I’ve always been pretty weird about the number. In fact, I would prefer to reveal my number of sexual partners, number of dollars in the bank, number of speeding tickets, number of times I’ve held my head in shame and sobbed- yup just about any other number than that number with you. I’m talking about the number on the scale.
My relationship with this number has been horribly distorted for as long as I can remember recognizing what a scale was. The development of my eating disorder in high school went unnoticed for years, hence for years I was able to live and breathe for the number. I was able to check that number multiple times throughout the day. That number dictated my happiness. It went down? Success! It went up? Complete disgust with myself.
They say it always gets worse before it gets better. This is sure how it was with my relationship with that number. My eating disorder became increasingly worse during my time in college, and then one day, at the beckoning of my mother, I found myself in the office of a therapist, attempting to explain my worship for the deity that we call the scale (read: that number). I spent the next few years in and out of treatment. The battle then shifted to letting go of the number. And it was not a battle that I took on easily. In fact, I resisted picking up my sword and fighting for a good long while. I protected my number with everything I had. I refused to get on the scale at the dietician’s office. I found tricky ways to deceive the doctors when they did get me on the scale. That number proved pretty tricky to let go of after all.
And to an extent, the number was everything—ultimately determining whether or not I could come back to college at some points, at other points determining if my parents were speaking to me. Other times, it seemed to dictate how many friends I had, with a direct correlation to “friends lost.” More importantly, it dictated my ability to think straight, my energy level, and the very life in my eyes. Some days, the number was 99.9% of my thoughts. Some days it felt like a demonic force, like something that was constantly hunched over me, a darkness that I would never shake, that number.
After years of the abovementioned struggle, years of the back and forth, years of holding on tooth and nail to that number, I took a leap of faith out of what I can only look back on as sheer desperation mixed with complete ambivilance. I chose recovery. I chose it day by day. Minute by minute at first. And what was one of the most significant pieces of this choice? You guessed it! Letting go of that number. It started with the suggestion that so many doctors, dieticians, and therapists had been pushing- I agreed to be weighed “back to scale” (This means exactly what it sounds like- you simply stand with your back to the scale, thereby giving up your choice to see that number). It was terrifying. It also made me strangely angry at first. What right does this nurse have to know that number if I cant? But over time I began to experience a sigh of relief. A loosening of the claw grip of that number. It didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen over a few months. But slowly and surely, I began to realize that when I didn’t actually know what I weighed, I could breath. I had freedom from that number. I started asking doctors to refrain from telling me my weight, even when I went for a check-up. I started trusting the fit of my clothing, and (gasp) the mirror a little more. And you know what? It worked. Choosing to forgo knowledge about that number allowed me the breathing room to actually begin to focus on my own recovery, and all the things that I was avoiding by constantly obsessing about my weight and body. It allowed me to see that my eating disorder wasn’t actually about numbers at all. Acknowledging, understanding, and accepting this was ultimately one of the most important pieces of my recovery process.
Don’t get me wrong. This has been something that I have had to work really hard on. I have had to hold myself responsible when I am in other people’s bathrooms or around random scales. I have had to make a promise to myself not to step on those scales because here’s the thing: That number? It means nothing. Absolutely nothing. But for whatever reason, my brain uses it wrong. It uses it against me. So I choose not to know it. I have had people tell me that I am giving the number power by avoiding it. Maybe some day I will move towards taking back that power altogether, to seeing the number and not caring at all. But for now, I am working on simply protecting myself. This means continuing to weigh back to scale when I have to, and not weighing myself when I don’t have to! Works for me. As long as I am actively rejecting my obsession with that number, as long as I am working towards being happy and healthy, then I am moving in the right direction. And any direction where that number is null, and my happiness comes first is a direction that I want to be headed in.