Hello SOTGC community,
Last week we went over “how to visually identify BED….if you can” and this week we’re getting into epiphanies and treatments.
The First Point:
In keeping with the purpose of this discussion, I’d like to pause and check in on whether or not you assumed those thoughts to be consistent throughout all of the images you see here? Did you think that the photos of thinner shapes had the same distorted thinking as those of the larger shapes? How about the seemingly healthy sizes in between?
This is the first point I’m making; a person’s health, mental or otherwise can’t be gauged by how ‘fit’ they look. (Let me repeat, HEALTH EVALUATIONS OF EVERY TYPE require intense and specific scrutiny of which a person simply looking at another person cannot determine. Period. Full stop. End of sentence.)
For me and my distorted sense of self, I was forever battling the message that I wasn’t good enough or attractive enough or worthwhile unless I was thin, so in order to be thin I’d restrict and in order to survive depriving myself of nutrients, I’d eventually end up bingeing.
At a certain point, having been thin so many times, it seems as though I would have stopped and said, “Ok, I’m happy shaped now. No need to pester me anymore Mr. Inner Voice”, but unfortunately, when you’re talking about mental health, it’s not that cut and dried.
This cycle of BED is a nonstop treadmill because the self-loathing function never gets to a point where it’s completely done its job. It may have prompted me to jeopardize my health by restricting, but even when I lost weight it continued to tell me the same message, that I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t being a good enough daughter/wife/woman, that I looked wrong and came across wrong, that people didn’t understand me and above all else, that I should be ashamed for these reasons.
The Second Point:
And this brings me to the second point; the shape of a person is not a reliable indicator of how well they treat their bodies. Again, and I stress; the shape of a person is not a reliable indicator of how a person feels about themselves or their sense of self worth.
As you can see from this array, over a 10 year period I gained and dropped and regained a few hundred pounds. Very few times in my entire life had I been the same size for more than 6 months. When I was, it wasn’t because I’d mastered anything, it was because I was starving myself or engaging in quackery like FenPhen or HCG. I’d use these “diet aids” in accordance with a doctor or within the ‘indicated use’ guidance and THAT right there is why it never occurred to me that I had an eating disorder. Let me put it this way, I didn’t abuse laxatives, I ate without purging…. there’s no “there” there as the saying goes. Or so it seemed to me.
In 2010 it became evident that I needed help. I’d abused my body to the point that it no longer took cues from me – it wouldn’t shed weight no matter what I did and that sense of failure only fired up my desire to sooth which I fought because it was my shameful binge eating, which in turn fed the self loathing. It was a vicious cycle. My sense of self was lost and my personal truth was that I was a dismal, embarrassing failure of enormous size. I was drinking heavily which certainly didn’t help, and combined with my already chaotic inner dialog, I decided that the only way to escape the constant struggle and disappointment was to take my life. Thankfully I didn’t succeed. Instead, I started down the road of treatment and self awareness.
It was in substance abuse counseling that I realized my disordered thinking stretched far beyond alcohol. Clearly binge drinking was bad for me; a twisted root pervasive in the things I believed about myself which conflicted with the things I needed to do in order to take care of myself, but it wasn’t the key to why I was so unhappy.
My disordered thinking told me that since I’d stopped drinking I had no excuse for being fat; that since I wasn’t drinking my empty calories I ‘should have dropped the weight’. My disordered thinking was strong enough to have continued to convince me that I was a lost cause.
I finally knew I had to look at what was going on beyond substance abuse, because removing that specific piece of the puzzle hadn’t made it easier to cope or feel significantly better about myself. It did however allow me to trust that intuition that there was a happier healthier existence for me if I looked deeper inside to find what was really tangling me up.
Finding a Solution:
I began my search for help using keywords surrounding what was bothering me the most, my body and my eating. Eventually I came across the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA). Reading the pages of the website I saw myself in the stories and articles and I finally found that there was a name for what was happening to me; a name for the shameful behavior that I’d struggled with for decades. It’s called Binge Eating Disorder and it is treatable.
Like many people I didn’t want to think of myself as having a disorder – a word that is stigmatizing and denotes being defective. But, it was far less important to me what it was called than learning what I was struggling with was real, that others experienced the fear and the shame and that there were people to help me.
I wanted the help so badly that I began to cry. I wanted to call someone and tell them, “I can be OK. I can get away from this. I don’t have to hate myself at every turn or think that I’m supposed to hate myself. I’m not alone and weird.” but there was nobody to call. If I hadn’t connected the dots, that I felt this bad because I was in the grips of disordered thinking, it was a certainty that nobody else had connected those dots either.
I found that there were resources for locating BED treatment on the BEDA site so I called and spoke with someone who guided me to a few options in my area. When I narrowed down where I wanted to go I was exhausted and had to stop for the day. I was mentally and emotionally spent and it was then that I became aware that I had experienced hope. It was a feeling that I was uncomfortable with as I felt it because the thing about shame based behaviors such as binge eating, they exist in the shadows and they DO NOT want you to rely on other emotions. Shame is a greedy, golden idol.
Hoping, planning, believing in yourself; all of those things provoke anxiety and so considering I had a system in place for several decade for how to deal with it, I may have just gone on a food bender, I can’t say for sure HOW I handled feeling hopeful. What I’ve learned since then is, it’s ok no matter how I dealt with experiencing it because I allowed myself to feel SOMETHING.
The time came when I began my treatment and my relationship with an amazing therapist. That was also the time that my episodes of dissociation and crippling shame came to an end. I have not felt so bad about myself in years, though I’ve had times where I’ve binged and I’ve had times where I’ve turned to food for comfort. Once I started finding out about what was going on ASIDE from the food, aside from the eating, BED didn’t have a strangle hold on me any longer. I binged less, my body became healthy and that catch 22 of awesome has been spiraling UP ever since. I love my body now and I take good care of it. I listen to eat, I treat it with rest and nourishment and in return it performs amazingly. I think better, I laugh more, I’m better at handling the challenges life sends my way and I’m MUCH more fun to be around.
The person I am now looks an awful lot like the person in those pictures, each and every one of which has BED. The big differences are in the way I treat myself; as a more compassionate and loving caretaker.
I no longer look at myself as a walking billboard of cruel beliefs, I look at myself as a person whose body is working for her and not against her, a body that is regularly cared for with proper amounts of healthy food, regular medical checkups and the occasional pedicure. I look at and cherish the smiles that it took to give me smile lines and the confidence I’ve got in that smile.
I’ve still got (choose the color) hair, hazel eyes, all the same features; but what you won’t see now is shame in my eyes. By getting help I shed light on that dark place and there’s nowhere left for shame to hide. So that’s what I think BED recovery looks like, a wide open and well lit place to be myself.