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Contributor: Carrie A. Decker, Naturopathic physician
Many times amidst the road of recovery our lives are challenged with deeply distressing or disturbing experiences, situations which are considered traumatic. Some of the more obvious events which are thought of when considering the concept of trauma are death of a loved one, loss of financial stability or a job, or the diagnosis of a serious health condition as cancer.
But many other experiences trigger feelings that are deeply distressing or disturbing, and thus may also be classified as trauma. Situations like moving to a new city, starting a new job or attending a new school, going through a breakup or dealing with long distance in a relationship also are events that can be deeply affecting emotionally.
An Unhealthy Coping Mechanism
An eating disorder, when active, can become a coping mechanism for dealing with emotions and other challenges, and in many ways protects an individual from fully experiencing emotions such as sadness, frustration, anger, but also blunts and numbs positive feelings such joy, happiness, and contentment.
It can effectively bring down the range of emotion and depth of experience of all feelings, and like addictions to drugs or alcohol, protects the “user” from other experiences. When stepping into a place of recovery, emotions suddenly become more vivid, as the haze of an eating disorder through which they once were experienced is removed.
Deep feelings of sadness, anger, or uncertainty, which were once coped with by restricting or vomiting, suddenly become strong emotions.
What Happens Early in Recovery
In early recovery, one is often vividly aware of how these emotions trigger eating patterns, as they must make the daily choice to abstain from the behaviors once used for coping and chose follow a meal plan of healthy eating.
Bit-by-bit the intensity and obvious experience of these feelings and how they trigger eating disorder behaviors subside, and with an ongoing pattern of abstinence life begins to feel recovered and emotions more stable.
However with the experience of trauma, the strong feelings and emotions can uproot the desire to cope with the behaviors associated with the eating disorder or other self-harm. Even after a long period of dormancy from a lack of use, these behaviors and tendencies are still present deep in the subconscious mind.
Learning Healthy Coping Skills
When trauma occurs, it is important to acknowledge the impact it has on our lives. Despite the impulse and desire to use behaviors like binging and purging or restricting to avoid feeling the deep emotions, this does not have to be a choice.
Through the process of recovery, a wide variety of coping skills have been learned, whether they were intentionally sought out or just rediscovered through the steps of healing and treatment. A choice can be made to feel the emotions, to call a friend or mentor, or to discovery meaning via writing or reading an uplifting book.
Opening up to communication is a common characteristic of recovery for the majority of individuals who have experienced an eating disorder.
By voicing one’s feelings and talking about the impulse to react with an eating disorder behavior, the shame and secrecy it is often associated with loses its power to drive the patterns of concealment deeper.
How Therapists Help
Therapists and counselors are helpful for talking through challenges in the process of seeking meaning and direction from them, and may offer guidance for the modification of thought and behavior patterns.
Support groups and friends that have been met on the road to recovery can also offer a listening and understanding ear; even others in the community and close friends who are not personally familiar with eating disorders can be a source of understanding and insight.
Where Support Can Be Found
Support can be found through many different recovery programs, these can be found in churches, anonymous recovery groups, as well as other online forums. Despite the differences between eating disorders and other addictions, in recovery there are many similarities of choosing to not engage in a self harmful behavior.
For this reason, open meetings of support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous may be useful to individuals who have experienced an eating disorder as well.
Reflection and Growth
Encountering trauma in the process of recovery can be a time when deeper growth and self-reflection upon life and purpose is found. This can come through writing, reading an uplifting book, listening to or making music, or connecting with a spiritual belief or practice.
The experience of trauma may be what draws one to seek out new tools or practices which support recovery. Activities such as meditation, tai chi or qigong , and emotional freedom techniques (also known as EFT or tapping) help to center the mind and body and free it from external influences which contribute to the experience of trauma.
Seeking out reading materials or classes about these topics may be a way to bring newness to recovery, and bring new tools to the set of those which already exist.
Strengthening the Path to Recovery
The experience of trauma can be something that strengthens the path of recovery. By walking through challenges and continuing to choose a path of healing, resilience and stability is increased. Sharing one’s experience of trauma can help others in their difficulties, and widens the influence and healing that can come from a difficult experience.
By sharing your story someone else may find the strength or connection they need to move through the challenges present in their life, and at the same time further strengthens purpose and direction within.
Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!
Have you experienced trauma in your life? Have you had the experience of being able to share that with others? How do you feel this conversation is best approached? What advice can you share?
Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on February 21st, 2015
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com