I’m always trying to think of new analogies to explain an eating disorder. Partly to help explain to other people what it feels like, but also to help me understand it for myself. My new genius metaphor is that of bubble wrap.
Eating disorders, as much as they suck, do serve a purpose, and I think it’s an important part of recovery to understand just what that function is. It’s often one of protection. By creating both a physical and mental barrier to what feels threatening, we are cutting ourselves off from perceived risks. After all, the instinct to survive is human nature itself. When our bodies are starved emotions are stunted, and research confirms that ‘self-starvation with accompanying low body weight serves as a dysfunctional behavior to regulate aversive emotions’ and work by Schmidt and Treasure points to one core goal of eating disorders is ‘experiential avoidance.’
To start with this buffer or barrier might be helpful. Initially, feelings of hurt and anger are attenuated. You don’t have to deal with all the troubles of real life when you are in your protective bubble wrap. You’re shielded from the world. The trouble with being wrapped in something is that it cuts you off from everything. Firstly, it cuts you off from nourishment, and slowly, inside of the case, things start to stop. To die. To wither away. It begins to hurt you far more than it helps.
It’s not just physically, it’s an obstacle to life in all its messy gloriousness.
You can’t move freely, inhibited by your restrictive case and the rules dictating what you do and how you do it. Life is there, but all blurred, beyond your reach. People can’t get to you, and you can’t connect with them. The things that make life what it is, are not within your grasp. At least not whilst you have the bubble wrap around you. Thomas Mainger describes it as ’a barrier mentally constructed to mask a deep-seated fear…often it’s our deep inner fear of our true potential.’ Ultimately it is our potential that is being truncated.
It’s not as easy as removing the bubble wrap case of course. But it can be shifted from you. One bubble at a time. Overcoming small challenges is like popping a bubble. There’s pressure and commitment going into it, and then pop, the challenge is over, the action complete, and one little part of the eating disorder challenged, the air taken out of it.
Every little step forward you make, every obstacle that you overcome, every thought you argue against and every healthy choice is like a bubble being burst, and the bubble wrap coating coming off, leaving you free, strong and well to live the life you deserve.