The Eating Disorder Lens

“We must look at the lens through we see the world, as well as the world we see, and that the lens itself shapes how we interpret the world.”

― Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

When I was a little girl, I came up with the following description for a person’s soul: “Our eyes can see,” I said, “but something has to want to look out. That something is a person’s soul.”

I might rephrase this today as an adult, but only slightly: the eyes can see, but something has to want to look out; that something is the self.

Of course, it’s a little more complicated than that: the eyes can see, but it’s the brain (the mind) that interprets. And, those interpretations are influenced by a person’s core beliefs and experiences. No two people’s experiences and interpretations of those experiences are the same. Thus, each of us see the world through a different lens. Multiple lenses, actually; you may have quite a few.

I have an eating disorder lens.

When I look at the world through my eating disorder lens, it is a dangerous and terrifying place in which I can only find safety by being as completely in control as possible.

It is a place where safety is found in numbers — in making numbers continually smaller.

It is a place where strength is found in being so in control of one’s self that not even natural urges like hunger so bad that you are shaking can make you break your control. Even while food is right in front of you, or in your hand, or even in your mouth.

Perfect.

Control.

When I look in the mirror through my eating disorder lens, I see something disgusting, something that will never be enough, something weak, something unlovable, someTHING, not someONE.

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When I look at a plate of food through my eating disorder lens, each bite might as well be inscribed with some important, crucial need that I will be giving up should I eat that bite of food. It’s like being shown one of those “One Must Go Forever!” Memes, only it’s real life, and your choice feels real and permanent.

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Which do you choose?

Go on… it’s not that hard! Just eat! Just choose.

It took time to craft this eating disorder lens. It took time to fit it to my eye so fastly. It took time and reinforcement, experience after experience after experience.

And now, I’m in therapy. And, I’m working on a new lens.

A lens through which I can see that food is, maybe, not so closely tied to my most vital emotional need for connection.

That, maybe, I am enough, have always been enough…

And, yes, that’s a terrifying thing to confront — because, if I’ve always been good enough, have always been worthy of love and acceptance, then what does that mean about certain events in my life? About certain people from my life?

If I glance through this lens…and, right now, that’s all I can do…the world is still scary and unsafe.

And that’s just how the world is: unsafe.

Looking through this lens forces me to confront my lack of control, my inability to keep bad things from happening, people from leaving, my own daughter from getting hurt someday by this unsafe world that is, ultimately, out of my control. No matter how strong I may be.

A new lens.

The new lens slowly becomes an option — I can choose, in this moment, to look at the world through the eating disorder lens or through the recovery lens. I can choose, I have to choose, over and over and over.

Because, that eating disorder lens…it’s still there. And, it’s pretty damn comfortable… with its promises of possible ways to achieve safety in this world.

I think the goal, ultimately, is that the new lens becomes the more comfortable one: my default lens. That it will fit my eye more and more securely as I continue to shape it and make it more clear through therapy and practice. (It’s still pretty foggy and rough.)

I don’t know what the end result will look like, and that is hard for someone who strives for perfection and control. I am one of those people who, once I know the goal, will leap over steps to achieve the outcome as quickly as possible.

But, recovery doesn’t work that way. It took me 31 years to create the lenses through which I interpret and understand the world; crafting a new one… it’s going to take time.

Fortunately, I have that.

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3 thoughts on “The Eating Disorder Lens

  1. I find your blogs totally gripping and full of helpful insights
    I have disordered eating and thought processes around food and image
    My daughter has an eating disorder and is now a mummy herself
    My fear is that this new wee person is also susceptible to an eating disorder and my hope and prayer is that we can alter this affliction on our family
    Thank you for your raw honesty because through that I realise we are not alone

  2. ” if I’ve always been good enough, have always been worthy of love and acceptance, then what does that mean about certain events in my life? About certain people from my life?”

    The people from your life are imperfect and have their OWN issues. Unfortunately their issues got projected onto you. As children we internalize these projects as being the truth. After all, they are big and strong people, and we are little and helpless, so they must be right…right? But it is not the truth, it is a lie! When you look at your own little girl is there anything WRONG with her that makes her unworthy of love and acceptance? Of course not! Realize that you were once a little girl just like your own daughter, and there wasn’t anything wrong with you either! You deserved to be loved and accepted the same way. If you were not, or were made to feel unworthy, then something was wrong with the person who was supposed to love you, not with you!

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