All week I've been trying to come up with something profound to write about. Something that felt substantial and meaningful because I don't just want to write to fill content for you guys. I was pretty sure I was going to write about anxiety and alcohol, something I have a lot of experience with, but a topic that I know will be very heavy for me to unpack. It wasn't until I got a message from a friend this morning, sharing a post with me about how the producers of The Crown worked closely with an eating disorder charity to help depict Princess Diana’s experience with bulimia in the show, that I landed on this topic. Eating disorders thrive on secrecy. (See the original Instagram post here)
The second slide of the post says “The definition of an eating disorder is the morbid preoccupation with food, weight and shape. It's about the mental state, it's not necessarily about a physical condition.”
For anyone reading this that has struggled with an eating disorder, I'm sure you are nodding your head in agreement right now because nothing will mess with your mind quite like an eating disorder will. It's a rabbit hole I would truly never wish on anyone yet an alarming number of us find ourselves falling deeper and deeper into the abyss. It's a rabbit hole that has an endless number of twists and turns upon its descent, leaving you disoriented with fear and shame. Its ability to warp your morals and skew your concept of reality is unfathomable and before you know it you find yourself wrapped in its chains.
Regardless of the way your eating disorder manifests, it will always thrive on secrecy. It might start small, like the simple act of stepping on that scale in the morning. Maybe a quick trip to the bathroom or an extra mile at the gym. As isolated incidents, they're innocuous, but rarely do they stay that way. Slowly but surely the act of stepping on a scale becomes a compulsion. One that will dictate your value for the day. That trip to the bathroom follows every meal and one mile becomes ten. The void that once was a small crevice is now a gaping fracture you frantically seek to fill behind closed doors. The rational part of your brain that would be blaring sirens, shouting for help, becomes dulled by whispers of empty promises. Unhealthy behaviors masquerade as feelings of control and that “secret” becomes the dictator of your life.
Every relationship with an eating disorder is unique and complicated. When, why and how it starts can vary greatly, but the common thread keeping them all alive is the element of secrecy. The moment you speak something out loud it is given life. It is no longer in your total control. It is no longer yours to internalize, to manipulate, and to idolize. Suddenly, you become open to judgement, opinions, and possibly the most scary of all, help.
For those of us who have truly fallen down that not so colorful Alice in Wonderland scene, you know there is nothing whimsical about it. A piece of your soul dies everyday as your secret grows, yet it becomes a piece of armor that shields you from the world. By nature, secrets are exclusive. It is a thing that you hold that others don't. It puts a barrier between you and them. So long as you hold that secret you can build your castle walls high into the sky but we all know castles are often cold and crumbling inside. The secret you think is keeping you safe is what is keeping you stuck. It is the chain that enslaves you and the thing that will drive you mad.
Sadly for many it can take years, if ever, to find the courage to break those chains. Sometimes we can't even see it for ourselves. In many ways letting go of a secret like that can feel like you're losing a part of yourself because even if you were miserable you knew what to expect.
Recovery, while it may be a promising beacon of hope, is scary. Learning to cope with life without your secret bag of tricks is daunting. And unlike trying to recover from a drug habit, alcohol addiction or any other harmful addiction, eating disorders are unique in the sheer fact that you HAVE to eat. The answer is not abstinence which makes recovery that much more complex. But everyone deserves freedom. Freedom from your mind, freedom from food, and freedom from the secret that holds you prisoner. Don't give your eating disorder the power it craves. Speak out because recovery is possible.
If you even have an inkling that you might have an unhealthy relationship with food or exercise, I encourage you to talk to someone as soon as possible.
As always, thank you for reading this week. I would love to hear from you in the comments below. I know this is a tough topic for many but I encourage everyone to have those difficult conversations because the more we talk about things the less uncomfortable they become.
Disclaimer: Please note, all information on The Cheeky Life is not intended as medical advice or as a substitute for professional care. The intention of this blog is to connect with the community and share my personal experiences with mental health, eating disorders, and life in general. All opinions are my own.