Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

The Mathematics of Recovery

mathematics of an eating disorder

I was thinking of a picture to use for this entry, and realized I had all the props necessary, except for a calculator, because mine broke, which I will have to remedy before the beginning of next semester.

For some of us, the mathematics of recovery do involve the addition of weight.  For some, it is weight maintenance with better eating habits and no purging behaviors, and for some it may be the subtraction of weight.  And each scenario is of equal importance for our physical health.

But there’s another type of math that comes with recovering from an eating disorder, and for a lot of us it can be more terrifying than putting on weight or taking off weight or maintaining weight.  Everyone, regardless of what eating disorder he or she suffers from, needs to add in a self.

Someone on my formspring asked me, “What did you put in place of your eating disorder?”

My response:

I think this is an important question. There was no one thing I added into my life to replace the eating disorder. The analogy I use is that the eating disorder is this really weird shaped object and when you remove it, it leaves a really odd shaped hole. Replacing that odd shaped hole is impossible. BUT you can fill it with several different things. Which I think makes you a more well-rounded person.

Personally, I filled that hole with school. It was so nice to be a student without the eating disorder. I could actually BE a student. I had more times for friends. And I wasn’t scared to go meet them at restaurants anymore–aka I could do “normal” things with them without the eating disorder holding me back. I picked up my creative activities again–the painting, the writing, the drawing. I started making jewelry. I wrote more, and I wrote a hell of a lot better, too.

I realized after submitting my answer that I wanted to say more on the subject.  I hope my answer doesn’t make it sound as if it was easy to fill up that eating disorder shaped hole.  Immediately after giving up the eating disorder, I was thrown into a very serious depression.  I refused to change my meds because I knew that I was dealing with more of an existential depression, the “Who the hell am I without the eating disorder?”  depression.  The person who asked me this question on formspring speaks to a lot.  For so many years, we defined ourselves by our eating disorder.  And only our eating disorder.  It, pardon the pun, consumed our thoughts and personality and ruled our actions.  The student, the athlete, the musician, the drama enthusiast, the artist, the chess player, etc., all got shoved aside.  I know that I was still a student while I was in the thick of the anorexia, and I was still a musician, but while that’s what people saw on the outside, that’s not what I felt on the inside.  On the inside was Anorexic with a capital A.

And then I took that away from myself, leaving me with that huge question of “Who the hell am I?”  I wasn’t even sure I was going to be able to return to school that fall because I honestly thought to myself, “If I’m not anorexic, how am I going to succeed as a student?”  (It turns out that I was a much better student without the eating disorder.)

So my suggestion as to how to go about finding things to fill that odd shaped hole the eating disorder left behind is this:

A) fill it with multiple things.  No one thing can ever replace an eating disorder.  It’s too vast.  And do you really want to be someone who is completely obsessed with one thing only to the exclusion of anything else?  In my nonprofessional opinion, that’s just as bad as being obsessed with the eating disorder to the exclusion of everything else.

B) start a list.  Write down every little thing you have ever wanted to do but for whatever reason never did.  It can be small things like learning how to knit or crochet or it can be something big like sky diving.  Make a list and include all the hobbies you have even the slightest interest in.  Things you were too busy with the eating disorder to try.

C) start checking things off that list.  Some people call it a bucket list.  I call it “things I like to do.”  I read, I knit, I crochet, I write, I blog, I walk, I draw, I teach, I paint, I listen to music, I dance, I love learning languages, I collect build-a-bears, I love my nephew and niece, I speak at eating disorder events, I speak out about my experiences with my heart.  Not one of these things is large enough to take the place of the eating disorder.  But all of them together?  They add up to a fulfilling life.

D) Start this list now, regardless of where you are in recovery.  I don’t care if recovery is just some vague concept that you are considering for sometime in the future.  Get a list started.  Do things off of that list.  That way, when you do decide to take some leaps and bounds in the direction of recovery, you’ll have someplace to land and won’t be looking around you, thinking, “Fuck.  How the hell did I end up here and what the hell am I supposed to do with myself now?”

These are just my ideas.  But I do think that it’s important for you to consider who you want to become, what you want to do.  That way the absence of the eating disorder won’t be such a shock.  You’ll be ready to start filling in the holes.  You’ll be read for the addition that is called recovery.


May 8, 2010 - Posted by | Eating Disorders, identity, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. I realy appreciate this post. Your suggestions are dead on, and for some reason, can be the most difficult thing to try becuase it means changing- changing you and what you do. It can be scary, it can feel like not enough or too much all at once.
    And, you are right, it will never feel the same- as filling as the ED. I use a distraction list, I play with my dog- a lot becuase when i am in the ED I don’t seem to have the time or patience for her or anything. Art can become an amazing release of what is going on inside that you have felt only the ED could manage.
    This is a great post, Lex. Thank you for sharing!

    Comment by k | May 8, 2010 | Reply

  2. love it.

    Comment by mindy | May 9, 2010 | Reply

    • Mindy, I love YOU

      Comment by surfacingaftersilence | May 9, 2010 | Reply

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