Exposing the isolation around eating disorders so we can help and be helped.
Life has my heart and eyes back on my eating disorder, or rather eating disorders (ED) in general. I don’t write about ED a lot because it isn’t universally understood, and it tends to make people feel uncomfortable, or is received as a means to garner attention or create drama. At the risk of making you uncomfortable or being dramatic, I’m going to briefly try to get real about the isolation around ED. My experience is limited to bulimia, and I don’t take authority over all versions of ED but I’m hopeful my words speak for many who are suffering. I want to share how isolating it feels so we can be open to help if someone reaches to us or we might be open to reach out if we are suffering.
Isolation doesn’t really want to be alone
ED is crippling and is usually accompanied by the feeling, THE BELIEF… absolutely nobody understands our experience, which makes the disorder that much more isolating. And, it is already an exceedingly isolating cycle filled with shame, blame and fear. I hesitate to say you can’t know unless you’ve been there, or you don’t know unless you know because I have no absolute proof of this, but the statement feels accurate. And I suspect that is true regardless of the type of eating disorder a person is suffering with, and there are many.
Oh, and isolation doesn’t really want to be alone so he invites his friend, or she invites her friend (because isolation is inclusive), body dysmorphia over so together they can convince you effectively of your absolute lack of worth. So now you’re isolated, alone and abusing the mind and body you should be worshiping. I took the picture included here as a reminder. There was a time where the body on the right was closer to acceptable. Yeah, the emaciated one on the right, the one where my organs are almost visible was CLOSER to acceptable, so even that body wasn’t thin enough.
Recovery demands I deny any shame surrounding my experience
Part of my recovery demands I deny any shame surrounding my experience and I’ve remained open and share when it feels appropriate. It is, after all, part of this current and evolving version of me and it helped shape all this awesomeness I’m bringing. 😉
I’ve shared intimate conversations with many who haven’t personally taken a ride on the ED roller coaster. I’ve shared detailed accounts of that portion of my life and the part of me that still identifies with its process, and still fears its return. These exchanges are generally met with sympathy, the occasional, “that must be hard” and often, “I don’t understand” or “I can’t relate”. I’ve allowed myself to feel irrational, dramatic and a little nuts based on less than sympathetic reactions. I don’t blame people for those reactions; I chose to take on those feelings and they don’t have access to any experiential reference point. My point is, I never felt really seen or as though anyone GOT IT. Until…
One day, on a small beach, in a park, in my little town; I shared my experience with a person who KNEW. We were new friends, with an easy and natural connection who were just getting acquainted. Little did I know at the time, she was to become a soul sister, a love, a queen, and a part of my heart. She was the very first person I ever talked to who could relate to my experience because she too had experienced it, was experiencing it.
She saw me!
She felt me!
She validated me!
She got it!
This was, for lack of a better description, an EXPLOSION OF BUTTERFLIES, GLITTER AND DANCING UNICORNS.
I. WAS. NOT. ALONE.
Here sat this gorgeous, exceedingly confident, powerhouse of a woman who was on the road I knew so well. I was shocked. She too was afraid. She too felt alone. She too felt unseen. She too was hiding behind her confidence. She was the life raft I never knew I needed. She is to this day, and my gratitude for her fills my heart and wets my eyes.
Let me be clear, I intellectually knew I wasn’t the first person to experience bulimia, but she was the first person I’d ever spoken to, in real life who also had. It seems so simple, but it felt like magic. I was filled with lightness and everything felt soft. I was wrapped in a comforting fur blanket. I was not alone.
Imagine your life revolving around food, fear of food, control and lack of control
Trauma is often associated with the feeling of being alone and of being the only one who has ever experienced it. I was pretty sure nobody else had ever experienced what I was at that time. To be more accurate, I didn’t know I had bulimia until I had suffered for a few years. I’d finally reached a depth of depression which lead me to seek professional help and my psychiatrist very quickly diagnosed my behavior as bulimic. I didn’t purge by throwing up, so it never dawned on me I had an eating disorder. I would exercise tirelessly after a binge; that was my purge. And so began my climb up the recovery mountain. It was slow, divergent and exhausting. My brain on ED was a liar, a thief and a prick!
Fast forward to about a month ago, I met a person on the climb, fighting the fight and feeling the fear, frustration and isolation. Much like childbirth, the pain associated with my disorder is mitigated by time, and this sweet soul brought it rushing back with hurricane force.
Imagine your life revolving around food, fear of food, control and lack of control. This is your mind on ED. There is obsessive thought regarding what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat; calculations and planning endlessly giving way to more calculations and planning. The mind has very little left to offer other areas of life or capacity to let in all the wonders that make that life full and gorgeous. This is an oversimplification to be sure but try to imagine a day filled only with fear and food choices…and seemingly no way out of the loop. It is misery.
For those looking in, it would seem easy to just stop participating but it doesn’t work that way. It is like telling an alcoholic to stop drinking. In the mind’s sick way, it is protecting itself from something more threatening. Generally, there is a trigger, a trauma the mind deems a superior threat. The behavior begins as a way to gain control over the perceived threat, then spins out into a cycle of control, loss of control, guilt and SHAME. Yep, we know it’s messed up behavior and we are ashamed we can’t freaking get over it! And so, we try to keep it quiet, control the messed up of it all and throw ourselves right back into the rotation. We hide. We stay isolated.
There are ways out, but few manage to get there without assistance. We need support. If you have someone in your life who trusts you enough to share this struggle, please listen and do your very best to open your mind and heart. If you are struggling, gather all your courage and share your experience, because you never know…you might be telling someone who gets it. You might just get that explosion of dancing unicorns. I for one want to be a dealer in dancing unicorn, glitter bombs, don’t you?
In our virtual climate, help is at your fingertips and there are a variety of programs accessible with a quick web search. Whether you want to help or need help, its right there. If you have questions or want more information, send me an email. I’ve got sparkles to share.