loss, recovery from disordered eating involves a lot of ups and downs. Two steps forward, one step back.

    Don’t be discouraged! It’s part of the process, and you will grow from it. It doesn’t negate all the hard work you’ve done…it’s just a blip on the radar. You HAVE come so far!

    Is there something you can do early today to relieve some stress? Go in late to work and spend time with a journal and some coffee? Take a walk in this gorgeous fall weather? It has been a crazy week for you, so proactively doing something to de-stress is important to getting back on track!

    You can do this!!

  5. I just wanted to tell you how brave you are for writing all this, I think what you said resonates with a lot of people especially me.

    Stay strong, you are loved.

  6. This is a powerful post. I think anybody who’s suffered ANY kind of disordered thinking or emotions can relate. It’s hard to deal with stress when you have always relied on destructive coping mechanisms.

    It’s okay to remind us that the struggle doesn’t go away.

  7. Everything you wrote here really hit home. It sounds like an incredibly tough week, but thank you so much for sharing! Sometimes it’s hard to remember that you’re not alone and they’re are a lot of people that suffer through these things as well.

  8. “It’s about the thought process I had going into it. It’s about how I went looking for it. It’s about how I wanted to be alone when I did it. I didn’t want anyone to find me, to interrupt me, to have the potential to judge me.”

    SUCH a fantastic post. I have felt the extreme anxiety at watching delicious food go uneaten. I completely understand the mild panic when eating out with friends who eat slowly, don’t finish their food, and seem completely in control. It’s a constant reminder that I must be vigilant. Like you said, we will never be completely free, and we will always have to work a little harder. But we WILL work harder!

  9. Gretchen! I your blog and this post! Your ability to be open and share what you have gone thru is amazing! You are not defeted, theres always bumps in the road. As someone who was diagnosed with an eating disorder at the age of 19 (anorexic) even though it may be the opposit direction, I can relate with the daily struggle and turbulation you go thru. I dont believe that the “disorder” ever really leaves, it lays dormant for a while, but you learn that you appreciate being healthy and caring for yourself more, like you have. 10 years later after I was “cured” I still struggle day to day with it from time to time. There are days of guilt and le sigh! God forbid I let myself gain a little!

    Keep doing what you are doing and just know that you will be fine, we’ve all had those catostraphic weeks where nothing goes right, but your strong and an inspiration to others πŸ™‚

  10. I know you’ve had a terrible no-good very bad week. Next week will be better and you can look back at this week in awhile and just recognize it as a blip on the big cosmic radar of life. Try and stay strong and if you need to talk- pick up the phone ok?

  11. Thank you for a great and relatable post.

  12. My goodness. You poor thing. What a horrible week.

    I really hope I’m not overstepping bounds here, but I read some of your archives and feel like it’s okay to say this: His mercies are new every morning. You are treasured beyond measure, Gretchen, regardless of your feelings toward yourself.

    • You’re not overstepping at all, Denise. Thank you.

  13. You’ve had a rough week! Don’t beat yourself up too much about any of it–and I know that’s easier said than done for sure. But I identify 100%. I am always working against my own food issues, and I have (and still do) felt the same way in restaurants. It’s rare that I don’t clean my plate in a restaurant (asking for a doggie bag to whisk away half of it right away just isn’t going to happen with me) and the idea of just casually leaving a few fries uneaten seems foreign to me. I have itchy fingers, too. If there’s any uneaten food on any table I’m at, it’s all I can think about! Just like all I can think about is dessert after I’m done with dinner and my husband looks at me like I’m an alien when I suggest it: “how are you not FULL?” And it’s not that I’m NOT full (I am) it’s that my desire to eat overwhelms my physical fullness. It’s really hard to shut up that voice in your head, I know! I’ve heard this saying that goes something like “if you’re feeding something other than physical hunger, you’ll never be satisfied” and I know 100% that it’s true–but that doesn’t really help me fend off the temptation that’s around every corner. I guess that’s a long-winded way of saying that there are a lot of us out there struggling with the same things! Strength in numbers! Hope your weekend is better than your week! Insurance agents are the absolute WORST–I don’t envy you!

