Emotional gifts of eating disorder recovery, and truly recovery from any type of addiction, may be a strange concept to think of so let me elaborate.
When locked in an eating disorder or other addiction, one is partially using food, drugs, substances, alcohol, excessive shopping, gambling, internet, social media and the list goes on, to avoid experiencing uncomfortable emotions. Now, attempting to avoid experiencing uncomfortable emotions is not the only reason individuals turn to these outlets in a self-destructive manner. Many also find comfort in these “outlets” as a way to calm the chatter in their head, to distract oneself, to avoid taking care of responsibilities, and to escape one’s truth and one’s life. Also, understand that I am referring to those who engage in these behaviors to the point where it becomes self-destructive and impairing other areas of one’s life including social, occupational, and daily functioning.
When an individual disconnects or attempts to avoid uncomfortable negative emotions, one is also disconnecting from positive emotions. Some of these positive emotions include love, joy, calmness, happiness, curiosity, love and hope. Many individuals are actually extremely uncomfortable experiencing these “positive emotions.” But more, the majority does want to feel negative emotions that may represent suffering- such as fear, jealousy, anger, hate, disgust, despair, overwhelm, sadness, loneliness, shame, guilt, embarrassment, anxiety and hopelessness. Here is a statement that may be difficult to digest- SUFFERING IS ENEVITABLE- and cannot nor should be avoided. So trying to avoid suffering actually only leads to further suffering because it is a part of life.
Emotional gifts of eating disorder recovery, and recovery from any type of addiction, is when one can learn to understand that emotions actually have a purpose. Our emotions communicate to us. They let us know what we may need, they let us know that danger may lie ahead, and what alternative action may need to be taken. So let me give you an example of how emotions let us know what we need:
- Let us say you are feeling loneliness, well this may communicate that what you actually need is exactly the opposite of that emotion- connected.
- Let us say you are feeling highly overwhelmed. This may be communicating that you need to take a brief break, step back, prioritize and complete one task mindfully at a time so to feel calmer.
- Ok, lets do another one. Imagine this time you are feeling jealousy. Well this may be communicating that you need to refocus back on self instead of everyone else.
- If one is feeling worthless, this emotion may indicate that there is a need to reconnect in a way where you feel appreciation, such as being of service to there in any healthy capacity. This can result in feeling self-worth.
- Fear may be communicating that danger lies ahead or there is a lack of safety in the environment. Or it may simply mean that you are engaging in something that you may have never done before or when you have done it you “failed,” were invalidated, shamed, etc.
Please note that this is not to say that you should run to get out or avoid the emotion you are experiencing, but instead to help you gain a deeper understanding of yourself. In addition, there may be a time when an emotion is just too much at that moment. So, instead of running to a self-destructive behavior, you can learn alternative ways to tolerate and navigate uncomfortable emotions when you just need some immediate respite and self-care.
But let me leave you with this thought. Wouldn’t it be nice to actually feel happiness that leads you to want to smile? To feel calmness instead of chaos? Or love instead of hate which helps you can to focus on similarities instead of differences? This is ALL-possible and is just the beginning of understanding the emotional gifts of eating disorder recovery.