First of all, let me congratulate you on the work that you are doing. Obviously, I think this is a very important issue, one that is often complicated by misconceptions, stereotypes and a general lack of understanding. It has been so helpful to have a resource like this where I can share videos with friends and family (if I am brave enough). Okay, here is my question…I will try to be concise and to the point! I don’t think that I have ever had “normal” eating habits. Even as a very young girl, I would gorge myself at dinner times. Food was a way that I bonded with my father; we called him a “human garbage can.” I liked that I could keep up with him, even out-eat him at times. At the same time, I didn’t drink milk, I distinctly remember chewing and spitting food out into my napkin, and I was an active girl. I didn’t think twice about any of these things…I was a little girl. A quick time line of my disordered eating patterns would look like this: September 1999 – I went on my first diet, I was 12. June 2000 – I made myself vomit for the first time, I was 13. September 2001 – I started high school and brought my habits with me. September 2005 – I started university and brought my habits with me…It has been 8 years of hell, of compromised health, missed opportunities, lost friendships. I have a 3.2 GPA…and I KNOW it could be higher if I actually kept my school work on the top of my priority list. I have such low self-esteem, anxiety…I REALLY, REALLY don’t know what to do anymore. I don’t want to die. I am not suicidal, but I can’t see myself getting well. I have wasted so much of my life; I feel like I am nothing and there is nothing to live for. I will never amount to anything The only relationship I have right now is my eating disorder, so what is the point? I am so frustrated, I feel like this will never end. I think if I were younger I’d still have hope, but I am 20 and feeling so overwhelmed, helpless and hopeless. I think what is so hard about being in this place right now, is that there have been periods of time where I am hopeful, where I am managing well and coping in a positive way. I have gained insight. So when I do find myself spiraling downwards…it is in a very real way harder then it has ever been before because I know that I’ve done well before. So why can’t I do it this time? I don’t think I’ve articulated myself very well, but thank you for reading.
I’m so sorry to hear that you feel hopeless and stuck with your eating disorder. Describing it as you did so well tells me that you think about this a great deal, and, even more, feel completely powerless to change anything. However, (and I don’t mean to make light of your struggle) something in your question makes me curious about how powerless you really are.
Here’s what I mean; you began your letter so articulately and demonstrated such mature insight into your struggles that I am led to believe there is more to you than meets the eyes. Someone with extremely low self-esteem and stuck in depression would be hard-pressed to go out of their way to complement the work of another or express insight into how she got to where she is now. This is not to say you are not depressed, discouraged and feel hopeless, but rather to say I think I (and others) may see more you in than you see in yourself – which leads me to believe you are not seeing yourself accurately.
Let me give you an example. My son is 7 years old and is one of the most coordinated and athletically gifted kids his age. He plays all sports well and can pick up a new activity like Ping Pong extremely quickly. However, due to my age (and, if I may say so myself, considerable talent at Ping Pong:)) he has no legitimate chance of beating me at the game for at least several years. Yet, when my son loses, he quickly verbally beats himself up saying things such as, “I’m the worst Ping Pong player in the world” or “I’m not good at anything.” In fact, this sounds much like what you do to yourself when you write,
“I have wasted so much of my life, I feel like I am nothing and there is nothing to live for. I will never amount to anything, the only relationship I have right now is my eating disorder, so what is the point?”
In other words, when my son feels like a failure at least two things are happening. First, he is not seeing himself accurately. He is right that he can’t beat me, but he is not taking into account our age, experience and practice with the game. He is seeing himself as my equal in these things. Anyone from the outside would agree that he is making an unrealistic judgment on himself.
Secondly, to deal with this perceived shame of not meeting his standards, he beats himself up, which is one of the most powerful responses to feeling like a failure. While this self-shame may motivate him to try harder, it alienates him from others and continues the cycle of unreachable expectations.
What does this have to do with your eating disorder? Well, lots. First of all you are not seeing yourself fully or accurately. You are not defined by your behaviors. You are not essentially a bulimic or anorexic. That is not all you have to offer. You proved that yourself in how you complimented FINDINGbalance at the beginning of your letter. In addition to many other aspects of your character, you are a thoughtful and generous person.
Now, you are a person who struggles with food and eating disorder behaviors, but more importantly you are a person of great worth and value created by God to make an impact in this world, live life with a larger passion and love others well. Though you are not perfect, these things are what are most true about you. In the same way that my son is not defined by his athletic skill but by God’s love for him (and to a lesser degree, my love), you are defined by God’s immeasurable love for you. As you learn to believe and live out of what is most true about you, you will experience more freedom in your behaviors.
Secondly, learn to catch yourself when you begin the process of berating yourself. The things you think about and say to yourself are not true and they push others away from you (and in a sense, you from yourself). Instead, you might say to yourself something like, “Yes, I’ve failed again and I wish I hadn’t. I need help from others with these behaviors, but these behaviors are not what are most true about me.”
Now, to some more specific things about your eating disorder behaviors. Obviously I don’t know details about your behaviors, but someone should. Are you talking with anyone? Do you have a treatment team consisting of a medical doctor, a nutritionist, a therapist and a psychiatrist who are willing to work together? Have you sought treatment before or has this all been on your own. Are you willing to go to treatment if professionals tell you that you should? See “Finding Treatment” for some guidance.
If you really want to see some light at the end of the tunnel, these are some steps you must take today. There’s a part of you that will resist. Expect that. There’s a part of you that wants to keep these behaviors because they provide some sense of coping, comfort and protection, but you must remember that the better part of your identity wants freedom and is willing to do whatever it takes.
I hope this helps and I look forward to hearing back from you as you make steps to experience more of who God made you to be.
Travis Stewart, LPC