Gratitude- The Single Most Important Thing In My Eating Disorder Recovery

Sounds nuts, eh?

When I returned from a treatment facility in California where I’d been sent for eating disorder recovery, I was still a mess.  The facility was really a drug and alcohol rehab place that took eating disorder patients, but they didn’t have a real eating disorder program.  The few of us ED patients were hauled to an Overeaters Anonymous meeting once a week, and given a table in the dining area away from the staring addicts who were only too glad to have more food for themselves; many of them had also been starving, though for other reasons. While I did start to eat while I was there (the ticket to go home), my attitudes towards food and the world at large were unchanged for the most part.

I had to get better.  I’d been an RN for 11 years at the time, and decided to get every professional eating disorder treatment book I could find.  I read them cover to cover, and decided that my best hope was to act as if I were dealing with a patient at work when having to eat and make changes in my overall interaction and thinking about food.  I had to remove its power over me, and only I could do that. I had to make it a mechanical process for quite a while. And I didn’t have to do it all at once- baby steps mattered. It didn’t have to be perfect.  I could fail, and then just pick up and keep going.

Food became ‘medication’, and I kept a chart of servings of different food groups, and checked them off when I ate them.  It was a process that took several years, and eventually I was able to eat around other people without the panic and tyrannical thoughts going through my head. Food was simply fuel. It wasn’t my moral compass, or an indicator of my personal integrity.

But I had to look at my overall thought processes, and get rid of the victim-y, negative core beliefs that affected everything I did.  I decided to start a gratitude journal, and made myself write down five things every night that I was honestly thankful for, with no duplicate entries.  At first, things were pretty sketchy.  “The milk in the frig isn’t chunky”, “My socks match”, and other such things- but soon I had a greater understanding of what those things meant indirectly.  I had a home with electricity, I had feet to put in socks, I could walk down the sidewalk on those feet, and so on.  I was focusing on such insignificant things when I gave in to the eating disorder obsession, and I was really so much more selfish and superficial than I could imagine being.

Once I ‘got it’ that my focus on food and weight was so amazingly narrow-minded and selfish, I wanted to change.  I didn’t want to be the person I was discovering.  I remember the first time I felt joy for someone else; a co-worker won $1000 on a scratch off lottery ticket, and instead of being resentful that I didn’t win such great prizes, I was happy for her !  I was changing, and that made me want to keep going on the path of expanding my world, and reaching out to others. Being able to connect with other people in their joys and pain was incredible!

Eating disorders are selfish.  They are so incredibly superficial when it gets down to the behaviors- even though the core of self-worthlessness is incapacitating and very real.  But when I was able to get out of my own head, I was able to find so much more satisfaction in relating to other people in a deeper way- not the lip service I knew to be socially correct.  I was replacing the hollow responses with genuine feelings. And they felt good !

What I looked like, how many calories I ate, and how much I weighed became insignificant when I saw the blessings I had, and how I was wasting them.  But first I had to be willing to be thankful for what I already had.  Now I could list hundreds of things I’m thankful for- no matter how small.  There are a lot of things that make my life better, and starving isn’t one of them.  I’m overwhelmingly thankful that I discovered gratitude.

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