Triggers are a difficult concept to grasp for non ED sufferers. They vary widely and I find my own can vary over time. I’m unsure of what the proper definition is, but how it feels as a process for me is that it can be as subtle as a seed planting and growing over a few days, or a severe panic response that I have no time to pacify. Either way, if the trigger is strong enough, the answer is always don’t eat. The difficult part of it to grasp, is that the trigger may or may not have anything to do with food at all.
For the most part, I feel like I know mine. These include eating at an unfamiliar restaurant, eating at someone else’s house, social gatherings, arguments, knowing I’ve hurt or upset someone, exams, any situation where I know I’ll have an audience or getting something important wrong. Some will cause a reaction that will last a day or two and some will snowball into a few weeks. This means that rather than my usual restrictions; safe foods, rules and punishments, it’s no food. My ED puts a stop to anything and I feel as though my hands are quite literally tied. As awful as my body can feel, the mental peace and safety of physical emptiness is being back in a warm, comfy bed after weeks of travelling in hostile world. It beckons you in, like the love of a family holding up a ‘welcome home’ banner to greet you the airport. Only after a few days back at home, you remember why you packed your stuff and left in the first place. Eventually, nowhere feels good.
I chose this to write about right now, because I am currently walking a terrain of landmines such as this. I can feel them all chipping away at me. At previous points in my ED, I’ve not just been submissive, I’ve actively searched around for my welcome home party for reassurance that’s where I belong. I’ve reached for my safety blanket time and again. It never mattered if the world was going to shit around my ears, I had this. This is mine. Nothing can hurt me if I have this. This time though, I feel exhausted. I feel angry. And I’m dreading the push I’ll need to drag myself out of square one all over again.
To anyone else, my triggers look like reasons to be excited about life for the next few months. I planned each and every one of them while I was clearly in a better headspace than I am right now. I’m studying again, something I’ve been longing to do since I graduated from my undergrad degree and it’s a course I know will help take my career to a place I’m really excited to experience. Yet, the second I began, the unrelenting panic that I’m not actually intelligent enough to achieve my goals chimed in hard. I know I did well last time, but will this be the thing that reveals it was all pure chance, luck and I’m actually just a massive fraud? The fear of potentially revealing my unworthiness of the support I am given, weighs heavy in my chest. What if I let everyone down? They believe I’m capable and I feel guilty for that, as though I’m misleading them. I’m not that clever.
I’m going away in a few weeks time for a trip I’ve dreamed of with one of my best friends. A friend I love with my whole heart, who looks out for me, looks after me and has been there for me through some of the toughest points in my adult life. She never judges me. I can tell her anything and everything and I do. However, up until about 2 weeks ago I did not tell her the full extent of my ED. She worries about me enough, she shouldn’t need to worry about this. My way of telling her was perhaps rather cowardly, as I forwarded her a link to this blog and just waited. I find actually talking about it profoundly difficult for a number of reasons, predominantly because it feels ridiculously self-indulgent and unnecessary. I didn’t tell her because I’m a good friend. A good friend would have sucked it up and made the effort to eat if they were so worried about the stress it would cause. I told her because my selfish ED knew I couldn’t wiggle out of eating for 5 days when we are away and it’s panicking already.
I went away a few months ago with 2 of my friends to Berlin and I was neck deep in my danger zone. I was also as I am now, tired. Tired physically, tired mentally and tired of lying to those I love. We sat in our room on the first night and I watched them eat their chocolate and drink their wine with complete abandon, just wishing I could feel that too. Contrary to much belief, I don’t assess the eating habits of others and think how disgusting they are, I don’t critique their food choices and believe my own are the way it should be. I sit and watch feeling like I’ve been locked out of a part of life, because of my own bad behaviour. I don’t long for the food they eat as much as I long for the sensual experience they exhibit, the pleasure, the gusto and the comfort. I can’t remember the last time I had that experience, at least not without a skin-full of alcohol and the waves of consequential guilt.
