A simple text....that's all it took and a huge realization hit me. It wasn't even the whole text....just these words in response to me cutting myself down about drinking a Coke Zero...."Jess, you deserve it." I won't go into the details of how that led to this realization (because a two hour long car drive is a whole lot to type), but I am so thankful it did....and I want to share my realization with you all because I think it can bring someone else healing too. Btw...sorry for the lack of photos...but this post is about more than that.
For the longest time (literally till today) I have believed my ED was tied to control, and don't get me wrong it is. But today...with that text...with the single word deserve I realized my ED is about something more too. Something I have never worked through in therapy because I never realized it. My ED and inability to complete outpatient treat.....my inability to completely commit to meal plan...my inability to gain weight...it's tied to my overwhelming desire to punish myself. Let me explain.
Let's start with why I feel I need to punish myself. This goes back to something that is very hard for me to share...but I need to. When I was 6 (and probably earlier I just can't remember anything before then) my house was turmoil...absolute chaos. It was a household of abuse, anxiety, anger, and alcohol. There were nightly arguments between my mom and dad, items broken, and people hurt. The person hurt the most...at least in my eyes: my brother. You see my mom and dad exchanged hurtful words to one another...but almost instantly when the fights broke out...before me and my brother even had time to hide...my father would come for him. I will spare you the details....but there was running as my brother tried to escape the alcohol-induced rage of my father, the lock of the door as he was trapped in his room with the monster alcohol made my dad become, and then the blood curdling scream that rings in my ears even today as my brother cried for help. This went on for years...up until my parents divorce...but not a single night did my dad come for me. Not a single one. No matter if I had screwed up...no matter how bad I tried to screw up....how many rules I broke....or how many prayers I desperately prayed for my father, just that one night, to come to get me not my brother.....he never came for me. Only my brother....all the anger...some I rightly deserved...it all went to my brother. And 6 year-old me vowed then (I realized today) I would punish myself to write the wrong done to my brother....to punish myself since my dad never punished me and my brother took all the pain I deserved.
So at the age of 6 I started binge eating. I literally never understood my binge eating until today. You see I realize now I binge not to fill a void in my heart, but to punish myself. Growing up with a mom who was a recovering anorexic and thus so controlling of the food we ate...I knew she would be disgusted in a daughter who stuffed herself...so what did I do...I gorged myself with food. And every disgusted glance and remark I got from my mom as I got bigger and bigger....it was a form of punishment. And the torment I gave myself mentally after a binge....it was a worse beating than my dad could ever give. Then when I got overweight the kids at school tormented me, picked on me, did and said things I can't even dare to repeat....and all of that...it was punishment too. So I kept binging, kept getting bigger....with each lb gained, each binge completed, my mom, the kids (and even parents), then doctors, and myself....all punished me with their words, diets, and condescending remarks. Yet...I guess it was never enough punishment for me...it wasn't enough to justify what my brother went through. So I found something else.
At age 14, I found a new punishment in the form of a diet packaged in a nice little box. That birthday I begged and pleaded for this diet. A diet that restricted what I could eat and made me have to eat different than everyone in school and everyone there (who was already picking on me for now being obese) knew it was because I needed to lose weight. On my 14th birthday I got this diet and started my punishment regime by banning all the foods I enjoyed from ever touching my lips again. Every hunger pang, strange stare at my lunch box, nightly workout I fit in no matter how late and how early I had to be at school, party missed due to food being there I couldn't have, "special" meals packed for family occasions to stick to my plan....it was all punishment...it all made me feel like the scum of the earth...like this was something I had to do to myself because I could not be trusted with food. Like I was a crazed animal and this diet was my cage. This diet was only supposed to last 6-weeks...but I guess for me the punishment wasn't enough and I did the cycle twice.
