You know how entrenched your eating disorder has been in your life. It has protected you from feelings you could not bear. Now you are growing strong and resilient. You are developing courage. You need it all to cope with your feelings without using your eating disorder. When these feelings erupt, you experience your dark night of the soul.
“In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o’clock in the morning….”
--F. Scott Fitzgerald
At some point in your recovery work, the feelings your eating disorder covers will come roaring up, leaving you terrified. It’s only fair to let you know this. You might think you are going crazy, but please know that you are not. You are releasing a torrent of blocked emotions.
In daylight hours when you are in this fear, you might distract yourself by activity, companionship, or thinking about the plight of people in more devastating circumstances. But these distractions won’t give you respite at three o’clock in the morning.
Alone, or feeling alone, and surrounded by darkness when your deep fears rise you don’t know the difference between reality and fantasy. Your shaking body is real. Your fear is real, but you don’t know what else might be real. Is the source of your fear a real threat in the present, or is it a memory from the past, or a delusion stemming from extreme loneliness and loss of self confidence? Is it better to escape from your fear in whatever way you can, or is it better to confront it? If you confront it, will it destroy you, or will you find relief? If you share it, will you be punished or ridiculed? If you hide under the covers, can you wait until your fear goes away? Will they go away?
In the midst of your terror, you might fake competence and respond to a knock on the door, a phone call, or a hungry child. You deal with the reality as quickly as you can so you can return to what is truly real for you – your terror. You are compelled to remain there and hope that the darkness will lift by some magical force, yet, as you wait, you feel the essence of your identity fade. You want to be saved, but you are certain nothing can save you.
This terror marks the boundary between your living a life with an eating disorder or living in recovery. Meeting this challenge and crossing the threshold to what lies beyond your terror is your route to freedom. You have been equipping yourself all along to be capable of meeting this challenge. As much as you’d like to get it over with, you will not cross this threshold easily or quickly. Your first step toward success is to feel these feelings and know, while you are feeling them, that you are not crazy and that this is part of your recovery work.
Excerpt from Healing Your Hungry Heart: recovering from your eating disorder, by Joanna Poppink, MFT, Conari Press, 2011. Copyright protected August, 2011. Media Kit http://healingyourhungryheart.com