When I first entered a relapse treatment for my eating disorder I thought mindfulness was merely a new fad. I believed it was a novelty for the self-help world to focus on. To be honest, I hated it. I often thought if I heard the “M” word one more time I was going to scream and act in the complete anti-mindful way.
Learning more about the function of my eating disorder and related behaviours such as self-harm, I began to realise this mindfulness thing might actually hold some power. I could now recognise my behaviours as maladaptive ways for me to take myself out of the present moment.
My eating disorder has (for a while, unknowingly) served as the primary means for me to disconnect.
It took a lot of therapy, convincing, and surrendering to be able to recognise what it was.
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The relief I felt from restricting, purging, and self-harm was merely a temporary distraction. It was nothing more than a brilliant technique. It allowed me to avoid feeling the discomfort and pain of the past and the anticipatory anxiety about the future.
The key word in all of this is “temporary”.
After struggling for many years–especially during my first year of graduate school–I could feel myself slipping. I avoided the red flags and pushed through so I could complete school, fearful of what a medical leave would mean and how it would be perceived.
When I finished graduate school in May 2015, I was no longer able to delay the inevitable. The relatively dormant volcano exploded; there was no longer a temporary escape route. I was trapped and forced to deal with the uncomfortable, terrifying, and painful emotions I had been avoiding for 14 years.
Due to traumas, my brain convinced me the present is dangerous and posed a threat. It felt safer to disconnect from my mind, myself, and others, and I sunk deep into my eating disorder. In hindsight, being so disconnected from present reality can be dangerous. It can be worse than being stuck in the past I cannot change or a future that has not even happened yet. This means I cannot control it.
Mindfulness and staying present are about facing the harsh realisation there is no such thing as control.
It is through mindfulness–yes, the once dreaded “M” word–I was able to become more aware of how my thoughts and internal physical sensations dictated the behaviours I was using (whether adaptive or maladaptive). Mindfulness, while no easy task, has enabled me to simply focus on my breath and remind myself of where I am in the present.
I do not focus on my breath as a way to relax, which I think is a common misconception. Rather, I do it to remind myself the present moment is likely more tolerable than my body and mind convince me of.
Although I’ve associated certain physical sensations with a specific trauma, it does not mean every time I fill my body with necessary food I am back in a dangerous place. Breaking these arbitrary, powerful associations I’ve created to protect myself is challenging. It’s still a work in progress.
I constantly have to remind myself food does not have morality and therefore cannot be good or evil. Over a year into my recovery, there are still many times I am immediately taken to irrational thoughts of what food might do to me. This often happens when I sit down to a meal with a plate of food in front of me which I have deemed as “flex” foods.
Part of mindfulness is taking a deep breath, becoming aware of my surroundings, and reminding myself–dare I say it–food cannot hurt me.
Food does not have that much power, but I have the power to overcome my disordered thoughts.
Meals might present as challenging; they might be difficult to complete. But at this point in my recovery, I know I can finish them. I can sit through the discomfort (sometimes with tears) and hopefully implement more adaptive means of coping.
As I continue down the road of recovery, I hope to implement ways to eradicate any space for my eating disorder. Increasing mindfulness and tolerance will hopefully help contain the emotional and physical discomfort often accompanied by physical feelings like fullness.
I plan to allow myself to live wholeheartedly in the present moment because it is where life exists.
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