How Grieving My Eating Disorder Set Me Free
After struggling for a long time, I finally decided to accept treatment for my eating disorder, depression and anxiety. I had been using negative coping mechanisms to push down the intense emotions I had experienced in life, and eventually, I became numb to all emotions. This is where I was at before I entered treatment.
The first step to being OK with emotions and coping in healthy ways is to recognize you have these emotions in the first place. In treatment I found myself rediscovering what it was like to feel. It was very intense to tap into the feelings that I had been suppressing for so long.
One of the first things I learned in therapy was the function of emotions. As humans, we all have feelings that help us live in a world that is constantly stimulating some emotion in some way. It is impossible for us to take in everything all at once, so our brains react in ways that clue us into what is going on around us and how to handle it. An example of this is the function of sadness. When I feel sad, I cry and want to isolate myself and just lay in bed all day. I think the function of this is to alert others you aren’t feeling well and they should console you; or it lets you take extra time for yourself when you are going through a tough time and allows you to acknowledge that what you are sad about is something important.
I often become sad about my circumstances and my mental illnesses. I didn’t have an ideal childhood and didn’t have many friends growing up. I had a lot of financial and social issues and I’ve had a problem finding self-acceptance. I have also struggled to succeed in college, sacrificing a lot in order to take care of my physical and mental health.
It can be easy to dwell on the hardships of life and get stuck in the mindset that life has been unfair and there is no way it could redeem itself. I have found that these things make me sad because they influence the things I value. That was an important revelation I had when separating myself from my eating disorder.
This past winter, I found myself in residential treatment for the second time in six months. I was physically sick and I felt utterly defeated and hopeless in recovery. A kind psychiatrist suggested that I try to include the feeling of grief into my recovery process. I usually associate grief with the coping of the death of a loved one, so that really confused me. The psychiatrist challenged me to think of it in a different way — take time to grieve the losses that you have had in other ways. This allows for healing and the opportunity to move forward.
Throughout my life, depression had been hard to overcome because the familiarity of sadness was comforting. Addictions provided me with a sense of numbness to protect myself from painful emotions and my eating disorder gave me the sense of control I felt like I lacked in life. Being asked to give up these things seemed impossible.
Take time to grieve the loss of familiarity, numbness and control of the eating disorder. Grieve the losses of the sacrifices in your life. Grieve the things that have impacted you, but do not dwell on them. Once I recognized that this is hard and that change can be frightening, I could surrender myself to the process of recovery. I realized that the things I am gaining are greater than what I have lost. By letting myself feel, I have been able to let go and be free.
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