  14. I got just a tad emotional reading your post….
    You’re so brave to share so openly, Gretchen. And I relate to so much of what you are saying- and have found that so many others do. Sharing your struggles is so helpful to many of us- and I hope it is to you.
    Let’s just say you kick this bad week behind and learn from it (about how STRONG you are) and move on.
    I love you- can’t wait to see you on Sunday!

  15. I am so sorry that you are having such awful week. I often think that recovery from disorder eating/eating disorders is harder than the disorder itself because you’re forced to deal with your problems as opposed to stuffing them down. I just wanted to let you know that you are not alone with your struggles. I still struggle with binging and restricting on a daily basis. I’m going to give you a huge hug through my computer.

    Also, I’m seeing a therapist and primary care doctor who specialize in eating disorders/disordered eaters. If you want their contact information, I can send it to you (located in Dupont and Arlington) because I know that they have greatly helped me.

  16. I just have to comment on how amazing of a writer you are. Not only was it incredibly brave to share something so raw and real, but you did it beautifully. I can’t wait to read your book – just sayin’. πŸ˜‰ Also – I know you say you still have a long way to go, but to be able to share these reflections so openly really shows just how far you’ve come. It takes serious guts to even think about something like this when you’re alone, let alone to share it so openly with others.

    Keep your head up – we <3 you.

  17. Wow. This really touches me, because I can completely and utterly relate and understand. Personally, I respect you more knowing that you still struggle and aren’t just magically “cured”. I think you are an even stronger person for continually fighting. You’re not the only one who is, but you’re one of the few who is ballsy enough to admit it and be entirely honest about it. I don’t really know what to say beyond that.

  18. Sounds like a no good, very bad, week.

    And everything you described? Is me. I do so good with eating, and then I lose it. I’ll eat a bunch of random things. Get cravings. Get lazy. And just don’t handle it well. I always eye food that other people are not eating.

    I went to my friend’s house this past weekend for drinks and games. I brought cookies, and she had garlic dip and bread. Everyone had a few cookies, one or two pieces of bread with the spread, and then STOPPED. I had no off button. I was guilty just taking more when no one else was.

    There are some people who can just turn themselves off. And there are others who don’t. While I may fall in the don’t category, I try really hard to be ok with being different from the other group, and just remember that I recognize it. I will always struggle with food, and you might too. There’s no way to get OVER things (remember the saying, “once a ____, always a ____”. AA wouldn’t exist if someone didn’t realize that alcohol was ALWAYS going to be a problem for them).

    I’m not the type who can sit down with a bag of chips and just have two (I eat the whole bag). I can’t have just a handful of M&Ms (I eat the whole bag). I can’t do a piece of cake (I eat the whole thing). I know it. And every so often I’ll indulge myself. Still working on it… just like you’re a work in progress too. Gorgeous art didn’t happen instantly my dear πŸ™‚

    • Me too! It makes life such a struggle!

  19. Sometimes I’ll trick myself by eating out at one of my “healthy” places. I’ll either get a footlong veggie on honey oat at Subway, or get a veggie bowl at Chipotle without the cheese and sour cream, with lots of veggies and guac. That way I feel slightly naughty for eating out, but in reality I’m not doing THAT much damage. I mean, I’m still not perfect, and there are still days that *I* go straight for the comfort food too, but it’s nice to have a Plan B semi-healthy back-up plan at least!

  20. Gretchen — I had to comment, I am SO sorry you are having this tough tough week. I can imagine dealing with that and it’s rough. Give yourself a break on the food stuff if you can. I had binge eating disorder — I KNOW every thing you are talking about — with the portions, the hiding, the going from drive through to drive through. I did it. Thankfully, you have overcome so much of it, as have I. I just want to encourage that these feelings are temporary and it’s OK to let it be okay. Sometimes I get this feeling too…like what the HELL? One day or week doesn’t ruin all your progress and you will overcome. I know that’s not that helpful but…start fresh this minute…you can do it an dyou will free again.

