This post was originally published on firstname.lastname@example.org on August 11, 2017. It is my most popular, viewed, and shared post to date.
I recently experienced something unfamiliar. I lost control for a moment. It was scary. It was ugly. It was uncomfortable; and it was more important than I realized in the moment.
It was during one of my weekly support group sessions. (Yes, I go to group therapy.) As usual, everyone was going around the circle to “check-in,” and share their thoughts and struggles. It just so happened that my turn would be last.
Some parts of the heavy discussion were just really resonating with me that night. The others’ vulnerability was giving me tons of insight into my own self; and I was mentally “connecting the dots.” As we neared the end of the night, I had come to some pretty significant realizations about why my eating disorder developed in the first place, and how it has deeply impacted my life. (But those may be shared in a separate blog post).
I felt an extreme emotional wave. My face went somber. My stomach tensed up. My pulse rose. Tears welled up in my eyes.
“NO! DON’T CRY. NOT HERE. NOT IN FRONT OF A GROUP OF PEOPLE,” I thought to myself. The song from Frozen may as well have been playing: “CONCEAL, DON’T FEEL. DON’T LET THEM KNOW!”
You see, I don’t typically cry in front of others. I don’t like it; I don’t like people to see my weakness; I don’t even like the way it feels. However, as soon as my therapist looked at me and said a word to me, I lost it…The flood gates opened; the tears came; and all eyes were on me.
My therapist later explained to me – and I further processed – that I had truly connected to my emotions in that moment at therapy. I felt my feelings, and I let myself express them. Normally, I shove those strong feelings down, and they sit in my stomach in the form of anxiety, until the “wave” of emotions passes. Or in the past, I would use my eating disorder behaviors as coping tools. I know these aren’t the best means of dealing with my emotions, but for the longest time I have feared the vulnerability of crying in front of people, feeling weak, or pondering painful memories.
In fact, two days prior, I had a strong emotional experience in church. As I was listening to the sermon, I reflected, felt convicted, and felt tears form behind my eyes. But what did I do about it? I shoved the feelings down and let anxiety build up instead. Despite the fact that I did connect to my emotions that night, I chose to hide them.
I don’t know what caused me to give in to the tears and reveal my true feelings that night at therapy; but it seems to have been a turning point for me. My therapist actually informed me that my healthy emotional release was something that happens to anyone who is in the process of healing and recovering from an eating disorder! I had no idea!
It turns out that most people with eating disorders have a hard time recognizing, regulating, coping with, and healthfully expressing painful emotions. An article I found explains that most of us turn to “restriction, binging, purging, or exercise” as a way to numb the pain. I think the following paragraph explains it perfectly:
“Eating Disorder behaviors are often ‘used’ to serve the one suffering. . .He or she turns to eating disordered behavior to keep from pulling up the deeper emotional ‘roots,’ and deal with those face to face. Instead, they may binge to escape from feeling painful things or avoid feeling at all. They may restrict to pursue numbness, suppress difficult memories or decisions before they even reach consciousness. All of these behaviors serve to unhealthfully suppress the proper recognition, regulation and expression of emotional states.”
I may have thought I had dealt with the hardest parts of my recovery already; but it turns out that I still have some over-due emotional healing to do. Thankfully, I know that this process is in full effect. Just three days ago I was talking to a good friend about some serious stuff. We were processing something difficult, mourning together, and supporting each-other. As I was affirming her, I instantly felt tears well up again. It caught me so off guard. But this time, I let them come. And ya know what? She cried with me! It was beautiful.
It was absolutely liberating! To be able to finally cry in front of someone – without fear of judgement – was new and amazing. To share an intimate moment with a friend – and feel a strong connection with her – was beautiful! To be completely vulnerable – and still accepted – was healing for me.
It seems that I’m flourishing into a more emotionally healthy girl; and I’m so excited about what this means for my future. Not only will I gain a healthier mental state, but also deeper bonds with people, more genuine conversations, and a softened heart.