Sunday, June 28, 2009

Caretaking: Common Among People With Eating Disorders

So what's so wrong with wanting to take care of people? Why is it a "bad" thing to try to make everyone around you happy? This is a common pursuit among people who have developed eating disorders, for several different reasons. One, they may have been raised to believe that at all cost, self-sacrifice for the happiness of others is the "good" thing to do. Or it may be a coping mechanism that the person has developed in order to keep the environment around them calm, in an attempt to prevent conflict. The attempt to please everyone and prove your worth fits right in with stuffing your true emotions and trying not to "rock the boat", so to speak.

I am an RN. My profession and nature is to take care of people. But for many years I did this for all the wrong reasons. It was the only way I could feel good about who I was as a person. I felt completely worthless as a person, so I thought I had to prove my worth in the things I DID, not because of who I am. I never stood up for myself, so therefore was dominated in my first marriage, and by the rules about good and bad that I heard all around me. I was actually denying who I was as a person in order to make the other people in my life approve of me. My eating disorder was a direct result of trying to do all the right things, yet resenting it, therefore those feelings came out as self-harm by not eating.

I realize now that I raised my sons in such a way that they never had a chance to learn to take care of themselves, and in adulthood, my son now struggles with taking responsibility for his own life, and his own mistakes. Rescuing him and others, turned out to be more enabling that helpful.

Now as I have recovered, and I have learned to stand up for who I am, and because I now value who I am as a person, I don't think that it's necessary for me to constantly be someone who everyone likes or who takes care of everyone around me. But, ironically, people generally DO like and respect me, and by nature, I am still a person who likes to care for others, but now it is completely from my heart, not in a vain attempt to gain acceptance. I can't even put into words the joy I feel as I reach out and support and help others in ways that I am able. I know it is genuine, and I respect myself for that.

In the last month, my dear Mother-in-Law has now become a member of our immediate household. She has significant dementia, and requires supervision for most everything she does. I have been put back into the role of the caretaker, but my perspective of this is entirely different from other times. I no longer restrict what I am eating. I take care that I keep time for myself as a priority as well as taking care of her needs. The care I provide for her is not based on trying to prove that I am "good" or worthy, it's done purely out of love for her. That's not to say that since she has moved in my life has changed. My "wings" have been clipped a bit, but I am still flying, just not in a straight line every day! I am NOT sacrificing my own needs, nor the needs of my marriage in order to care for her.

Balance is a key point in recovery, and especially when it comes to assessing your wants/needs to take care of the people around you. For me, this is just one of the many areas that I am now able to see how it enriches my life, instead of risking my life, and how much better I am for myself and others when I do take care of myself!!

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