Sunday, May 13, 2007

Sunday Scribblings #3 - Second Chance

I got a chance to "wake up"
A lot of people never do
Or if they do, it's too late

Here's a story about my second chance (I wrote it last summer, and have come miles away from where I was....). Sit back and get comfy. It's a long, serious and enlightening read. What you didn't know about eating disorders will become incredibly clear after reading this.

Dancing Dangerously with an Eating Disorder
Learning + unlearning = healing

Jennifer, a 30 year old Speech-Language Pathologist. A serious and focussed goal-driven professional. A devoted sister, daughter, partner and friend. A committed and independent woman of strength, now given a formidable task. To use the horrors of an eating disorder to dismantle and rebuild her life.

The inner dialogue of a fragmented mind.

Jennifer, 30

I am an intelligent, successful person with an incredible job and a comfortable life. Proudly independent and perfectionistic.A respected professional with a wonderful husband and family

Right, but face it, you’re fat. So you’re not that well off. You’re not worthy.

I’ve always been unhappy about my weight. Several boyfriends left me because of it. But that’s in the past. I’m happy now

No you’re not. Deep down you feel like a failure. Felt like that for most of your life. Lose weight and exercise. Then you’ll be successful

But I have a healthy diet and exercise regularly.I’ve always been this weight and don’t need to change

Come on. Wake up. Thin people lead happy lives. You too can find true happiness

Maybe you’re right. My dad committed suicide when I was 2 and my father-in-law is dying of cancer. I was helpless then and am helpless now. Maybe I can prevent my own demise by being more cautious. I’m really confused. Can’t explain why I feel so sad

Now you’re talking. Trust me. I know what’s best for you

Jennifer, Age 31

My father-in-law passed away. Yet life hasn’t changed much. We really weren’t close. I still have my job and my husband. And I’m losing weight!”

See. I told you. You are in control. You don’t need to eat as much as others. You don’t have needs. You’re special, strong, self-sufficient, have more will-power than others. You can do more with less. You’ve achieved an acceptable physique. Don’t lose it. Maintain control. Stick with that strict and disciplined eating regimen. Exercise more.

You are so dependable! No one notices my weight loss. No big deal. I don’t need much sleep and can exercise any time or anywhere! If I’m good, I can indulge occasionally. You’ve given me such joy! I’m finally thin. I have it all!”

Keep up the good work. Diligence pays off. I have faith in your strength.

Jennifer, Age 32

Some chick at work says I’m too thin. She’s just jealous of my super-human ability to resist food. Exercise lots. Restrict my urges and needs. No one else says anything

Good attitude. We’re getting really close. Best friends, right? Rely on me. I’m there for you when no one else is.

I’m hungry.

Don’t give up.Work through it. Eat tomorrow.

Just a little bit.

You’ve worked too hard to give in. Start eating and you won’t be able to stop. You need to look good. Stick to that schedule at all costs. Eat when you’re good and work really hard.

But it takes away the pain. Oh dear. I want to stop eating but can’t.

Don’t worry. Make up for it later.

Right, I won’t disappoint you. I’ll redeem myself. My family and doctor are jealous of me. They won’t let me travel. They think I’m weird. My brightly coloured juvenile clothing, funky accessories and dyed hair. My husband won’t grant my wishes to be publicly promiscuous. He gets angry when I shoplift from the grocery store. They think I’m nuts because I cycle everywhere I go and won’t eat certain foods or things that anyone else has prepared. They’re envious of my energy, drive and new healthy lifestyle. They don’t understand.

You don’t need them. All you need is me and your habits. You’re finally getting some attention.

For the wrong reasons. All the emotional stuff is confusing. It worked better when I just ignored it. Now it’s relentless. I’m getting tired. I’ll work through it. I can accomplish more with less.

You’re doing great. Ignore them.

I feel low. I can’t go to work. I don’t shower or change my clothes. I sleep on the basement floor or outside. I’m not taking care of myself. I don’t want to get ‘better’. I want to be thin.

Don’t give in.

I’ve been asked to take disability leave from work. I’ll show them! I’ll be back in no time. I’m planning an intensive crash-course in healing.

So describes my journey with an eating disorder. What follows outlines the discoveries I’ve made along the way. It’s my understanding of the terror and pain I’ve been through, and how I believe I’ll continue to heal.


Body shape/size or age has nothing to do with the probability of having an Eating Disorder.
I used to believe that there were two profiles of an Eating Disorder (ED). I pictured a very thin or very large person. ED is no stranger to any segment of the population. Surprisingly, it can be an “invisible illness” with no tell-tale signs, and such a wide range of symptoms. It can strike unpredictably at any time. My anorexia wasn’t part of my life until my 30’s, and shattered my sense of invincibility.

Dieting is a common risk factor for an ED.
Dieting, a common risk factor for an ED, drove me to an obsessive relationship with food. My diets created a helpless victim controlled by the food industry which reprimands us for our physical diversity. I equated my self-worth to my body size and spiraled dangerously into personal devaluation..

An ED may be linked to societal and cultural pressures to conform to ideal body standards.
My unhealthy body image was inextricably linked to my ED. Society dictates an “acceptable” body shape and size. While “fat” historically had positive and desirable connotations, by today’s standards it is equated to embarrassment and shame. I believe my shamefully poor body image is a sign of the times. Society conditioned me to loathe my authentic body and to dissociate from my true self. I accepted personal responsibility for not conforming to societal ideals, which perpetuated self-deprivation. Learning to treat my body as a modifiable object left me feeling obsessed, guilty and shameful. My ED was in part a natural response to cultural pressures to conform to ideal body standards.

