When I was really little, a lot of my life became what you could euphemistically call “chaotic”. As a small girl, I struggled to have any semblance of control over what was happening to me and around me. Even now at 30, I have very vivid memories of what all of that felt like.
Think about it.
As adults, when an aspect of our lives seems to be out of control, we have a natural inclination to reassert control in other areas to compensate. For example, with my finances right now being completely fucked and beyond my control (hopefully just for the time being), I have lately started compulsively cleaning my apartment. I’m talking about cleaning the kitchen at 3a because that is something that I can control.
It was the same for me as a little girl. Except for the cleaning part, I suppose. Because there was an extended period when I didn’t know who was going to be taking care of me; because there was an extended period where I wasn’t allowed to sleep through the night; because there was an extended period where I didn’t know when I’d get to talk to my mom again. Because of all of that (and then some), I had to exert some amount of control over the only thing within reach.
What I consumed quickly became a gauge for what was going on in my life. I was never one to binge eat, so instead I denied myself. I have a very vivid memory of being in the second grade, and my lunch being a bag of carrot sticks. Not that that was what had been packed. But that was all that I would allow myself to eat. Second grade. Eight years old.
Thankfully, my late childhood found some stability a few years later. But in looking back now, I think that at that point, the damage had already been done.
Would I ever quantify what I’ve done as an eating disorder? No. Not even a low-grade eating disorder. But I would say that it was definitely indicative of a home life that was extremely unstable and abusive in many ways.
As an adult, I’m mostly well-adjusted, and could even pass for being past all of my traumas (oh if only). And yet, that one act of self control and defiance and defense is something that I come back to when the sailing is no longer smooth.
Last Spring, when I realized that my marriage was over, I also lost control over how I cared for myself and nourished myself. And I didn’t realize that that was actively occurring until the 84th person commented on my weight loss. See, in about a month and a half, I lost 25 pounds. Just from not eating. I was so stressed and distraught that even when I was hungry, I wasn’t able to eat, because my penance was my hunger.
While I was excited about what was happening to my body, I acutely recognized that there was nothing healthy about what was going on. I realized that I could allow myself to continue in this pattern of slow self-destruction, or I could take the steps to right myself.
As I have taken notice of many years of dysfunctional coping mechanisms, it has allowed me to really notice the patterns that lead to this conclusion. And that is the easy part. Because it takes minimal effort to step back and say “hey! This behavior, this action, this habit is destructive and I need to change it”. The challenge then has become to figure out ways to combat this need of mine to right the ship, however possible.
So over the last few months, and really over the last year, I have had to relearn how to deal with the myriad of stresses in my life. This was where I was a couple of months ago. I was actively trying to maintain a sense of healthy control over an area of my life that tends to spin wildly out of control. And in looking back at it, I recognize that I was doing a really great job ad I was heading in a really good direction.
That is until I hit this emotional rock-bottom. The stresses of every one of the relationships in my life has been taking a considerable toll on me. Looking at my paycheck and realizing that I don’t have enough to cover the bare minimum of my bills has been taking a considerable toll on me. Starting a job in a field I’ve never worked in and dealing with the struggle of not feeling good at it has been taking a considerable toll on me. Fighting the battles of everyone around me with 100% of my passion has been taking a considerable toll on me.
See, this post was going to be a happy one. This was going to be about how I have struggled with control in the past, but now, at 30 years old, I have managed to find balance. But, as I would sit down and begin to write, I knew more and more tangibly that that simply was not the case. I have enough self-awareness to understand that right now, my consistent consumption of less than 1000 calories daily is not okay. That the self-imposed guilt and loathing I feel whenever I eat is not okay. That the struggle I feel day in and day out is all symptomatic of a much bigger and much more serious issue.
And when I have the means to deal with that much more serious issue, I will. But right now, my responsibility to self means that I take care of how I view my relationship with and to food. How I view my need to control situations that are frankly beyond my ability to control.
The first step isn’t necessarily admitting that there is a problem. The first step is recognizing that this could develop into a problem, quickly followed by figuring out how to correct that pattern. Am I ready, 100% ready, to allow myself the opportunity to feel all of the things that I am feeling while I am feeling them, and then to react appropriately.
Because I have grown enough to know that punishing myself for the failures of the people around me (and myself included) in the manner that I have done for well over 20 years is no longer an acceptable way to live. And right now, I don’t know the next step that I’ll need to start taking, but I do know that I am at a point in my life where this action is no longer sustainable.
And maybe that’s my happy ending.