When I was about to start writing this post and thought to myself, what do I think when I think ‘force’?, it spoke of violence – brute force, asserted force, lack of control. But actually, after I rolled it around in my head for a while, I started to think of it as a positive word: a force for good, a force for change. The driving force of willpower, which can be used for self-destruction, as in the gradual whittling away of the flesh that comes with restriction and starvation, or self-preservation, as in wilful recovery.
People with eating disorders – or any kind of mental health issue for that matter - are sometimes seen as weak. They have given in or succumbed, they aren’t fighting against their negative thoughts, they aren’t trying.
In actual fact, maintaining an eating disorder is hard work. It feels impossibly difficult at times. Starving to the point of exhaustion requires an enormous amount of willpower. Not that I’m saying this is a good thing – only that we are not weak-willed, lily-livered little girls with no fight in us. When we learn how to channel the force of our own willpower in a positive direction, access our own sense of self-preservation, we are unstoppable.
Before I recovered, I’d have said that my anorexic weight was the hardest thing I’d managed to achieve. I think that people who have no experience of eating disorders sometimes presume that anorexics just decide to stop eating one day and get veryvery thin as a result. The truth is, it takes constant battling, constant effort to lose and keep losing weight, and then to keep that weight stable. Constant, forceful arguing with the self, about what to forbid and why we should not submit to temptation. Constant agonising about whether to just have one bite, one sip, one chew, about whether to purge the little we have managed to eat. I remember being utterly exhausted, ridiculously hungry, and still I wouldn’t give in. That, to me, was strength. That, then, was willpower.
Now I am in recovery, I can say, hand on heart, that achieving that was even harder. And some days are still hard (although it is getting easier) but it’s so worth it. I have a life, now. I am interested in things again. I can read a book and remember what happened, I can sit down to write and not be confronted by a dull mental hum and nothing else. I can socialise with friends without having to worry about whether they’ll be eating, and if I’ll have to eat, and how little I can get away with. And oh my goodness, it took so much effort to undo all that mental conditioning and allow myself things again and put on weight to get physically better. It was like the anorexic process in reverse, with extra difficulties thrown in for good measure.
This is turning into yet another long-winded and sort of rambling post…but the crux of what I am trying to say is that we have used our driving force, our inner power to over-ride the most basic of urges, and that has taken commitment and power and strength – it was just used in the wrong way. Like using a sword to slice bread and hacking the loaf into broken little bits. You’ve achieved what you set out to do – you’ve sliced the bread – but what a mess you’ve made of it.
When we can learn to turn our driving force around and use that for recovery and creation and positivity instead….that’s when we really do become a force to be reckoned with.