There are a plethora of reasons I could give for letting my recovery slip. I could sit and tell even the most cynical of people how I’d officially ended my marriage and parted ways with my estranged husband just over a month ago and maybe, they wouldn’t be disappointed with me. I could tell them how I’ve had no choice but to send my children to live with my parents and I’m no longer even allowed to see them. It drags hard in my chest every day. I could tell you my job has changed overnight and I walk into work now to begin each shift feeling physically sick. I could tell you I’m scared of how the coming months will change me, even more petrified of who I’ll lose. I can tell you each day feels like I’m waking up in a completely different world and some kind of nightmare. I can tell you even the strongest of people in my life are crumbling in front of my eyes and I don’t know what to do to help. I feel useless, directionless and empty. Is that enough? I reckon I can be forgiven for putting my now seemingly insignificant bullshit on the backburner, that is, by everyone but myself.
I remember the first morning that I heard the word Coronavirus mentioned in the 5:30am news while I got ready for work. I heard it again the next morning and thinking to myself what a bleak start the year it was for China, but it was still pretty abstract. I joked when I got ill a few weeks later that it was clearly Coronavirus. I joked how a couple of weeks isolation would be the break I needed. It still didn’t register that it could affect anything in my life and I continued on my path of reinvention, determined and excited for a new beginning. My recovery was going great guns in terms of efforts I was making. Efforts to eat everyday, to stop daily weighing and try to look in the mirror without cringing. I hadn’t made it to 3 square meals and ok, I found avoiding mirrors more successful than the no cringing but this was the furthest I’d come and it spurred me to just keep shutting my mind down and slowly shuffle forward and see where I landed. I deeply resented it some days, others it made me feel empowered. I literally had a sense though, a visualisation even that I was letting go. I was giving it to the universe and asking for some freedom.
I was quite annoyed I didn’t get immediate results. I kept catching colds which I was annoyed with my body for, I was giving it more calories than I had been for a very long time so why was my immune system not making me superhuman overnight? How dare it be so ungrateful! Physically I didn’t feel better. I felt heavier and cumbersome. My skin kept breaking out really bad, it still is. The weight didn’t lovingly distribute to my boobs and bum as hoped, more my tummy and thighs. I read around and followed the advice to keep going, it would all take time to heal and level out, be patient. So rather than focus on my present self, I focused harder on my future self and visualised where I could be further down the line. I wanted to try and like myself. I could start exercising when I could trust myself not to abuse it I thought, re-mould my body and cash in on the psychological benefits once I’d given myself a good time frame to heal my mind too. I spoke to a psychotherapist who said they’d be willing to help me, on the proviso I had my band removed. She said they would be ‘in my corner’ till that point but if I really wanted to heal and recover properly, it had to come out. I bit the bullet and began to make arrangements.
I confronted my flailing marriage and took a deep breath and found the words to say it was over. From the perspective of my recovery at first, I questioned whether this was me or my ED talking. I was eating more while sat round his on a Saturday night and resented it. It was the food that screams in my head when I eat it. He’s a veg phobe and a takeaway lover and his fussiness over my home cooked healthy dinners rivalled those of my children, to the extent that I’d cook one lot of food for them and another for me or just cherry pick the safe bits when we lived together. Eventually I stopped bothering. But no, this wasn’t about enabling my ED.
I knew it wasn’t coincidental that I truly began to confront it until we’d separated. It didn’t shock me that he was uncomfortable with me bringing it up at counselling, or that the conversation ended there, or when he told me that writing about it and talking to others maybe a bad idea. He didn’t celebrate the progress I was trying to make. I knew my ED kept him safe. Not bad enough to raise eyebrows so he couldn’t be questioned, not alright enough that I had any shred of self worth to get my ass outta there years ago when the abuse began. I knew what it was, but I provided the excuses and kept his secrets while he kept mine. No one ever knew the extent of what went on behind our doors, on my part because I was too ashamed to admit what I’d stayed through. It was my choice. I am to this day ashamed, although I’ve learned to be more compassionate to that past version of me and even to that part of him. I knew I wasn’t what he wanted me to be, I didn’t like who I was when I was with him and I felt completely indifferent when I considered he would carry on outsourcing his needs elsewhere. Since all my pouring over making him happy stopped, my focus shifted to me and the truth was I didn’t know who I was at all. The paralysis of separation was that I was left with a total stranger, his dreams became mine, his wants became mine and I didn’t know what that left me with. In the time since we’d been apart, I began to find out. I knew I couldn’t go back. I was given the opportunity to embrace the right kind of love around me, enough to finally call out the wrong kind. Although I may never find myself in a relationship again, it no longer scared me at all to imagine that. The alternative in going back and living in that torment was finally worse. With literally no hard feelings anymore, I hugged him tight and walked away.
