Reaching for Help
Calling or thinking of calling for help in getting eating disorder recovery can put you in an excruciating dilemma. I hope this dilemma doesn't prevent you from reaching out.
Here’s how how the dilemma reveals itself.
You (of any age or social or economic or educational level) reach out to me or another person in a position to provide recovery help. You say,
“I’m suffering. I can’t live this way anymore. I need help.”
This sounds like a positive and hopeful beginning. You realize your eating disorder makes a fulfilling life impossible. You have reached the limit of your pain tolerance. Your denial system is breaking down. You are ready to commit to the deep and sustained psychological work that can result in deep and sustained recovery.
If you are reaching out to me then our next step is to discuss your experience in detail to determine what kind of treatment would best for you given your life situation. I have a conversation with you. Then I refer you to professionals in the field I think may be a good match for you or you makes an appointment with me to see if that seems right to both of us.
But you go on. You say,
“I feel guilty and ashamed. I try to stop this, but I can't. I was better for a week (or a month, or two days, or five months), but then I started again. I have to stop being weak and just do it.”
Uh oh. Now you are succumbing to eating disorder symptoms. Guilt, shame and a sense of personal failure are symptoms that accompany an active eating disorder. If you give your symptoms power you will continue to attack and criticize yourself. You will refuse treatment because you feel certain you should be able to stop your bulimia or anorexia or binge eating using your strength and will power.
You don't appreciate that you are trying to stop a symptom through will power in much the same way as a person attempting to use will power to stop lung congestion or a fever. Will power cannot cure illness or disease.
Your belief that you can use will power to stop your eating disorder is one of the symptoms of an eating disorder.
This is a powerful dilemma. When your efforts to stop or cure your eating disorder through will power fail, you feel more guilt, shame and fear. You certainly will experience more suffering. That causes your eating disorder behaviors to increase.
This is the road to despair.
If this person is you, you will add to your dilemma and say, “I don’t want anyone to know about my eating disorder. I don't want anyone to know I'm talking to you. I can’t tell _______(my husband, parents, friends, doctor). Can you help me?”
Wanting to keep your agony a secret is part of increasing shame. It’s also related to keeping up a good front to others.
You do this because you are afraid other people will be disgusted with you if they knew the truth of your life. You fear that they would criticize or humiliate or reject you. You want to avoid this because you are afraid of being even more isolated, alone and afraid.
This fear of instilling disgust in others and therefore making it necessary for them to abandon you is also part of eating disorder symptoms.
The Catch 22
You ask for help to stop your eating disorder symptoms and find eating disorder recovery. But your symptoms prevent you from getting the help you need.
You need to get past some of your symptoms on your own in order to reach out for and accept effective treatment. Does this mean you have to recover before you can start recovery?
Getting Through the Obstacles
The good news is that you don't have to cure yourself before you can enter treatment. That doesn’t make sense and is not required. Your pain will push you to seek help. If you hear often enough that some of your feelings are symptoms you might entertain the possibility that this is true.
Then you can rally your courage despite your fear and shame. You take a risk and put yourself in a healing environment.
With a competent and caring mental health professional who understands eating disorders you can begin real recovery work.
You don't have to believe that some of your feelings are symptoms. Wanting to believe may be enough to get your treatment started. That desire to believe breaks the lock on the dilemma.
When that lock breaks and real treatment begins you make your desire for recovery a developing reality.
What is your inner self talk that stops you from getting the help you need?
What is your inner self talk that moves you forward on your recovery path?