One of the things that is counterintuitive about eating disorders is that they serve(d) a very real protective purpose for the sufferer. I say counterintuitive because healthy people usually can’t imagine doing something so hurtful to themselves, and the idea that these behaviors are protective is mind-boggling.
So, here’s an example. This happened to me, or I did this to myself, what?
Do you all remember when Diego died? (If you feel like a good cry, you can read the whole tragic story.) It was truly awful.
Back to the eating disorder:
A few days after Diego died, I was sitting on the couch with Diego’s mom, holding her while she cried. I think she was saying something, but I can’t remember because I was thinking about how much bigger my thighs were than hers. That thought lead to things like: I’m so lazy, Why don’t I exercise more?, I’m a fat pig, What is wrong with me to get so fat?, I know what to do, but I’m weak, I hate myself, and so on and so forth. Am I good at self flagellation or what?
Those thoughts consumed me, and while my head was spinning with those hurtful, self-esteem destroying thoughts, I didn’t have face what was happening in front of me. There was a time when those thoughts did protect me from something worse than those thoughts. And it was terrifically emotionally challenging to take care of my brother and SIL while they navigated those first few months of child-loss. But, you know what, I was up to it. I didn’t need that protection, and I didn’t want it.
I’m not just a grown up, I’m a mature adult. Those things that hurt me, that I needed protection from, they aren’t part of my life anymore, and I’m not vulnerable like a child. I have the maturity, wisdom, and experience to distance myself, I have skills and tools, I am learned, and I am able to use all of that stuff to heal.
It took a while for me to figure out that ED was stepping in to protect me that sad December day. I first examined what was going on in group the day after it happened. I certainly needed help coping, but I shared it with the group as something that I was ashamed of. I wanted to help, but I was off in eating-disorder-land beating myself up.
Years later, I used it as an example of “not being present” because of the eating disorder. Being present is the vogue thing right now, what?
And, just recently, I realized that it was a case of ED stepping in to protect me from something horrific.
It makes me kinda pessimistic that we can help young women and girls who probably do still need that protection. I mean, I don’t need it, but I’m still struggling with ED.