I have time and time again compared my eating disorder to a rubber band.
Phase One- Fusing
Initially I had no idea that there was band wrapped around me. I didn’t know that I could only move so far without being pulled back. I had no idea that dieting was leading to starvation or that cheat days were leading to binging/purging. I had no idea that spending hours at the gym was not normal. I had no idea that over the course of several years, the eating disorder had come in the form this rubber band to restrain me, my life, and my future.
The day I first became aware of the band around my body, I was 17. Hunger had left me doubled over, retching in pain as I tried desperately to close my eyes and sleep. My mind screamed for me to get out of bed and eat something. My body begged me to drink some more water to help ease the Charlie-horses in my legs. This was not uncommon during this time, actually this was not uncommon throughout the past decade or so, but something about this night stuck with me because lying there unable to sleep, I had the thought that I didn’t want to do this anymore. I didn’t want to restrict. I didn’t want to get up at 4:30 to workout. I wanted cereal in the morning and to sleep past the sunrise. I wanted to feel warm again and not have to line my bed with four comforters. I was 17 and that night desperately wanted to get out of bed and eat and drink and end this agony that I was living in, and yet I couldn’t. Something inside of me, held me down, told me not to move, told me that I wasn’t allowed to because if I did then everything I had worked towards, all the weight I had lost, all the calories I had purged, all the hours spent ruminating over my body and calories and weight and diets would have been wasted. If I got up that night, I would be a failure and failure was not something I could deal with. And upon realizing the paralysis of adhering my body’s needs, I rubbed my hands across my torso and felt for the first time the rubber band around my waist that was now fused to my skin with no hope of removal.
Phase Two- Stretching
The rubber band was so much more uncomfortable once I knew it was there. It was tight and irritating. It gave me rashes and left my waist feeling sore. You know when you wear a ponytail too long and you take it off and your hair hurts? Well, imagine never being able to take out the ponytail. You always have to wear something that is cutting off your circulation and doesn’t allow you to bend certain ways. That is what living with a rubber band is like. That is what living with a rubber band that is actually an eating disorder, that is actually slowly ruining your life, that actually won’t ever leave you alone is like.
The rubber band got thicker over the years. It got so big that people started to notice it was there. That is how I ended up under the microscope listening to a bunch of doctors and therapists and dietitians trying to help fix me. I was willing at first to spend my days in rooms lined with couches and eating premade meals, but then I was told that no one was going to remove the rubber band for me and I lost all faith in the process. The rubber band had fused to my body over the years, leaving me dependent on it. My blood supply now ran through it. It was a muscle that helped me to think and walk. It was a part of me and the professionals told me that they couldn’t just cut it off.
I didn’t like that answer. So, I hooked one end of the rubber band to a pole and started running in the opposite direction. Running and running and running away from the arena that the band had chained me in. The direction that promised me recovery. The direction that promised freedom. I ran with one end hooked on a pole because I thought that if I stretched the band far enough, that it would eventually snap.
The opposite happened. Instead of a snapped rubber band resulting in the freedom I so longed for, I got so exhausted I had to forfeit the race. I had to rest my feet and the moment I sat down the rubber band pulled me back to the starting point. The place, where the one end was hooked on a pole. And, after all that running and effort and energy I landed myself back in a room full of couches with premade meals and professionals telling me that they couldn’t cut the rubber band off and I couldn’t run from it, expecting it to snap in two.
I didn’t believe them. Instead, I hook on end of the rubber band onto a pole and started running again. Run, run, run, run and then retort. Back to the pole, back to the couches, back to the professionals. The rubber band was too thick to snap. It was too thick to outrun. It was too fused to remove. I sat on the couches and raised my hands in surrender.
Though running away from the rubber band didn’t work, it did stretch the band out. The times I was running away from the rubber band were the times I was fully onboard the recovery wagon and doing everything in my power to get rid of the eating disorder. Then the times when the rubber band pulled me back to the pole were my seasons of relapse and reentering treatment. This process was exhausting, a push and pull, a back and forth marathon of trying to find any way to get rid of the band. Some positives did come out of these seasons though because they stretched out that band, which represents the eating disorder’s malicious voice inside my head. The band after these seasons fit like a loose pair of sweats rather than tight skinny jeans.
Because the band was now loose, I felt as though I could take a step back and truly look at it. This was the key all along. Walking with the band and slowly finding ways to loosen its grip. That is what the dietitians and therapists and doctors were trying to tell me. They weren’t saying that I would never be free of the rubber band, they were saying that I had to first accept the band before I could learn its weaknesses. The running away from it and the multiple attempts to snap it were valid, but ineffective. It was so too much too quickly. I had to slowly pull away. Find ways to become less dependent on it. Find other ways of coping with pain. Find other skills to help me distract from behaviors. Learn to live without the band. Cut of the blood supply running through it and eventually it would just shrivel away and die.
Phase Four- Unknown
I haven’t gotten here yet. I think it is supposed to be the phase where the rubber band eventually falls off somewhere along my walk. Where the band no longer fits. Where the band is no longer used. Where I am come to a place where I am no longer concerned with the band and how it feels and then one day I just realize that it is gone. I don’t know if I believe in this phase. I don’t know if I ever think that the rubber band will be gone. But I do know that I have heard people talk about loosing their rubber bands. They don’t know when or how or why exactly. They just know that one day they woke up and realized it was gone. Perhaps, one day I too will wake up, rub my hands along my torso, and find no rubber band. Perhaps, one day.