Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Cake Tapas

On Sunday, Friend Bearing Chocolate became Friend Bearing Cake.

She’d been to cake school (yes, this is a thing), and when we met for coffee she brought me a container (funnily enough, it was for some sort of horrendous sounding no-sugar ice cream that must have been consumed by her housemate) filled with bits of things she’d made.

I looked at it, wondering if it were six servings? Two? Four? The only thing I was pretty sure was that it wasn’t one serving, which is the only way I really knew how to eat such a thing.

It sat on the table like a bomb. I’d so so SO nearly binged the night before, and one of the ways I’d gotten myself not to was to promise myself I would have something worth eating, not the sort of shite one can buy at midnight in Earls Court, after a really awful week and a rather triggering dinner with a newly gluten-free, dairy-free friend (English, but living on the west coast of America) who also doesn’t eat meat and a whole host of other things.

None of these cakes the friend came bearing were things I tend to crave. They were lovely, sure, but with the exception of the mince pie, none were things that would ever be my top choice. I imagined myself trying one and then the next, finishing them all looking for some particular taste none of them offered, and then ending up bingeing.

I thought about them a lot while we had our coffee. I’d throw them out after FBC left, I decided. She would never have to know. I’d done it before and I’d do it again.

And as we were leaving, I hesitated. I do eat everything these days – meaning no weird diets – and though I try to eat things that are worth eating, isn’t homemade cake the definition of that? Plus, part of what keeps me from bingeing, I think, is truly believing I can eat anything – and that I’ll stop believing that if I pass things up too often. The fear of them will solidify, like liquid turning to jelly.

Plus, plus – I also know I can’t, in the moment, eat things I suddenly start craving. I don’t go out and buy something the minute I think about it. If I’m still thinking about it the next day, then I have it. Usually I’ve forgotten about it. But again, what if I stop believing I can have these things – that I will always delay? That’s a binge waiting to happen. (In case you’re curious, I’m perfectly fine eating unplanned things at restaurants. But I don’t in the middle of the day get up and leave my house and go buy, say, Ottolenghi cake just because I think I have to have it. I know; it’s complicated. I’ve spent 16 months trying to work all these things out.)

Anyway. Just as we were leaving I said to FBC: “I have to ask you something.”

She looked worried.

I confessed I had no idea how to eat the cake tapas, which is what I’d mentally nicknamed the box.

I saw her face: Slightly shocked. But she recovered fast. Then matter-of-factly she suggested what she’d do, and the order in which she’d eat them (some would go off faster than others, which I wouldn’t know – when have I ever kept cake in my house long enough for it to go off?)

And so I had three days of cake. It was delicious. And fully worth the 30 seconds of embarrassment.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The Great Black Jean Freak Out of 2017

Today I went to put on my trusty black jeans and panicked. Like, properly froze and felt slightly sick. I was standing in the gym with no other clothing if they didn’t fit, and I thought wildly about what I would do if they didn’t, since I’d already showered and stuffed my sweaty leggings into a plastic bag with my other sweaty clothes.

I hadn’t worn the black jeans for two weeks – I’d washed them and wore other jeans and then I found myself avoiding them and then, conveniently, it was something approximating summer and so I wore more summery things and avoided them some more.

Until today, when I decided I had to face them.

The craziest part of all this is that I haven’t binged or even especially overeaten (except maybe a little at one Sunday lunch that the hosts didn’t serve until 4 pm and there were no snacks). I haven’t been able to run (issue with dizziness I think I’ve mentioned before) but I’ve been to the gym and to Pilates. It’s just vestigial panic. In the past the only reason I stopped wearing anything was because it stopped fitting, and washing jeans was… uh… not something I ever did if I could avoid it (I know, gross, but true). I mean, what if they shrank even a teeny bit? (If that happened they wouldn’t have fit, and we all know how horrible and traumatic jeans-buying can be. Or any kind of clothing buying, when it is the next size or three up. Because I only went to a shop when my jeans actually busted, which usually meant they were about two sizes too small.)

Oh -- and if I put anything away for a season, I’d always hope it would be too big by the time it came to wear it again. Inevitably it was too small.

Today, when the black jeans fit just fine, I thought about how sad the feelings the episode brought up – and how incredibly grateful I am that for right now, that’s not my life.

