What you show the world
When you have an eating disorder you skate on the surface of being present with others. “How are you?” a friend asks. You answer, “Fine.” Yet you live in a deeper, darker world your friend knows nothing about. It’s full of pain where you use private intense ongoing strategies to bring you to peace and security, and to an encompassing love you crave but haven’t yet discovered.
Your secret world
Suffering from an eating disorder is a lonely business. You have to pretend to be happy, competent and fine without letting the people around you know your desperation. When you come right down to it, just about every action that stems from an eating disorder is an act of desperation. The binge, restriction, denial, purge, starvation, exercise, and controlling behaviors - these are all unhappy and desperate activities that you try to keep secret. When you have so many secrets your loneliness increases to the level of despair.
It's difficult to turn away from that secret life and the hope of finding your happiness through your eating disorder. Friends, family, therapists, and doctors don't know the importance of your hidden life. Yet, when you know your path has been attempted before you can begin to understand your need for your secret life. Then, perhaps, you can make your turn and move toward what can bring you satisfaction and freedom in a world of people, of friends and of love and satisfaction.
Others choose to retreat for safety
I read some lines from **Leslie Marmon Silko's "Interior and Exterior Landscapes." She was writing about how her father and his brother lived in the hills, within the juniper forests, with a gun and a dog, to be removed from the racial prejudice that hurt them so badly in the towns. She said:
Out in the hills they were not lonely because they had all the living creatures of the hills around them, and whatever the ambiguities of racial heritage, my father and my uncle understood what the old folks had taught them: the earth loves all of us regardless, because we are her children.
Going into your eating disorder world is very much like going "out into the hills." You want to leave the world you find so painful. You want privacy and safety where you can find your own version of beauty and love.
But while your eating disorder promises these things, it doesn't deliver. And you can't give it up to enter a world that you don't trust, full of people you don't trust. You don't even trust yourself without your eating disorder.
Change your retreat
Before you are ready to trust another person and move through your walls of loneliness to healing and loving relationships, you can bring yourself to nature and beauty in whatever way that is right for you. You don't have to drop your life and go live in the hills. But you can stroll through gardens and art galleries. You can create a small garden on your patio or in your kitchen. You can take up a form of art-making that appeals to you.
Can you find your way to bring yourself closer to the earth? Can you find your way to let your creativity flow?
Give the world an opportunity to show you that the earth loves you and that your creativity is as wonderful as you are, secrets and all. Let yourself feel the complete love the earth and all its creative energy give you because you are her child and carry the same creative energy of the world within you.
When you can let yourself feel this love you are also learning to love yourself. You are then ready to take on your eating disorder recovery work because the most loving act you can do for yourself is to be well, whole and happy.
**Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Life Today by Leslie Marmon Silko
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Written by Joanna Poppink, MFT. Joanna is a psychotherapist in private practice specializing in eating disorder recovery, stress, PTSD, and adult development.
She is licensed in CA, AZ, OR, FL, and UT. Author of the Book: Healing Your Hungry Heart: Recovering from Your Eating Disorder
Appointments are virtual.
For a free telephone consultation, e-mail her at