CONTROLLING YOUR EATING TO CONTROL PEOPLE AROUND YOU…
...and to control the situations you find (found) yourself in…
Restricting, controlling, manipulating your eating works splendidly as a coping strategy to keep your anxiety about people and their doings in check. It very fast makes you not care about what they do or do not do. And you are in a place, a world – a mental space, where you are feeling like you are in control of something. Something is in your power to decide over, and there is finally some predictability in your life, and something to hold on to. Food – and what you use to control your food intake with become both your best friend and your worst enemy. You do not need anyone else. Or at least, that is what you tell yourself. If you only can stay with and keep yourself to your own restrictive eating rules, then, it will all be fine. Then nobody, or what they do, can really touch you, not psychically, not mentally, especially not mentally. All of a sudden – you have super-powers, secret super-powers. They ask you if you want something to eat – and you smile (outwardly a small one – inwardly a big smile) – and they do not know that you are in control, secretly. Even if they demand you to eat – they can’t make you. They can’t make you chew and swallow. Unless they put a gun to your head. Most of the time, they don’t do that.
But… as in all fairytales and dream scenarios, there is an evil stepmother… king, dragon…. After the initial “highs” from your ability to control things, it turns out – you are not in control at all. Now, instead of being controlled by other people, you are controlled by food, your own thoughts about food, your own behaviors. Suddenly you fear food as much as you fear people, and you fear the consequences of eating – too much, too little… everything around food becomes complicated and anxiety provoking. You add more and more rules and restrictions – and probably exercise. The need to move all the time – is entering your life (and has no longer only to do with emotional outlet or emotional regulation).
But – you still won… your battle with food is still more predictable than your battle with surviving your fears of other people and their doings. You – are on both sides of the battle.
I have struggled with “eating disorders”, “eating disordered behaviors” and “eating disordered thought patterns” almost my whole life, even long before anyone could pick up on it , which was when I was entering adolescence, long before they became obvious in manifest behaviors. I remember being a small child and “knowing” that food is a currency, a means, a weapon, a reward. Knowing that the battle of what ends up in your mouth – is somehow important.
What I did not see, could not see – was that my eating or non-eating was a coping strategy – and my voice – my way of having choices, as well as a fight for survival. I kept on fighting the bad people in my life, I have battled and slained the dragon, the evil stepmother, the murderous king – over and over – to no avail. But it kept me going. Anorexia kept me alive. Even the times it almost killed me. I could not, I dared not – challenge the real people, and my real fears – but this battle – this battle – I could have some sort of control over. And Anorexia became my best friend, and my worst enemy. I have always been my best friend and my worst enemy. I had to have that scenario, that battle, inside – to leave my survival to only outer factors that I had NO CONTROL OVER WHATSOEVER was simply too scary for my mind to be able to cope with. I needed a substitute fight.
The sad part is that – long after I had to fight for my survival in real life, I continued to battle for it on my inside. Because I could not see the link anymore, and I did not trust anyone to show it to me. And yes, the fact that no one ever described this to me, in a way that I could relate too – also made it impossible to for me to break my thought patterns and change my behaviors.
Anorexia for me – is an obvious trauma response and trauma consequence. The “anorectic” voices – are still there, inside of me. They need a lot of patience and reassurance, and I need a lot of trust in myself and my ability to use more healthy coping strategies. And I need trust in supportive others around me – to continue to see that I do not need Anorexia anymore, “she” is a rest of my trauma bonding and truama responses. I do not need her more than I need any other trauma bonding patterns – I do not need to fight for my survival anymore, I can direct my stubbornness, my fighting spirit, my will to stay alive – towards other goals – other more healthy battles – like contributing to change in society, by educating about trauma, trauma consequences, my own journey, what I learn from science and experience, about horses in therapy - welfare questions... the list is long of what I can choose to redirect my energy towards...
Maybe I will never be fully free from consequences from my truamas – besides my “disordered eating” – I have a lot of food triggers – and at times it is hard to see what is what. But – I do not want to spend the rest of my life fighting a battle within me – that on the outside long ago is over. And THAT battle – I did survive – because I am still here… and I do honor my Anorexia in that way – without it – I would probably not have been here. I needed a proxy arena to fight on. I needed a sense of control and predictability. I needed a space where I set the rules, where there were successes to celebrate – and where people could see that I was fighting. I could not tell them about the real fight, my truamas, so instead they could engage in helping me survive my proxy fight. I am grateful for that people kept me alive, when I could not myself fully do that. But, I also wish they had known it was a proxy fight, and that they had had the courage to see beyond it, to ask questions about the real reasons, to help me see and understand. In the help I did get with Anorexia – the helpers engaged in the same proxy fight as I did – with the same weapons, kilos, calories, kilometers, mirrors, food, rest – and a lot of force, threats, rules – and un-empowerment… they took the role of the perpetrators… unknowingly? At times they were the helpers, enablers and at times even the victims – of my Anorexia dictator. But they were never my allies – and never, as I remember it – did anyone ask me what my Anorexia was about – what role it filled. And neither did I meet someone who did not focus on it… And a person with Anorexia knows that – without knowing it – we know that once we are not physically dying from our fight – we will be sent off to fight our battles on our own. To eat healthy means to be left on your own.
This was all true, until I met Ilka Parent (Minds-n-Motion: Pferdeunterstützte/Equine Assisted Trauma Therapie) who told me “you will stop being anorexic when you do not need it anymore”. Not that I believed her, then. Some days I still do not believe her, but I can see, by learning to eat healthy, take care of myself (which also at times means indulge in eating because it tastes good – without inner conflicts, fights and punishments) – moving away from that proxy battle – she is still around for me to deal with, face the real ones, imagined, real, past and present battles. “All” I have to do is to trust that consistency…. and my own ability to face what hurts.
And that in itself is not an easy thing, for many reasons, one of them being – my experience of consistency does not always tell me consistency is something good… so being – again – aware of my trauma lenses when I try to understand the world and people in it… is necessary. In this case - consistency is a good thing and can be trusted....
But I do have agency in this. I can choose to fight the proxy battle - or deal with what it represents. And I am the only one that can make that choice for me, though the right trauma knowledgable support to be able to do it - is crucial, for me. Other people's needs with Anorexia and other eating disorders may be different. This is my story. But on the other hand - though my story is unique to me... I do believe I am not that unique in my needs.
Art: Seen at British Museum the summer 2019, unfortunately I did not pick up the artist's name.
Text and pictures are copyright protected © Katarina Lundgren, Live the Change 2020