The Aloneness of an Eating Disorder

People suffering with eating disorders frequently talk about being alone. This experience is different from loneliness and also from the way most people experience being alone. It is best explained as isolation from the world by the symptoms of the illness. 

The issue is not related to being with other people. Often those with eating disorders feel more alone in a group of people than when they are physically alone because the illness makes them feel so different from others. The underlying concern is about feeling connected with others. The illness reinforces a need for independence but really interferes with any real connections in life. 

The thoughts and symptoms of an eating disorder effectively isolate the sufferer in many ways. The inability to eat regular meals makes socializing, which almost always involves food, a very difficult experience. The domination of one's thoughts by food and anything related to food leads to difficulty sustaining relationships because interaction with others necessitates the ability to engage on many topics and emotions, not just food.

The shame and fear connected with the eating disorder means that the openness and vulnerability of a friendship appears impossible. Last, the eating disorder symptoms lead the person to crave time alone when they feel calmer and safe, even though that time is dominated by the thoughts and symptoms of the illness itself.

For the person struggling with an eating disorder, the aloneness is painful but feels necessary in the circumstances of life. Pulling out of that place of being alone, no matter how strong the desire, seems impossible. The exposure and fear that would come with personal connection grow to such a degree that most people build an emotional and psychological wall to keep others out. It also keeps them locked inside the prison of the illness but there does not seem to be an alternative. Confronting that helplessness is challenging. 

A large part of recovery is to learn how relationships work in the world. There is such a focus on independence as a measure of success in our society, and that often misguided explanation of personal growth only fuels an eating disorder. 

The maturity of an adult certainly invites a measure of independence and resilience yet also necessitates important, trusting relationships in which people rely on one another. Learning how to trust others is a critical part of recovery. The difficult step is to recognize that independence using the eating disorder to cope is not maturity at all. It is an intellectual justification of the illness. It is largely denial of the severity of the symptoms and disability.

Dependence on others is not a sign of weakness but instead a part of being an adult. It is the way people cope with the challenges of life. And it is one of the most important parts of the escape from the prison of an eating disorder.

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