As some of you will know I’ve written about my experience with anorexia and I’d like to share with you a recent hurdle I overcame and hopefully give people a little insight into the continuing recovery journey.
I’ve been “weight restored” for a few years now but the battle doesn’t end there. I’ve spent the last few years continuing with the challenges of eating different foods, eating in public, wearing different clothes and gradually I’ve accomplished each step, some falteringly, some more naturally with a lot of support. I would consider myself recovered but I had one thing left to do that I didn’t want to force, I had to wait for it to come up naturally and for me to be in a good place when it did come up!
Last night, I ate a main meal in public with people who aren’t close friends and/or family (it was a work social).
To a lot of people this is fairly standard and wouldn’t faze them but to an introverted recovering anorexia sufferer, this is the ultimate hell…but it wasn’t!!
I’ve previously done this with Steve (my husband) by my side. He provided a safety net should I struggle in any way. I know he would be there if I asked him to be, whenever I needed him. But last night, there was no safety net.
As a life long (there isn’t any other kind) introvert I’ve learnt how to manage social situations by putting on a bit of an act. As a child and young adult I would do this naturally as I’d automatically learnt to pretend I was someone I’m not to try and vaguely fit in. Once I realised I was doing this, I went through a bit of an angry stage, feeling annoyed that I had to be someone else to please other people. Now, I have peace with it – most of the time, I’m myself (quiet, reserved, choosing to listen rather than talk) but if necessary, I can use other skills (that are still part of who I am) to be a bit more “life ‘n’ soul”.
So, putting the introversion to one side, a short list of challenges lie ahead:
- Choose from a menu in a restaurant I’d not picked
- Engage in conversation (with people I don’t know very well) about food
- Not make any disordered comments
- Eat (a vaguely “normal” portion) while other people ate too
- Sit with any feelings that come up and not react unhealthily
I’m starting to enjoy going out for dinner with Steve but I’m usually at least 50% responsible for picking the restaurant. I’d had no say in this work social but no. 1 on my list wasn’t too hard as vegetarian options were limited (which I find helpful!) and they had a clear description of what they were under each heading. I still have calories, fat and sugar content swimming around my head but just picking something was the objective and I managed this.
Engaging in conversation
No. 2 isn’t too hard but combining it with no. 3 is tricky. It seems “normal” for women to be on diets and men to joke about it. I’m afraid I’m never going to be happy joining in with that sort of banter. I have 2 colleagues trying to lose weight and therefore avoiding carbs. At what point in history did carbs become “bad” and cutting out an essential nutrient become “good”? And I had a male colleague trying to get everyone drunk. I could join in the diet conversations with comments such as “you have to push past the hunger and see the pain as a good thing” but I think I’d get some funny looks! I work hard to join in other conversations and my imminent Kenyan safari holiday comes up. I’m very very happy to talk about that!
Portion size and eating
Food arrived in separate bowls and it was a case of serving yourself. Portion size is really tricky when you’ve had a voice yelling at you about individual granules of sugar or gram of fat and hunger signals have become unbalanced for many years. 1 table spoonful of rice can look like an overwhelming large portion to someone with anorexia so I still tend to glance at what other people are doing to judge what’s a “normal” portion. This doesn’t always work as normal doesn’t actually exist! But, fitting in with an average portion was possible! I sometimes struggle eating with other people if they’re particularly messy, or eat particularly fast, or slowly but I sit with these feelings and it’s ok. I didn’t have a voice yelling at me I wasn’t allowed to finish my dish (as that would be greedy) or social etiquette yelling at me it’s rude to leave food. I just ate what I wanted and left the rest. No. 4 executed while sustaining numbers 2 and 3!
Sitting with feelings
Feeling exhausted by this point but a very good sign is that my cheeks are aching from laughing and smiling so much. I’m not too full but I’m very glad there isn’t the shall I/shan’t I? question over dessert as my colleagues are going on elsewhere to continue drinking while I go back to work so the evening, for me, draws to a pleasant close. I’m please with how the evening’s gone so I can tick off no. 5 too!