Then it got really confusing because people applauded me for the weight loss....but I didn't want applause...I needed that crappy feeling again. So I briefly went back to binge eating, but it wasn't enough a feeling of punishment for me. Especially because I ended up in a huge high school and people didn't pick on me for being bigger. Until one boy told me he wouldn't date me and I told myself it was because of my weight. This sparked that deep pain of punishment...and I knew exactly what to do. Punish myself more with another diet...one I created myself....enter anorexia. And so it began....the dieting, over-exercising, repeated cuts of calories allowed to eat. Any time the scale went up it was a reminder of how much I sucked....and it was time to cut calories again, exercise more, punish myself. And this fire only got fueled by people applauding me and telling me how good I was....because then in the very brief moments I felt I maybe didn't deserve to be punished I had their applause to lean on. And then the boy liked me....and this was the perfect storm because he turned out to be abusive. He was my first real boyfriend and basically gave me all the punishment I felt I deserved. It may sound sick....but I wanted to lose more weight so he wouldn't leave me and the punishment would continue.
And that happened. Despite being sent to treatment (which I saw as my parents punishing me for my behaviors), I left and relapsed and ended up back in treatment again...this time in a different state. Want to make a girl feel punished? Ship her to another state because she is "too hard of a case to handle in your facility" as the inpatient center said. And I did well in treatment...I think maybe I started to break out of the punishment mentality but only because I told myself I would go back to an abusive boyfriend when I got home. Well....then they found out about that boyfriend and I was "forced" to break-up with him. This led to me starting to act on behaviors in the treatment center and being deemed their "toughest case" and being put on the highest level of care they had with a 24-hour nurse to watch me. Again...ultimate punishment. Then my insurance cut out because I wasn't sick enough anymore (aka underweight) and I was sent home.
So this cycle continued and whenever I got praised for things (GPA, scholarships, etc) my ED sparked and dieting or overexercising became my focus in a drive to punish myself. So what about now, you ask. How does it fit now that I am not in a full-blown eating disorder. This is what hit me deep today. You see now what I struggle with is not fully doing my meal plan (either choosing safer/low cal exchanges, measuring things I shouldn't, doing extra activity, or just holding myself back from certain challenges), compulsively weighing myself, and not being able to gain weight. So here is how this idea I deserve to be punished fits in.
With the not meeting meal plan that's an easy one. I want to meet my meal plan because I want the freedom it will bring, but whether it be burning my bagels so I can't eat a bit of it and thus "skimp" (or forcing myself to eat the burnt piece as punishment), not doing meal timing like I should, setting up low-cal maximums for my exchanges....I find a way by the end of the night to "fail" at my meal plan. This feeds into my desire to punish myself which feeds into the desire to use behaviors. Also, I know when it comes time for my N appt I will have to look at my nutritionist and tell her I failed. Problem is....she doesn't really punish me. Sure she adds exchanges, but all I do is skimp on those...hoping I will screw up enough for her to get mad and punish me. What punishment am I waiting for? Her to give up on me. To throw in the towel and say I am too much to handle. To say I can't do it. But I still haven't gotten that from her.
So this past week, when I did a full outpatient plan no skimping for the first time, I didn't know what to do. It just felt strange and uncomfortable. But my brain clung to the idea of how I still measured my bagels and then when I looked hard enough I saw tiny, tiny ways I was still restricting (even some I did unknowingly) and my mind clung to that as deserving punishment. But my N now knows about that and guess what....she hasn't thrown in the towel. And I am really going to try and fight through...to do a week where everything is right (she even has the ruler for my bagels now), but already it's proving difficult. Came home today and did what I promised wouldn't do. Weighed the bagel I brought...and I messed up my timing...all because I think I need to be punished and the guilt I give myself for not meeting my meal plan....it's pre-punishment. The rest I am waiting on for when my N give up on me.
It's so strange. It's like I tell myself I have to screw-up so that there is something to drive the punishment. I tell myself that is all I am...all I am is a screw-up. It's that 6-year old inside of me continuing to punish herself. Sitting in her room all alone, listening to the cries of her brother, and feeling the guilt and shame of the extra cookie she ate. Clinging to that one rule she broke and telling herself she needed to be punished not her brother. She claimed in that moment she was a screw-up...and now...14 years later....I still claim that over myself and keep screwing up to prove it to myself. Instead of trying to prove myself wrong. To accept that maybe I am not a screw-up.
