When I write articles for GoodTherapy.org, I usually write about my views on recovery from disordered eating and body image concerns, and about things I’ve learned from my professional experience. This article is different: it’s about my personal experience. This month’s article was originally due the day after Halloween. For reasons I’ll mention shortly, I hadn’t started writing it by Halloween day. When I pondered this aloud on Halloween afternoon, my son asked what the article I had to write was about. When I told him, “disordered eating,” he said, “You have to write it about Halloween candy!”
Let me backtrack and tell you why, the afternoon before the article was due, I hadn’t started writing: two days earlier, on Friday afternoon, my home was burglarized and both my husband’s and my computers, among other things, were taken. My plan had been to get started that day. Now, not only did I not have my computer, I had to spend the afternoon trying to process what had happened: calling 911, calling back because the police hadn’t arrived after 45 minutes (I was told they were really busy and would get there eventually), and then calling again after an hour-and-a-half because I needed to leave to see a concert my son was playing in, and had to tell them not to come until later. (The second and third times I called, I got a voice mail message: “You’ve reached 911 Emergency. Do NOT hang up — your call will be answered by the next available operator.” Unnerving.)
What does any of this have to do with disordered eating? Well, plenty. Let’s start with Halloween candy. When I was a kid, I loved trick-or-treating. I loved discovering what was being handed out at each house. This was back in the day before razor blades in apples or drugs in homemade cookies, before everything had to come in individual packages, so the possibilities and combinations were endless and tantalizing. At some point in my teens, I stopped trick-or-treating, and I started dieting. I didn’t eat Halloween candy because I was always on a diet, but if I had access to it, I would often sneak it and eat a lot of it. I had developed binge eating disorder, although there wasn’t a name for it then — I thought my problem was lack of willpower. When I found recovery from what was called “compulsive overeating,” I abstained from candy. I ate only at meals, and candy wasn’t something one ate at a meal. And candy, especially chocolate, was a “binge food,” and thus off limits.
One part of recovery from an eating disorder is changing one’s eating behaviors. Another part is learning to handle life’s difficulties without turning to eating or body-image-related behaviors in order to cope. Developing healthy emotional coping skills is part of the fundamental objective of recovery: creating a rich, healthy and meaningful life. The two parts add up to a life in which one’s relationships with food and with one’s body are relaxed, and one can take adversity and emotional turmoil in stride, with a heart open to experience life’s rewards.
I pondered my son’s words and my plight. When I had discovered that my computer was stolen, I figured I wouldn’t be able to get this article in by November 1. I couldn’t even remember what I had intended to write about. I was angry, hurt, and frightened; I felt violated by the strangers who had the nerve to come into my home and take my family’s things. I didn’t have my familiar computer with all my familiar stuff on it.
What’s germane to the subject of disordered eating is this: during that stressful time, it never occurred to me to turn to food to soothe myself. Nor did I find myself obsessing about how I needed desperately to lose weight and planning for improving my eating and exercise habits, which used to be a common response to stress. I had skills and tools and resources for managing my emotions and handling the logistics of the necessary responses to the robbery. For this, I am deeply and eternally grateful.
Between Friday afternoon, when I discovered the burglary, and Halloween night, I attended my son’s Friday night concert, met with the police, and took my son and some friends to a midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I got up early the morning after the burglary to change every password I could think of because even though I’d been out very late, I couldn’t sleep for worry about sensitive material on my computer and online. I helped my son shop for the materials for a Halloween costume and did the fitting and sewing, attended a wedding and a reception, sang with my choir at two church services, and bought and installed a new deadbolt for the front door (well, we had to call our next door neighbor, a home builder, over for assistance, as my husband and I couldn’t get it to work. Part of recovery is knowing when and how to reach out to others for help!). Finally, I bought Halloween candy for the neighborhood trick-or-treaters.
The candy didn’t call to me the way it used to. Not one bit. It’s been years since I’ve considered any food to be “off-limits.” Recovering fully included getting to a point where I didn’t need to abstain from any foods or eating behaviors. I can have all the Halloween candy I want, and on Halloween, I didn’t want any. I figured I’d get to some of the candy eventually, that at some point, I’d be interested in it. If I wanted some candy after dinner, it would be there. If I didn’t, it’ll be there the next day, or the next year. There’s no hurry. I was living in the moment and dealing with what came my way. I felt the emotional impact of the burglary without being overwhelmed or paralyzed, without interest in abusing food but with great interest in taking good care of myself. That is what recovery is all about!
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.