To try to distract myself from the fact that I can’t work (or work out) right now because of the nice orange cast I have on my left arm (winter IS actually trying to kill me), I thought I would do a therapy redux. A couple of weeks ago, my therapist and I talked about the idea of an eating disorder as apart from oneself (this is discussed at length by Jenni Shaeffer in her book Life Without Ed). In fact, my therapist drew me a picture that looked sort of like this:
On one side of that line is me. On the other side is ED. The idea behind looking at ED as separate from me is that I can eventually phase him out of my life. Jenni calls this breaking up with her eating disorder.
Last week, my therapist and I took this same picture and placed in it the characteristics of my personality that are currently me, as well as the characteristics that are currently ED. This was kind of hard to do because if you had asked me a couple of months ago if some of the “ED” characteristics were part of the genuine “me,” I would have said, “Absolutely!” But I am starting to see that may not be true.
Anyway, on the “me” side, I was able to list nurse (and I include in this that I am a good critical thinker and also someone with good clinical skills), yoga, reader, giver, and learner. My therapist placed on that side gentle, loving, and kind, and she also placed anxiety on that side (and by that, she meant the baseline anxiety that I will probably always have as part of me). On the ED side, we placed sarcasm (=shield), binge eating, punishment, compulsive behaviors, isolation, overdoing, overworking, hoarding, being an “information whore,” projects, over-giving, talking too much, regimented eating, black and white thinking, and self-loathing. I would also add deflecting with humor. At the end of this, she folded over the ED side so that it was no longer visible, and then she wrote, “What would this life be like?”
The idea is that that life would allow for the “gray” world, where nothing was quite as absolute as I tend to see it. It would include time for self. It would not mean that I could not be funny anymore, but it would mean that I would not use humor and sarcasm as a shield meant to keep people away. Food rules would not exist. ED would be quiet. I would both love myself and like myself, not just one or the other. And she asked me where I would like to see myself on this continuum in a year. My first response was that I would like to be more balanced, and she asked if that meant I wanted it to be 50/50 (I sort of self-identified as 70/30 now, with ED having the greater portion of control right now).
But where do I want to be in a year? I would love to say that ED would be gone…but I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself, as that kind of pressure has been, in the past, a great opportunity to take a step (or several) backward. I don’t want to be where I am now, but I don’t know what it looks like to be between “here” and “there.” What does it mean to be better (but not all the way)? Only binge eating 50% of the time? Only compulsively shopping every other Tuesday? Only isolating myself three days per week?
I would imagine that life after ED could be amazing. But I can’t imagine what would take up all the time he once did. The only choice I can make, however, is to keep working in that direction and believing those who say that there is something else out there.