Eating disorders can be extremely isolating illnesses. Often, people can feel a lot of shame or fear when living with an eating disorder, and this can keep people trapped in their experience.
Feeling lonely during this time can be frightening and we can feel helpless in this experience. Here are some ways to reconnect once more.
Feeling lonely is commonly understood as an individual not feeling connected to the others, despite their emotional want and need to.
Loneliness can be a feeling that perpetuates itself: we feel lonely, which causes us to feel bad, which in turn, makes it hard to reach out and connect, thereby maintaining the feeling of loneliness.
As social animals, we need social connection in order to survive. Feeling as though we belong is integral to our sense of security and happiness. This is why the experience of loneliness can feel so threatening – isolation is simply not what we’re wired for.
Keep in mind: Loneliness is different to ‘being alone’, as you may choose to be alone and to enjoy your own company. However, keep in mind that this could be someone else’s experience of being ‘lonely’.
“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.” May Barton
It is known that eating disorders thrive in isolation. You might have noticed that when you’re alone, the ‘voice’ of the eating disorder is amplified perhaps alongside other concerns or worries, such as how your studies are going or if Christmas will financially be tricky this year. The purpose this serves is to drive people away from you as a means of limiting the opportunity for it to be challenged – for food behaviours to be challenged.
If this resonates with you today, we offer our go-to guidance on how to cope and gently challenge these thoughts.
So, what can you do when life feels lonely?
- Firstly, don’t be afraid to be curious
Eating disorder recovery is an ever-changing journey that invites challenge, learning and opportunity. Part of the healing here is to practise curiosity by asking yourself questions, such as, “why am I feeling this way today?”, “what do I need from myself when I ‘feel lonely’?” or, “how can I be gentle today?”
Opening and exploring your inner-dialogue can help you reconnect with yourself and your thoughts again. That means by accessing what feels vulnerable or uncomfortable and accepting yourself however they arise. As we mentioned above, the more you break down the barrier here and show up as authentically and true to your experience, the deeper your understanding of your Self will be. This doesn’t just happen overnight; like recovery, this takes daily, compassionate curiosity. When everything is taken away from us, we have no choice but to resort to what’s leftover – simply, us. When you find a connection with yourself, this doesn’t have to be a lonely experience. Let’s work together to be your own friend along this journey.
‘So part of recovery involves reconnecting – but firstly, with ourselves… There comes a point in recovery where we no longer want to punish ourselves. It’s a touching moment of clarity where we look back on experiences of self-punishment with, yes – possibly regret, but also peaceful understanding and acceptance of our stories.’ Orri blog
Not sure where to start? In these worksheets, we welcome you to explore your feelings and experiences surrounding loneliness, and how it affects your eating disorder recovery.
- Find someone trustworthy to speak to
Reach out to your support network (this could be a family member, a loved one or a professional) and speak honestly about feeling lonely, or worried. It is nothing to feel embarrassed or ashamed about, as it is a very natural experience. Chances are, your chosen person may also have experienced loneliness too, so they could offer an empathetic ear. Connection is key to sustaining recovery, and sometimes by breaking down the barrier here, it can in fact deepen your connection with each other.
If speaking out loud feels too difficult right now, why not write down your thoughts and show them to your chosen person? This could be by bullet points; prose; a song… Find the most appropriate way for you to communicate your thoughts – there is no right or wrong way to do so.
- Join a supportive online community
Connecting doesn’t have to cost money. There are online support groups that we suggest you can engage with and follow, that reinforce positive messages and ideals that align with your recovery. We recommend a few helpful organisations, here. We also invite you to join Orri’s online eating disorder community, by following us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. You can also sign up to our newsletter.
On our website, we host a space for you (yes, you!) where you can share how you are feeling and what you have learnt about your eating disorder recovery so far. You can write a blog to share to our online community here.
Something to note: Whilst social media has helpful and engaging content, check your responses to what you read. It’s okay to follow accounts that encourage you to love yourself and it’s okay to unfollow people who cause the opposite.
You are not alone at Orri, we are here to witness you, however you arrive.
- Find your ‘people’ to aid connection
We thought we’d sneak in a little hint into next month’s theme, so let’s talk about community. We all deserve to love ourselves so we can allow others to love us too. A way over overcoming the barrier of an eating disorder is to allow yourself to have relationships and give yourself permission to authentically enjoy them. This also means allowing yourself to explore different kinds of relationships and to be curious of who and what you are drawn to. Notice how you feel around others too – whether you feel uncomfortable or comfortable, what you like to do with certain people and how much time you genuinely want to spend with them. Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to have the friendships and relationships that you want to have, as long as they are true to you.
At Orri, we offer group therapy to our clients. This provides a mutual space of shared understanding. Clients support each other in exploring all aspects of the eating disorder including relational dynamics, coping mechanisms, body image, anxieties and core beliefs.
Romy, Orri’s Senior Psychotherapist & Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Lead, says: “Group therapy is in essence a collective, healing space. It is a space within which members negotiate group norms in the framework of boundaries in order to form trust amongst each other and slowly share experiences for the collective to ‘bear witness’ to.”
You are not alone at Orri, we are here to witness your experience, however you arrive.
We wrote this blog, and our previous When life. series, to offer hope in your eating disorder recovery. You may be struggling with your journey right now, or you may just now be questioning your relationship with food; you may even be feeling content in your recovery or, you may be feeling exhausted from the years of eating disorder thoughts. However you have shown, we are proud of you for just being here and being curious. You are deserving of recovery and of all the pleasures and experiences life can offer – tell yourself this, again and again until you begin to truly believe it. Life is waiting for you, go live it.