I’ve resisted posting again since my last post not because things have been bad, but because I’ve been reluctant to tempt fate. Things feel better and easier -- like something has shifted – but I’m aware of how quickly things can change again, and how little it takes for that to happen. And so I remain vigilant. And also – I need to repeat this again – grateful.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Relapse Drift

Lectures were by far my least favorite part of treatment. This was, in part, because I’d read so many books about addiction that the concepts weren’t new – and in part because the people giving the lectures were better suited to the group therapy they also did than actually lecturing.

Oh, ok -- if I’m totally honest, another reason why I didn’t like them was probably because when they happened, which luckily wasn’t often, they usually were the second half of the evening, when my thoughts had long since drifted to dinner.

But anyway, lectures. The most useful one, which I think may be up there as one of the most useful things I learned there, was about relapse drift. Basically, relapse isn’t an event. It’s a process that usually starts out innocently enough, like skipping small things – meetings, calls, regular grocery shopping, whatever -- that support recovery.

What makes it tricky, of course, is that life happens in recovery – not every time you skip something does it mean anything. But there are all sorts of other signs of relapse drift that are individual to each person – things no one might notice but you, and that may have absolutely nothing to do with food. One for me is when I stop blowdrying my hair, because I can’t be bothered to make the effort. Or I’ve stopped gathering what I need for the morning the night before, so I’m always that slight bit stressed and late leaving the flat. Or – this one is particularly embarrassing – I leave my gym towels on the bench in the locker room for the cleaning staff to pick up, as opposed to putting them in the used towel bin.

How is that last one a sign of anything, you ask? (If indeed you’ve even made it this far.) It’s a tiny thing that makes me feel bad about myself and contributes, even in a small way, to the idea that I’m a bad, unlovable person. Which, of course, is at the heart of an eating disorder. Or at least, it’s at the heart of mine.

I fear I’m in relapse drift. I thought it yesterday morning and on into yesterday afternoon, which is when I started (but didn’t finish) this post because I had to go to my (beginner) tennis course. (If you’re wondering if I have Wimbledon potential, I do, in that my balls are so wildly out of bounds at this point that they could, theoretically, end up there from Chiswick.)

This morning I thought about it more, and it worried me that I wasn’t more scared of it. Earlier this year the mere thought of relapse was terrifying, and I’d have done anything to avoid it.

I thought about how my food has gotten a little messier – and sometimes a lot messier -- than it has been in a year, and how I’ve justified that to myself as recovery from my restrictive side. So tricky to know with an eating disorder, isn’t it? But that combined with these other behaviors, of which there are many, is… worrying.

Because I do not want to go back to where I was over a year ago. I don’t want to buy clothes I don’t like because they’re the only thing that fits. I don’t want to worry about what will fit every morning – that losing battle, where I feel defeated before the day has even started. I don’t want that fear that people are judging me (unfavorably) because of my size and that worry and constant feeling that I need to make up for it. I don’t want to shrink my life again, first with the bingeing and then with the need for everything to be safe in early recovery. I don’t want to feel like I’m not living the life I want because of this eating disorder, which has already destroyed so many things over the years.

I could go on and on. And so I told my counselor today and I’m writing it here. The drifting stops now.  

Thursday, 1 June 2017

A Year in London

A year ago today a friend picked me up at Heathrow off an overnight flight from NYC. She helped me lug my bags (including an enormous suitcase) up five flights of stairs to a tiny studio I thought would be my home for just four months – the amount of time I planned to stay in London. Then we went for a dim sum lunch with a friend of hers who had done the same 14-week outpatient treatment program as she did – the same treatment program I had arrived in London to do.

I’ve thought about that day a lot over the past year, always with incredible gratitude. Overnight flights and jetlag can make everything seem gray, and I was scared enough as it was – would this work? What if it didn’t? Seeing friendly faces made all the difference in the state of mind with which I started, and it also kept me from a binge free-fall before I started treatment four days later.