An ED can be an attempt to conform not only physically but also emotionally.
I endeavored to conform to a perceived permissible emotional life. My experience growing up in our patriarchal, hierarchal and suppressive culture was that emotional expression was intolerable. Shame, hopelessness and greed flow from expressions of need; our collective admission of weakness. In an effort to make me a “survivor”, I was discouraged when expressing emotional needs or feelings. I learned to distance myself from my needs and true self. Legitimately expressed needs labeled as “selfish” led me to believe I was bad for having needs. I lost entitlement to basic needs and responded by suppressing them. It was my ED that helped me deal with these unmet emotional needs and desires.

Conditioned to judge and suppress my real emotional and spiritual self, I numbed out, spaced out and dissociated from my being. This self-segmentation led to the creation of a self-destructive inner force which was used in desperation to help mitigate the pain of those unconscious unmet childhood needs. My emotional needs were not attended to or legitimized. My ED, an unhealthy surrogate, met my “unworthy” yet insatiable needs.

As an adult I unconsciously recreated the same harmful childhood emotional conditions to feel the comfort of familiarity. This trapped me in self defeating thoughts and behaviours. Identifying this self-destructive behaviour helped me learn that I indeed have normal vulnerabilities which make me deserving of need fulfillment.

Food takes on a new meaning.
At times, food was a comfort measure and at other times it was a way to institute control through discipline. Food took on the role of disciplinarian; it rewarded and punished my behaviours. Food represented a need. I learned expressed needs are “bad”, so food also carried feelings of fear with it. This led to the secrecy of eating behaviours, allowing me to escape the judgment and shame associated with admitting my needs.

The recovery process is not linear.
During my recovery the inability to manage my emotions has led to emotional and food-related binges. My eating behaviour mirrored my emotional displacement. An inability to identify, process, or express physical or emotional needs led to volcanic eruptions perpetuating self-destructive relationships with food. Such compulsive behaviours were used to escape from feeling inadequate.

Self worth only comes from self love and self esteem.
In a state of emotional overload, this disorder was a physical manifestation of my internal struggle with identity, self-love, self- and size-acceptance. When the inner critic is present, it is difficult to remember that self worth is not related to productivity, achievements, weight, or looks. Self worth is also not tied to love, approval or friendship. The uncertainty of living without an eating disorder at times felt worse than letting go of something familiar and predictable. My depressed moods led to unrealistic all-or-nothing thinking culminating in disappointment and anxiety. I was stuck in this dichotomy of thought resulting in “feast-or-famine” eating behaviours. My eating disorder continued to take control despite all rational thinking. When I stopped working, my sense of purpose was limited. Unacceptable emotions surfaced, and my self worth plunged deeper as society reinforced the shamefullness of my dismissal. The discomfort associated with simply being myself vs. doing something fueled self-destructive behaviours.


The healing process from my ED has been a deeply individualized odyssey. A myriad of experiences had propelled me into this seemingly sensless form of managing my inner chaos. There was no one single remedy that allowed me to take steps forward on this excruciating healing journey. No “quick fixes” But because I directed and customized it, trusting my instincts, I believe I’ve moved further along than had I ignored my inner wisdom.

I believe that we cannot reduce the pain and suffering which triggers an ED into a tidy classification. Cataloging an eating disorder based on symptomatology serves only to compartmentalize one into a fixed treatment protocol. Labels carry presumptions and judgments with them. I cringed at the thought of hospital imposed restrictions on my activity and food-related regimens. Pathologizing and chastising me for my experiences was humiliating and devastating. A punitive allopathic approach only reinforced my feelings of lack of worth. Through rigid one-size-fits-all treatment, I was getting the very same message from medical personnel that I absorbed through the media.

I needed someone to listen to my unique experiences and the depths of my psychological crises without judgment or quick fixes. I yearned for a respectful and compassionate listener to ignite my own problem-solving resources. Dictatorial and judgmental reactions to my problem triggered familiar feelings of shame and exacerbated self-punishment.

What’s more important than my body is my health, and it is possible to be healthy in my genetically predetermined body. Body diversity, not uniformity has been the norm since the beginning of time. Society continually brainwashes and blackmails me into believing that I must “do something about my weight”. They are right. What I need to “do about my weight” is accept it by cultivating self- and size-esteem.

I still encounter those who may unintentionally or otherwise veer me from my healing path by commenting on my body as I move into my genuine being, I continually try to remind myself that my body is my business. I’m working on combating painful comments with a stronger “emotional immune system”; using protective filters to prevent oppressive stereotypes from being internalized.

My body will continually change and that these changes are part of the mystery and magic of life. Whatever my next life challenge is, I’m better off for having lived through an eating disorder. I can watch as the darkness turns to light, the winter turns to spring, the caterpillar emerges from its cocoon as a beautiful butterfly. So too must I trust that out of this pain will come beauty.

1 comment:

  1. i've always been amazed at how people suffer at trying to fit in with the views of society. it takes a strong person to say, "i will do what's right for me and my family and if it 'fits' in fine, if not, so be it." congratulations to you for being strong enough and intelligent enough to see this desease for what it is, and realise that you are stronger than it. the only control that these phsycological deseases have over us is what we let them ourselves, i'm proud of you! all my love to you and yours, your cousin mike.