The guilt, the fear, the desire for education, the anger and betrayal, and frustrations of not knowing what to do. These are emotions and feelings many support systems feel once they find out their loved one has been struggling with an eating disorder and they didn’t know. The pain seeps out and their loved ones pour over memories, time lost, fears about the future, and most definitely “should’s” all over themselves.
Eating Disorders are tricky illnesses. They require people to act incongruent to their overall belief systems in order to have the ability to act on their urges and symptoms. Another way to look at it is that most people struggling with eating disorders are honest, kind, and caring individuals. But they have to lie, manipulate, hurt others, and appear selfish or self-destructive to others, in order to be able to use symptoms.
This creates wounds on both sides. So many of them would give up their eating disorder if they could, but it isn’t that easy. How difficult would it be for you to look at your demons at least three times a day, not to mention be bombarded with social media and warped societal beliefs about beauty. But women with eating disorders are hurting, and they don’t know how else to cope with it positively. The thing about eating disorders is that it is instant gratification. Who doesn’t want instant relief from their pain, especially emotional plan? It works, what you don’t want to deal with goes away as they use the symptom, then the guilt comes, and then the shit storm continues.
What I can say about it is, that I have sat across from these girls and women and so many of them are so hurt and lost. Some of them hate themselves, some hate what they are doing to their friends and family. You ask them about when the eating disorder started to surface, what was going on it their lives at that time, how long ago did you start acting on these symptoms, and did anyone know. The answers are sometimes shocking how long it has been going on, the ways they hid it, and how guilty they feel for not being able to stop. “I snuck behind my parents back, I didn’t tell my husband about those wrappers, I threw my lunch out at school, I told you I had a stomach ache so I didn’t have to eat dinner”.
So please give yourself some grace. Eating disorders are essentially negative coping skills, but if untreated, can have deadly effects. Let’s work at what is underneath the eating disorder, what is sustaining it, what emotions are you avoiding feeling, what situations are you shying away from, where is the conflict, turmoil, or change in your life, that keeps the eating disorder alive.
Take a deep breath, know you are doing the best job you know how, and get the help you and your loved one needs.