I am left speechless from the feedback on last week’s blog post! Thank you to those of you who reached out to tell me how deeply you resonated with my words. I value your input and the story that you have to tell because I know how painful and isolating eating disorders can be. I also know the intense emotional pain that lies beneath eating disorders – the pain that most people do not like to speak about, the same pain that we MUST speak about in order to recover. This is such a huge part of what sparked my inspiration for the Light After Trauma podcast.
I view eating disorders as a coping skill for the pain. While I do acknowledge that disordered eating can be learned from family members and societal norms, I have found that more often than not, people use their ED symptoms as a way to cope with painful feelings associated with trauma or abuse. For example, a man may starve himself because he feels like it is the only way he can gain control after feeling so out of control from being sexually assaulted. Or a woman may develop binge eating disorder because the food helps her to stuff down the unwanted feelings that are starting to surface. If she binges until she feels sick, then she will not have any space left over to process her feelings.
With that being said, when I first sit down with a patient who is presenting with ED symptoms, I never ask “So, what’s your trauma history?”
Although I am a trauma therapist, I never directly ask about trauma. If someone is seeing me for help with an eating disorder, then that eating disorder is serving them a purpose – and that purpose is usually to distract or cope with suppressed or repressed trauma. It may take someone months or even years of being in therapy to feel comfortable enough to disclose trauma, especially when it comes to childhood abuse. People will often spend years in their ED, trying to fight off the demons that lurk beneath the obsessive calorie counting and over-exercising. It is not my job to push others to express or acknowledge more of their history than they are ready to. Therapists don’t walk in front of people, pulling them, nor do they walk behind people, pushing them. Instead they walk beside their clients, exploring emotions on the client’s terms, not the therapist’s terms.
But why? Why are people developing life threatening disorders and addictions instead of dealing with their core wounds? Doesn’t it just seem safer to deal with the trauma instead of developing another disorder or addiction?
No. Not necessarily. The feelings of fear, horror, grief, and loss that accompany facing our core wounds can be so intense that our brains cannot process it – either because we are still in the trauma (i.e. an abusive relationship) or because we do not have a sufficient support system (i.e. friends, family, and a good therapist to help you through the process). Unless you’re enveloped in safety, your brain will not allow you to process your trauma because your brain is just trying to keep you alive. We do not choose to be afflicted with disorders and addiction as a way to cope with our pain. The fact of that matter is that sometimes, it is our only option until we can get to a safer place in our lives where we can face the core wounds.
Trauma work is painful. It’s ugly, messy stuff, made even more difficult by those who ignore it, deflect it, and deny it. I have been shut down for speaking out on more occasions than I can count, and I would tell myself over and over again “Some day, the world is going to hear you!” It looks like that day is about to be here soon!
My goal with the Light After Trauma podcast is to help you realize that you can live again after whatever it is that you endured. You can reclaim a life full of love and happiness and support. On my platform, on my blog, in our Facebook community, and on my podcast, there will be no deflection, no ignoring, and no denying anyone’s experiences. While I am undoubtedly nervous about starting up this podcast, I know that it is time to shed more light on what people have gone through and the ways in which they have had to cope in order to survive.
I hope you know how resilient you are.
I hope you know how much happiness can be found on the other side of your seemingly unbearable pain.
I hope you know you are capable of and worthy of an incredible life.
The Light After Trauma podcast launches on August 25th and can be downloaded on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, and wherever else you like to listen. I hope you all continue to interact with me on the podcast in the same way you speak to me through this blog. I know sometimes life can feel so dark, but my hope for all of you is that this podcast can help trauma survivors learn to take back their lives! I am so thrilled to be on this path of recovery with you all.