And weighing myself...how does that fit? Well you see I can have these strings of good days like I did this past week and then I weigh myself and either lose or stay the same weight wise and I cling to the hope in that. Any smart person would take this as a pattern and say....maybe I can stop weighing now. But not me. Not the punishment-driven me. My mind waits for that one day....that one time the scale goes up (due to daily fluctuations) and clings to that as I sign I can't be free and need all the rules I make, foods I should avoid, deviations from meal plan to keep me..the crazed animal...caged. And how smart is it for my brain to tie the idea of punishment to the thing my doctors want me to do: gain weight.
Which brings me to my failure to gain weight. My mind has created such an intense fear of gaining weight that I just can't seem to do it. In fact all these rules I invent for myself that hold me back....all the foods I try to steer clear from...they are all still tied to limiting my calories. If I really wanted to gain weight (which I am told I need to do to recover) then I would throw these rules out because they stand in the way. But you see...I know each time I don't gain weight I have to tell my whole team, I have to tell my family, and I have to tell myself I have failed. Knowing I have disappointed them is the punishment my brain tells me I need. So I continue down this path of not gaining weight. Again...waiting for them to get disappointed enough that they give up on me....the ultimate punishment.
So where do I go from here? I'm not sure. I mean...obviously I could push through and commit to doing my plan completely. Honestly....it's not that hard for me to do. But it comes down to not thinking that is what I deserve. Because then I will walk into my N appt and not have something to confess. Not have something to be punished for...and I don't know what that is like. I just...I don't know what to do. I don't even know how to counter this idea because I honestly do believe I deserve to be punished...I mean I have screwed up and do.
So then I had another realization which is why I struggle with my faith so much. Because here is this God who loves me so much that He forgives me. That He took the punishment for me so I don't have to. And I am stuck feeling that I don't deserve it....because I don't. None of us do. But the beauty of my God is He gives the forgiveness anyway. But somehow I don't accept that for myself. I can't forgive myself for "allowing" my brother to take the punishment all those years. All the guilt...it just builds up and I want to take my brother's pain...so I do....day after day. I fail my meal plan even if I do all of my portions....I make my timing go off. And when my timing is on I tend to burn a bagel...or leave a sip of juice...or just keep choosing safe items when I want other ones...all to fall short and all to punish myself withe even more guilt.
I just don't know how to forgive myself and maybe it's because there really is nothing I have done wrong. That 6-year old started punishing herself when she wasn't the one doing anything wrong in the situation. I didn't ask my dad to hurt my brother...but he did. So I don't know why I punish myself....I just don't get it.
But a lot makes sense now. Even the fact of why I am not scared by all the things people tell me will happen if I don't gain weight. That I will lose school, get sent to a hospital, even die (though I don't accept this last one as even a reality). See...to me these are just punishments that propel me to want to use my behaviors because again I feel that is what I deserve.
And then I realized the reason I have to reach to others to give me "permission" to follow my plan is it is having someone tell me my punishment is enough. They are giving me permission to forgive myself. It's like when you put a kid in time-out, but you don't leave them there...when their time is served you go over and let them out of time-out. You ask for an apology, you give them a hug, and you let them run free. I can't let myself out of time-out....so I have to reach to people to do it.
So how do I motivate myself now? How do I break these chains? I don't know. And to be honest...now that I realize I feel I need to punish myself and really haven't found what I need to forgive myself for...I don't know how to break free. I can do my plan...but my mind is saying I will screw up anyway so why bother. So I guess I will start there....with trying to completely do my plan, trying to prove myself wrong. But maybe the key isn't in committing to something to do...but allowing myself to forgive myself daily. Maybe that's where healing is. For now...I am just gonna keep moving forward, keep praying, and let God show me the way.