Setting the Stage for Recovery
January 1, 1970Eating disorders thrive on self-deception. The most obvious lies ED tells us have to do with our relationship to food, fat, and weight – specifically, that however much we have or are is just not good enough. But in my opinion, the most pernicious lie in the ED arsenal has nothing directly to do with eating. Rather, it is the notion that we “need” to be left alone.
In fact, it’s not the person but the illness that depends on isolation. Starving, bingeing, and purging are secretive and solitary behaviors that feed on shame. And shame itself is alienating. Shame tells us that no one else could possibly understand, care for, or help us. Shame insists that we do not deserve friends or loved ones. Shame makes sure that we feel alone in the world, and stranded. As a result, isolation becomes the hollow core around which an eating disorder spirals.
Full recovery demands that we confront that lie of isolation. In truth, no one on earth is alone. There are billions of us here! And we are all to greater and lesser degrees related by our mutual flaws and yearnings, our weaknesses and frustrations, our common human needs. The challenge is to identify and reach out to those who can help us tap into that shared humanity in the healthiest possible ways.
Think of this as setting a stage. You may feel as if you’re alone on this stage. But actually, crowding in the wings is a large cast of friends, family, teachers, pets, classmates and colleagues, doctors and therapists. Some have known you your whole life; others may have just met you. Some are worried for you, but don’t know what to do. Others have the tools to help but need your permission to approach. Many are as baffled and frustrated by ED as you are, and will gladly support you in your battle – if only you will let them.
Here’s another truth: you have the power and the right to decide who will join you on the stage of your own future. But staying out there alone is not a viable option.
Setting the stage for recovery, then, means exercising your power to connect to others. If that sounds daunting, it may be because ED has convinced you you’re powerless to make your own choices, especially when it comes to love and trust. ED trains us to fixate on our bodies instead of relating to each other. So the longer you’ve had an eating disorder, the more difficult it may be to accurately see or hear the people around you.
It may help to think of yourself as a casting director. Before a play is cast, actors must audition. The casting director pays close attention to each candidate’s voice, expression, and body language. He asks himself which of these individuals will be best for the play – which will bring the most genuine energy, useful skills, and honest commitment to the common effort? The people you choose to set the stage for recovery should meet the same criteria.
So take a long and honest look at the people who surround you. Consider how you are connected. How has your ED affected them? How much do they want to help you? What could they contribute to your recovery? What do you need to do to help them help you?
Those you choose to join you on your stage need to support you without judging you or tearing you down. They’ll be the ones who make a genuine effort to understand what’s wrong, and do their utmost to help you figure out how best to make it right. They’ll admit they don’t have all the answers, and they may have flaws of their own. They’re not perfect; they’re human. But they are wholeheartedly there for you, for your health, for your wellbeing.
You just need to push ED out of your way long enough to notice them.