The skinny trend… going to any extreme is unhealthy… What anorexia taught me about recovery…

TRIGGER WARNING: This post talks about anorexia and self-harm.

This post was inspired by Pooja on Lifesfinewhine’s “THE NEW “FASHION TREND” THAT IS TERRIFYING TO ME” where she writes about her own past experiences with being bullied for being curvy at a time that it wasn’t “fashionable” and the fallout in her life.

Her article inspired a whole spectrum of comments, including feedback from people who had been anorexic.

Having been anorexic in my early 20’s I chimed in too, and this post is written from that perspective:

Some excellent conversation threads here! I will add my 2 cents: I became anorexic during my first marriage when my husband was an alcoholic and a drug addict. My starting point: I was already slim and athletic.

I used exercise to try to regulate my stress. My very co-dependent life skills thought it was ok to try to “shame” him into recovery by showing him physically what his addiction was doing, not realizing that this wasn’t going to achieve what I wanted, but created a whole slew of other problems.

The skinnier he became from Cocaine, the skinnier I was getting from Anorexia. His view of me changed as his view of himself changed. When I was at my skinniest he was pinching my butt and telling me I still needed to lose, whereas before he loved my figure.

What did I learn from that time?

1) Our perceptions about ourselves (and even others) may not be based in a healthy reality, but may be quite unhealthy.

2) Using food to try to control our lives is actually very self destructive, not only for the toll it takes on our bodies, but emotionally.

When I started to learn other tools to process my stress about living with an alcoholic/drug addict, I was able to release the self-harming behaviors (and thought patterns) I had fallen into.

3) This was one of the life events I was able to see clearly from that showed me I really didn’t like myself very much, that no one was going to step in to save me or teach me how to like myself. In fact, I attracted more and more people who amplified those thoughts about myself.

4) The only person who was going to step in to save me, turned out to actually be myself!

The road to recovery and the road to becoming healthy is fundamentally ours to walk, sometimes alone, sometimes with support, but ultimately, we need to do it for ourselves!

Tamara’s comment on Lifesfinewhine’s “THE NEW “FASHION TREND” THAT IS TERRIFYING TO ME

There is a relationship between self-harm and anger

One thing I learned about self-harming behavior is that the anger we feel about a situation or event we’re going through gets directed inwardly toward ourselves, because we don’t have the toolkit to deal with the stresses.

Self-harm in any form is a way to try to exert some type of control over an external event by controlling what we perceive is controllable: our bodies.

Self-harm is done when we feel helpless to do anything else, yet we have anger, angst, worry, and stress all thrown together in a mess we have no idea how to deal with.

This is why so many treatment programs don’t focus solely on eating habits or self-harm habits, but on helping patients to unravel the messy ball of emotions and to develop life skills to be able to handle life’s stresses.

When I became anorexic, I perceived that my trigger to use food as a method to control external events was my husband’s addiction to alcohol and Cocaine.

In reality, I was already deeply damaged from the abusive relationship I had with my mother, and how the flipping of the parent/child roles developed a deep co-dependency within me. I already had deep pain, anger, feelings of betrayal, and angst floating through me well before I met my husband.

When I met him I connected with him almost instantly, and vice-versa, not because of our strengths, but because we recognized the damage in each other. We were 2 people drawn to each other because of the damage we had each sustained, and tried to become each other’s life raft, but that didn’t work out the way we had expected it to, because neither of us had the life skills to help each other.

The inability we each had to help each other fueled our disappointment in each other, and fueled our feelings of feeling let down by the other person.

We had no idea that we were each responsible for our own recovery, and for working on developing life skills.

The shock of discovering that recovery is an inside job

My recovery from self-harm came when I made this inner connection that he wasn’t going to save me from myself, my mother wasn’t going to do the work for me, nor was anyone else capable of it, because they weren’t living in my own skin.

It was an earth-shattering, very lonely feeling to realize that I alone was going to be responsible for moving all the pieces around to create a new healthier version of me.

Until that point, I was yearning for and felt I needed someone else to swoop in and care for me so deeply that I’d be healed. I didn’t understand that those feelings were borne from having been radically let down and emotionally abandoned by my mother, who was requiring me to mother and nurture her own unhealed pains.

I truly felt that since an external person had created the deep damage within me, it was going to take an external person to come in and “fix” the damage.

Therapists and counselors can help guide us, but they can’t do the work for us

Please do not interpret what I’m about to say as a sign to not go to therapy or to quit your current sessions.

I’ve heard people give up on their therapy, saying “they didn’t fix me”, and feeling very let down. I’ve seen others go from counselor to counselor, seeking someone who has the skills to fix them, even becoming very dependent on having a counselor continually shore up their low feelings of self-worth.

The examples of “success” I choose to follow, are people who have taken on the responsibility to work with therapists, counselors, and other teachers to develop the life skills needed to do this inner work.

The inner work is deep and messy. It’s very hard work, very scary at times for the emotions it brings up, and frankly is exhausting!

