Stolen Dreams: Eating Disorders Eclipse Authentic Life Goals and Desires
- Category: Symptoms
If you've been living with an eating disorder for years you've developed an internal system that allows you to manage your external life as best as you can while maintaining your disorder. Pursuing your life goals may interrupt your eating disorder cravings and behaviors.
What's behind the black sphere that glows in the dark? * Or rather, what's behind your eating disorder barricade that occasionally shimmers faintly in your psyche - a surprising idea, a wish, life goals that you are certain could never come true?
An eating disorder is a dream stealer.
The powerful forces that maintain your eating disorder block out possibilities for personal discovery. You block out your own life goals. When you think about food, weight, shape, resist or succumb to cravings you create an eclipse of your authentic self. And you may not know it.
You may want recovery so you can live your life in a better and more authentic way. You may want to be a more responsive wife and mother. You may want to develop a career. You may want to salvage your health. These are life goals that may be out of reach as you binge, purge and restrict your way through your days.
I wonder if you know that with the lessening of your eating disorder comes a greater display of your own light.
Ending eating disorder behavior is the beginning of discovering who you are. Your life goals glow in your psyche
At first you are carried by the momentum of your recovery work. You share with your therapist your new found powers of being in the world without acting out. Victories are about eating normal meals, regaining menses and driving by a binge frozen yogurt shop easily with no craving. Victories include recognizing and saying "No" to abusive and exploitative people. Victories take many shapes, and you are thrilled and amazed that you can walk through your life in this new way.
At some point when these victories are no longer new and become established in your daily life, you begin to feel small and hollow. Maybe you feel frightened too. Certainly you feel dissatisfied with yourself without knowing why. You might try to step up the stimulation in your life. How? more movies, parties, hikes, work, social get togethers - all based on more of the same. You live your life the same way, and put more into it.
This doesn't work. You still feel hollow and frightened. What you are doing feels meaningless. You have a sense that more exists for you but you don't know what that is. Your life goals beckon but still feel like fantasies.
If this state continues too long without understanding it might wear you down and relapse you back into your eating disorder.
When the moon moves on its orbit it passes over and beyond the sun. Then the glory of the sun blazes unimpeded.
But when the eating disorder passes you discover a hollowness within. This is the place in you that got eclipsed. This is where the dreams you didn't dream might have been. This is where your fantasies and lfe goals that could have guided you toward your authentic desires got pushed aside by your eating disorder.
When you know this you understand the importance of bearing the feeling of hollowness. You meander and stride through your days with a firm intention of discovering what truly belongs in you. You don't know. You can't fill yourself up with activity or people no matter how positive they may be. Anything you can think comes from what you are already aware of. You need a new awareness.
This hollowness can be fulfilled by what you cannot think of yet. You can be thoroughly fulfilled by honoring and nurturing the dreams that didn't happen yet.
How do you do that?
First, you understand that your eating disorder took up time, space, psychological energy, imagination and creativity. You weren't using those powers to discover move toward your true life goals.
When you know this you have a good chance of succeeding on what may be the grandest adventure of your life.
Now you consciously put yourself in places of opportunity. You move through those places of opportunity paying attention to what comes through the sense of meaninglessness as a tiny spark. You gather these sparks and fan them to see what might develop. Your life goals begin to appear.
Specifically places of opportunity abound. You can:
Walk through a museum or art gallery paying attention to anything brings up a response.
Walk through a garden or a forest or a library or an interesting shop or a neighborhood - even your own, and pay attention to anything that stirs you.
Your eating disorder focused your attention in ritualistic and standardized ways. Without your eating disorder behavior, you can, with effort and intention, begin to challenge the eating disorder way of perceiving. Your life goals will appear.
You can be kind to yourself, to that that newly exposed aspect of your inner being that was eclipsed for so long by anorexia or bulimia or compulsive eating or binging. With patient and tender attention you can allow that part of you to come out of the dark and taste life. You can find out what dreams reside in you and have the time, space, psychological energy, imagination and creativity to make them come true.
You find a new joy and commitment to yourself and the world around you when you actively pursue your rescued and authentic life goals.
*(The dark moon is the eating disorder. Behind it, solid and strong, is the sun, the authentic self with life goals and desires waiting to emerge.)
Joanna is a psychotherapist in private practice serving California, Arizona, Florida, Utah and Oregon.
Author of Healing Your Hungry Heart: recovering from your eating disorder.