By Shalini Wickramatilake
A few weeks ago I (finally) started reading Carolyn Costin’s Eight Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder, and the first journal prompt was to describe my “worst eating disorder day.”
It was hard to think of one particular day that could be deemed the “worst,” but then I looked back at my old fitness tracker, and found a particularly bad one: May 23, 2017. It was during my Annual Meeting for work last year in Indianapolis, IN. That day was filled with compulsive exercise, food restriction, social isolation, physical pain, deception, sleep deprivation, hopelessness, and all of the other terrible things my eating disorder brought me.
On that day I woke up at 4 AM to go for a run before catching a flight to Indy. I packed a portable scale in my suitcase so I could continue to weigh myself multiple times a day while away from home. I skipped meals. I chugged black coffee to stay warm and awake. I checked in to the hotel and immediately went for a walk to rack up excessive steps instead of helping with conference registration. I told my co-workers I couldn’t go out to dinner because I “had too much work,” when really I just had to get in another long run before bed. I couldn’t sleep because I was dehydrated and had excruciating leg cramps and back pain. That day, all that mattered were miles, steps, hunger, and the false sense of accomplishment and control that my eating disorder gave me.
Fast forward to May 23, 2018. Earlier this week we had our Annual Meeting in Bethesda, MD, and it was a markedly different experience.
I woke up on Wednesday and went to the hotel gym because I wanted to move, not because I had to burn calories or earn food or lose weight. When someone asked me to help with something early in the morning, I said, “yes, but I have to eat breakfast first.” When I was running late for lunch with my co-workers, I just adjusted and made plans with a different group of colleagues. When others at the table ordered salads for lunch, I honored what my body was craving and got the fried chicken sandwich and french fries without any sense of shame. When dinner plans turned out to be too late for my own hunger cues, I ate dinner on my own, then met up with folks for dessert after. Dessert! And instead of going to bed early in order to make it to the gym the next morning, I stayed out late chatting and laughing, because the morning run wasn’t the priority; that moment of joy with other people was far more important.
A year ago I was so disconnected. This past week was a reminder of why connection is one of my core values. Connection with others, connection with my body, connection with my emotions… That’s the foundation of a fulfilling life for me.
On Wednesday when I was walking back to the conference after lunch with my colleagues, we passed the Renfrew Center’s Bethesda location, where I attended a partial hospitalization program last fall. I pointed out the treatment facility to my friends, and they joked, “should we just drop you off here?” I felt so surprised in that moment. Surprised by how I confidently knew the answer was, “no.” Surprised by how happy I was on the other side. Surprised by how empowered I felt for now being able to care for my own physical and emotional needs in such a nurturing way. Surprised that I no longer feel like I need my eating disorder, because the purpose that it served for me will never compare to the role that genuine connection serves in my life now. Surprised by what a difference a year makes.
So much has changed in the past year, and while I still miss some of the things that my eating disorder brought me, I wouldn’t trade what I have now–the ability to truly connect with others, to laugh with genuine happiness, and to actually participate in life–for anything in the world.