So many things have changed this year – some of which have been so terrifying that if I’d had any idea about them, I might never have come. And yet here I am. After a couple of months of recalibrating, I am closer than ever with the friend who picked me up from Heathrow -- I think she felt a little invaded for awhile, because there I was in a lot of the recovery groups she thought of as hers. The friend of hers became a good enough friend of mine that I spent New Years Eve at her house. But she disappeared about a month later, as people often do when they slip back into old (meaning bingeing) behavior, which I know she has. Despite a lot of effort on my part, I haven’t spoken to her since – she doesn’t reply to whatsapps or calls. Well over half the people I was in treatment with have relapsed. I know I’m lucky, but I also know I work really hard at it. Recovery is not something you ever really can think you’ll always have, I’ve learned – it’s something you get for the day. Some days are much harder than others.

I only realize now in writing this that I don’t remember my last binge – can’t date it, can’t tell you what I ate. The month before I left for London I overate a lot (huge meals, lots of cake), but there weren’t any binges – it was almost enough to make me question if I were doing the right thing. Almost. I had so much to do that month I think I knew I’d never make it onto the plane if I started bingeing, and I knew I had to get on the plane.

I use June 4 as my one-year marker only because the night before I went to a dinner party and drank a lot, which was forbidden while I was in treatment. Plus, I can’t quite remember what I ate. I know I took a cab home, so there wasn’t any post-dinner-party binge.

I had this idea that I wanted to be in London for my one year without a binge, and then the opportunity came up to be in New York and be able to stay in my own apartment, before the new subletter arrives – a pretty narrow window of time. I want to do some clearing out I didn’t have the headspace to do before I left, maybe to drum up some work, and to see people. And yet I was trying to arrange it so I was in London on the 4th.

Then the invitation arrived for a friend’s kid’s first birthday party on June 3, and it seemed like a sign. I have missed a lot of milestones in my friends’ lives while I’ve been here. And I have lived all my life I can remember ruled by this eating disorder, with it dictating where I would go and what I would do. It seemed fitting, at the end of a whole year without bingeing or starving, not to let it rule even how I celebrate its absence.

Three hundred and sixty two days (at least) without a binge.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017


Why, I wondered, was trying to decide upon clothes to bring for three days at a friend’s parents so extraordinarily difficult? Then I realized: I still pack like I’m going to binge.

It’s been more than 10 months since my last binge, and yet still packing isn’t just a question of weather – incredibly variable this time of year, particularly in the country – but of what might still fit and when. I can easily bust out of clothes in a weekend, particularly at my current size, which, by my estimates, is separated from the next one up by maybe half a stone. (Side note: Why can there not be fewer pounds between sizes when you’re bigger and probably most need the thrill of a smaller size to keep pushing forward?)

I talked myself out of bringing a bigger pair of jeans, but I did bring a backup outfit for Sunday, when the plan was to wear a fairly unforgiving sweater dress.

I ate a little chocolate when it was offered, which is to say, approximately five times a day. I had layer cake and crumble (with custard and cream) and biscuits, also when they were offered. I didn’t exercise (apart from a little walk on Sunday). Only once did I eat something sneakily: an extra mini egg with caramel. And every day I could wear the outfit I planned.

Coming home yesterday I felt such a huge relief not to have to be fighting the urge to keep bingeing (and likely losing) as I know I’d have done if I’d been bingeing all weekend. I got back at lunchtime and felt slightly too hungry to first go to the supermarket and get proper food. And then I realized if I ate something hodge podge I’d spend the whole afternoon regretting it and replaying it and wondering if it were enough or too much. And so I went and got my prick-and-ping lasagna. My jeans felt a little bit tight, but not panicky-tight.

I threw out the Easter chocolate I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like (um, in my as-yet-unwritten book, “lime” and “caramel” should not be in the same sentence). As I did laundry, I had a little fight with myself about retrieving it from the bin. But I didn’t.

This morning, the urge to eat chocolate at every legal opportunity (basically, for every snack and after every meal) lingers, but I know it will pass. This, for me, is one of the biggest differences between life now and life pre-June 4 – the near-total lack of panic when I want to eat off-piste or to binge. It’s the ability to sit through the discomfort and to trust – really trust – that it will end. It will return, of course – usually at incredibly unwelcome times – but then, if I sit long enough, it will go again.

Three hundred seventeen days without a binge (or according to my trusty app, 10 months, 1 week, six days, 23 hours and 30 minutes).