As we always do, we sat and talked through our ‘since we last saw each other’ debrief, moments I absolutely adore that remind me I can be somewhere I belong, separate and contrasted to my ED. When it came to me, I gingerly confessed the shit I was in. And they were wonderful. They saw my panic about the weekend ahead and asked me if there was anything I needed them to do, reassuring me I was under no pressure to eat at all. They were clearly concerned, but gave me all the love and safety I needed in that moment. I’d traded one pressure off for another however, as now I’d said it and it was out there, I felt obliged to show them there was nothing to worry about really. I missed out on time with them when the cold gripped my bones so much, that I had to go back to the hotel. It was so paralysing, I couldn’t think or even breathe properly and I was scared of how far I’d pushed myself this time. I truly felt robbed by my ED, as I paced the beautiful early evening streets of Berlin alone with painfully numb fingers and feet, to get back to the warmth of our room. I wondered what it was I was missing out on. I rarely get to see them and my ED was leading me away from the bonding and adventure I’d so looked forward to. In hindsight, it wasn’t even an hour between me getting back and them returning but at that moment, I despised myself for what I was allowing to take over my life.
I’m already petrified of the trip coming up, specifically, how my ED will ruin it. I’m already panicking about the moments I could miss out on. We are going with another person I don’t know overly well and I wouldn’t be able to have the same talk in front of her if I am struggling in the cold, or just struggling overall. I don’t how to handle it. And I hate myself because it even needs to be thought about, or talked about. Berlin taught me I have to take this ED with me and navigate it, think for it, predict it. It’s realising that no matter how much I want to, even for a few days, I can’t leave it behind. Without the trips away to spend this time with my incredible friends, that ground me, that have never given me reason to be disingenuous at all, it’s an uncomfortable truth that this is a confession I possibly never would have made to them. It’s a process of revealing myself as a liar and asking for trust and love in return. It’s an innate fear of rejection upon explaining who it is I really am.
I am also organising a Christmas party for my colleagues, the first time I’ve really organised an event like it. What started out as an opportunity to plan a good night with a bunch of people I genuinely enjoy letting my hair down with, I’m now already contemplating not turning up to myself. I know I will and I know I want to, but my insecurities about the night, everyone enjoying it, not hating their table plans, not hating the music, not hating the food is actually a little overwhelming. I feel entirely responsible for the enjoyment of these 55 guests. This is one of the reasons my first wedding had a total of 10 people there and my second was on our own completely against my husbands initial wishes. To add to that, since the moment I booked the venue I’ve been agonising over the actual sitting down to a 3 course meal at a table of 10 other people. I’ve studied the menu obsessively. I’ve tried to plan escape routes and excuses in my head. I’m already punishing myself for eating a meal that’s 2 months from being laid in front of me. I got out of it last time we got together when everyone sat down to eat the glorious KFC they’d ordered, that was easy enough as I can’t eat gluten. But my empty stomach, plus social anxiety that I tried to dampen with alcohol resulted in being so drunk that I don’t remember things from that night. I want to be present this time, I want to be involved and I want to have the fun and remember it. I just want to let go. Times like this I wish food just didn’t exist.
So right now, it’s clear to me where I am. It’s been a few months since I felt the need to really let myself sink back into that comfy place. I’m more aware now that of all the protesting I do that I’m not ready for recovery, perhaps that’s exactly where I exist when I’m not triggered. To me, recovery has always meant being free of all guilty narrative when I eat, no more self loathing, no more internal wars and that to me, seems impossible. But maybe that’s not what it is. Maybe in my own way, my safe points are my version of recovery, choosing for whatever reason on that day when I wake up, to try. These days, where I step backwards and I don’t want to try, I don’t want to push myself, not even out of guilt for others, maybe that’s relapse. I like that idea more, because it suggests to me I have some strength even though at that point it feels as though I don’t. Right now, I miss that strength. I’m hoping I get it back as dysfunctional as that still is, in time to have some good moments with the amazing people I am blessed enough to have in my life.