Lucy Paige Hamilton: food and ‘failure’

Lucy reflects on recovering from anorexia, after attending a peer support group. Trigger warning: eating disorders.

My name is Lucy, I am ‘in recovery’ from anorexia. My BMI is too low, not disastrously so – I ‘don’t look ill anymore’, people keep telling me, but part of me still wishes it was lower. Maybe if it were lower, I might being to wish for the opposite again. Black and white are obvious places, the other always looks more appealing. The grey of getting better feels foggy, it makes me wish it would clear, and quite often I don’t care if there is black or white underneath.

Today was one of those days. Perhaps it’s because last night I heard myself say (or admit, because it feels like a confession) that I am ‘almost fixed’. It felt like feeling guilty for no longer missing an ex, when you’re still nursing the hope that you might one day get back together. That would be disastrous, but you’ve always called yourselves soul mates. It made me realise that I miss the memory of my eating disorder more than either of us would ever have guessed that I might.

I recently attended my first ever peer support group. I had no idea what to expect. One thing I was worried about though was that, by being so far along the recovery journey, I sometimes feel like I have ‘failed’ at being anorexic. This feels horrible to admit. Obviously, the real success is overcoming disordered thoughts, or at least learning to accept and yet not act upon them. But as the group leader highlighted last night, unlike bulimia or binge eating, with anorexia comes a certain amount of pride. Rather than seeing strength in my ability to kick destructive habits it feels as though I no longer have the strength to put myself through – even for a day – what I used to for months. Because, though I can imagine how unlikely this might seem, an eating disorder isn’t really about size. For me, it is an addiction to pushing myself.

One of the other group members mentioned that she can’t quite ‘do desserts’ yet. I can. But if she’d asked me this, I would have agreed with her how stressful they are; how carrots are one thing, carrot cake quite another. But it would have been embarrassment not encouragement that kept me from sharing that – for the most part – I am now able to eat normally.

Of course, recognising this expectation in myself showed me just how far I still have to go. And this realisation felt like going home after a long trip; familiar, nostalgic, but a little disappointing.

Today wasn’t a relapse; I ate less than I should have done, but tomorrow I’ll try again. It is scary but nice to know that I don’t think I care enough anymore to limit myself again tomorrow. I can recognise now that being in control is completely different to being controlling. Even if I can’t always practise this just yet.

The difference is that now I want to get better. But as part of this, it is important sometimes to admit moments of struggle – moments like when the group mentioned that stage where you have become attached to your eating disorder and a tiny, tiny part of me wished I was still there. But the fact that I now have to use the past tense to describe this place in my own journey tells me I’m at least moving forwards.

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