Being heard has always been important to me, but being approved of took its place. When I was a teen I searched for ways to hide my hurt, and accentuate what I thought people liked about me. It was in this vulnerable state that an eating disorder offered up what I believed to be a perfect solution to fitting in and being heard.
But no one tells you that you lose your voice in an eating disorder. I was led to believe that I would find my voice and be accepted, loved and even admired through my illness. The eating disorder promises with every pound we lose, that we will gain a little bit more self-esteem and courage to finally speak our truth. But the eating disorder is like a dodgy salesperson–it over promises and under delivers. It promises you a leading role in a new fairytale fantastic life, while actually giving you a tragic ending within a grim fairytale. Yet we wait in hope to get the promises, never questioning its lies, while it slowly removes our voice, instead of giving it.
It’s amazing how something that promises rewards like fitting in, being lovable and the gaining of control ultimately strips us of all dignity, hope and even our birthright to express ourselves. The lies of an eating disorder are robust and painful. It tells those who are suffering and in its clutches that “it” (the eating disorder) is the solution to getting all that we have ever desired, while it holds our hands to death’s door.
I love speaking! You’d be hard-pressed to get me to shut up when I’m passionate about something. But in the beginning of my eating disorder, I battled within two voices — my own and that of the eating disorder. The more I gave voice to the eating disorder, the less I heard my own…until I lost it altogether. I cringe now at the way I acted towards other people and the lies I told them to force them to leave me alone or give me what I needed to maintain my illness. In my illness I became cruel, but not just to those around me, I was painfully cruel to myself. Yes, I was still me while I had an eating disorder, and taking responsibility for my behavior is a part of my recovery story. But when we are consumed by the grueling demands and fearful punishment of our illness, it is hard to choose compassion towards others, especially as we have lost any sense of compassion for ourselves. I was promised a stronger loving connection and acceptance with others, instead the eating disorder banished me from the very thing I most desperately wanted–to be seen and heard as someone worthwhile.
Sitting in front of a toilet, on a kind stranger’s bathroom floor, I discovered through my surrender the ability to say “no” to the eating disorder’s requests and was awakened to the power that this provided me with. I realized that I had to use my voice in order to get it back!
My co-author of Making Peace with Your Plate: Eating Disorder Recovery, Espra Andrus, LCSW says: To start talking back to your eating disorder you need to first find the words to say no. Here are some steps:
Find a comfortable phrase to talk back: Choose one thing to say in response to the eating disorder’s voice. Examples: “Enough.” “No.” “Back off.” “Give me five minutes of peace.” “Shut up about my body already.” or “I’m going to speak for me, not you.”
Practice, practice, practice: Say the words repeatedly in your head, then whisper them, then say them aloud when you are alone. Practice hundreds of times, until it begins to feel less terrifying. Then practice some more. Even with practice you will have to pause and tell the eating disorder “wait a hour.” Examples: “No, I’m not going to skip this meal because I am
hungry” Or, “No, I’m not going to binge because my heart is hungry, not my stomach.” Its ok to buy yourself time because even pausing will help you find your voice.
Find someone you trust and practice speaking your truth: If someone asks you to do something you don’t want to do, but you usually say “yes” to please them. Try saying: “no thank you,” or buy yourself some time to find the best way to say it by asking: “Can I get back to you?” Many individuals with eating disorders have a consuming need to please others, making it hard or even impossible to say “no.” Long-term effect of using eating (or not eating) to say “no” usually becomes their only voice as the right to speak for themselves is muted. Instead, the resulting behaviors may turn others away rather than creating a sense of worth and connection. Find someone you trust and practice speaking your truth.
Learning to talk back to the eating disorder allows us to find our voice and then we can begin to ask for what we want without needing the eating disorder to do it for us.
Today, I will listen to the voice within.
I will seek my truth and express it in a safe manner.
I am worth being heard.