Discipline, Drugs, and Disorder

After a bad race two years ago for indoor track (I had binged terribly the night before and even a bit into that morning), my coach had come over to talk to me about the race.
“I’m mad because I know you’re mad,” he said, sitting down next to me against the wall. “What’s going on?”
I looked down at the floor.
You have to be more open if you want help. You have to be brave.
“It’s food again,” I said.

I couldn’t believe I was confessing this.
“Rachael, you know if you don’t eat enough food you’re not going to fuel your body to run well. You won’t have the energy.”
I remained quiet. He thought I hadn’t eaten enough, how funny. I almost laughed in spite of the situation.
You have no idea how badly I wish I could do that now and hold onto it.
“It wasn’t restriction. It was … the opposite.”
a rough day

A rough day.

I didn’t know how else to explain it without feeling more embarrassed than I already felt. I kept my eyes on the ground, shame flooding me. I had never told him anything like this, nothing so close to the time of the binge itself. It was one thing to post on my blog about my bingeing experiences from years ago (especially when I had been at my lowest weight), but to talk about what was happening right then, when I felt fat?
My coach was silent for a moment. “You can’t keep doing this to yourself.”
What else could he say?
But I wanted so badly to turn toward him and shake him, to run out screaming and pulling my hair.
Do you know how much I want to stop doing this to myself, too? Do you know how much this tears me apart not just during the races, but every minute of every hour of every day? I wish you could know how badly I want to stop. I wish I didn’t have this awful relationship with food.
I was recently challenged with the notion that eating disorders are not as intense or similar to drug addiction or alcoholism.
I’ve also been challenged about how much eating disorders are a discipline–not a disorder–issue.
And then we have misconceptions about what eating disorders “look” like: only when are you scarily thin should you get help. When you are overweight, you just need to “eat less and exercise more.”
Not exactly.
There’s a lot to fight against with eating disorders, and perhaps that is what makes them so difficult for sufferers to admit what they are going through. I do appreciate the questions I receive from those who simply have not had an eating disorder because it means they are either trying to understand, or that they are at least helping me to understand their confusion and skepticism. But it can be frustrating when people quickly dismiss the illness lightly when you are not hooked up to an IV or fainting at work.
No one can see the obsession circling day in and day out in your head, and that’s the scariest part–that you can’t escape your own mind.
I have certainly not had alcoholism and cannot say I know everything that entails it, but I feel I can understand the pull of the addiction. I have not had drug problems, but I feel I understand the intense, all-consuming cravings when I hoard food and binge. I even knew an eating disorder sufferer who did drugs say that after experimenting with various drugs, the worst “drug” he feels has been food.
So we’re supposedly supposed to “snap out of it.” Would you tell that to an alcoholic? A drug addict? How are eating disorders different? While the world often treats eating disorders as petty girl issues (and what about the male sufferers?) or a matter of discipline, those of us who suffer want to scream that it is not just about aesthetic or something within our control, but a chemical and emotional disturbance that is fought day after day.
I tell you, it is similar to struggle of alcoholism. It is much like yearning for the high of drugs. And to pull away from it is like a breakup from a very destructive love affair. To let go is to fall headfirst into months or even years of grieving the loss of something that you felt held you together for so long.
This is why eating disorders not only take over lives, but also kill. It may not be as quick as a life-threatening drug withdrawal, but a long, slow death is no easier.

About Rachael

Rachael Steil is a graduate from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan with a Bachelor of Arts. Steil an author, speaker, and a recipient of the Spirit and Outstanding Runner award for the Aquinas College cross country team and has received 6th place All-American accolades in cross country as well as 7th place in the NAIA track nationals.

This entry was posted in Addiction, Binge Eating, Running. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Discipline, Drugs, and Disorder

  1. Maha says:

    Eating Disorders are a growing problem especially in the Muslim world which should be resolved and it is possible If we spread awareness. For more information visit our blog.

  2. Jeri Kessenich says:

    You nailed it, Rachael.

  3. Fran says:

    Dear Rachel, I feel particularly touched by your story, bacause I have been through the same, and I am still fighting. This year I could start training again after one year and a half stop. Throughout this year my weight has been quite normal, and no one seemed to believe how difficult it is this daily fight with compulsion. I would be happy to talk with you and share my experience.

  4. Tamara Steil says:

    Here is an addition to the difficulty of the problem that you, Rachael, have pointed out to me in the past, and I believe bears re-iteration. An alcoholic/drug-addict can direct recovery by eliminating the offending substance (alcohol or drug). A food addict cannot eliminate food. She or he MUST eat food and find a way to do it in a healthy way. Alcohol or drug addicts do not have to make peace with the enemy. Their solution is to eliminate the enemy. Your solution is not nearly so simple.

  5. Lauren says:

    Rachel, Thank you for sharing your story. I went through a similar experience in college, nearly 12 years ago, and am very grateful to be recovered, and can remember times I doubted it was possible. I hope your sharing can make a difference for all those struggling with this painful addiction; a recognition that they are not alone and hope for a different way, even in the darkest times. Blessings to you

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