There is no “One-size-fits-all” answer.

There aren’t “10 easy steps to recovery”.

However, it is all doable!

It will take perseverance. it will take coming back, again and again, to keep doing the work.

I have discovered that interestingly, the universe does bring us the information and the teachers we need, even if they take unexpected forms!

I have faith in you to do this work, for if you have read this far, I know you are motivated and ready to do that inner work!

I have faith that you will keep going, that you will keep picking yourself up and giving it another go!

I have faith that you will keep going!

You are worthy! You are worthy! You are worthy!

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25 thoughts on “The skinny trend… going to any extreme is unhealthy… What anorexia taught me about recovery…

  1. This is very interesting, Tamara. You’ve perfectly shown how our childhood trauma shows up in our romantic relationships, typically for the worst, until we develop some level of self-awareness.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s so true, isn’t it? Until we work through our past traumas, everything we do in life is a coping mechanism of some sort or another. Sometimes we’re very fortunate and learn healthy skills, while other times we muddle through as best as we can. Unraveling the ball of tangled emotions and experiences is challenging, but if we realize we don’t have to untangle everything and redo it, we can simply start from where we are and slowly learn healthier skills. Interestingly, the more we develop new skills, the unraveling process seems to be managed steadily in the background, making it easier for us to face the stubborn issues head-on!

      I give Kudos to all who walk this path!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Tamara, I don’t know why I haven’t found this post before. I must have missed it when it was first published. It is something I can identify with in such a big way and also slightly painfully, too. I used to be anorexic, not so much when younger, but in my 30s and 40s. I used to self-harm and abuse alcohol and drugs – all things I’m very ashamed of now. I did a lot of damage, not only to myself but also to my friends and family. I have huge regrets now.

    This isn’t something I’ve shared on my blog before, but I’m now struggling a lot with binging—quite the opposite of how I used to be. I feel very out of control, which makes me feel very panicky. I was starting to get better, but since finding out that I’m losing my therapist, it has got worse again. I don’t know where to begin to get better.

    On the plus side, I haven’t touched alcohol or drugs for about twelve years now. I know I will never do this again. I caused too much damage to all around me when I was at my worst. I haven’t self-harmed for the same length of time, either. I can see that I have fought to overcome these things, and I am pleased and grateful that I’ve managed to do this. I just wish I could see my way out of this new disordered eating habit. If you have any advice, I would be very grateful.

    Honestly, Tamara, your posts have been real eye-openers for me lately. I’m gradually digging into some of your older posts to learn as much as I can about improving my quality of life. Thank you so much for sharing so much of your honesty, wisdom and caring about others as you do. Ellie xx 💓

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ellie, thank you for taking the time to read the posts. No worries about missing it the first time, I believe that the universe sometimes presents us with older things at a time we need it.

      I’m sorry you experienced the addicions and the self harming. Please remember that those are the tools we turn to when we don’t feel we have any other tools, and when we learn healthier ways of dealing with life, we can replace those behaviors.

      Shame for past behaviors is a powerful thing.

      Shame is part of the self imposed judgment we place on ourselves, and stepping away from it isn’t simply about pushing it down and ignoring it.

      When we can objectively see ourselves as people who were broken and turned to anything to try to feel better, we can choose to suspend judgment of ourselves, knowing it wasn’t because we were a bad person, but a hurting person.

      As we develop new tools, we can consciously put them into practice and gently release the old.

      Maybe a special ceremony to burn those old things would be helpful? If you write down the things you feel ready to release, put the papers inside a paper bag, then burn them in a BBQ grill. Thank each of those behaviors as you set out to release them, thank them for the role they played to help you to survive. Let them know that you have learned new tools to deal with life.

      I know this sounds ridiculous, but thanking our old isms for the role they played in our survival is very helpful to release Shame.

      To paraphrase Maya Angelou, We do what we need to do I’m a time when we don’t know anything healthier to do, and when we learn new tools, we use them! “When I know better, I do better.”

      Releasing the old pains, hurts and shame is crucial to our healing, and ceremonies we create for ourselves can be very helpful.

      When I did burn ceremonies, I burned sage, plus put some sage in the paperbag. If you don’t have a sage bundle, lavender, sweet grass, even rosemary can be used.

      These herbs are very cleansing, and studies have been done to measure germs on surfaces before and after burning sage, that have shown the burning sage has antiseptic qualities. Interesting, right?!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you, Tamara. I can see how the universe brings us things when we most need them. Perhaps, this is tied in with the intuition you spoke about in another post. I feel drawn to read different posts of yours at different times. I do believe there are reasons why this happens.

        I love the idea of burning words and feelings regarding my previous behaviours that I carry shame about. I will have to get some sage, as this really does appeal to me. I don’t have a BBQ grill, and they are impossible to purchase in the UK at this time of the year. I will try to think of a safe alternative.

