Being in our bodies is hard. Pain and discomfort are built into our human systems. There are a lot of ways we find to try to escape. Drugs, alcohol, tv, over working, obsessing or distracting in many different ways.
People with eating disorders have found a way to manage the pain. They found out that if you can’t make it stop altogether, you can find a way to have it at least be a familiar entity that feels like something you can control. “Hey you pain… I can handle you. You can’t be in charge of me! I say when, where, and how!”
The better you succeed at controlling, the more you actually reinforce the fear of the pain. Because the more control you have, the safer you feel. So you find yourself in an unending cycle. Having control feels safe. So you need to get control over and over and over.
The problem is that you find out that it’s only an illusion of control. Things will happen in life that throw off your control and so the eating disorder ramps up. Anything can go wrong emotionally, physically, relationally – and you have your “go to” coping tool. Controlling the pain… Until one day, instead of you controlling your pain and your food, it is controlling you. And you are left worse off than where you started. And you realize that you are not in control at all. So you try and try and try to get that control back – to get that safety back.
Recovering from an eating disorder is difficult and scary because you have found something that works for you. You found a way to control the pain and bend it to your will. Until it stopped working…
So now what? The miracle cure for the pain has been hijacked by a whole new set of complications and you are left looking for different answers - for something that will help - but hoping in your heart of hearts that you won’t have to give up the control you think keeps you safe.
The most important thing to keep in mind when you are seeking treatment is this:
Recovery from an eating disorder is not about taking away your control. And it is not about taking away your safety. It is about finding out how you can discover or recover safety in your body, even though you can’t control it all.
But how?? How will you learn to feel safe without control? Practice.
Practice. So the first thing is to practice being in your body. Simple. Just practice. Not perfection.
The first step is to start to cultivate an awareness of yourself in your body. The first step is to practice allowing yourself to be still and follow your impulses. To begin to practice an embodied movement meditation.
I bring the practice of Authentic Movement to a Eating disorder treatment group in Sonoma County. In this group I offer a facilitated form of movement therapy inviting the participants to listen to their bodies and let the impulses lead them.
Our first session was telling. I introduced the practice and they were curious and open to trying it. So we began by me guiding them into their bodies. With closed eyes, each of the participants found a comfortable position to begin. I spoke warmly and slowly, inviting them to allow themselves to follow any urge to move. I repeated time and time again that this was their safe space to learn to give themselves permission. To allow themselves to listen to their own bodies in a new way.
And I sat and witnessed them in silence.
It was difficult to witness these young women. Not because of the movements they were making. But because of their utter stillness. Every so often someone would make a slight adjustment. And I would eagerly watch, hoping that this would lead to a little more…
In reflection, we spoke about the ways in which each participant was afraid of being seen. And how some felt they wanted to rebel against the freedom I was suggesting they allow themselves. We spoke about how they held on so tightly.
This is the way it begins. The noticing of what is. What is true for each of you right now is just as important as the path you will take to recover. You can not get anywhere else before you find out where you are at the beginning.
So if right now your are inhibiting your impulses, or holding tight, or clamping down, or afraid to be seen… That is where you are now. And you have permission to be there.
As you begin to learn to be with yourself and allow your experience, just letting yourself feel your own truth, your truth will continue to emerge. You are cultivating a listening. You are learning to attend to yourself in a different way. You are practicing compassion for yourself. And most of all you are opening up to curiosity. As you continue to pay attention and get curious about your internal landscape – you will find it easier and easier to navigate. And as you learn to navigate your bodily experience, you will find there is so much more richness to discover.
Being in control will start to seem pretty boring in comparison to the adventure of being an embodied human.
Yonat Piva, MA, LMFT
I write about navigating the challenges of prenatal, postpartum, parenting & relationships. I believe we can inhabit our bodies with a renewed sense of fulfillment in being a human woman.