Abstinence was easy, dating is gnarly. Here’s why…
Getting abstinent from an eating disorder is like traveling to hell and back, looking Satan straight in his fiery eyes and spitting in his face. Wrestling him until he tires and living to tell the story behind the scars he left above your left eye.
It’s the single most difficult thing I have ever done in my entire life (and this home girl has ‘done’ a lot. I’ve lived in Los Angeles and worked at a news station. Blood and botox, rooooooooooooooound the clock. Need I say more?) The recovery experience is physical, emotional and spiritual. There are painful, physical withdrawals from stopping the eating disorder behaviors; similar to drug withdrawals. There is the rollercoaster of fears from losing control of life and body. There is the incomprehensible surrender of one’s self, choices, body and food to a fictitious ‘Higher Power” that lives in your head (most of us cross our fingers that this higher power is in agreement that ‘thin is in’ or ‘I am out.’)
I’m one of the lucky one’s. I’m part of the 80% of people who survive an eating disorder (source.) Oddly, in the recovery process I never heard anyone talk about the surviving part of an eating disorder. I would imagine we could compare it to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. You’ve lived through this traumatizing experience, you stop the behaviors and just for a moment you catch your breath and you start to believe that you just might survive. It’s almost like a scene in a bad horror film; the scene where the innocent girl thinks everything is okay so she peaks her head out of the closet. She waits a few moments, they tick by and she’s quite sure the killer is gone. She puts one foot out, but the second she fully steps out from her dark cave of protection, he’s there! He’s holding flowers and in a crisp new collared shirt! Good God! He’s her date! Run girl! Run!
For those of us in recovery, dating is gnarly. Maybe it’s gnarly for every woman, but from the evidence of my own experience and those of my friends in recovery, I’m gonna say that our breed of monkey’s got the brown banana in the bunch. Owning that ‘brown banana’ I have to remember that my brain, body and emotions do not function the way other women’s do. Which is probably why I have experienced an eating disorder, life is just too scary for me, and an eating disorder makes things much easier to cope with. I needed to find something that would help me cope with the mirage of feelings we are all given in the goodie bag that life hands us in the delivery room. My eating disorder was really good at numbing feelings of insecurity, fear, abandonment and pain. While I was in it I never had to open up that goodie bag and experience real feelings. I was fast asleep from a sugar coma. Convenient eh?
But, why don’t little kids ever want to take a nap? Because they may be small, but they’re smart! They have figured out that when you sleep you miss something fun that happens. When I was in my disease I was missing out on a lot of experiences and relationships. Now that I do date I experience all the feelings that go with it; they are incredibly uncomfortable. I feel like going back in that sugar coma and saying, “Don’t mind me! I’ll miss out!” However, I have to ask myself, “If I’m not willing to experience the painful aspects of dating and life, exactly what am I doing here?” It reminds me of the old saying, “The purpose of life is to live it.”
Dating is apart of life and if we want to be apart of it, we will participate in it. I encourage all of you girls (myself included) to look at dating as an opportunity to participate in life. I think if I’m really honest with myself, the thing that makes me the most nervous about dating is that I’m doing it for validation. I do it simply for an ego stroke. Seriously, I have found myself dating guys I don’t even like (and actually find annoying) just for the narcissistic pleasure of knowing someone likes me. If they don’t end up liking me? Come hell and high water full of tears you will probably see me in a hot mess crying about it. Not good. I’ve learned a couple things from my mistakes.
#1. Dating is not about making anyone like you. It’s really like reading a book. You don’t read a book to make the book like you. You read it to enjoy it and learn something new. If you approach dating like reading, in order to find out something new about the human being in front of you, you’ll have less melt downs than I ever did.
#2. You have to know your own worth and value. If I was to put my worth and value in anyone else’s hands but my own I would definitely be scared and terrified. What we learn in recovery is not to put our worth in our eating disorders hands. We know that our worth and value encompass so much more than the size of our jeans. I think the goal for every woman should be an unshakable belief that no matter who likes or dislikes her she is still the same, strong, beautiful woman she was before she met this guy.
#3. Participating in life is an uncomfortable, wet, hot, sticky mess…and a whole lot of fun. I’ve learned that dating can be scary if I let it be, it can also be fun if I let it be. I think most of the time, I take life too seriously. Life is hard man; you lose friends, family, jobs, pets and really expensive cell phones. You’ll succeed, you’ll fail, you’ll laugh and you’ll cry so hard that you’ll be pretty sure you just might give yourself a heart attack. But, ya know what? It’s worth it. It’s so worth it! I remember being at a 4th of July Party a few years back. I was standing on the balcony, laughing with friends when it occurred to me that exactly one year ago I wanted to kill myself. Not joking. I remember being startled with the realization that had I given up and decided “Game over”, I would not be experiencing the joy I was sharing with the people I dearly loved.
Participate and en-JOY it!