        I love Maya Angelou’s quotes. She truly is a courageous and extraordinary lady. She has been through so much in her life and yet, has become a great source of inspiration for so many. P.S. None of what you say seems ‘ridiculous’ to me. It all makes perfect sense. Xx 💞

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Ellie, I see how the universe is working with you! A big aha moment I had was when I saw that I am a loved part of the universe and that it has my back! This is true for each of us!

          Blessings to you and your efforts to heal, for you are putting in the time and energy. It is all cumulative, like grains of Sand or droplets of water filling a large container. It takes time, but with persistance, happens!

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Very good post Tamara. Taking control of ourselves and not expecting someone else to fix us is the key. I have struggled many years with severe depression, Ptsd, anxiety, and borderline personality disorder. The self-harm I would do was drink and cut myself. When life felt uncontrollable to me I would cut most of the time on my arms. I had therapy and counseling for many years and even though it didn’t help right away, I did learn a lot and was given tips to help cope with life. My point is that it’s true that we need to take responsibility for our own thinking and actions, and use what we learn from the professionals. Without practicing what we are taught, the bad things in us will never change.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pennize, I’m sorry that you went through all of that, but very happy that you have made those inner connections to be able to heal and grow.

      We cannot change what happened to us in our youth, but we can choose how we want the rest of our lives to go. Taking ownership of our thoughts is a HUGE first step, then working on changing the negative tapes into positive messaging we give ourselves is the gift of transformation.

      “Practicing what we were taught” whether from a therapist or learned from other sources, these things allow us to release the old cloak we wore and to become free of the past.

      For me, acceptance of what happened was huge, because in my pain I kept trying to change the people who were creating the pain, and it was difficult to accept that there was never going to be enough love I could give them to change them, because they too had the responsibility of changing themselves.

      One person who gave me a lot of pain was able to change himself, but he left me, saying there was too much water under the bridge and he needed a fresh start. The other 2 people who gave me pain weren’t able or were unwilling to change, so I left my relationships them. One was my mother. I had to work on accepting the situation for what it was, and not keep trying to create something in my mind that never could exist. She was my original abuser, and as long as I struggled with acceptance of my relationship with her, I kept selecting men who matched her damaged areas, because that’s what resonated within me. That was such a huge awakening. Strangely, as I worked on myself to change my thoughts about myself, everything else fit into place.

      Bravo to you for Practicing what you were taught! It takes practice and perseverance, doesn’t it?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for sharing your experiences with this topic as well. I had a very rough time when I was younger and you are right about so many things. A lot of self-harm does stem from the need for control and the hate we feel for ourselves. And no one can “fix’ you except yourself. Sometimes we wish people would behave a certain way or help us in certain ways but people are who they are. If we rely on them for our happiness we will never be happy. We need to fix ourselves and find our own happiness.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. “We need to fix ourselves and find our own happiness.” Yes! you said it! We’re such complicated creatures aren’t we? We seek easier ways, yet the path to wholeness isn’t as easy as we would like it to be. It’s always easier to try to look for answers outside of ourselves.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Well, I’m still facing the consequences. Being overweight means a lots of bullying. I lost all the confidence and couldn’t able to be a part of a great friendship. I always felt myself left out. There are very few with whom I’m truly me. Even till now, I’m not confident to go out because of the scare of the stare. I’m working towards a good health to gain more confidence and respect.
      One thing I’ve felt that, people see fat people as laughing stock, they use such tone to belittle. I prove them wrong with my ability to do stuff they are unable to do with fitter body.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. So true, plus sized people are often bullied as they are seen as easy victims. Glad you’re keeping the haters at bay and hope losing weight gives you more confidence. And having a good workout regiment.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I second what Pooja says! By the way, I don’t see everyone mocking overweight people, many are very supportive, yet the mockers seem to be heard the loudest. I have observed that the people mocking others have very low self esteem themselves, otherwise they wouldn’t be trying to make someone else feel worse than they do.

          There is a certain orange politician who notably has mocked many people. Years ago I read about his father and how his father loudly proclaimed his son to be a lover and was very harsh with him during his childhood. What that man experienced as a child, he continues to speak to others around him.

          People who were bullied and mistreated when young often go after others, not because what they say to them is true, but to try to feel better about their own unhealed hurts.

          Keep in mind that what people say to you isn’t about who you are inside, for they aren’t seeing that!

          Keep going, and be healthy!

          Liked by 1 person

      2. Good for you! Keep going! Keep doing what is good for you! When I’m out doing my walks and I see an overweight person struggling to jog or do some other form of fitness such as riding a bike, I give a big thumbs up and try to project an encouraging smile, for they are doing good for themselves. We get better and better with time when we keep practicing! I have my own health issues that are invisible to others and sometimes it’s hard to get out for a walk, so I do understand the struggle. I remember when I had chronic Shingles on my face, the sores were such a huge turn-off for people and I got many looks of disgust. There are some things that others just don’t understand when they look at the outside of a person. Keep doing what you’re doing and keep writing about it because you are helping many people! Bravo!

        Liked by 1 person

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