Your Secrets Keep You Sick

Posted by on Apr 3, 2015

Okay… I guess have to write this post. It’s time I come clean about the fact that I’ve been struggling a lot lately. As I always say here, I wish I could be sunshine and smiles and recovery all the time, but that’s just not what the middle ground is. The middle ground is a labyrinth full of potholes and dead ends and roads that lead you in circles. But if there’s one path that’s guaranteed to take you to relapse, it’s the path of secrecy.

I won’t say exactly what’s going on, because I try to avoid mention of specific behaviors, numbers, etc. on this blog. Generally speaking, though, it is restriction — which has been my eating disorder’s M.O. for as long as it’s been around.

As anyone in recovery could tell you, this is a frightening place to be. Unquestionably, slips and lapses are part of the process. But how many lapses does it take to make a relapse? At what point do the normal struggles become pathological? Is it when you choose to keep them a secret? Just like when the eating disorder began, it’s hard to tell where the line is until it’s already a mile behind you.

You’re as sick as your secrets

There are all sorts of reasons I haven’t wanted to admit when I struggle. There are the two most obvious culprits: 1) the eating disorder voice argues with me that if I open my mouth everything will be ruined and the teams of supporters won’t leave me alone for a minute (ED lives by a twisted rationale); and 2) I feel ashamed, I feel like a failure, and so on and so forth.

Recently, though, there has been a new, unexpected dynamic that deters me from speaking up. It’s that I want recovery. So. Damn. Much.

My eating disorder thrived on being my identity. It had been around for so long that I had never really thought about who I was and who I wanted to be without it. Since then, I’ve learned that disentangling myself from the disorder doesn’t automatically solve that identity problem, because we all need some sort of identity — a firm (though dynamic) self-concept against which we can check our actions and goals to see if they measure up with who we believe we are.

Knowing that my eating disorder would very happily come back to fill in that void, I channeled my need for an identity into healthy habits. I rigorously carved out an identity here in cyberspace as an advocate for recovery. That new identity then permeated my “real world” life. I’ve lobbied in Washington with the Eating Disorders Coalition and in Albany with NEDA to help eating disorder patients get better care. I write for any website or outlet that wants my thoughts. I volunteer at events that promote mental health and positive body image. I’ve applied for positions at eating disorder organizations to help others struggling with these illnesses in a more official context.

Your Secrets Keep You SickBut as a result, I worry that if I admit to struggling, then all of that will be dashed. Because many of recovery organizations have rules about being at a certain point of recovery, I fear I would not be allowed to serve in these capacities because I will not be trusted to be able to keep myself healthy. (When in fact, my involvement in these causes is what, I sincerely believe, has gotten me as far into recovery as I currently am.)

In reality, of course, admitting to struggling is not what would cost me these passions. Saying nothing and letting the eating disorder consume me again most certainly would.

Bottom line — dishonesty never took me anywhere I wanted to be. Your secrets keep you sick.

Shine a light on all the secrets, or else they’re here to stay

As a graduate student in counseling, I can’t help but view my own situation with a sobering curiosity. I love the life I’ve gained in recovery — I would never want to jeopardize what I’ve built so far. And yet, the eating disorder — whatever it “is” — is still able to snake its way into my mind and make me believe it has some secret knowledge to offer me.

It scares me and fascinates me. What IS it? What is it that makes it so strong, such that I can’t seem to eradicate it from my brain? How can I have a new “recovered” identity, a new life, new goals, an arsenal of coping skills, and near-expert knowledge of this illness, yet still not be able to shake it?

It is a weed, I suppose. And until I find the roots and wrest it from its source, it’s not going anywhere.

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  1. Thank you for this one, Joanna. I am a registered social worker whose passion in in the mental health field and struggling with the same issues. I get more down on myself as I look for employment – “affirmation” that I am worthy and as good as “everyone else”.

    • Wow Joanna! You nailed it. I am sorry you are not in the land of rainbows and unicorns right now. I know exactly how you feel. I’ve been in this middle ground recovery place for almost 4 years, and I too can not seem to shake it off. I am planning a career change and have big dreams for my future with my family. My husband is losing patients with me and all my medical bills. Today I left this article out and my husband read it. I feel like it says more than I ever could. So, I thank you for this from the bottom of my heart.

