One of the things that is hard to think about and accept as I walk through recovery is that most people with eating disorders have experienced some type of trauma growing up. When I started recovery I was looking for “the smoking gun” and my doctor said it’s kind of like a perfect storm of personality, Western culture, and a type of trauma experienced. I had a hard time accepting this because I never want to admit to being a victim; who really does? We all want to think we can handle everything and that we are strong enough to rise above everything.
As I was sitting in group at the treatment center, we talked about how a lot of the girls experienced parents not providing for us when they should have. Personally, I think my parents did the best they could, based on what they knew. Mom and dad both struggled with drinking and alcoholism. I know it couldn’t be easy, and that doesn’t excuse it, but it makes it make sense to me. Because of the drinking they were often absent, and when they were there, there was fighting and strife in the family.
I am a very observant person. For so long I thought this was a personality trait. As I was talking in group, and when we met for coffee afterwards, some girls and I discussed how we are very in-tune with people. We are very aware of our surroundings. When we walk into a room we scan and we can tell the mood, who is upset, what is going on, what to do and if we should leave. We are very good at reading body language and verbal/non-verbal cues. I was always confused as to why other people couldn’t see the things I could see. Confused as to why people couldn’t read the body language or facial expressions or non-verbal cues of people. There have been times when I thought, “Why would you say that? Why didn’t you take into consideration that she is sitting with her arms folded? She’s obviously not interested.” I was always shocked at how people with eating disorders were all very observant. In seconds flat we could read a person and know exactly how to react and/or what to say. We could determine what had to be done to please, appease, diffuse, care for or correct anything – but while we are so observant taking care of everyone else around us (eating disorder people pleasing), we often forget to take care of ourselves and we don’t meet our own needs. We are so busy thinking about everyone around us that there is no room for our own needs.
Many eating disordered people are this observant because we all have something in common – some type of trauma. When mom and dad came home drunk, mom was often angry and there was fighting. We didn’t know what to expect when she walked in the door so we only had seconds to evaluate the situation and decide how to act. Each time this happened, we were trained to get better and better at thinking fast and making decisions and reading all cues (verbal, non-verbal). So, as I was growing up and as I got older, I didn’t know why I was hyper-sensitive with reading and understanding people, but now it makes sense — it was a survival skill that I picked up.
Thinking back to what happened and when we would be hit or yelled at, to us, it was normal. We didn’t know anything different, but we felt like it wasn’t normal. We felt like we shouldn’t be up at 1am screaming and fighting and we also felt like we shouldn’t be beat by mom when she was angry. This might have been our norm, but it wasn’t a norm. I realize now that mom was going through something herself, and it was being projected on us, and we had to adapt to it. One way to adapt was to know how to quickly assess a situation and react accordingly. It got easier and easier as time went on.
Although this learned behavior often has me worried about others, and it prevents me from my own self-care, this has now turned into a strength of mine. This allows me to have a better understanding of people as I walk through life which will, in turn, increase my abilities to communicate effectively. It has been tough to turn it into something positive, but it’s possible.
Just because we grow up with trauma of some sort doesn’t mean we have to be defined by it. It happened and it should be dealt with, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly, but it doesn’t have shape us. We can learn and grow from it, or we can be broken by it. I choose not to be broken by it. I have worked so hard for so long to avoid being called a victim of any kind. For so long I was determined to prove that I can’t be broken and I didn’t notice that I was already a little broken, but it could be fixed. What has to happen is that we have to be able to admit what we went through, accept it for what it is, forgive what happened, learn from it, pick up the pieces and move on. This sounds so easy written in one sentence, and it’s not. Frankly, I don’t even know where I’m at in that sentence, but I know I’m making my way through it.
If we can allow ourselves to feel, we can heal. Just something to think about.