I've learned that the world doesn't understand eating disorders, much less what it takes to recover from one. If you turn on the television, open a magazine, or log onto your internet connection, it doesn't take long to see why. Almost every commercial is a weight loss how-to guide. People who have never had eating disorders are encouraged to lose weight and are made to feel horrible about their bodies regardless of what size they are. If even people without eating disorders are feeling the pressure, how do you think that makes us feel? How are we supposed to handle that?
I watched television this morning while eating breakfast. Halfway through my english muffin, a Special K commercial came on. Of course, it's about weight loss. At the end the woman asked, "What will you gain when you lose?"
Wait, what? Think about that.
What will you gain when you lose? It made me want to spit my breakfast out. It made me feel horrible. It made me feel guilty for eating, for not losing weight, for not gaining something. The truth is I don't need to lose anything. If I lost weight I would gain nothing. In my case it should have said, What will I lose when I lose? Everything.
But the commercial wasn't meant for me. Luckily, I was able to realize this and I continued eating my breakfast. I realize I'm not their target market, but that doesn't matter. Triggers are everywhere. Society wasn't created to tiptoe around people in recovery. Our only option is to try to think with clarity.
A few years ago, when my eating disorder was much worse, I wouldn't have been able to ignore the commercial and continue eating my breakfast. About two years ago, I worked with a guy who flirted with all the female employees, especially me. It was annoying but I ignored him for the most part. One day in the break room, everyone discussed my food choices and eating habits as if it were their business. People said things like,
"I've never seen her eat."
"She doesn't eat anything. She works through lunch breaks."
"She's vegan so she only eats lettuce."
And then the flirt chimed in.
"Look at those hips. Obviously she's eating something."
Of course he meant it as a compliment. To him, like many men, hips are attractive. To me, they were the enemy. Naturally my eating disorder took his comment and ran with it. My entire life, even at my lowest and highest weight and every weight in between, I've always had a small waist and larger hips/thighs/bottom. Some people call it an hourglass figure. My eating disorder wouldn't let me see it as anything but fat.
Since my recovery began, I've been placed in countless situations like the one above. Each time I have been triggered by the outside world, my first reaction was to let my eating disorder take over. "Okay, obviously I'm fat so, I'll go back to not eating."
In reality, I was using these triggers as an EXCUSE to act out the eating disordered behavior I was otherwise trying to suppress. I was allowing myself to wallow, to regress, to give in to my eating disorder even though I knew better. At that stage in my recovery, I knew better. It's like a little kid. His parents can tell him not to do something, the kid knows he isn't supposed to do it, but the minute his parents aren't looking, he does it anyway. We cannot be that kid. We have to hold ourselves accountable. We have to respect ourselves enough to not allow ourselves to do the wrong thing. More than that, we have to respect ourselves enough to make sure we do the right thing.
As I finished my breakfast, another commercial came on. This one was for mini babybel cheese. It's the one where the girl is in the mall passing out samples of this cheese to shoppers. One shopper is carrying a newly purchased dress. The babybel girl gives her some cheese and says something like, "Do they have that dress in my size... which is... size awesome."
It's a silly commercial, but there was something so strangely empowering about this lady saying she's size awesome. I like that. My mother always told me to dress the body you were given. Be the size that you are. It doesn't have to be the size of the person next to you, the one in the magazine. Just be you.
It reminds me of my favorite little vignette in The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.
They are the only ones who understand me. I am the only one who understands them. Four skinny trees with skinny necks and pointy elbows like mine. Four who do not belong here but are here. Four raggedy excuses planted by the city. From our room we can hear them, but Nenny just sleeps and doesn't appreciate these things.
Their strength is secret. They send ferocious roots beneath the ground. They grow up and grow down and grab the earth between their hairy toes and bite the sky with violent teeth and never quit their anger. This is how they keep.
Let one forget his reason for being, they all droop like tulips in a glass, each with their arms around each other. Keep, keep, keep, trees say when I sleep. They teach.
When I am too sad and too skinny to keep keeping, when I am a tiny thing against so many bricks, then it is I look at trees. When there is nothing left to look at on this street. Four who grew despite concrete. Four who reach and do not forget to reach. Four whose only reason is to be and be."