  2. How brave! How very brave! I am in my sixties and have struggled all my life to accept me as me. As I began to read your message the tears ran uncontrollably down my face. I have finally realised that the thing I don’t understand is ME! I have kept secrets from myself all these years but your words, I am hoping, have inspired me to look at me in a different light. Day one…………thank you for giving me another chance to start!

  3. I am recovered now, but went through a similar issue during my “middle ground.” I work for a non-profit and the job I had involved living overseas for long periods of time, in much rougher living conditions than my normal western life, and sometimes with very limited connections with the outside world. I was getting ready to go, but then didn’t feel right and admitted to my supervisor that I still had some eating issues. It was so hard to ‘fess up. It was very hard when they couldn’t let me go overseas, for the sake of my own safety. I took a job with them in the US and recovered the rest of the way. Now I am healthy and well and ready to leave to my new job overseas with the same organization. Though it is very hard to admit secrets, and sometimes we have consequences, it can also serve as the necessary final “shove” to wellness. I was glad that I was able to participate in my organization and continue helping with goals I’m passionate about during those final couple years to full recovery, just in a “safer” role.

    • l*The bonus was that I met my husband during that US assignment and now we are going overseas together to an assignment that requires both of our skill sets.

  4. You’ve once again articulated how so many of us on this path feel.

    The middle ground is complex. It’s confusing, it’s scary, and to me, always feels like a balancing act that requires so much attention that it pushes me toward near mental exhaustion.

    I worry often that because I look to be “in recovery,” I’m presenting a false sense of self. For example, I went to eat last week with a big group. I didn’t skip the meal, didn’t come up with some excuse as to why I couldn’t go, and actually ordered and ate and left without symptom use. I looked – at least according to my own perception, like a “normal” person. But I also know that internally, it wasn’t so simple. There were unhealthy thoughts and too much time spent thinking about food and calories rather than conversation and company. I almost felt guilty after – not because of what I ate, but because I feel like I am portraying a healthier image outward than the one I feel inward. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the hardest part of lapses, of slip ups, of whatever we call them, is that once you start and want to continue recovery, your awareness takes away the false sense of security the ED once provided. When I was uncomfortable in the past, I could turn to symptoms for comfort. The knowledge of this disease, of it’s empty promises and false comfort and physical dangers, makes things a lot harder in some ways because the illusion is gone. Recovery is uncomfortable. Relapse is uncomfortable. It’s a catch 22 that I never had to face before I was tuned into my ED.

    It helps to know we aren’t alone. We aren’t the only ones fighting this. I hope you know how much it positively influences each of us out there when you share your stories.

  5. I’ll admit that this is my first time reading/doing something like this. My psychologist suggested reading recovery blogs about eating disorders but I can relate to the middle ground blog so much more. I have an older sister who is almost fully-recovered from an eating disorder, as well, and is doing very well, but it is so hard for me to talk to her about anything I am feeling and going through now. Reading through your posts has given me someone to relate to, and make me feel as if I am not alone. I give you so much credit for sharing your story and struggles, because even posting this is so hard and scary for me. THANK YOU for sharing it all, and giving me someone to look up to and relate to through this struggle.

  6. The disease of addiction is spiritual in its primary nature. Spiritual component is the core of our being, spirit is pure energy, and like layers of an onion, each successive layer surrounding the core of spirit is less pure and more material that the previous layer. The layers or components from the center outward are this: Spiritual, Volitional, Emotional, Intellectual, Actual (Public and Private) and Physical. The seat or origin of all energy within the human being is Spirit + Nutrients (food) = Energy. (man does not live by bread alone…) In order to have an emotion or feeling, a certain quantity of energy is required to conceive and create the feeling or emotion. I would like to suggest that there are only six feelings/emotions. Here is the list: Sad Hurt Angry Afraid Ashamed Glad. (Acronym SHAAAG) There are five we do not like and one we like. So we conceive and create a feeling and this feeling embodies and uses an amount of energy. Each human is endowed with a given amount of energy. Using some of that basic energy to have a feeling is a natural process and natural event, and the natural goal of all feelings is to exit the body. There exists within the feeling an amount of pressure and the pressure is directed towards exiting the body. Exit + pressure = ex + press = express. If you prevent the feelings from exiting, then you must press them back the opposite way that they are moving, you must repress and suppress your feelings. This requires an equal amount of energy plus a little bit more. All that energy wasted, the original feelings energy and the energy required to keep it inside. Do that enough times and it becomes more likely to stuff and suppress feelings than it will be to express them. When the feeling is buried though, it is not buried dead, it is buried alive.