Our alumni client shares her experience of intimacy and relationships in recovery from an eating disorder, demonstrating how recovery is so much more than improving your relationship to food, and in fact reaches into all areas of our lives.
I always thought it strange that sex and intimacy are rarely discussed in treatment, seeing as they are often massive casualties of eating disorders. The way you inhabit your body and what you do to it colours the way you interact with the world, especially the world of people. Being disconnected from or feeling hatred towards your body is manifested to others regardless of your physical appearance, and in my experience it was a source of shame and created a chasm between me and others.
When I was anorexic I excluded myself from so much of life, especially the experiences and pleasures that come from accepting your embodiment rather than waging a constant war against it. Having an eating disorder prevents you from joining in, not only in the fundamentals of social and family life; all the occasions in which food is a part, or which require commitment, but in intimacy, which is the showing and sharing of yourself with another person. This comes with the risk of being rejected and your eating disorder being challenged. Instead of suffering this hurt and go through the painful process of self analysis that leads to recovery, I convinced myself that I was happy on my own and it was society’s emphasis on coupledom that was at fault.
An eating disorder is a distorting lens that lies between you and other people. The secrecy and lies it entails destroys trust and perverts your relationship with yourself and others. I believed I was a terrible person for behaving in this way so I kept people at a distance so they wouldn’t see inside me.
“An eating disorder is a distorting lens that lies between you and other people.”
Growing up, it was unacceptable to be a gay woman and the archetype of womanhood I saw was a type of femininity I disliked and couldn’t and wouldn’t identify with. Unpleasant experiences with men and insecure in my young adulthood, I think I turned in on myself, my body becoming a site of both punishment and protest.
The sad thing about this is that the illusion of safely leads to pain as it creates a barrier between you and others that becomes harder and harder to breach. The more I became alienated from my body, the fewer things I was able to participate in; feeling so different, it’s hard to make meaningful connections with other people because I could only feel ‘for’ them, not ‘with’ them.
I think the foundation of intimacy is honesty with yourself. A big motivator in getting well was the desire to live a fuller life, in particular to experience the rich connection of a loving relationship.
Without eating disorders, I am fully myself and my growing acceptance of my body is communicated to other people which makes intimacy and open and honest relationships possible. I know that there are many different ways of being a woman and I have a free choice as to how I express my sexuality.
“I think the foundation of intimacy is honesty with yourself. A big motivator in getting well was the desire to live a fuller life, in particular to experience the rich connection of a loving relationship.
Without eating disorders, I am fully myself and my growing acceptance of my body is communicated to other people which makes intimacy and open and honest relationships possible.”
I thought a healthy, ‘normal’ looking body would be unbearable, but as it grew I set about changing the symbolism and significance that I had formally attached to it. It was not a place of safety but a prison that stood in the way of my goals, and rather than expressing my personality, it inhibited it. Instead of the embarrassment I expected, I now enjoy my adult body. It is readable and relatable yet I am in control, and with it I can express sensuality and show and experience love without inhibitions.