“I don’t know if I’m going, honestly I just don’t want to be in a swim suit in front of all those people.” She heard the words as if they were her own. It’s a conversation she’s had with herself a hundred times before, for other reasons. But this time the words came from another person’s mouth, someone confiding about her own struggle with the disorder, and it made her heart heavy with sadness to hear it.
“I know,” she said. It was all she really knew to say. “I know,” to indicate she is not alone in this daily, discouraging, struggle to feel good about herself. “I know,” to say she too has lost the ability to know her value, lost herself to something unseen. “Please come, don’t miss out on something that will be fun and make you happy because you don’t like your body right now. Let go of the emotional burden of the weight so that you don’t miss out on living.” She could recognize this truth as it applied to a friend, but even as she said it she felt herself being a hypocrite – dishing out advice she struggles to live by herself.
Binge eating disorder, disordered eating patterns, starvation, laxatives, fingers down the throat. For her they all melt into one bizarre dysfunction. When she wasn’t bingeing she was in a freakish state of control, almost getting high from the severe restriction of calories and excessive exercise. Drastically swinging from control, to bingeing, to control again. But the control was just another way for disordered eating to manifest itself. She’s been in binge mode for years now; she doesn’t even go to the control side any more.
She felt crazy and alone before she learned about the name “binge eating disorder.” Like other addictions or eating disorders, binge eating disorder is isolating. Her head told her she was a freak: “No one else does this crazy shit.” What she did not know is that many people do.
According to bingeeatingdisorder.com, binge eating is the most common eating disorder among U.S. adults. It’s rarely talked about; who sits at the dining table and says, “Hey, did you hear? So and so is a binge eater”? Yet it’s more common than anorexia and bulimia combined. At the height of her disordered eating, it was completely unmanageable, and severe depression was setting in. Learning that the frenzied eating had a name gave her relief, understanding, hope that it could get better. Recovery has been slow; the relief fades quickly, and hope diminishes with each slip. Eventually the disorder became a crutch for bad behavior and anger management issues. Things weren’t getting better. She was having bad days. “Well, what are you going to do? You’ve got an eating disorder,” she’d say to herself.
She did not want to be around people, and she particularly did not want to be around food, the enemy. With increased regularity she was allowing the disorder to rob her of happy moments with people who loved her. One night she and her husband made plans to go out with friends. The day had been rough, she was feeling raw and emotional and her defense was to say, “I’m not going!” She was becoming reclusive, angry, withdrawn. Her identity became the disorder.
When it was bad, clearly she was bad, too, and she could not separate her self-worth from the binge eating. She was not able to understand that this is one piece of her, not all of her. One night her husband encouraged her to get dressed: “Let’s go out, we don’t have to go with anyone, but let’s get out.” They kept their plans, and at the end of the evening she was grateful for her support group, her husband and friends. She was reminded that other people see more in her than she sees in herself, and she needed that.
There was a moment when the negative thoughts associated with the binge eating could have won, told her she doesn’t need to be around people that help her feel good. That’s one of the many lies of any kind of disorder. When she pushes herself to go out of her comfort zone, she remembers that joy and happiness exist outside of this disorder. Through recovery she is able to see that she is more than the disorder, she is not viewed simply as a binge eater by her family and friends.
So she thought about this friend, who doesn’t want to be seen in a group in her bathing suit. It’s an age-old problem for women, this swimsuit thing. Body image issues have a way of making women feel we don’t have anything good to offer if we aren’t in our physical prime. She is one woman dealing with her own battles, and she can’t do anything about all the women dealing with crap like this. All she can do is share what she’s learning, what she’s still struggling to believe.
She can tell her friend that we are all more than how our body looks in Lycra. She can tell her friend that she is wanted, needed, and the people around her see value in their relationship with her, no matter what shape her body is. We are all greater than the demons we face. Addiction, disorders, failures, abuse. These are not things that take away our ability to contribute to the people in our lives. These are the things that make us human, real.
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