Why does a girl with an Eating Disorder starve, purge, binge, almost kill herself and repeat? Because feelings suck.
I got a call from a sponsee last night that was heaving in and out of tears and a cracked voice. Like all of my sponsees, she reminded me so much of myself. The disease of an Eating Disorder may manifest into different behaviors of anorexia, bulimia and compulsive overeating, but the fear it spreads like cancer is the same malignant crap every time. The amazing thing about working with sponsees is that they not only allow us to return the gift of recovery, but they also remind us how far in remission we are from the cancer of an Eating Disorder. This particular sponsee of mine has done the basic work of surrendering her food. She doesn’t abuse herself with food any longer. However, since she isn’t numbing herself with food the uncomfortable feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, imperfection, doubt, fear and anger are all raging through her body. She called me asking me what to do about them. I took a deep breath remembering when I asked my own sponsor what to do with my feelings, remembering how much I hated the following answer, “Sit down and feel your feelings.” My sponsee cried more heavily when I gave her this painful prescription.
To someone without an Eating Disordered mind it may sound incredibly juvenile to cry about being forced to “feel your feelings.” I agree, it is. Part of the psychological phenomena of Eating Disorders is its ability to convince intelligent girls and women that they are inadequate of handling their own emotions and relationships. It is paralyzing. The harmful effect is that the unresolved issues behind the emotions of imperfection, fear and anger never get resolved. They fester, they mold, they corrupt our mind, they ruin our relationships and eventually kill us. What I try to tell my sponsees is that “feeling your feelings” is like purging in a healthy way. There have been studies done on bulimia that have stated that the behavior of purging food actually gives some relief. It is a way of subconsciously purging the pain from ones body, except the relief doesn’t last through food. The underlying emotions are still there, until the feelings are processed. Whatever emotions one feels whether they be anger at parents, rejection from a relationship or loss of a friend, those feeling needs to be removed from the body.
I think the scariest thing about feeling emotions is the knowledge that comes with them. I think so many of us with Eating Disorders don’t want to feel our emotions because it means that we might have to admit that we feel our parents have let us down. We may have to admit that we have been selfish. We may have to admit that this may not be the guy we’re supposed to be with. We may have to admit that our lifetime friendship needs to end. We may have to admit that alcohol is a problem and stop drinking. We may have to make an apology to our sister. We may have to drop out of school to get recovery from our Eating Disorder. We may have to do things that are right to do, but sometimes doing the right thing is incredibly painful and difficult.
Having experienced many emotions in recovery I have learned to welcome them. They do bring tears and a lot of pain, but they also bring with them something else, something beautiful; CHANGE. Something I have come to believe and appreciate about my emotions is that they are signals to me that I need to change something in my life. In my Eating Disorder I was completely lost. I had friends, relationships and interests that I didn’t even like. I didn’t realize that things needed to change until I started feeling the emotions that I tried to suffocate. What I do now is let my feelings guide me to think rationally about the choices I am making. It is through the great pain of emotions that I have had the opportunity to sculpt a life that is fun, exciting, joyful, faithful, and Eating Disorder free. It is my goal to help my sponsee see that her emotions can guide her to the same.
I’m blessed to know women who have gone before me and walked through this process. I met them and my sponsees at Overeaters Anonymous and Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous. We take The Victorian clients to these meetings where they too can get Sponsors who have experienced the same disease and relate.