Because otherwise I’d be dead.
No, really. (How’s that for a weird opening for a post that is essentially about gratitude? Ha!)
See, an ED (as far as I can deduce with my UTTER LACK OF FORMAL TRAINING but a whole lot of personal experience) is a coping mechanism. A maladaptive, destructive, soul-crushing, life-draining, family-and-friends-alienating mechanism that might just possibly leave you worse off than you were – but a coping mechanism, nonetheless. And coping mechanisms, pretty much by definition are a way of dealing with things you couldn’t otherwise deal with.
So, back to the “dead.” In college, I spent a year at an art school, majoring in acting. It was a good school (though hellaciously expensive, which is part of the reason I was only there a year), but they were big believers in the Stanislavski Method. A big part of that (as they taught it at the school) is, “Dig up all the bad things that happened to you and relive them so you can ACCESS those emotions!” Well, ok, it’s a LITTLE more complicated than that, but let’s just say that if you’re not mentally stable, it’s not the best method to use, IMHO.*
Aaaanyway. The problem that I ran into was that all the stuff that I didn’t want to think about was relatively fresh; say, in the last year or two – and my 18-year-old brain was NOT stable enough to go through it all AGAIN. So by the end of the year? I was pretty much suicidal. I dreaded getting out of bed in the morning. I would lay there and cry because the sun had come up, and I had to go through it all AGAIN. Toward the end of the year, I started researching suicide. I figured out a method that would be (relatively) painless, and that would certainly kill me, even if I tried to change my mind and got help. (Because I had read the statistics about people who tried to commit suicide and failed, and I DID NOT WANT TO FAIL – not even if I changed my mind halfway through.)
I collected all the things I would need and stashed them in a box under the bed in my dorm room.
And – here’s the weird thing – just having it there, just knowing that ANY DAY I could choose to be done, check out, off myself, whatever, made me feel better. I felt more in control. I would wake up and cry and think to myself, “It’s ok, just get up and go to school. If it’s really bad, you can be done today.” And I would go to school. And at the end of the day I would think, “Well, today was not so bad that I need to be done. I can leave the box alone tonight, and if tomorrow is really bad, I still have the option then.” Lather, rinse, repeat. Every. Day. To say that it was touch-and-go for a while is a drastic understatement. I thank God every day that I didn’t have a REALLY bad day during that time. (MONTHS, people. I did that for MONTHS. So not having a Really Bad Day during ALL that time was a freakin’ MIRACLE.)
I went home that summer and the box went with me, though I didn’t think about it as much. I went back to (a new) school in the fall and the box went with me, and things sucked again, and I thought about it a lot. And then around that time I discovered that if I exercised like crazy, I could go without eating for a LONG time. And it became a game. And then it became a disorder. And as it did, it started to take the place of the box. All that exercise and starvation took that place of “feeling in control” that the box had given me. I still had the box, make no mistake. But now it was more of a security blanket and less of a day-to-day internal conversation. And as I exercised harder and ate less, as I got thinner and thinner (though ironically never thin enough to raise any alarm bells with anyone), I thought less and less about using the box.
And that disorder, as it moved from anorexia to exercise bulimia to binge eating to what they would now call ED-NOS and back again, became in a way SAFER than where I had been before. When I finally had a REALLY BAD DAY, I didn’t think about the box. I thought about what I was or wasn’t going to eat and how much I was or wasn’t going to exercise and (later) how many bottles of wine I would drink.
See, I know that an ED is still a form of suicide. But it’s a much SLOWER form of suicide. You have a lot more time to change your mind than you do with pills or guns or nooses. A LOT more time. And it’s also, like I said in the beginning, a method of coping. Not a good method by any means, but sometimes you have to use whatever you’ve got.
A friend of our family summed it up well. She was a raging alcoholic for many years, and then joined AA. Years into her sobriety she and my mom were talking about drinking and not drinking and coping with life in general. And she said to my mom, “I don’t regret one single day that I drank. If I had it to do all over again, I would drink all over again, and I would not stop one day sooner. I NEEDED to drink. Life was too much to deal with otherwise. I’m glad I’m sober now, but I’m glad I drank then.”
I never forgot that. And that’s how I feel about the Crazies now. I’m glad I’m getting better, but I’m glad I went through it. I needed it. I needed an outlet, or, more accurately, a method of anesthetizing myself. I got 10 years of craziness, but I couldn’t have done it for one day less. I got 10 years to figure out that maybe I didn’t want what was in that box after all. Does that make sense? Because when I had those Really Bad Days, my reaction was no longer one that would result in an immediate “Game Over.” Suicide is pretty final.
So, yeah. I’m grateful for an eating disorder, and for my disordered eating (however you want to define the terms). Turns out it was better than the alternative.
(And before anyone asks, I got rid of the box about 6 years ago – after carrying it around for 7 years.)
*That technique, called Emotion Memory, is actually more closely tied with Method Acting, the main difference being that Method Acting thinks you should use your ACTUAL experiences as substitutes for the emotion in the script and Stanislavski’s method is that you should FEEL the emotion in the script, while remembering that it isn’t really YOU.
In other words, Method Acting says that if your grandma dies in the play, you should think about your dog that died when you were little, and cry real tears. Stanislavski says that if your grandma dies in the play, you should pretend so hard that you cry real tears for “your” dead grandmother. Again, not the most technical explanation, but it’ll suffice for this post.