  21. Good for you! You will get past this hard week and get back to your helpful habits. You are doing the right things. I’m sorry for all the stress lately!

  22. Ah, it makes me feel so much better to hear someone else say that about eating with friends, and wanting to eat everything else that was on the table. I remember feeling that way a lot… still do, to an extent. Part of it was ingrained in me as a child not to leave anything on a plate at a restaurant. I’m always the one saying, “Are you sure you don’t want to box that up and take it home?!”

    Sorry to hear you’ve had such a bad week, Gretchen πŸ™

  23. You know, you probably used to eat your large pizza in private and didn’t tell a single soul about it. I think the fact that you had the guts to tell the [blog] world about what you ate tonight proves that you’ve grown volumes.

    Stay strong, you’ll get through this week.

    • Exactly.

      Did you know, whenever you have a seizure, it rewires your brain? The electrochemical storm that produces the seizure lays down new neurological pathways, and the impulses that travel through your brain can follow those new pathways at any time, years later. When this happens, you can have symptoms that feel just like a seizure, but without all the abnormal electrical activity. I call these — I get them a lot and they totally suck — “post seizures” or “echo seizures.” But perhaps “ghost seizures” is a better name.

      My point is, “ghost seizures” aren’t seizures. They are echoes, created by scars.

      Your present and quite likely your future will no doubt continue to be informed by the ED that helped to shape your past. The scars are there, part of who you are, part of what makes you strong and compassionate, experienced and capable of growth. I think it is their influence, the echoes they create, rather than relapsing ED, that you saw here.

      I’m not claiming that you have recovered and are in no danger of relapsing. I’m no expert, and anyway surely an expert would never make such a claim. I have no experience at all with ED. But I have a lot of experience with echoes, and the episode you describe sounds like an echo to me.

  24. Wow. This is an extremely powerful post that hit home. I have had my share of struggles and I love that give the struggle a voice.

  25. Thanks for writing this Gretchen. It feels so good to know someone is going through the same things with food. I actually find it quite upsetting when I think that when I go out I’m the only person having to sit on my hands to stop myself finishing others’ food. What went wrong with our eating, and when, that we became like this, when it doesn’t even enter the minds of others?

  26. This is like reading a page out of my journal or something, Gretchen. Oh. my. I can empathize with everything you posted here (except the insane week, I hope you plan on doing some super fun things this weekend to make up for it!) and relate to how much of a struggle it is to deal with those ghosts on a daily – and some days minute to minute – basis. It’s actually one reason I think I”m subconsciously afraid to start losing weight again – because my “diet days” were filled with losing weight, but also with a terrible bingeing and disordered pattern of eating. One thing that really helped me with the ghost is yoga. It sounds hokey, but it’s so true. I need to get back to it because the ghosts have been really loud lately. Raising up my fist in ghost solidarity πŸ˜‰

    Thanks for writing this and sharing your story.

  27. Just want to offer you big, big hugs. I know it must be hard to admit all of that out in the open.

    Personally, it took an anti-depressant AND therapy for me to get where I am now with binge eating. I was surprised how much the anti-depressant helped. I’m not suggesting that to you, I had other issues going on and I’m just sharing my experience. Anyway, it has helped, but I still have to have little talks with myself. If I have a bad day it’s like I believe I deserve to eat something bad. The thoughts are the habits that are the hardest to break. I don’t believe I’ll ever be cured, I just may get better at fighting it.

    Hang in there, you’re not alone.

  28. Thank you for this post. I have been beating myself up for weeks and months and well, years if we’re being honest, about not fixing my eating habits. Just do better, just don’t do it, just be happy. Thank you for making me realize it isn’t just me, and it isn’t just a matter of “being better”. There is so much more to it, and hating myself will never be the answer. Thanks for giving my inner critic something to positive think about.

  29. I am so thankful that I came across this post today. I can see it’s not current; I found it under your “Best Of” –
    I love it.
    It helps explain how I’m feeling, better than I understood it myself.
    It’s just what I needed today. You have a way with words and I felt understood when I read this post.

    Thank you!
    http://leaslosinit.blogspot.com/

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