Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Finding the Gray

My third grade teacher gave me an award on the last day of school that recognized my propensity for always thinking in black and white.  It was meant to be funny, but in a less than ironic keeping with the award's very point, I couldn't see the humor.  All I saw was that I was being made fun of, and I didn't like it.  Not to mention, it bothered me that the award title was so long that the words ran off the allotted line.  Rigid much, Cait?  Give or take a dozen years and not much has changed.

I've been told, often, to "find the gray."  To find the area of logic, or reasoning that is neither this nor that, one thing or the other, but rather somewhere in between.  For me, the in-between is an excruciatingly uncomfortable place.  It lacks definition, and, therefore (in my mind) meaning or worth.  Without a structure, without a category, without a system in which to file experiences, thoughts, worries, and fears, my mind races, turns in circles, and often freaks out.

The eating disorder provided the clearest, most easily accessible system that I had ever encountered.  Within it, I had access to a kind of mental utopia that Valium and Seroquel only claim to provide.  In that world, decisions were so simple.  Eat, or not eat?  Purge, or not purge?  (I'll give you three guesses, and the first two don't count.)  My mind relaxed.  It didn't matter that I didn't know what to do about anything else that was going on in my life, because I had the real stuff figured out: I had figured out how to lose weight.

I remember how this all began.  It was the end of December.  (Is anyone happy with how their body looks after the holidays?  I wasn't.)  I weighed myself, took stock of the situation, and set a goal for myself based on how tall I thought I was (turns out I'm an inch taller, but I didn't know that then).  Here's where the butterfly flapped its wings on one continent and it caused an earthquake on another: I took a reasonable goal weight and I subtracted one pound.  That's my goal, I decided.  That one pound does not make a difference anyway, and I like the way the second number sounds better.  Can you hear the tectonic plates shifting?  Because that was all it took.  You know how many times you can subtract one?

Take away one sugar packet, and now you're drinking black coffee.
Take away one piece of bread, and now you're eating half a sandwich.
Take away one meal, and now you're only eating two.
Take away one more (because you don't actually need breakfast and lunch, good god, don't be a pig), and you're left with only one.

Almost without noticing it, your original goal weight slips by.  You don't really notice, because for weeks now, you've had a new goal weight.  One that's just a tiny bit lower.  And so on, and so on.  Until something happens, like your father getting diagnosed with cancer, to make you realize you've been operating under a profoundly selfish paradigm for far, far too long.

Shedding the eating disorder is not comprised of a series of careful steps forward, with pauses in between each one to make sure you're ready before moving on.  Nope.  It's a clusterfuck of good intentions, bad decisions, guilt, tears, frustration, and despair.  I can't, I can't, I can't, chants your ED brain, while You must, you must, you must insists the real you, the you you're trying to access, to create, to find again after so long.  It's four steps forward, and twelve steps back.  It's picking one thing to focus on, and going for broke on that, and only that.  I will not purge, even though I just binged and I am gasping for air and my stomach is distended and I hurt, everything hurts, but I will lie here in bed and I will clutch my pillow over my swollen belly and I will tell myself that tomorrow, tomorrow will be different.  Hopefully better, but if not better, at the very least - different.

Here's the "tomorrow" that I have landed in now, one that I swore up and down I would never be in again: I am an unhealthy weight.  And not because I weigh too little, though a year ago, that was very much the case.  As my body readjusted to being fed again, it put on weight.  And more, and more, and more weight.  Meanwhile, I was fighting tooth and nail to keep from purging (it's been weeks now, you guys), but the compulsions to binge were much slower to fade.  Cut out the excessive exercising too, and hi, we've now got ourselves a weight problem.  When I try to find clothes that fit me from a closet of 2's and 4's, or when I don't manage to escape the bathroom without seeing my reflection, my brain feels like it's screaming, You know what to do.  You know how to lose this weight.  I sigh, inwardly, and grit my teeth.  That road is closed, I tell myself.  Tempting, yes, but closed.

I had a physical with my nurse-practioner last week in preparation for Yale.  I asked to be weighed backwards, and after, she and I discussed where I'm at.  We talked about normal exercising patterns, normal eating patterns, and what a normal, healthy weight for my height would be.  Armed with encouragement, strategies, and a real goal, I hopped on the scale at home the next morning.  I crumpled.  It's the highest number I've seen in years.  Higher than when I started losing weight, all those months ago.  In months past, the thought of losing almost twenty pounds wouldn't really have fazed me.  Give me two months, I might say, and then I'd promptly stop eating for three days to give myself a head start.  But now?  I'm fazed.  I'm scared, and apprehensive, and emotionally bruised, but I'm also stubborn and I refuse to give up now.   My recovery may have taken a turn I didn't expect, but it's a turn that I have to live with.

Black and white thinking tells me I will never find the middle ground between weighing too much and too little, that I will live the rest of my life oscillating from one extreme to the other, and I will never figure this out.

Here in the gray zone, though, in the profoundly uncomfortable contortion I am inhabiting, the future looks a whole lot brighter.  The gray tells me that I will learn.  The gray tells me that I will get to a healthy weight, though it's going to take a lot longer than I want it to.  Mostly, the gray tells me that however I do this, and however long it takes, and however many times I want to give up...I am worth the fight.

And that?  Well, that is something to hold on to.

1 comment:


So much of this resonates with me. There's a big difference between the idea of recovery and what recovery actually looks like. Which, it turns out, is really, really gray.

You are absolutely worth the fight. And I'm confident that you can find the balance you deserve.