Eating Disorder Analogy

We have to choose recovery and we have to choose to do this on our own. Nothing is going to change unless we make it; choose it; do it. For so long, I wanted something to change and for me to wake up and it be different, but that isn’t how it works. We have to make the change we want to see.

In hearing from a friend, the best analogy of this process has been found:

(bear with me, this can be wordy)

Being in this eating disorder is like being stuck in a burning basement.

You are in the basement and there is only one way to get out of the basement – that is through a circular opening in the center of the room. The only way to get to that opening is to climb a ladder that is provided. Now, there are circumstances in this room. The room is on fire and there are flames building. The heat is intense an unbearable. There are options: you can stand down in the fire, or you can attempt to survive and climb the ladder.

This ladder isn’t easy to climb, in fact it feels impossible to climb. It’s metal so it conducts heat and it’s one of those chain link ladders that swings and twists – you know, the ones that none of us ever climb.  We are left with two choices – stand in the fire with Ed and feel the pain of the flames, or climb this heat-conducting ladder that burns us each time we touch it (the process of recovery).

The hard part is when we begin to climb the ladder it hurts; it’s frightening; we don’t know what we are doing and we feel like we don’t have control of this ladder. We just want to get to the top, but we can’t. We can see the top, but we don’t know how to get there. We just want somebody (a fire fighter, a savior, anybody) and just pick us up and take us up, but that won’t work. We have to do this on our own. We have to climb this ladder by ourselves, and on our own free will. We have to struggle up that ladder in order to survive, if we want to survive. All we have is what’s at the top helping us get there.

What is at the top? At the top is our support – our treatment team made up of doctors, therapists, and dietitians. We might have family and friends there as well. They can’t jump down to help us. They can’t jump into the flames to pick us up, but we want them to do that so badly. All they can do is give support and encouragement and tell us what to do from the top. They can encourage us to keep climbing because the fire is not up there and if we just hold on we can get to safety. We only have one choice and that is to follow all of the lead of the people standing at the top of that circular opening.

The ladder hurts. It’s metal and it’s hard to climb. We don’t know how to climb it and we can only take the words of those who know what they are doing at the top. Each time we grab the ladder it burns so badly. When we get part of the way up, we realize it hurts as much as the fire, so we let go and fall to the floor because we can’t do it. We are in a lose-lose situation. As we regain strength and composure to climb again and look down we see other people in the fire who are calmly sitting and accepting defeat and we wonder if that should be us. Why am I climbing this painful ladder when they don’t look like they are in as much pain as I am now? [the people at the top are still screaming that it’s better up there].

When we start to climb and get so far the metal ladder is burning and it hurts. All we can think about is letting go because our hands can’t take it anymore – this ladder is just as hot as the fire down there – what is better? We lose sight of the end goal because all we can feel is what is in front of us right there at that moment – stinging and burning hands that are growing weaker. When we lose sight of it all, we let go and fall to the floor because we don’t think we can handle the pain of the ladder, but if we just listen to what is being said at the top, it can help us stay focused. If we can just focus on the words of those at the top, we can keep climbing. As long as those at the top keep talking, we can keep climbing.

Nobody can climb this ladder for us. We have to choose to climb it ourselves and we have to choose to survive. We can’t carry someone on our back up the ladder if they choose to stay in the basement; we can only save ourselves. The only thing we can do is listen to the people at the top as they tell us how to get up the ladder. We have to try to block out what is right in front of us and listen to their instructions of how to keep climbing even though it hurts. We have to hold on to the ladder and try not to focus on the burning when we just want to let go. Nobody can get us up that ladder but ourselves… but we aren’t climbing alone…. We have the encouragement of our teams at the top telling us what to do, and giving us encouragement along the way.

I think it’s safe to say where there are moments when we are screaming and crying that we can’t do this and we get so frustrated at the ones at the top…. because we feel so alone on this ladder and we feel like they are so close and we want the help, but can’t get it, but we can regroup and reposition our hands and keep climbing. It’s okay if we start climbing and fall a few times – we don’t know how to climb this ladder…. we’re still learning… we just have to be committed to the process of not staying in the flames.


Thanks Jennie Ann! 🙂



2 thoughts on “Eating Disorder Analogy

  1. Rachel, thank you SOOO much for posting this, especially right now. I’ve always chosen the easy way out of situations and the end result was being burnt by the fire because I refused to even attempt climbing the ladder. That ladder always looked to hard for me to conquer so I never would even try because why do something I cannot do 100%? But that is not the case anymore and with your help and support I have been able to make huge changes in my life and slowly climb that damn ladder while missing a few steps and falling back a little. Eventually I kknow I will get there though.

  2. Pingback: The Challenges We Face | Hungry Running Girl

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