Guest Post: Seeking out a path to recovery

By Natalie Lawrence

Natalie, known to many of you as Imago, is yet another member who was active on the Your Eatopia forums in 2012.

Many of you brand new to the recovery process want reassurance that applying the MinnieMaud Method Guidelines is a reasonable, assured and measured way to pursue remission from a restrictive eating disorder.

I hope that the conclusion you might draw from Natalie’s first person account is that the answer to the question “Is MinnieMaud right for me?” is “It depends.”

Several weeks ago, I found myself on a vertiginous slope, a steep drop on one side and a wall of rough rocks on the other. I could not head back the way I had come, and the way ahead was cloaked in fog, unknown, and probably much worse than I had expected when starting the journey. There was no option but to carry on as the path worsened, disoriented by the awkward angles of the rock’s surfaces and terrified by climbs over jagged outcrops that blistered from the mountain’s flesh.

I am not speaking metaphorically here, this was a literal slope that I was walking up. It was on the way to the top of Helvellyn, one of the best-beloved climbs of hill walkers, fell runners and other such lunatics in the Lake District in the north of England. One of said lunatics was my friend, who had persuaded me that we had to attempt the second highest peak in the Lake District during our short trip there. We also, inevitably, had to do it by the hairiest of ascents, Striding Edge. In the moments of euphoria as we overcame each obstacle, I grew increasingly glad that she had, because that climb proved to me something that I had shied away from testing for a long time.

A year ago, at the age of 23, we had both been broken bodies. She had been out training for a half-marathon when a van driver fell asleep, veered off the road and ran her over, shattering her leg for the next three years. I had been in the throes of the first few months of recovery from about seven years of moderate yet unrelenting restriction. My body was in crisis, unable to walk or stand for more than a short while, puffy and achy and unbearable in the way that so many people on this site are so familiar with. I could not trust it to remain the same for two hours at a time: I could leave the house wearing one pair of shoes, and during the evening my body could swell to such an extent that I could not keep them on.  The difference between my friend and I was that she wanted to climb a mountain to show that the idiot van driver had not defeated her, that she was still the same strong and bold person that she had been before the incident. I, on the other hand, had severed the relationship of trust with between my mind and body long ago. Though I have been rebuilding it step by step, I had not put so much trust in my physical capability for many years.

The climb crystallised several things that have been emerging for a while. For one, I am very strong now, much stronger than I ever was while exercising hard and restricting. My body took me beyond where my mind wanted to go, though I had been scared I would not be able to keep up with my companion. When we had to scramble up a scree slope or actually rock-climb over an outcrop, my mind railed against such foolhardy attempts, terrified of the drop to nothingness below. My body did not fail me though and my limbs carried me up and steadied me when I slipped. My muscle and sinew and bone were as powerful as I needed them to be.

In contrast, before recovery, my mind would beat my body beyond where it should have gone, schematising activity by day and mile, unable to handle the unexpected and unregimented, and using numbers to titrate the nourishment that it received. I whittled down cartilage and skeleton and muscle fibres until I no longer trusted them to hold me, nor to last until I had both climbed the mountain, and got back down safely again. This was not really extreme physical weakness, but a deep fatigue that was ever-present, lingering at the edges, so I always feared that it would overcome me if I tested myself too much.

Another thing the climb brought home to me was that I now have the capacity to be kind to my body. I would formerly have given myself perhaps a morsel more in preparation, not stopped when I was tired, never admitted to feeling faint or being unable to continue. Instead, I did none of those things. We stopped regularly to rest and fuel ourselves liberally on dates and bananas, and followed the climb with a slap-up meal. It is this burgeoning kindness, I think, that has been crucial in re-building the mutual trust between my mind and body, that is the foundation of my personal recovery. The tonic maltreatment has been replaced with more respect for weaknesses as well as strengths. I bend to whims and listen, and in return, my body grows stronger, less unpredictable, less prone to terrifying and bottomless needs. It has become mine again. 

Recovery has not been anywhere near a simple process, as no ones’ is. To be quite frank, I have not followed MinnieMaud Method Guidelines to the letter. I managed about four months of adherence and terrifying change before I decided I could not continue in the same way. This was driven out of a strange mixture of anxious fear about what was happening to my body, and certainty that my body was not going to repair amongst the maelstrom I had started within it. I was too afraid, or too unwilling to drive off the cliff, and had to find my own long and winding path down instead.

This has been my own real recovery, the step by step re-building of body and mind and the bonds between them. For me, it has come not from a total relinquishing control, but a re-linking and a re-learning of the language of my physicality, to respond, rather than ignore.  I stopped the full MinnieMaud Method Guidelines because in my gut it felt like something was not right. I do not regret that decision, nor even what was essentially a ‘relapse’ when I stopped, because of what it revealed. During the months following a shift away from MinnieMaud Method Guidelines, I tried, within conservative boundaries, to reverse some of the physical changes I so reviled that had come from refeeding. It was in part successful: I regained a body that was more familiar, regained the ability to move about normally, and with these much of my social confidence. I also regained the bulimia: my body had not had enough time to repair and it was wise to even the semblance of restrictive tricks now.

After perhaps 6 months of this twilight state, I decided to hunker down and let my body do its thing for a good long while.  Since then, I have slowly learned to decipher, piece by piece, my own organic signals: the warmth of my hands and feet, the fullness of my breasts, or the spring in my step. I have also learned to pull apart the fibres of my behaviours, disentangling the resonances of what and when I choose to eat, registering hunger or fullness, and balancing a love of physical activity with my body’s still compromised resilience. I always work to excise control and to inject the will to nourish and strengthen, to respond rather than work to any absolutes. There are certainly bad spells, I am not at total peace with my body. I still need to guard against the fear of feeling ‘bigger’ that drove me to restrict all those years ago. I do sometimes push myself too hard at the margins, and notice my body respond: a slight chill, inflamed skin, growing thoughts of food- all signs that I need to pull up and give myself a shake down and a reboot again. But these oscillations are becoming increasingly muted, I am living in a way that will carry me forward, and I am willing to give it time.

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Along with this bodily love, I have regained my love for life in a much fuller way over the past year. My boyfriend says that the biggest change in me is that, from being a tonically unhappy person with moments of elation, I am now a generally happy person with dark moments. This process has tested our relationship sorely, but also made it into something lasting, in part because I am now truly someone to build a life with, rather than a brittle thing to care for. I have regained not only physical strength but my strength of character, my formidable anger as well as overflowing love. Though less physically confident, I feel more attractive in myself, more able to connect and engage people, whether platonically or romantically. Along with my libido, I have regained my filthy sense of humour and the dirty laugh (only appropriate for certain occasions).  These changes, and many more, have forced him to grow alongside me, but I am sure they will make life infinitely better than it otherwise would have been.

I cannot imagine who would sacrifice these things for a thinner body, if they truly knew what they were giving up. For those that have, it is possible to find a way back, ushered and guided by loving and wonderful people like Gwyneth. It has to be their own though, an organic thing that they nurture and tend carefully so that it lasts into the future. This growth will not result in a highly manicured and perfectly pruned recovery or life, but instead, something akin to Charles Darwin’s ‘entangled bank’ in which ‘endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful can freely abound.

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Natalie Lawrence is a 24-year-old pursuing her PhD in History of Science. © Copyright. All photos in this post: Natalie Lawrence.

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