Ok so for the longest time for me it didn’t totally make sense why I had an eating disorder. Yeah, sure, I had trauma. Yeah, sure, I was bullied for being “fat” (note: I actually wasn’t, but I wasn’t a stick either). Yeah, sure, I grew up in a female body in a society obsessed with diet culture. Sure.
But, no, really. Why did I have an eating disorder?
I just assumed it was my fault- because nobody made me do it. I supposedly made the “choice” to have one. But what actually drove me to doing that?
After my friendly neighborhood Renfrew MFG last night, it hit me like a sack of bricks.
Now, my background of “treatment” includes both secular and religious “treatment” models. While a majority of what was taught in the religious model was useless in the long term, one interesting thing that stuck with me was the “Idols of the Heart” concept. I knew early on that two of my strongest/most prevalent “idols” (note: idols there = bad) were safety and being normal (with some sub-idols of perfectionism and comfort). This is important for you to know in order to understand my thought process last night in MFG.
The subject of self esteem was brought up in group and I realized while sitting there that I didn’t actually know what self esteem was. I haven’t ever known. To me, self esteem = feeling safe. In some ways, that could be true. But what was important is that, in that moment, I instantly recognized I was equating self esteem to my most prevalent “idol”. And, it struck me that, this is huge.
Then I began a “downward arrow” of “why?” questions in my head:
“Why do I think self esteem and safety are the same thing?”
“Because I don’t have self esteem because I was bullied by peers and abused by family”
“Why did that take away self esteem from me?”
“Because I wasn’t safe”
“Why wasn’t I safe?”
“Because I wasn’t normal”
“Why wasn’t I normal?”
“Because I had autism”
“Why did that make me unsafe?”
“Because it made me a target, for people to bully”
“So, why do I have an eating disorder?”
“Because I wanted to be normal”
“How does an eating disorder make me “normal”?”
“Because then there’s less of me to see, so people can’t notice that I’m different.”
“And why is that good?”
“Because it will make me safe.”
(Safe = not abused/not bullied)
I was only recently diagnosed with Autism as an adult, and it was only very recently that one of my parents came out about me being on the spectrum while growing up and how that prompted the severe bullying I experienced as a child. Suddenly it all makes so much sense to me how I used my eating disorder to protect myself. It also makes sense to me why I hated myself so deeply from such a very young age. I didn’t understand why I was different and I didn’t understand how to be like other people. No one could accept me for the atypical person I was, so, I had no model of how to accept myself. Even my parents couldn’t accept my differences because they didn’t really know or understand what was going on either (at the time). I had nobody to learn from, no role model, no mentor to model to me how I could embrace my differences and recognize my strengths. I had no one I could feel safe with, so I made my own rules to try to navigate a confusing world where everyone had a map except for me. If the world was flat and people could fall off of it, I felt like I was about to fall off the edge of the world at any moment because I had no idea where the edge was and it would seemingly appear so suddenly out of thin air without any warning. Other people could step confidently, knowing exactly where the edge of the world was and that they wouldn’t fall off of it. I had to tread carefully and retrace my own steps to ensure I stayed inside a box of “safety” which kept me from accidentally encountering that edge- because I hadn’t a clue where it was or when it’d show up.
Other people didn’t understand why I was so rigid and had to stay inside of my box. But, for me, my box of safety was necessary to survive.
And while I no longer consider my “idol” of safety a “sin” like that religious program taught me, I can see why it hinders me long term. My box was necessary to help me function at first but now I have the beginnings of a map that I can use to step outside of that box with less fear.
And, so, this is the story of how MFG showed me that my undiagnosed autism was a huge reason for my developing an eating disorder. It wasn’t the autism itself but, rather, the lack of diagnosis, the lack of assistance, and the lack of acceptance from other humans (leading to years of abuse and bullying) which stole my ability to learn self-esteem and basically stole my childhood. My eating disorder was a tiny pinprick of light for me in a very dark and confusing world.