It sounds so cliché, but we all want to be loved and accepted for who we are. Who we are is formed long before we look in a mirror.
Eating disorders lie. They lie to the sufferer, to their friends and family, to many that treat the illness and to society. And we continue to feed this lie and strengthen its power. It is a deception. THEY ARE NOT ABOUT BODY IMAGE. They appear as that. Many speak about them and research them as that. But the real issue is to see the invisible.
“I see you.” Is one of my favourite lines in the movie Avatar. I cried as soon as I heard it. Because those three words speak to my whole experience to date. As a young child, 8 years old, I knew I had a sense of justice, I knew I felt compassion, I knew I looked to the ‘why’ of the world around me. You know. You live with you all the time. As a teenager I grew up in a household of strictness and control very much like ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’. I was sensitive in nature and was a high achiever. A combination of many factors led to MY interpretation and I believed these things:
I am not allowed to be heard
I am not worthy to be heard
I am not a good enough daughter.
I was NOT thinking or believing:
I am overweight
I am not happy with my body
Looking back I had undiagnosed anxiety, and depression and was extremely scared to speak up. I became fearful to just be me. So when the depression came at its lowest in my late teens, my eating and sleep habits changed. (some of the signs of depression). I ate a little less and sleeping soundly was difficult. This spoke louder than any comment I could make and I suddenly felt I was being listened to. Maybe now I would be loved as I was. The false thought was strengthened by a maladaptive coping mechanism. This became full blown anorexia. To stop this behaviour at the time meant ‘my voice’ was taken away.
It lied to me! It fed the ‘I’m not good enough’ line I believed. In fact, I forgot all about the very thing that I wanted the most – to be loved and accepted for me – the hope that other’s would see the ‘Inside me’. Because this illness makes it all appear that you are concerned about your body shape and size. The shift appears to be on the visible yet inside I was screaming ‘this is not who I am or what I want but I am scared to let it go’. The illness puts up a bigger wall so that other’s do not even ‘see you’. The scales lie to you, the mirror lies and your thoughts lie to you – ‘still not good enough’.
Yes we need to look after our bodies and our health but body shape and size does not determine health. You do not consider the damage done to your health as you strive to feel as sense of worth – the inside of your body. Heart risks, hormonal imbalances, osteoporosis, declining mental health, substance abuse and loss of relationships – because they are ‘unseen’. We have become ‘image focussed’.
If caught in this trap of feeling unworthy, we may constantly post pictures of our bodies but really wanting our heart and soul to be seen. Social media is full of these images. And they sell. To the many who may be still vulnerable and forgotten who they are, they may be feeding the lie, ‘you are not enough’.
When the cause is not treated and we do not learn healthy coping strategies, there is no healing. When depression reared its head again in my 40’s, I began coping the only way I knew how. But I recognised it and sought help. I had lost the real me. I had lost integrity to who I was and I was desperate to feel I was worth it. These causes were still there for all those years. Throughout my marriage, I believed the lie that my worth only lay in my body and making sure I did all the housework on time every time. I enjoyed sex but I believed that was only loved for my body and performing my ‘duties’ as a wife. My marriage fell apart.
In the pit of despair, again believing a lie that I was not good enough and failed as a wife and mother, my thoughts led to behaviour that was against the law. I acted on the lie that I believed. 5 years later I was imprisoned. I craved to be seen for the ‘inside me’, but even I could not see her. I found her in the midst of walking through what felt like dirt and mud that I had gotten myself in.
Note- I said walking THROUGH, NOT sitting in it and staying there. I could not walk through this ‘mud’ alone. I had GOOD professional help. I had help for the cause – the unseen – which I saw as clear as clear water in the middle of the mud. The cause of the eating disorder and the offence had one and the same thought patterns – NOTHING TO DO WITH BODY WEIGHT, FOOD OR EXERCISE. It was hard work, but I found me again! It was in prison, with no control over food you are given or time to exercise, that I realised I was free from this trap and lie of an eating disorder. I vowed sitting in that cell to use the voice that I had found in the hope to help others with low self-worth.
Empowered by this revelation and support of those around me, I had a choice. Do I let this ‘dirt’ stick? A criminal label is not easy to carry, and depending on the ‘offence’ can make it even tougher. If I looked at that I would fall into the ‘lie trap again’. We cannot help what others see. We have no control over that. What matters the most is what reflection of ourselves we see. I saw brokenness of many lives in prison – most suffered mental illness and all had low self-worth. In harshly judging ourselves over anything, we can impose our own penalties – and fall into the trap of using unhealthy means to cope with the thoughts and emotions.
I refuse to do this again! I know my worth, mud and all! We need to look at the invisible. Treating the signs and the symptoms is necessary but the CAUSE is what we need to see and treat. Let’s ensure we do all we can to NOT feed the lie that the person is already believing.
Where are YOU? What ‘mirror’ are you using? What is your real honest motivation for doing what you do? What is your why?