I have spent a lot of time hating my eating disorder. I get angry about what it has taken from me, how much time it has wasted, what it has done to my body.
But here's the thing. The eating disorder is also part of me. Whether I like it or not.
It's maybe like a tattoo that I got that I regret, but it's still there.
Or like a relative you wish you weren't related to. As much as you might go to lengths to avoid that family member, as much as you might make grand gestures of cutting them out of your life, you will always--always--be connected to them.
I'm fortunate in that I don't have such a relationship with any of my relatives. Actually, when I hear that people have cut family members out of my life, it often makes me sad, like "can't you work it out? Can't you accept each other?". Typically not my place to say or ask, but the thought does cross my mind.
I recognize that my eating disorder isn't a weird uncle or cousin I should make amends with. But at the same time, I wonder if things could change and become far easier if I just decided to accept my eating disorder and allow it in my life...even to love it.
At this point, dealing with serious disordered eating is happily in the past for me. I'm not severely restricting, nor am I bingeing and purging. However, the fear can still be there with food. There's part of me that is tempted to avoid events and situations where there will be food involved. I still can't eat with an incredible amount of ease. Food is still fraught at times.
So what if I chose to find these behaviors endearing or amusing? What if I could relegate my still-present disordered behaviors to the territory of a spoiled young child having a tantrum?
For instance: when my nephew was younger and would have a tantrum in my presence, I felt discomfort, but also a measure of amusement. And while I would get annoyed or embarrassed, I never stopped loving or accepting him.
What if I could treat these still-disordered habits similarly? For instance, if I'm delivered a plate of food at a restaurant and the fear kicks in -- the bun on this burger is too big! Why didn't I ask for dressing on the side? I wonder how many calories are in this cheese? --when these thoughts arise, could I simultaneously be annoyed and reject them, yet also accept and love them as part of me?
I think that the hard part about such a concept is not that it's hard. It's that it's easy. Almost too easy. How radical to simply accept myself--disordered, bent, scratched, imperfect--as a whole and complete and beautiful being, just as I am? To not feel as if I am innately flawed and need fixing?
As Sharon Salzberg writes in Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness,
"Surrendering our fixations, simply being happy, is like suddenly breaking free from confinement. It is as if we were in a small, cramped room on top of a mountain, and all at once the walls have come tumbling down, revealing a panoramic vista. How breathtaking!"
I'm not trying to dismiss the seriousness of eating disorders, nor am I in any way saying that traditional treatment is not effective. However, in reaching a more advanced point of recovery, I do think that there's a point at which one is at a crossroads. Is mostly recovered enough? Or is it worth doing the truly scary thing: embracing, accepting, and in that, letting go of the disordered eating?