Oftentimes, eating disorders emerge in people with perfectionism traits; the kind of perfectionism that makes you really awesome at tracking every crumb, calorie and stick of gum that passes your lips. For me, excellent grades, orderliness, perfect handwriting, and probably countless other things pointed to the perfectionist “gene”. Not all bad, of course, but perfectionism can lead you on a dangerous path. Being perfect in things like rigorous work-out schedules and eating regimens quickly removes us from any sense of self-love and intuitive living. I was “perfect” at counting calories, burning calories and torturing my body into submission.
Alongside perfectionism is obsession. I can’t say it’s directly related to OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) but it must be pretty darn close. I can remember using my 10-key calculator to run tapes of my calories. I would start a new one every time I ate something, committing every number to memory, every bite accounted for. It calmed me and grounded me, reminded me of my purpose. I wish I could hug that version of myself and say, “Honey, that was not a purpose filled life.”
When succumbing to a lifestyle of disordered eating, secrecy can be an issue too. I mean these things are not exactly performed publicly. I hid my food journals. I ate somewhat normally in front of people, while keeping my more neurotic tendencies to myself. Somehow, those secrets empowered me, but really, they imprisoned me. Nothing is truly ever hidden and only darkness lives in those places.
Behind eating disorders is a great amount of control also. Sometimes it feels like the only bit of control you have. When I was sinking into the deepest part of my disorder, I was in an abusive relationship with a controlling man and the little games I played in my head, controlling what I ate and obsessing over the numbers, gave me a sense of control over something.
So, yes, while I finally found a lot of healing and worked through a lot of my food issues, I also found, working with a mentor, that my disorder was lurking in other places in my life. Perfectionism, obsession, secrecy and control hadn’t exactly disappeared. While I was feeding my cravings and giving myself permission to eat again, I was also throwing myself into other areas of life that would feed these unspoken needs. Cleaning, studying, having routines that I refused to break. My days were made up of chunks of time diligently allocated to specific tasks, much like my calories used to be divided by time of day. It was a big wake-up call.
I had to begin questioning why I did things. Why did I have to make my bed every morning? Why did I clean my baseboards, vacuum, wipe down all the counter tops, balance my budget, and organize my kitchen so religiously? I practiced letting things go. These things weren’t bad things, per se, but they weren’t healthy for me either, not the way I was doing them. Compulsions teach us things about ourselves, if we’re willing to look at them. Before we call them bad or good, we can simply express curiosity about them and learn from them. So, yes, I have a more cluttered life, certainly not the orderly way of my former life. And maybe that causes me some anxiety as I seek to exercise control over things. But when those compulsions hit me, I treat them like I do my disordered eating thoughts. I approach them with love and curiosity. I ask questions and I let things go that can be let go. What do I get in return? A lot of freedom.
You probably know by now that I am passionate about freedom, health and peace of mind. It is my mission to guide others on this path as well. I will continue to passionately protect the freedom I have earned in my life, over my thoughts and my “addictions”. I am not a machine and I will not act like one. I am a human being, and sometimes being is just sitting, or writing, or talking with a friend, or playing with my kids. It’s not doing something, somewhere all the time.
Shining light into the secret places is scary, because it illuminates all that you’ve worked so hard to keep private. You can do it alone or you can do it with a trusted friend, mentor or counselor. But I do encourage you to look honestly into yourself and give yourself permission to let go. You’d be surprised how much fun freedom can be.
Mary O’Malley writes, “Remember, we are not compulsive because we are losers at the beck and call of urges that are out to get us. We are compulsive because there is something we need to see, to embrace, to heal in order to become conscious human beings.” This is from her book, The Gift of Our Compulsions: A Revolutionary Approach to Self-Acceptance and Healing, which I highly recommend! See below (affiliate link) for book and Kindle versions: