Eating Disorders: Diseases of Desire

Even the desire for liberation is bondage.

Doesn't that sound totally smart and deep? This is probably because I didn't write it--it's translated from the Vedantic Scriptures, which you don't need to know too much about other than the fact that it's a really, really old yogic text. Let me repeat: 

Even the desire for liberation is bondage.

What does this phrase mean to you? To jog your thoughts, I'll tell you what it means to me.

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted more, more, more. It's suiting that my name is Moore--my mother allegedly began referring to me as "Jessie-wants-Moore" as early as my teething days.

If you talk to her long enough, my mom will tell you about how, each day, after being fed in my high chair, I would look at her with my big blue eyes and say, "what now?". For her, the day stretched out long: what will we do to keep Jessica happy?

As I grew up, I changed, but the desire for change didn't. I kept on wanting the next thing. The next grade. The next class trip. The next spelling bee. The next place to shine, the next place where I would be the me I was meant to be. When I was in elementary school, I wanted middle school. When I got there, I wanted high school. Then I wanted college. And so on. It wasn't limited to school. I was voracious for the future: a bigger, more interesting place than I ever seemed to be in the current moment.

In the midst of my youthful wanting, I developed an eating disorder.

If you read enough books about eating disorder recovery, you'll get the message pretty quickly that eating disorders are rarely about food. It becomes about food, yes. But the catalyst is usually far from food. 

An eating disorder is a disease of desires. 

I have been both bulimic and anorexic, and I believe that in both cases, desire was a huge aspect of the respective diseases. Bulimia involved periods of restriction that ended in eating binges, which were basically huge, all-at-once indulgence in desire. I couldn't always have the more, more, more that I wanted in my life. But I could eat my fill, and for short time at least, it filled the void. 

Anorexia was the flip side: a total denial of desires. For me, it was the most extreme expression of my frustration. I wanted so much, it was scary; I knew that if I gave in to the wanting, I would drown in it. I had, with bulimia. Anorexia was the opposite of bulimia's messiness: it was orderly, controlled, secure, austere, clean. I couldn't control my desires, I couldn't control the world, I couldn't always keep the bathroom or kitchen clean, but I could control what I ate and didn't eat. Anorexia was like a quiet place of control in an otherwise scary and out of control-seeming world, but this isn't to say it was an oasis. There's the catch. 

Problem: an eating disorder is a completely ineffective manager of desire, whether you're giving in or restricting. 

An eating disorder is a false friend, whispering in your ear that all of this wanting, all of this confusion, it's all too hard. The eating disorder tells you it can help. But it can't.

An eating disorder doesn't bring you closer to being happy with yourself and the world you live in. On the contrary, an eating disorder makes it practically impossible to be happy with where and who you are. 

As I progressed in life and disordered eating, I became increasingly ravenous for new, for change, for more. Things escalated. The changes needed to be bigger, badder, more dramatic. I got married. I got a job. I quit a job. I moved cross country. I got another job. I quit another job. I started a company. I bought a store. I got divorced. 

Eventually, all of my running away and shaking off and taking on something new, those methods of seeking something else, caught up with me. As a result of some of the things mentioned above, I came to a place of such emotional and physical emptiness and despair that the road ahead seemingly ended. But there, I had a long overdue epiphany: I needed to stop running. 

I had been hearing this over and over in therapy and in books. To overcome eating disorders, you need to be present. You need to be in yourself, in your life, for real. This is nothing new, nothing that hasn't been proven over and over and over. But for the first time in my life, I understood. 

And with it came an awful, painful honesty about what I had done to myself. I realized that I hadn't been present for years. I had spent so much time trying to avoid the reality of who, where, and how I was that I had checked out of my own life. I didn't know who I was anymore. To remember, I had to stay put long enough to remember or discover, I wasn't sure which. 

When I say "staying put" I don't mean that I didn't travel or do anything new. I think that the desire to travel and explore is actually quite a good thing. But when it is motivated by a compulsion to escape what or who you are, well, that's a different story. And yes, it can be hard to tell the difference.

I literally made a decision and vow to myself to not run away, and to actually live in the life I was in rather than hoping for or seeking another. 

In some ways, this staying put was excruciating. Instead of turning to food or controlling the lack thereof, I had to actually be with some of those uncomfortable aspects of myself. I had to stay in the awkward, uncomfortable "middle" places and not focus on just moving past them without looking back. 

It hurt. Some days, I felt an almost physical twitch in my legs, as if they wanted to run. There was a seemingly ever-present , voice in my head telling me to run away, just run, run, run. The voice is still there sometimes. It has taken time, but it is quieter now. 

I still have to fight the desire to fly away, but sometimes beautiful things can happen if you stay put.

Once I made a resolution to actually live in my life, for better or for worse, I knew that other changes were needed.

One was that I decided to actually take part in the world around me rather than keeping my thoughts and heart in an idealized version of the future.

Instead of dreading interactions or avoiding them, I decided that I was going to actually be present in them. And you know what? When you actually listen to people rather than worrying about how little you can get away with eating and how fast you can say it's time to go home, when you stop doing that and actually talk to them, people are pretty cool and interesting.

Activities are more interesting too, when you actually engage in them. Like, bowling! Or watching movies! Or having a cocktail! These things are fun to begin with. But they're even more fun when you are actually engaged, rather than going through the motions like an actor hired to play a bit part as "person doing thing". 

And places! Good god, you can even find happiness right where you are. Even if a city isn't your true love, it can be a pretty cool place if you take the attitude of "well, why don't I enjoy it while I am here." It actually takes less effort than hating and plotting escape from a place.

Believe it or not, it can actually be easier to be happy than to be miserable. Even if that means coming to terms with all of the things you feel that you "messed up" by not being present in the past. Not necessarily letting them go...but accepting things you did as fact and trying your best to do better in the future. 

What I want you to take away from this

You might feel like you are seeking liberation with your wanting. You might think that your eating disorder is freedom from desire, because it is a way to channel that wanting, to funnel it in a controlled way. 

But what if that seeming liberation is truly bondage, and the secret to setting yourself free is letting yourself be who you are, where you are, how you are, right now?