Have you ever tried to tell someone who is struggling with her self-image how beautiful she is? You know she desperately wants to believe you, but – she – just – can’t. You are upset; you feel rejected. Why won’t she just believe you?! Why can’t she just see what you see or just trust you when you tell her how truthfully beautiful she is?
You know she had an eating disorder, but that was years ago – decades even! She isn’t controlled by those bad eating behaviors anymore, so she should be able to move on. She’s healed; she’s recovered. It’s over … right?
She wishes. And so do thousands of others just like her. She might not even realize what is still holding her back. Yet, just because she changed how she eats, doesn’t mean the disorder is gone. The reality is that the eating disorder was a reaction not a cause.
Eating disorders are a reaction to something that happened in her life. (I’m speaking about women here, but men can be affected by eating disorders as well.) It becomes a source of control when she feels helpless and rejected. After the high of the feeling of empowerment over her body and the positive reactions to her thinness, the eating disorder takes on a life of its own.
Like a drug, she reaches for it for the next high, the next feeling of empowerment. And like any drug, when that high wears off, she is left feeling more rejected, more empty, more abandoned than when she began. The only thing she thinks can control the pain is the next high of control the disorder gives her.
Yet, the disorder doesn’t really relieve the pain, it covers it. And while it covers it, the pain, left unresolved, festers and grows. Perhaps she was rejected by men in her life, perhaps abused, perhaps she was bullied and mocked because of her body by her peers. The rejection, the feelings of worthlessness hiding under the mask of the eating disorder petrify into her psyche.
Once she is able to break free from the vicious monster of addiction that the eating disorder has become, she has only taken the first step. Lying dormant beneath this monster is the darkness of the pain that has woven itself through her soul and rooted into every piece of her mind.
She might not have the dieting behaviors of the eating disorder, but if she slips below her “ideal perfect self” in any aspect, but mainly in the physical, she will feel the bite of self-hate; she will feel the darkness of the pain of worthlessness wrapping around her. She will look in the mirror and weep. She doesn’t see what you see. She wants to – oh how she wants to! But she can’t. Her mind is trapped in the darkness of pain. She crumples below the weight of never-being-good-enough crushing her soul.
Be patient with those you love working through an eating disorder and know, that even when the addiction is beat, the battle is just begun. The most challenging fight is still ahead. It is a journey that takes her back into the past; opening wounds; feeling pain. She doesn’t want to return there; she’s spent all her energy trying to run from such pain! Yet, going back into the fire is the only way to melt the darkness from her heart. She must return to the source and find peace and healing through God and with the help professional guidance (whether through a book or in-person counseling).
It is excruciating and the journey is not easy, but if you are there to listen, to support her (not try to fix her), then she can emerge truly free. If the darkness of pain is never healed, her eating disorder could easily relapse, because it was that pain that started this whole mess.
She is beautiful. Don’t stop telling her! But be gentle knowing that she has to go back and let God unwind her mind in the furnace of that pain. If you are patient (it can take many years) and love her unconditionally, she will eventually reach the summit of healing and peace. Don’t give up on her! She needs your love more now than ever.
For those struggling with an eating disorder or the remnants of pain, here are two books I recommend: for a whole-person, clinical approach: Hope, Help, and Healing for Eating Disorders: A Whole-Person Approach to Treatment of Anorexia, Bulimia, and Disordered Eating – by Dr. Gregory L. Jantz and for the spiritual approach (this one is Catholic): Weightless: Making Peace with your Body – by Kate Wicker. Remember that books can only go so far as the are written to everyone at once. So not everything in it will be completely applicable to you, but you can still take away much from it.
Many people find a therapist to be more helpful because it is personalized to you. Remember to be very choosy when seeking therapy and be willing to shop around to find someone who is the best fit for you. It won’t bring any healing to have a therapist who you cannot trust or doesn’t share your own beliefs.
Theresa Martin blogs at www.NewFeminismRising.com.