Embracing Emotion in Eating Disorder Recovery

“I am thawing.”

These are the final words in Laurie Halse Anderson’s book Wintergirls. It can be a triggering eating disorder novel for those of you with eating disorders, but that’s probably because it’s one of the most accurate, artistic portrayals of what it’s like to deal with an eating disorder. And those final words in the book come closer to me than any other words I have read–words that very much describe what bingeing and recovering from the eating disorder did for me.

I thawed.

Ice

When I was dealing with anorexia, I sat through high school like a zombie. I barely interacted with friends, nor did I care to try. I knew I felt sad, but it was a distant feeling, too. I simply got through each day attending school, running for the track team, practicing piano, spending hours on homework, and cross training with any extra time I might have had. I lived mostly to work and try to please the adults in my life. Meanwhile, of course, my friends had almost all but disappeared. The only things that seemed to keep me “happy” (or rather, in my own form of control) was the very thing keeping me trapped: restricting, and running.

You would think that thawing would feel good–but that’s when the pain actually hit. That’s when my hunger roared like a beast unleashed, when my mind and body awoke to what I had done to it with all the restricting. Because with every binge, with every push back for life, my mind screamed with resistance and fear. My body was ready to fight back to get the Rachael that was meant to not merely exist, but to live.

I thought that researching nutrition further would save me, that a new diet might save me, that treating everything with numbers and logic would bring me back to where I needed to be. I fought myself for years doing this until my friends, family, and even a bit of myself helped me to let go.

graduating

Freshman runner to senior graduate! Many changes emotionally and physically in that time frame

The emotions that came with gaining the weight back and with developing into a normal “human” who interacted with society instead of staying home to research the 30 Bananas a Day diet online and smashing in salads until my jaw hurt, found me suddenly full of intense euphoria, intense anger, or intense sadness. Just as I was either restricting or bingeing, my emotions were seemingly following the same up-and-down path. It was not until I was completely removed from competition, applying more of my ED recovery tools, and using the support of my friends and family that I felt the comfort of a good thaw. I was allowing my body to do it’s thing. I was allowing my mind to rest from the numbers and fear. Instead of feeling the icicles slowly, painfully melt from my fingers, I felt the warm rush of life flood me.

Warm at Last

I think that no matter the destructive coping mechanism we deal with, we trap ourselves in a world of our own. It is not selfish, only a sign that we are struggling–and that we can’t get out alone. What life has to offer feels both horrifying and magnificent. We can eventually find balance if we take the chance to allow ourselves to thaw.

2 replies
  1. Tamara Steil
    Tamara Steil says:

    I love this post! The “thaw” is such a perfect analogy of what you have been through. You continue to amaze me with your growth and your descriptions of it!

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