National Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2013 is wrapping up tomorrow. This year’s theme is a repeat: “Everybody Knows Somebody.”
I have been thinking a lot lately about the people I have had the honor to meet and work with over the last (almost) 10 years. I wish I could share with you the intricate details of their stories of heartbreak, despair, pain, victory, and perseverance. They have taught me so much about the disordered eating spectrum, grace, humility, and redemption.
What I can do is share with you how many of the people you interact with every single day are hurting inside and masking it so well that you have no idea what is really going on in their minds, hearts, and souls.
You are around people every day who are terrified of being found out, misunderstood, judged:
- for eating a “bad” food;
- for binging+purging;
- for living on caffeine and crumbs;
- for doing things with food and their body that would make your toes curl;
- for being overweight and seen as lazy, stupid, a burden to society;
- for not being able to manage life without their disordered eating thoughts and behaviors;
- for their life being so chaotic, out of control, unsafe;
- for hurting and hating their bodies, their lives, their existence.
You see their smile, their amazing work ethic, the kind disposition. You laugh at their jokes and praise them for their faithful service and always being available to help.
Or you may be distracted by their extra weight, their health struggles, their mood swings and think it is just about the food, just a phase, or simply manipulative attention-seeking.
Think again. It is probably so much more.
We live in a culture that is not showing any signs of letting up with the pressure to fit into a certain size, shape, look, way of being. While there are more and more people desiring authenticity and courage — and stepping up and living it — there are still so many people you know who are terrified of being seen in their pain, their darkness, their cesspool of destructive choices.
I hear many cheer on stories and acts of vulnerability. I deeply admire those sharing their stories while living a life of courage. It is medicine for the collective soul.
But when I step out of the safe zone of my home, my inner circle of support and Potentia, I am up to my eyeballs in snark, criticism, bitterness, cruelty, bullying, and fear. Yes, there is hope and light amidst the toxic culture we live in, but wow. It is intense out there and many are breaking under the pressure.
You may not notice these individuals screaming loudly from inside their minds, but look again.
You may be too busy, overwhelmed, or caught up in your our pain to see that others are struggling, too, right in front of you. Understandable. It is hard to be human.
Or you may think really seeing, sitting with, and empathizing with someone’s pain is too hard, unbearable. Indeed. That kind of connection is a full body commitment and investment. Healthy boundaries (not walls) are needed so you can discern what your limits are on any given day.
But I think we can no longer tolerate looking away from the pain of those around us. This is volatile ground to tread. But when you hear someone speaking poorly about their body, dieting (the gateway drug for eating disorders), negligent with how they nourish and care for themselves, please do not tell them how to change or look away.
Please do slow down and listen. Build a relationship with the person you are concerned about. Ask questions. Seek to understand. Listen some more. That in itself is so life-giving to someone living in emotional isolation.
I hear many people say, “I do not get eating disorders. That is not my struggle.” You may not struggle with food and body issues, but I suspect you know full well what it is like to feel alone, rejected, ashamed, overwhelmed, afraid, and helpless. So yes, you can connect with someone struggling with an eating disorder regardless of whether that is a part of your story.
Eating Disorders, Disordered Eating and all the related issues — obsessions with counting calories + dieting + eating “healthy,” good food/bad food, excessive working out, anxiety, compulsions, depression, suicidal thoughts, self harm behaviors, body shame, unhealthy perfectionism — are attempts for people to chase the ache of the core negative belief, “I am not worthy of love.”
At the heart of a lot of the wellness issues in our country is deep emotional pain. Genetics, family of origin, trauma, temperament, and distressing life events all play intricate roles in this complex and damaging illness, and the reductive solutions offered by many are fueling the pain, not relief.
As this year’s NEDAW wraps up, remember:
- Everybody knows somebody in the process of recovering from somewhere on the disordered eating spectrum;
- Everybody knows somebody who is painfully concerned with how she is perceived by others;
- Everybody knows somebody giving up a food group or going on a diet with the hopes it will cure their emotional pain or physical ailments, only to be left unsatisfied and under-nourished;
- Everyone knows someone who would rather hurt herself than somebody else;
- Everybody knows somebody that is deceptively in deep emotional pain screaming out for help behind her smile and put-together demeanor;
- Everybody knows someone who defines herself solely by the darkness of her story;
- Everybody knows somebody who repeatedly talks negatively about her body, oozing with self-hatred and disgust when she looks in the mirror;
- Everybody knows somebody who fears being fat, thinks she is fat, feels fat regardless of the facts;
- Everyone knows someone who exercised for hours on end to the point of injury;
Everybody Knows Somebody.
You Know Somebody.
If you want to learn more about the disordered eating spectrum, check out the National Eating Disorder Association website. It is an incredible resource for those who are struggling with and those who are learning about eating disorders.
How have you reached out to someone struggling? What was difficult? What went well? Please do share!
Cheering you on –