I have been reading a book called Appetites by Caroline Knapp. There was a passage that I felt accurately describes my view on eating disorders and why I approach recovery in the way that I do.
“I could not express what I’d been feeling with words, but I could wear it. The inner life—hunger, confusion, longings unnamed and unmet, that whole overwhelming gamut-as a sculpture in bone.”
I feel that it is the difficulty describing and expressing emotions that leads us to find other ways to deal with them. That isn’t to say that everyone who cannot deal or describe their emotions will end up with an eating disorder, but most people who suffer from eating disorders struggle to express their feelings. It is because of this difficulty that I find it helpful to add journaling and art therapy to all of my client’s treatment plans. Finding a new and safe way to experience and express emotion is paramount in recovery. That is why when you are not ready for treatment but are encouraged/forced to go, the emotions are completely overwhelming. The eating disorder is the only thing that we have to suppress the emotions, so when we go into treatment and our eating can no longer be used as an emotional barrier, those emotions rush in and take over.
The most common emotion that I hear about it shame. Why is this? What is it about having an eating disorder that leaves us covered in shame? Is it because of the secrecy of the ED? Is it because we have had a parent or friend act embarrassed at the idea of us having an ED? Or maybe it is because of our low self esteem and daily struggle with body image? Why do you think that you feel shame so often?
It is my belief that the shame we feel is actually misplaced anger. Instead of being mad at someone for doing something terrible to us, and comforting them, processing it and letting it go, we turn it in on ourselves. We begin by first thinking that we have no right to feel angry or upset and even the thought of confrontation leaves us in a cold sweat. So where does the anger go? Well when we ruminate over and over again in our mind about something that was done wrong to us, yet have nowhere to place the blame, we start thinking it was our fault after all. Maybe I did deserve to be slapped by my mom, I hadn’t cleaned my room like she had asked; or maybe I was too sexy and that family friend couldn’t resist molesting me. We begin to turn this hurt and anger inwards instead of outwards.
It is this anger and hurt that builds up and has no release. If we hate on ourselves so much, what can we do to show it? We can cut ourselves to release some of the pressure or we can starve ourselves so all we can think of is hunger, not hurt. People will definitely notice then. Or we can binge until all we can think about is how full we feel or how good the food tastes, not how sad we have been feeling lately. Instead of using our words to express emotion we use our bodies. We wear our emotions.
This is why I believe that art and journaling can be so therapeutic and slowly allow us to get back to expressing our feelings in healthy ways. We do this slowly so that we do not feel overwhelmed or create anymore anger or hurt to be used in an unhealthy manner.
Obviously, these are just my thoughts on this. What are yours? Do you feel that you have trouble expressing yourself? Or quite the opposite? Are there certain emotions that are easier for you to deal with than others? What ones are easy and what ones are hard? Why do you think that is? Have you found a way to express your emotions that is healthy and helpful? What is it about that way of expressing them that you find so cathartic? Share your thoughts and comments about this. I am simply giving my view point, but everyone is different and unique in their own way. So let me know what you think J