It never failed, I would book a vacation several months in advance and then spend half the year trying to achieve perfection until the trip. My eating disorder would plan out some grand dieting scheme complimented with a hard nose exercise regimen to get me in tip top shape.
“You are going to feel the best you’ve ever felt! It will be such a high,” my eating disorder would say. “You can finally start living the life you want and feel good about it. You just need to do follow my plan.”
What I know now? It was all lies. No matter what I did, how well I restricted, how often I worked out, how many times I followed the plan to perfection, I never felt the way the eating disorder promised. Not to mention the months leading up to the vacation were absolutely miserable. No one could actually follow through with what my eating disorder was asking of me. I was bound to break some rules, mess things up…and oh, did I pay. The eating disorder told me I was worthless, I had to try harder, and how did I ever expect to be happy with this kind of effort?
It was exhausting and a see-saw of emotion. All that time leading up to that vacation spent in misery but…it would be worth it then, right? Well, vacation turned out not to be a vacation at all because guess who jumped on the plane with me? You’re right, my eating disorder. I couldn’t enjoy the vacation and just relax, reap the benefits of all my hard work. No way! I better get up and exercise if I want to “indulge”. The eating disorder would say, “You really can’t eat what everyone else is eating because you are different, they can eat that stuff, but your body is different than theirs. And think of all the hard work you put in just to ruin it all? You will have to ramp it up even more when you get home to make up for all this eating…better just avoid anything that sounds good.”
Eventually I would arrive home, realizing the eating disorder’s broken vacation promises but still listening like the good girl I was. The eating disorder would make a new promise and I agreed. I felt so empty, I needed anything to work and that voice was very convincing…strong, loud, persistent, and oh so manipulating.
Vacations look pretty different for me these days. I don’t have a grand plan I need to follow where I’m restricting food and over exercising. I don’t look to the vacation as a way to finally achieve some level of worth that would allow me to start living a fulfilling life. No, these days I use the thought of a vacation as a little mental escape when days are overwhelming or stressful. When I’m on vacation I enjoy all the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes. I relax. I am in the moment. I don’t have to worry about how I will compensate for food eaten or fun had. I don’t worry how I look in the swimsuit or the angle of a picture. That manipulating voice filled with broken promises is gone. But perhaps I am able to enjoy vacation now in a way that many people who haven’t gone through recovery may not. Perhaps I can enjoy my body for how it takes me down busy city streets reveling in the smells and tastes of the town or soaking in the sunshine on a sandy beach. Perhaps these moments are even more savory to me because of my eating disorder and the recovery I experienced. If this is true, then what a gift. What a gift my eating disorder and recovery have given me! I’m already planning my next escape from the stresses of work and the cold weather, and I am so grateful I never have to escape myself again.