Nearly every aspect of life requires a set of rules or policies to which we must adhere in order to remain safe and organized. Most sets of rules are standardized, and not specific to persons or groups of people, unless of course, you include religion or cultural codes.
For anyone who struggles with an eating disorder, they most likely have developed their own personal set of rules by which they must abide, but that pertain to no other person, in any circumstance.
I know this is common, maybe a given for anyone with an eating disorder, but these rules are almost never spoken, only stored within the recesses of the eating disordered patterns in one's mind, however constantly governing every move that person makes.
For me the rules were easy, following them was the hard part. From a very young age I was led to believe that life was supposed to be hard, to the point that if I felt joy, I suspected I was in the wrong. Therefore, when I developed an eating disorder, it seemed natural to begin to formulate 'rules' that would keep me safe and that would allow me the special control which I hoped would finally help me gain acceptance and worth.
My rules had to be painful, limit my freedom, and keep me 'protected' (in my mind) from the harmful world and people around me.
The rules specific to ME centered around escaping any additional situations or emotions that I believed I could not deal with. I can remember that as things would happen or situations would arise that I could not control, I would flee back to my rules, which I thought was the only way I could be safe.
I believed that my rules prevented a tragedy, yet life has taught me otherwise many times over.
Not only did my rules involve certain behaviors involving food and eating, they involved some very obsessive/compulsive actions such as the way I stacked my dishes, the way I arranged my clothing, counting my steps throughout the day (yes, for the entire day!), and compulsive list-making. I would make a list that reminded me to make a list for...whatever. I was desperate to cross off each item as I completed my tasks, because otherwise, I believed that someone in my family would be harmed.
The connections that my particular rules had to other things made no rational sense, but to me, they were what I clung to every day for simple survival.
What was it about arranging the food in my refrigerator in a certain way that kept me safe? It didn't, but I certainly believed that without that 'order', my world would fall apart. There were times when I remember thinking that if I didn't follow the 'right' rules, I would die, right on the spot.
My brain was starving, and my body was in overdrive. I know now that this combination provided the prime situation for my 'need' for rules...i.e. safety.
I am asked the question often, "What is so different about your life now that you are recovered?" Nearly everything is different, but a very stark difference, that I am reminded of over and over, is that I am no longer afraid of life. I feel no fear when I wake up in the morning.
I am not afraid of failure, because I have already overcome the thing that most defeated me...the eating disorder. I no longer engage in rituals in an attempt to prevent disaster, nor do I need to
align the food in my refrigerator in a certain way out of fear of losing control.
Some people may shake their heads and roll their eyes, because this only makes sense in an eating disordered world. Others will relate exactly to what I describe, and perhaps wonder if this is truly possible.
Safety for me today means using my brain, which by the way, is NOT starved anymore, to make wise choices. It means being emotionally honest with those in my life who can understand that. And it involves continuing to set healthy boundaries for myself in situations that involve other people.
I am no longer ruled by my rules. I have broken them, and I am fully alive!