Imagine yourself standing in the rain on the bank of a raging river. Suddenly, the water-swollen bank gives way. You fall in and find yourself being tossed around in the rapids. Your efforts to keep afloat are futile and you are drowning. By chance, along comes a huge log and you grab it and hold on tight. The log keeps your head above water and saves your life. Clinging to the log you are swept downstream and eventually come to a place where the water is calm. There, in the distance, you see the riverbank and attempt to swim to shore. You are unable to do so, however, because you are still clinging to the huge log with one arm as you stroke with the other. How ironic. The very thing that saved your life is now getting in the way of you getting where you want to go.
This is not unlike the position many people find themselves in when they first become aware of their disordered eating. They feel foolish at best, humiliated at worst, that they are unable to stop a behavior that is interfering with their desire to get where they want to go in life. In the face of their shame, they quickly forget the role their disordered eating played in their survival, how it helped them keep their heads above water through some very rough times by giving them a way to deal with their conflicts, feelings, and difficult situations. They immediately assume that there is something wrong with them.
There are people on the shore who see you struggle and yell, "Let go of the log!" But you are unable to do so because you have no confidence in your ability to make it to shore.
Perhaps simply letting go of the log may not be the best course of action to take. What would happen if you let go of the log, began to swim to shore, and got halfway there only to find you didn’t have the strength to make it all the way? This means that you wouldn’t be able to make it back to the log, either.
And so, very slowly and carefully, you let go of the log and practice floating. When you start to sink, you grab back on. Then you let go of the log and practice treading water, and when you get tired, hold on once again. After awhile, you practice swimming around the log once, twice, ten times, a hundred times, until you gain the strength and confidence you need to swim to shore. Only then do you completely let go of the log.
Recovery from disordered begins with the understanding that the disordered eating behavior served you when your goal was survival. This understanding is then followed by the development of new skills that will enable you not to simply survive, but to get what you want out of life, to thrive.
Anita Johnston ©1996 Excerpt from Eating in the Light of the Moon