It is three AM. I am lying wide awake in bed listening to the familiar soft snore of my husband. He does this amazing thing when he sleeps- he breathes in through his mouth and out of his nose. Skills.
I then hear the air conditioner kick on. It makes a racket. It gives a hissssss and a rummmmbblleee. The constant drum of air flow can be heard for the entirety of its stream. In my inability to find sleep, I remembered being a kid and spending the night at friends’ houses and being unable to sleep because of the normal noises in their home.
My friend Katie had a kitten with a bell that ran and ran and ran around the house all night. Emily had a clock that would chime loudly EVERY HOUR, and Jennifer had a habit of constantly coughing that drove me nuts. Presently, I wonder if they would be annoyed/distracted by my husband’s sweet snore or my house’s loud cooling system. Shockingly, I love these noises. They are my home, my husband, my familiar.
And then it hit me; sometimes, when things are familiar to us, it is easy not to see/recognize them. I was this way with my eating disorder. The disordered way of life I lived was so familiar to me that I had no clue that I was even sick.
What my eating disorder called “normal”
Wake up at four AM to “get my mileage in”. When I got home from the run, I would stand in front of the mirror and examine with my eyes and hands each inch of my body, checking for firmness, for hardness. Then the exercises would commence: crunches, squats, lunges, push-ups, etc.
When I felt like I had done enough, I would shower, barely do hair and make-up (because I would just be running again soon, so what was the point?), and I would grab a homemade protein bar (only the cleanest of ingredients, measured out to the T), and go to work.
At work, I would be so distracted by my ED brain criticizing my every move that I would just go through the motions until lunch. Lunch meant a whole other level of disorder take-over… the emotions, anxiety, and ritual that would commence is scary. I ate alone, in my office, and I was only allowed half of everything I packed. If I had forgotten to pack my own lunch (which was never since what I was going to eat or not going to eat was ALWAYS the top priority) I would just not eat.
After work, run again. Go home, cook a bland meal, eat, put kids to bed, and begin to plan for the next day’s run/meals… and then crunches and go to bed. Very little connection. A lot of focus on self, being in my own head, and routine.
This was my life. I thought it was normal. And I pretended I was happy.
Let’s break this down for a moment…
Why and how would anyone think this is normal/happy behavior? The simple answer: society. Think about it: look what is focused on and praised in the media. It’s all about clean eating, exercise, and perfect bodies. Guess what? I had all three.
But wait; why was I so miserable? Society told me if I was a size zero, had abs, and never ate fast food and sugar then I would be perfection. Well, I may have looked like a Gap model, but my heart was failing. I was constantly mentally and physically exhausted. And I was literally having a breakdown trying to be perfect all of the time.
A student of mine once told me, “If you ever think you are perfect, go walk on water.” Well, I went for perfection and ended up drowning.
Guess what? Society lies.
As I went to treatment, began healing the wounds of my past, I learned that society lies. We are so saturated with the normal drone of “you are not good enough as you are”. It’s “do this, wear this, eat this and you will be better”, and “the only way to health is diet and exercise”. Through all of this we are conditioned to belittle ourselves if we are not achieving all that the world is feeding us.
And what do most people with eating disorders have in common? Perfectionism. We think that we should be able to achieve it ALL, and when we fail (because that is inevitable… go try and walk on the nearest body of water and get back to me) we beat ourselves up for the humanness that we possess.
When normal isn’t so normal
My familiar world of disorder and anxiety came to a halt when people in my life began to confront me directly. What I was trying to call “normal” was called out. My co-worker pulled me aside and told me she believed I needed help because I was foggy, distracted, and looking unhealthy.
I was baffled watching my best friend enjoy food, drinks, and people while l could barely choke down dry tuna without guilt. When we went out I only consumed water, and I was terrified to connect.
My daily running partner quit running with me out of the blue because he had to begin coaching again and needed rest. Meanwhile, I continued running myself into the ground.
My husband began to look at me with pity, sadness, and fear instead of love and laughter.
Once I began to accept that my normal and familiar may not be healthy, regardless of what society had taught me and millions of others, I was able to begin healing my mind and body.
My new normal
So, as I lay here at now 3:30 AM, I am filled with gratitude of my new normal this summer. Sleeping next to my man until my sweet three year old bounds into my room to wake me up to snuggle. Later all four of us (plus the cat) will pile on the couch for cartoons and cereal.
My new normal includes eating a big breakfast (no more homemade protein bars). I now have enough energy to enjoy the pool, the park, and the trampoline with my kids. Not to mention the variety of foods and recipes that have made their way into our household. Yum! I defiantly don’t miss the dry tuna! This new-normal definitely beats self-imposed mandatory 4:00 AM runs.
I understand that I am worthy and lovable. No matter what goes in my body or how it looks. Because I am a human being and a child of God.
That makes me worthy no matter how I look or how many times I screw up. If I ever feel the need to manipulate my body or begin cutting or restricting food, I remember that sad life that of chasing perfection. I was miserable. Now I enjoy the new-normal of self-awareness and wise mind. My new normal is a beautiful, fulfilled life.
I’ll take that over society’s promise of “perfection if” any day.