I think Grey and I have unofficially moved Blogger Book Club updates to Fridays. As such, I’m actually only one day late, not three.
Chapter 3 is titled “Revisioning the Struggle” and actually includes two fables for the price of one! The first is a children’s classic, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Johnston claims it has great significance for the eating disordered woman in that as a child, she too saw the truth for what it was.
However, says Johnston, unlike the child in the story, her perceptions of truth were not received well. She may have been ignored or even met with hostility. She was left with the choice of staying true to herself (difficult for us adults, much less a child) or rejecting her perceptions of reality for the perceptions of others. She does this by taking on rules, logic, and lists. Eventually, she feels a deep hunger inside her caused by this denial of self, mistakes it for physical hunger, and responds by either starving or overeating.
Honestly, I don’t know how much I buy all of that. I never really saw myself as intuitive or having perceived any “deeper” truth. The part about a “vague, uneasy sense of emptiness” makes more sense to me, in that I certainly have felt that. And I certainly have felt like I am somehow “wrong” for being as I am, another trait that Johnston discusses in the chapter in relation to “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”
Johnston says that one of the foundational things a woman must do to recover from disordered eating is reframe her idea of who she is. She says that the woman with disordered eating “must begin to assert, both to herself and the world around her, that she is not defective. She must begin to review and retell the story of her life from the understanding that there is nothing wrong with her, that although she has been hurt she is not damaged goods.”
Wow. (I have yet to do this. I still consider myself “damaged goods.”)
She goes on: “The recovering woman needs to recognize that her obsession with food and fat does not define who she is. Her perspective must shift so that she can see this obsession not as some horrible character defect but, rather, as a simple and much-needed protective mechanism….”
Enter the log metaphor. In a nutshell: You are in a river, tossed by the rapids. You grab onto a log and use it to carry you through the rapids. You eventually wind up in a calm area and people on the shore are yelling at you to let go of the log and swim to safety. You are scared. The log saved your life! Eventually you begin to build up the courage to let go of the log — and then grab back on. Slowly, you begin to tread water. You swim one lap around the log. You swim ten. One hundred. Sometimes you have to grab onto the log because you get scared and doubt your own abilities. Eventually, you feel strong enough to leave the log and go to shore.
Understanding my eating disorder as a coping skill that served me well really has been fundamental in my recovery process. Once I understood what roles the log played, it was easier to find healthy, adaptive coping skills to use in its place. (See “Deconstructing the Log” from last spring for more on that.) It also helps me to see that sometimes, slip ups are okay. Grabbing back onto the log is okay, as long as I let go again and get back to the hard work of strengthening myself to leave the log completely.
And while Johnston never says it explicity — leaving the log is leaving the eating disorder far behind you. Full recovery IS possible. I don’t know if I would have believed that a year ago, but I have seen so many friends healed from this thing (with a LOT of hard work on their parts) that I am beginning to think one day I’ll be fully recovered, too.
How does your eating disorder help you survive? How can you find adaptive coping skills to take the place of those roles?