‘How I Broke Up With My Eating Disorder’

To mark eating disorder awareness week, Charlotte Oliver looks back at the moment she finally broke up with her eating disorder – and why the toughest part of recovery, the ‘in-between’, is worth the fight

How I Broke Up With My Eating Disorder

by Charlotte Oliver |

'It's over,' I told her, tightening my resolve as she reactively tightened her noose yet again. Sometimes, she pleaded with words of comfort: 'I'm the only one who understands you,' she'd lie. 'I only want to make things better.' Other times, she'd strike the rod like the indefatigable abuser that she was. 'You can't survive without me,' she hissed. 'You're broken. You're useless. You're unlovable.'

This time, however, was different. I'd booked a weekend away to Brighton - just me and her, a final farewell. I walked us to the beachfront, sat bone to stone on the shore, and breathed in all the possibility of what could come, if I only let her go. 'I don't need you anymore,' I whispered, swallowing the bitter tears and willing myself to believe it too. She laughed in my face and gut, but I clenched my fist. Then I got up, returned to my hotel, and three days later, admitted myself into the inpatient wing of an NHS eating disorder unit; 10 minutes from home, 10 light years away from all my home comforts.

I'd finally ended the most significant relationship in my life - for good this time. The 'before' was over, the 'after' beckoned, and now came the hardest part... the in-between.

In hindsight, the foundations had been crumbling for months, but she'd convinced me that we'd stay afloat - or that the alternative, my so-called recovery, was too gruesome to bear. She'd alienated me so deeply from everyone, everything around me, that I was solely dependent on her. And she was dependent on me - draining me of energy, humour, and personality, as she grew greater and I retreated into an ever-sicker body. Besides, my body was no longer mine - it belonged to her and the doctors who scrutinised me and my family who worried about me and the strangers who judged me (note: it was more concern than judgement, but I couldn't see the difference).

I'd grown used to my evidently sick body being, however ironically, the elephant in the room. I'd walk around in public with my head bowed down, ashamed to stick out like a scraggy, sore thumb. Sometimes passerby would look, sometimes they'd comment. One time, a homeless man holding a half-drained tinny screamed, 'Eat a fucking burger!' as I hurried past him, gut-punched and breathless. Not only had I lost weight, I'd also lost my voice - at least, one that anyone would listen to.

'Charlotte's very sick,' professionals told my parents, as I sat, invisible, begging to be heard. 'She can't be trusted to look after herself.' I agreed I needed help, of course, but my vote was irrelevant in any case. How could I possibly stand up for myself when I was told off for standing on my feet too much?

The ins and outs of in-patient treatment were and are tricky, mostly [disabled by an under-funded NHS](http://The True Cost Of The NHS's Inability To Deal With Eating Disorders) - suffice to say that if you don't want to get better, you won't. In fact, wanting it isn't enough (believe me, I've wanted to get better for the past 10 years). You have to decide you're going to get better, whether you want it or not. Heartbreakingly, too many sufferers find themselves in a never-ending loop of inpatient treatment, convinced that they're fighting the system, rather than fighting the sickness. They stay, stabilize, leave, decline, and the loop continues. And I've ridden that merry go-round more than I care to recall. But this time, embracing a period of admission that included my 30th birthday, I was finally ready. The break-up endured.

No-one told me about... the tsunami of emotions, once tranquillized by the eating disorder, that upsurged with little warning

This brings me to the part of recovery that is little touched on, despite it being the crux of the process - the in-between. Most of us have seen the oft-promoted tropes: the 'before' and 'after' pictures proving the physical signs that a person is better (and make no mistake, the physical signs ARE important: there's no two ways about it, you can't get better in a sick body). But yet, it's so much more than a matter of deciding one day to eat, then to eat and eat, then to wake up one day - healthier, happier, full of beans (metaphorical, literal), still smiling. It involves stockpiles of endurance. It's when she tries her best to win you back, and the physical effects become all consuming, worsened by the surprising fact that there's little support to calm your nerve.

Nobody told me about the water retention, which made me feel like a human hourglass, seizing up with piling sand as the day progressed, making the simplest movements an ordeal. Nor the bone stress fractures, that left me hobbling, however more energized I felt in mind, and daunted by the shortest walk to the bus stop. Nor the hair loss, the skin breakouts, the GP who remarked, 'Bloody hell, you've put on half your body weight.' Nor the tsunami of emotions, once tranquillized by the eating disorder, that upsurged with little warning - whether it was the memory of a friend who upset me two years prior, or a family squabble, or a work mishap. (For anyone facing these side effects now, please know they are temporary and they too shall pass.) Granted, nobody said it would be a picnic, but nobody said the food would be the easiest part.

Let me be crystalline clear: I would take any side-effect of recovery over the alternative. But the process is brutal, demanding Herculean strength - and anyone who sees it through is stronger than a Spartan phalanx in full fight.

Nine months later, and I barely recognize the girl who sat bone to stone on the shore, still dependent on an abuser who'd been her lifeblood and her poison. Since demanding my future, I've gained a life which far outweighs the painful physical by-products, which - hopefully, slowly - are getting better. I've gained a lightness, an ease, and a right to free-will. I've gained a voice that's heard and a body that's mine. It took one mighty break-up - the loss of a figure that pretended to complete me and to nourish me; but actually depleted me and consumed me. By breaking away, I made myself whole.

For support, visit: beateatingdisorders.org.uk

READ MORE: The True Cost Of The NHS's Inability To Deal With Eating Disorders

READ MORE: Are We Reaching An Eating Disorders Crisis Point?

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