My Eating Disorder Is About Safety, Not Control
Control — or rather lack thereof — is one of the reasons people believed I developed my eating disorder. Although they are not wrong, my eating disorder goes way beyond control. In the very beginning, when my life turned upside down, control was not what I was in search of. What I was in search of was safety.
It was the safety of not wanting to be seen anymore, to blend in with the walls and space around me. If I was not seen then I could not be bullied by my classmates, berated by my gymnastics coaches; and due to the fact that I spent a lot of time in New York City as a teen, if I was invisible, then the men who were twice my age could not make me uncomfortable in more ways than one.
I believe feeling safe in our life is one of the most important emotional needs right next to love. If we do not feel safe, we often do anything and everything in our power to find the safety we crave and deserve. I could not change my environment, but I could become invisible in it. The thinner I got, the less people noticed me, the inappropriate comments began to stop, and my life became more of a movie I was watching rather than living. I did not notice the people around me, and my day safely and repeatedly became the same thing. Every day was predictable and boring, but also safe.
Gym for hours, letting myself eat only at certain times and, of course, only my safe foods. Isolating from everyone around me. By doing the same thing every day, I knew what to expect. I knew just what I would feel like. Seeing the scale go down with each passing morning gave me safety and reassurance that I would remain invisible, safe and unseen.
From an outsiders perspective, I may look like I was in search of control — the repetitive foods, the hours clocked working out and the “control” I held over my weight. But from the inside, I was in search of safety.
Today I am learning other ways to make myself feel safe. I am finding new coping skills to comfort myself. Today I am also learning to let go of the past and remind myself I do not live in those unsafe times anymore.
A wise woman in treatment once said: “If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you always got.” I am trying to step out of my comfort zone — out of the bubble of safety my eating disorder has created for me — because looking back at all the hospitals, residential treatments and my crisis health status back in college, it makes me wonder how safe my eating disorder really is.
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Unsplash image via Sharon McCutcheon