I would like to share some writing that I have done, relating to what I have experienced to be key factors in the development of, and the recovery from my anorexia. I will begin with Fear, because I consider it to be one of the strongest components of an eating disorder.
Anorexia is often accompanied by an underlying, constant fear, and is often maintained by the development of additional, more complex, irrational fears. The fears are often related to specific everyday occurrences, gradually becoming more focused on food issues, further distracting from the psychology of the process. The fears can be about many different issues and situations, and of course, are individualized with each person, but some are universal.
The anorexic focuses on fears of gaining weight, or rather, on the fears of not losing weight. Even a stable, low weight is frightening, because the goal is to continue to lose every day. They feel “bad”, a failure, lazy and depressed if that isn’t happening. Strong desperation may set in at this point. They have to make whatever changes it will take to be successful in losing weight. There exist fears about facing people, fears about revealing themselves to others (fear of judgment or rejection), fears that their plan for anorexic behaviors will somehow be interrupted, and they will be “trapped”. There is a very strong fear that someone will take their control away.
Fears of maturity (womanhood), a sexual self, adult responsibility, and that without their disease, no one will show care and concern are also common. These fears are often not realized by the person, until later in therapy, when they begin to develop more hindsight and self-awareness. A very general fear, which contains many components, is the fear of who they are as a person, whether they are “good” enough, or worthy for this life. The quest for weight loss is much more than just about weight control. It’s about running away from the pain in their lives….looking for the way to be a perfect, acceptable person…..and gaining control of a part of them that no one can take away.
In time, anorexics live with constant fear. Fear that someone will find out, when in reality, it’s obvious to everyone. They lose any sense of security, because they have to constantly keep their guard up to protect their behavior, and later on, when they realize that without help, death could be a reality. Some are never able to admit that fear, or they remain in denial. A fear of close relationships and disclosing certain parts of who they are, keeps them isolated and even more fearful. That fear of criticism, judgment and rejection is more powerful than anyone can imagine.
The process of weight restoration is long and hard. With every pound, there is fear that the weight gain will continue forever….fear that “they” are going to let them get “fat”…..and a lack of trust in terms of recommended “goal” weights, and daily calorie requirements. This is when the feelings start to emerge, and they may present as several different emotions. Feelings are very frightening when they have been turned off for a length of time. As the brain becomes more able to process and examine thoughts and feelings, the fears can actually greatly increase. Now there is more of a threat that without their anorexia, they are nothing. They have no concept of who they are, or what they want in life. Their identity has solely been being anorexic, and living each day in that pattern. There was no time or energy to develop anything past that. They feel like their only source of stability and safety is being taken away from them, and then what?
Understanding and admitting what changes are needed in their lives for them to recover is also frightening. Stating it, believing it, and doing it do not all happen at the same time. If one has anxiety issues, the fears are more intense at times, and often more irrational. The fears cause a great deal of hesitation and what seems like stubbornness, but it’s much more complex than that. Depending on a person’s age, and where they are in their life in terms of goals, schooling, career, and family dynamics, the fears will vary, and the way to deal with them vary to some degree too. I know I’m not a therapist, but I know for me, the only way I have been able to deal with my fears and move on, is by facing them, feeling the feelings, good or bad, and using the resources for support that I have around me.
I plan to share some of my own experiences soon about how I have tackled some of the fears explained above. Any input from others is welcome and appreciated.