The life I was picturing was beginning to become a reality. A new home in the pipeline, a fresh start for me and my babies and I felt excitement for myself that I truly never thought was possible. I had clarity on level I’d never had. This was it. I was doing it. This is what flying felt like.
The horror of Covid-19 started to dawn when I realised we were on Italy’s trajectory, of which I’d become obsessional about following. Quick decisions had to be made. I knew my children had to be isolated along with my significantly high-risk parents. It had to be then, ahead of time and when people still thought I was over-reacting because if they weren’t safe and cared for, I couldn’t do my job on the healthcare frontline which was about to be heavily relied upon. I wasn’t even taking a chance on risking them and I needed to keep a roof over their heads. I pulled them out of school, spent one last weekend with them, delivered them to my parents and said a heart-breaking goodbye, not knowing in all truth how long this would be for. I had an idea what it would feel like to be without them, in reality it’s a thousand times worse than I ever could have imagined. They are my happiness. They are my love. They are what make me everything I am. Not being able to hold them, not being able to smell them or kiss them, not looking in on them before I go to bed, not hearing them bicker over who’s turn it is to wash up, not having them invade my bed on a weekend… what the fuck sort of life is this? Hearing them laugh makes me laugh in the hardest of moments. They are my reason to fight, always. They aren’t here. I can’t be there for them and they are hurting. I’m told over and over I’ve done the best possible thing for them, but my instinct says pick them up and run. Now. Every remote fibre of my being misses them. I ache so much in moments I find it hard to breathe. I don’t feel like a mum anymore.
Walking into a post-raided supermarket was the first food-related trigger. Even before this, shopping was always a loathed task that I avoided until I absolutely had to. As I stared at the empty shelves of where my safe foods should be, it was the first time I felt scared about something else other than the obvious. It was the first time it really hit home that I wasn’t ever that far away from my ED and I wasn’t as strong as I assumed I had been. I spent I good couple of hours there pacing the aisles and then stopping and staring, considering what I could stand to eat and getting angrier with myself by the second. This shouldn’t matter. THIS SHOULDN’T MATTER. I should be grateful there is any food left at all. I’ve always struggled to food shop, I find it overwhelming to do and I can’t do it without a specific list or the kids there to tell me what it is they want to have. They help me face it without even realising. I hate having to think of what it is I’m going to eat. I’m getting more stressed out every time my dad sends along a list because even though I want to help and I want to provide for them, his idea of ‘essentials’ are a far cry from my own. The frequency is also something I struggle with. Is this really how a normal person shops? Do people really need all of this? I guess I’m not ok then.
I have to eat. At the very beginning, still determined I planned and cooked my meals for work. I felt good that I was taking control. I took pictures of my meals and sent them to my family to prove I meant business on taking care of myself, that they could trust that I knew how important that was right now. I painstakingly calorie loaded. It lasted a week. No one is home and I don’t ‘have to’ anything. They don’t know me, they don’t know how I survive or how I cope. The lies slowly returned. The waking up and reaching for my hip-bone before I opened my eyes returned. The earning calories returned. The rules returned. One last time I tell myself, this will be the last time. If I ever needed to not feel, to not be present, to surrender and retreat it’s now. My ED has always been my armour. This feels safer for me. How can I look to future self with any amount of conviction when I don’t even know what tomorrow looks like? This is certainty. This is control. I gave this up to the universe and just look at what it gave me back? I’m furious that I even believed there was another way right now, a different life. I feel the anger of my ED as I go creeping back. I betrayed him. I thought I was stronger than him. I’m apologetic and I can feel him laughing. You fucking fool. I knew you’d screw this up, not so ballsy now are you?! I’m disgusted by my own submissiveness. This was a part of me I thought I’d left behind and now I’m welcoming the grip back, offering out my neck and pleading for the squeeze to be harder. It’s hateful but it’s known. It’s all I’ve known. I don’t need to worry about what’s on the shelves if I don’t have to eat. I don’t need to worry about how I will cope if my mind is engaged in something else. I can be back in my bubble, at my strongest, mentally at peace. If the whole world is fighting an invisible war, now is not the time to be fighting against my own.
I realise I sound like a petulant child. I feel like one. Everyone is hurting, everyone is scared, everyone has had their life changed overnight and yet I have to make this about me. I know of people far worse off, the whole world is in crisis for crying out loud… really? Am I really doing this right now?
This. Shouldn’t. Matter. I can’t contain my anger that it does. I can’t contain my disappointment that I failed, again. A better person would have ignored the excuses. I’m not a better person.