Recovering From Diabulimia – Part 1

First things first

One of my fears before coming into treatment was that no one else in the clinic would be suffering from diabulimia and wouldn’t be able to understand my struggles. This was a perfectly rational fear because it is true that you come across less people in treatment without diabetes than with. However, the feelings behind what I was doing were exactly the same as people with other eating disorders. The trapping feeling of fear, the anxiety, the desperation and the anger were all common feelings amongst other clients, and in groups it didn’t matter so much about the actual behaviour, it was about the feelings which led up to it, and many clients could relate to this. Also, everyone in clinic has very different behaviours in their eating disorders. No two bulimics or anorexics will use behaviours in exactly the same way so there is always variation and the relating to others doesn’t come from the behaviour itself, it’s the feelings. There are some unique things to diabulimia, but things I didn’t feel comfortable talking about in group I took to my one to one therapist, and more often than not she suggested I bring it up in group because it was more relatable than I thought!

Starting the recovery process

The first thing which had to be addressed when I came into treatment was keeping my blood sugars under good control. I learnt that I couldn’t do therapeutic work without this, because high blood sugar would cloud my thought space. This was a matter of self-care, which I didn’t understand the meaning of until I started self-care group at Recover. Many-a-time I have heard the phrase ‘you just lack self-care with your diabetes’ spoken at me by healthcare professionals. For a long time the true meaning of this phrase didn’t ring true with me, mostly because I truly believed I was doing exactly what I wanted to. In my head, because I thought my eating disorder brought me happiness, dedicating myself to its behaviours felt like self-care, even though I knew it was dangerous. Because at first my motivation to control my blood sugars for myself was lacking, my main motivation came from my therapists. My nutritional therapist at Recover looked at my recordings of my blood sugar each week, which I colour coded green, orange and red, and we talked about individual readings – for instance how a high reading had happened. 

Accepting myself as a human 

But deep down I knew I had to find another way to feel motivated. Without a reason for me, my recovery felt unstable because I knew if the help was gone my motivation would also be gone. So with the help of my therapist and core group I started working on my core self. Having grown up in a vaguely religious environment with diabetes, I had spent my childhood debating about whether I believed in a God. More specifically, I believed that if he existed, this God must be punishing me. The only conclusion I could come to as a child was that this must be because I was a bad or unlucky person (this was all at a very sub-conscious level that I only retrieved from my brain through therapy!). Therapy taught me that this was simply false. Now I really believe that no one is born as a bad person or becomes one – everyone is just affected by the things going on around them and makes behaviour choices which are either constructive or destructive. This helped me to accept myself and feel less resentful towards being who I was and being in my diabetic body.

Finding my identity

As a child my diabetes was a huge part of my identity. I felt I was ‘the diabetic one’, which was not helped by no one else I knew having diabetes, and a feeling of being different from others. When I had tried to reject my diabetes as being a part of me, my identity became my eating disorder, and by the time I came to therapy I was in the position of not really knowing who I was underneath my illnesses. A big part of recovery was reconnecting with who I was, levitra online mainly through mindfulness. As I meditated in meditation group I discovered more about my feelings, first. How each feeling actually felt in my body helped me to become aware of them coming up in real life. I was discovering what feelings actually felt like and how I felt about different things in my life. It was hard to feel sad or angry, or other more negative emotions, but I could finally feel joy and gratitude and love for things and people. I was finally discovering what interested me and what I wanted in my life. And to do those things I had to look after my body so that it could support me to do them. I learnt that I was into writing, art and photography, and to be able to get my creativity out without distraction I had to have the clear headedness of good blood sugar.

Challenging old beliefs

I felt all-or-nothing about my complications as well. I felt that if I’d already spent so long with high blood sugars, was there really any point in making effort? Wasn’t I already going to have complications in the future? The fact that you can never take a day off from diabetes furthered this and I often found myself overwhelmed at the thought of my future with diabetes. Whenever I found my sugars better controlled I had a sinister voice at the back of my head telling me that there was no point because I’d be getting complications anyway. My first step was to share this with my therapist, who encouraged me to think about it more. The fact was the more I looked after myself, the less likely and the further away complications would be.  The best thing I could do would be to look after my sugars now and accept that I couldn’t control what life could throw at me later down the line, but being in a good recovery if that happened would change how much the complication would affect my life. For example, as an unwell person if my foot was cut I would be more likely to leave it, but as a person in recovery I would accept that feet are a high risk and get it checked out. That would lead to less complications anyway because I’d be more on top of my treatment of them.

The biggest part of learning to live peacefully with well-controlled diabetes was facing the extent to which I hadn’t accepted it. I had to become aware of my feelings towards it in order for them to change. I did this through creative therapy at Recover clinic, where I would draw something to represent myself, something to represent my diabetes and look at how my subconscious creative self related the two. I also thought back to childhood memories of emotional memories associated with diabetes and noted how angry I felt for my child self. This helped me to start making a dedicated effort for that child who still exists in me: to look after her and reassure her.

Another belief was that I felt that my body was ‘broken’ because of my diabetes, and found it hard to foster love for it. My view on this only started to change when a new idea was introduced to me in spiritual group, talking about gratitude. I had very little gratitude for my body, and felt anger rising when we talked about this topic. I expressed how I felt like my body had let me down and in a calm, loving response, the therapist responded that with the amount of damage I had done to my body through my eating disorder, my body had done very well to keep me alive. It sounds dramatic, and something I would definitely have not believed at my sickest, but there were many times where my blood sugar was dangerously high and my body could easily have gone into a coma instead of keeping me awake and able to get help. The point stayed with me for a long time and through appreciating the things my body does do for me I began to feel the desire to look after it.

  • Find out more about diabulimia here 

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