Is it necessary to hit rock bottom?
Pain it seems is an effective teacher because it makes life intolerable. It interferes with joy and peace. Being overwhelmed kept me trapped in a bad situation. I’ve often been asked, ‘How did you stop doing that?’
‘That’ is the self flagellating lifestyle of a restrictive anorexic. ‘That’ includes a base line feeling of unworthiness. Unworthiness is Pandora’s Box, a fragrant but delusive spice blend that once convinced me of its worth. It meant making choices that affected me and didn’t seem to hurt anyone else. I was blind.
My choices were unhealthy.
Adolescence is like a car skating on an icy road. For me stress with its twin, adrenal burn out played a huge part. But why was I under stress? Where was the conflict coming from? What does conflict mean?
Conflict is easily recognised by the use of one phrase: ‘I should be …’ As soon as this red flag enters my consciousness, it signals conflict. Growing up in a migrant family, I listened to my parent’s stories of WWII. Am empathetic child, I knew that I should be good. I didn’t want to add to their burden.
It all changed when we moved house. I made my wishes clear but we moved anyway. At that time I felt as if I didn’t matter. I was 11. Now looking back, I can understand why we moved but it set me on a low and crooked path. But back then I began to wonder if I fitted in.
My dad often said, ‘Be good for your mother.’ It meant don’t create waves, be compliant, do as you’re told. Unwittingly, I lost my voice. Unable to scream or rant I chose other ways to deal with the difficult emotions I was unable to express. I found anorexia and nine years of confusion. And that was just the physical recovery.
Despite the ongoing cold, the fatigue and hunger; I studied hard, matriculated and went to university (my father’s dream). I didn’t mind because I have always loved to learn. In third year, I began to work in hospitals, rehab centres and outpatient clinics. Physiotherapy is a physically demanding job. In the late 70’s the ‘No Lift’ policies had not been developed. We lifted.
The work made me very tired, physically because of its nature and mentally, as I began to consolidate my clinical reasoning. My sedentary lifestyle was traded in for the active lifestyle of a clinician. I got hungry. Sister’s stations and staff tea rooms exuded boxes of chocolates and cakes. Motherly health carers said, ‘Have one, the are a gift from Mrs …, you know the lady in bed 7’.
My mind worked hard at becoming a competent physiotherapist, passing my clinical placements and advocating for my patients. It took all my energy and subtly changed the focus of my life. I couldn’t fail this close to the end. Although, I still felt guilty when I ate high calorie food but I didn’t have the time nor the privacy to pursue my ritualistic behaviour.
By the time I’d graduated, a new pattern had been developed. So my weight stabilised; low but normal. My choice of career charted the course of recovery. The clinical placements interspersed between lectures during the last fifteen months of my studies erased some of my old patterns . I was too busy moving forward in life to re-associate with the shadow.
I am not suggesting that the solution to something as complex as anorexia is simple. For me this was just the beginning, the physical healing. Life intervened. Once some of the restrictive behaviours were weakened and without them I had energy to devote to opening Pandora’s Box, the my self-worth.
It has taken a long time to honestly accept who I am. We all share the journey to self-love. For some the mountains to be climbed are higher. It is worth the internal work.