Rebecca | The Healing Trail

Zig & Zag

Eating disorders do not just occur at meal time. They can impact your entire day by dictating how and when to work out or even where to park when running errands. I was constantly zigging and zagging to try and satisfy the demands of my eating disorder.

Is my belly flat? Have I consumed as little as possible? Are my clothes baggy? 

On any given day, the answer to these questions had to be yes. A dark cloud would shadow my day otherwise.

This only worsened after a major abdominal surgery when I decided it was best to stop eating because my belly hurt and my digestion was compromised. No one told me to eat in order to adequately heal from the surgery.

Meanwhile, bathing became a luxury because I was always cold. I had to put a towel down on the surface of the tub because it hurt to take a bath. Even with the pain, I told myself this was where I wanted to stay. Should the pain disappear, then my body may not be where I want it to be. There was also that arbitrary number on the scale that I had to meet every day. This number, my new obsession. 

I began to experience the physical effects of my condition. My organs were slowing down, leading to more hospital stays. Nothing was working. Nails, hair, heart, intestines, skin, brain – all of them were barely hanging on. 

I searched high and low for what was ailing me. Something was wrong. I needed help but no one told me to eat. Yet, I made excuses in my head when I saw pictures of myself. It must be the lighting or the angle. 

Deep down, I knew.

 

Something Wasn’t Right

I experienced panic attacks whenever my husband had to leave town for a few days. The ironic part was that I was afraid to be alone, yet all I wanted was to be left alone.

I lost all definition of my body and myself. The eating disorder robbed me of my identity. I had no idea who I was. I guess you could say I was a 54 year old woman hanging my hat on waist size, caloric intake and how my clothes fit. That’s all. 

I heard on a podcast that an eating disorder can become one’s (pseudo) best friend. I can understand that. I only wanted to eat with my eating disorder. I only wanted to be alone with my eating disorder. I wanted to run away with my eating disorder.

This realization again proved to me that something wasn’t right. A good friend and mentor encouraged me to call an eating disorder program. 

I called four and was told I qualified for either partial hospitalization or residential treatment. I told myself I would NEVER go to a residential facility. How could I do all my rituals if I was living elsewhere?

“I think I have an eating disorder,” I told my husband while trying to also convince myself.

“But I see you eat all the time,” he replied in disbelief.

I carried on, staying quiet about the force that seemed to be controlling my life. I feared this issue would get in the way of our upcoming trips so I put the eating disorder on a tall shelf in a closet. I told myself I was fine. 

But I wasn’t fine. I was dying inside and out. 

Yet another zig and zag as I re-entered the hospital. This time they had to operate. My body was starving, and I needed energy for my brain and heart. My intestines essentially became paralyzed

Yet again, no one told me to eat.

“If you keep going like this, Rebecca, you will die,” warned one friend.

“Fine, I’ll go to treatment but not in-patient. I’ll get help on my terms.” 

The Most Meaningful Thing I’ve Ever Done

After three weeks of partial hospitalization and feeling like I was going to explode with all the food they were feeding me, I was told I needed more help. More structure. More support. In other words, inpatient treatment.

No way! I wasn’t going. 

But I had nothing else going for me; nothing to live for. I took the redeye to the southeast part of the country and checked into a residential eating disorder program. 

I was the only 50-something-year-old there. Everyone else was half my age. That didn’t stop me. I surrendered and let go of what I, well really my eating disorder, thought I knew was best for my body. I took direction from my treatment and medical team. They told me to eat!

And you know what?!

It became the most meaningful thing i’ve ever done, aside from having my children. 

The people I met were magical. The surrender I felt was euphoric. I finally felt free. I started seeing remnants of my old self. I realized my identity was a lot more than exercise, diet, or numbers on a scale. 

Recovery took work, but I am glad I complied. Others could see the real me. I could see the real me. I also learned how to nourish my body, my mind, and my soul. 

I’m not there yet but I’m on my way.

I can honestly say, after more than three decades of living inside the small box of an eating disorder, recovery is possible.  I’ll do everything I can to recover and live freely. There is no more zigging and zagging to please my eating disorder. I am blazing my own trail now.

Resources

If you are an older adult battling an eating disorder and are looking for support, please consider attending the Older Adults Support Group that meets virtually Tuesday at 1PM ET. 

Rebecca A.

(she/her)

For years, Rebecca’s eating disorder demanded she go one way or another. After stepping outside of her comfort zone and entering treatment, she found hope and healing. Now she is blazing her own trail.