Some of the most well-meaning people can say some of the dumbest things.
And then there are those who purposely use words to tear you apart.
I’ve got a lot I’d like to write about, so much I’d like to share with you. Some of the experiences I’ve had in the last couple of months have been awful. Just. Plain. Fucked. Up. (No apologies for the potty-mouth since that is the very best adjective I can use to describe certain events and behaviors.)
I am a survivor. Of many things. I’m not saying my can of worms is worse or better than yours. I am not claiming to have lived through, gone through, seen or known anything like you have. My reality is mine and I’m here to share it if you’d like to read on.
Ed (my favorite acronym for Eating Disorder) was one wicked-evil, messed-up, controlling, unforgiving, unrelenting and abusive relationship! I was with Ed for over 20 years (I just turned 43). For the last two years of my life, I have considered myself to be recovered from disordered eating. Divorced from Ed. Buh-BYE! However, I also slowly became entangled in an abusive relationship, from which I am now free. Most importantly, I finally put an end to the secret, and SPOKE UP and GOT OUT.
The thing is, disordered eating is a mental illness that must be kept at bay on a daily basis. I am someone who knows what it’s like to be deeply affected by the disorder. I am equally convinced that both domestic violence and disordered eating can slowly creep back into a person’s life, convincing the victim that the behaviors and thought patterns are normal. In order to keep myself well away from any future Ed or abuser, I am diligent in practicing mindfulness, flexibility, self-respect, self-forgiveness and self-love.
Domestic violence (domestic abuse) and being in a relationship with the abuser (often a spouse, partner or family member) is incredibly similar to being in the grips of Ed. Here are some of the top 5 things I can think of right off the hop that disordered eating and domestic violence have in common:
- Ed will take up most of, if not all of your time and energy. So will your abuser. When you’re struggling with disordered eating, you often live/breathe/sleep/think about it wayyyy too much, day in and day out. An abusive relationship will involve someone who does exactly that. Whether it’s being texted/called in excess, being called names and being belittled, being doubted and made to think you’re losing your marbles, an abuser will take from you until you’re beyond empty.
- Disordered eating serves you, but in a dysfunctional way. The illness itself is not necessarily about food or body weight, as it is most often a way to cope with uncomfortable, stressful or traumatic things. Abusive relationships serve the abuser. Regardless of what type of abuse is imposed by the abuser (physical, mental, emotional, sexual), it is used to confuse, discredit, dehumanize, minimalism, intimidate, condition and control the victim. Both the eating disorder and the domestic violence use abuse to create a potent conditioning process on their victim. This process of conditioning can and will often be done subtly, over a period of months and years.
- Abusers are often themselves, dysfunctional and untreated for one or more of their own mental illnesses, past traumas or current behavioral issues, and because they can also be narcissistic in nature and/or behavior, they don’t believe their way is the wrong way. They often won’t or cannot see the abuse for what it is and certainly cannot believe that they’re the ones who need help. Instead, they convince you (and anyone who gives them the stage) that you’ve got issues, that you need therapy and that you need them! Ed, can be just as manipulative. Ed will remind you how weak and flawed you are without him and how you just aren’t strong enough, thin enough, smart enough, muscular enough, pretty enough. No matter what.
- Ed will freak out and scare away those people who are uneducated, fearful or who they themselves, have been affected by disordered eating in some way. Maybe they’ve no idea what the hell an eating disorder is and they don’t wanna know! Sometimes it’s a cultural thing, a hush-hush thing, or maybe they think you’re full of shit and should “just eat” or “just go on a diet”. (Here is an excerpt from my book about words that can be helpful or harmful!) Abusive relationships will almost always break off friendships and ties that the victim has. In my experience, so-called “friends” wanted nothing to do with me when I finally got enough courage to speak up, report the abuse and escape. They’d offer reasons like “we don’t want to rock the boat… you’re both our friends… don’t want to get in the middle of it… we’re not sure what he’s capable of… we’ve got children… we don’t want to get involved…”. By turning away from someone who is reaching out, speaking out about something so shameful, so terrifying and so seemingly hopeless, those “friends” inadvertently contribute to and enable Ed and/or the abuser.
- Ed doesn’t discriminate, and neither does domestic violence. Persons of all races, genders, sexual orientations, social and economical background, education levels, religions and of all ages can be affected. Indirectly or directly. Period.
- Getting out, getting help, and taking steps forward seem next to impossible. From the many years of therapy I have taken part in, the countless other warriors who’ve fought their way out of the trenches of disordered eating, it’s the finally-getting-there-and-reaching-out-for-help phase that can be the scariest. Never mind having the unconditional support of loved ones who’ll truly be there to do what needs doing and not turn away! Never mind the financial burden, the logistics of getting into therapy, or for a domestic violence victim, losing everything you know and own and having some kind of roof over your head (and what about the children, pets!?). Once you’ve taken that step into the unknown and totally scary world of away-from-Ed/Abuser, how are you going to maintain?
- Loss of trust, feeling of shame, second thoughts or what if’s. Ed took his sweet time to convince me that I could not be trusted to feed myself, to self-regulate, to deal with negative emotions. He convinced me that I needed him. Abusers do this also. Over time, the victim is brain-washed using countless ways (words, money, intimidation, threats using children and pets, stalking, physical and sexual violence…) to convince their victims that they are worthless. Victims come to believe that their world of hell is acceptable. Once they’ve escaped, things seem unbearable, unfamiliar and surreal. Oftentimes, the victim of domestic abuse and the person battling Ed can start to regret having spoken up, and maybe even start to believe that “maybe it wasn’t so bad after all…”. What would you say to someone you love who’s come this far, who’s finally gotten away, only to feel ashamed about maybe going back?
That’s just some of the most glaring similarities I’ve experienced. I realize there are a ton of differences.
For example, look at how the laws can either hinder or help victims of domestic violence. What happens when your spouse is a famous sports figure, a politician or a member of the military or law enforcement. (Diane Wetendorf writes about the impact of police-perpetrated domestic violence.) What if you’re a man and your abuser is a woman? Or if you’re in a domestic partnership with someone of the same sex? What if the victim has reached out but authorities or the local laws decide to do little to nothing? There are some staggering facts about the pure lack of services, shelters and resources for victims of domestic abuse. Worst of all, are the horrific numbers of victims who suffer and who are killed by their abusers. (Watch this video by the Post and Courier)
Persons struggling with disordered eating can sometimes have a slightly better chance at receiving help through public medical services and private practices. However, the costs of clinical therapy, both in and out-patient, can be staggering, especially when there is a lack of health care insurance or health care services to best treat the person. Because disordered eating has been deemed by many countries and insurance providers to not be a pre-existing condition, treatment is often not covered. I’ve personally experienced that one-step-up-and-two-steps-back feeling from having finally admitted to needing help, only to find out I couldn’t afford or find the help I needed. (Eating disorder warriors! Here’s NEDA’s link for support and information!) It can feel like sticking your head out and getting it chopped off! It can leave some people frustrated, and others, will become hopeless. Disordered eating takes it’s toll financially, emotionally and most of all, it has the highest rate of suicide of all mental illnesses.
I’m going to state an obvious difference here, but it’s worth reminding some readers that in order to exist, humans require food. We do not require violence and abuse.
So next time you run into someone whom you haven’t seen in a while, or maybe someone you know has gone through some changes or has been out of touch, think about what you’re about to ask them. There’s no need to comment on their body, their clothes, and please refrain from spewing out all your suspicions and guesstimates on what they’ve been up to. Simply and kindly, ask them:
“How are you?”
Thanks for reading.