Ghost

It has been a trying week.

Between the flooding at my house, the two consecutive car accidents in my brand new car within the span of 24 hours, the hours upon hours of time spent dealing with three separate insurance companies (with five separate claim numbers), some of the agents from whom have been downright mean to me (why?), the workload that had already piled up from being out sick two days last week, and the whiplash pain in my neck and shoulders, my resolve has been tested more than it has been in a long, long time.

I sit here typing this at 3:43 AM — the aftereffect of procuring an iPhone 5 preorder (huzzah!) but being unable to fall back asleep (boo-urns) — with a lead ball of anxiety in the pit of my stomach. Not only am I having to deal with the aftermath of the things that have already happened, but I feel like I am living in constant fear of something else happening. It’s like I’m just waiting for another catastrophe to pile on.

And even if it’s not of catastrophic proportions, every little thing seems somehow worse in the light of everything else that has happened this week. I sneezed yesterday morning and split my lip. I cried for like 15 minutes. A cockroach was on the ceiling above my desk — a coworker saw it, swatted it down, and killed it. I almost had a full-scale panic attack within eyeshot and earshot of an entire conference room full of federal employees.

If you have been reading this blog for any reasonable amount of time (or even just my About Me page), you know that I am pretty open about my past with regard to my food issues. I have struggled with binge and disordered eating for so long now that it feels old hat. And going through a week like this, while it does highlight how far I may have come, also serves to remind me of how very far I still have to go.

I have a warped and twisted relationship with food. I usually talk about myself in the past tense when I refer to my eating disorder (a term that I don’t actually like to use for myself since I’ve never been officially diagnosed, but is nonetheless apt) because I like to pretend that’s where it belongs: in the past. But the truth is that I have not yet fully escaped the effects that years and years of emotional eating and food obsession has had on my psyche. I still seek comfort from food. I still want it to fill any and all emotional voids I may feel. It still permeates my thoughts, influences my actions, has the power to make and break my moods.

I talk about how I’ve “freed myself from a toxic relationship with food” a lot here. It’s kind of a tagline of mine, a way to succinctly sum up my journey through disordered eating. But of course, I’m not really free. My eating, and more specifically, my attitude toward food, is still messed up. I may have a healthier diet, I may make better choices (usually), but I still put far too much weight on what I put into my mouth. I still overthink, overcalculate, overanalyze. Occasionally, I still have to actively fight against my urges to binge, to eat from boredom or emotion, to stuff myself to capacity. And when I do end up losing that battle, I have to fight even harder against the inclination to purge.

Food still holds power over me. Whether or not I actually end up giving into that power is a different story, and more often than not is evidence of my growth and healing. But the fact that it still affects me to such a degree is a major sign that I’m not nearly as free as I like to think.

Yesterday, I felt defeated. The events of the week have been wearing on me, and I felt defeated from the moment I woke up. It only got worse as the day went on. I found myself actively fixating on what I could eat as soon as I got off work. It probably didn’t help that I barely ate anything all day while AT work. I drove home anxious, as I now am every time I get behind the wheel, and failed to stop myself from pulling into the drive-through of a nearby McDonald’s. I got a large fries and a small Diet Coke. I ate them in the car.

Then, a little while after I got home, I stared into the refrigerator for 10 straight minutes. Not really hungry, of course. But I ate four chocolate mini cupcakes anyway, one right after another. And after that, I made myself a grilled cheese sandwich and a hot dog.

Okay. So, sure, that’s not really what a lot of people would call a binge. That’s not even what I would call a binge, if I were to compare it to what my binges used to be like. This was not multiple fast food value meals. This was not an entire large pizza. This was probably a fairly average day’s worth of calories — maybe even less — regardless of how devoid of nutrition those calories were. Purely from a diet perspective, it’s probably not going to throw me THAT far off track.

But that’s not really the point, is it?

I know myself. I know what unhealthy behavior looks like for me. And even though you could make a lot of arguments that I “wasn’t that bad”, what I ate isn’t really what this is about. It’s about the thought process I had going into it. It’s about how I went looking for it. It’s about how I wanted to be alone when I did it. I didn’t want anyone to find me, to interrupt me, to have the potential to judge me.

And just like that, it all came flooding back. The memories, the emotions, the actions of my past, all rushing my mind like ghosts of my former life. All that time I used to spend hiding burgers at the bottom of my purse. Shoveling spoonfuls of mac and cheese into my mouth at lightning speed so I could finish before my roommates came home, or at least pretend like I started out with a much smaller portion than I did. Locking the door after picking up a pizza so I could gorge myself in privacy. Shoving whatever I was eating under my pillow, or under the bed, or behind a bookshelf whenever someone would knock on my door and interrupt my binge.

As I was lying in bed a little while ago, trying to fall back to my even-more-fitful-than-usual sleep, I remembered all of the times that I would go out to eat with my friends. Upon finishing my meal, which was a restaurant portion (read: huge) that I likely ate in its entirety, I remember the feeling of yearning I had toward any unfinished food on my friends’ plates. I always wanted to eat that too. Their leftover french fries, the last quarter of their burger, that last couple of chicken wings. My friends probably (hopefully) didn’t know this. I like to think they didn’t notice the longing in my eyes, the twitching of my fingers. Because it would never even occur to them. They had control of their eating. They didn’t feel the need to stuff themselves to the limit and beyond. They would never even contemplate being completely full and yet still desiring to pick off the plates of their eating companions just because the food was THERE. Were it not for the general social decency that stayed my hand, I can guarantee that I would have eaten every morsel on their plates. And that kind of messed-up thinking doesn’t just disappear. Or, at least, it hasn’t yet.

Yes, I am different now. My obsession with eating has evolved into a marginally healthier obsession with food itself. I love to cook, I appreciate the artistry of haute cuisine, and I consider myself a real foodie. I have given myself a foundation for a healthy(er) diet, I have lobbed off a considerable amount of the weight that my eating disorder had helped me pack on, and I have accomplished a great many things that I would never have thought possible. I now win far more fights than I lose when it comes to my eating issues, and that is a commendable thing.

But there are still cracks in my foundation. I still hear the whispered call of the numbing satisfaction that stuffing my cakehole will bring me — however brief I know it will be. I am still haunted. This doesn’t necessarily mean I will give in. Bad days get better. This week will end. The stress that has been whittling away at my resolve will be alleviated. But I am not yet free. I’m just kidding myself when I say that I am. My eating disorder still has a presence in my life. A weak and listless one on most days, I am thankful to say, but a presence nonetheless. I am fighting for my freedom, but it is still there. Lurking just behind the curtain, ready to pounce at any sign of weakness.

This was not the first battle. It will not be the last.