A resounding theme that you may have noticed by now is how anorexia and eating disorders are the manifestations of her intense self-hatred, lack of self-love, and inability to receive/accept love. Putting it like that makes it sound so trivial and so “brushed off,” that it makes it difficult to fully grasp the dire implications that this internalization has had on her life, both in the disorder and in recovery.
During the eating disorder, her self-worth has been dictated by the voice of ED in her mind that is telling her that she is unlovable – that she isn’t worthy of love. That she is worthless. She has developed an intense hatred of self – of her body, of her mind, of the exhausting routine that she’s chained to, of her lack of control, and frankly, of her existence. It’s so severe that she’s lost sight of everything else in her life: her relationships, her hobbies, her goals, dreams, passions, and life plan.
And here’s the scary thing: she’s lost the desire to attract the opposite sex. Never mind the fact that she’s post-menopausal in her hormone levels due to the depletion of nutrition, and her reproductive system is shutting down. The truth is, she’s so attached to her disease that she doesn’t even care about finding a boyfriend – she’s too in love with her disease. She doesn’t have time in her meticulously scheduled life, to even think about something or someone other than food, calories, exercise, purging, keeping the deception going, etc.
And also, she doesn’t feel she’s worthy. She doesn’t feel like she deserves to be loved by someone else, let alone a boy her own age. She can’t have a relationship with another person. She can’t give to him, devote time to him, give him priority in her life – because her ED takes precedence over absolutely everything else. No contest.
And further to this, she doesn’t want to let anyone get close to her. She doesn’t want anyone to see her dependency on this disease. Anorexia, or her eating disorder, is her secret. She has to hide it because of the shame she feels about it. Even more than the shame that she feels about her anorexia, she feels even more acute shame about her actual body. She’s doing everything to hide her skeletal frame under layers of baggy clothes, there’s no way that she’ll let a boy get physically close to her.
Which takes me to the topic of this post: Intimacy and Anorexia. Even when she’s in “recovery,” the intense shame she feels about her body never goes away. Maybe she’s put the weight on and is in a normal range – she still feels an extreme vulnerability when it comes to sharing that with a man. It is the part of her that has been secret for so long. The hatred for which, that has literally almost killed her. Sharing that with another person is one of the most frightening things, and will often cause her to just shut off that part of her life in general.
I’m 26 years old and I’ve never been intimate with a man. Due to my faith, I’m saving myself for marriage, but I’ve gotta say, I’ve got a “cheat code.” Remember the game, Golden Eye, with Nintendo 64? There was always that one level that you could beat, but only if you had the cheat code that gives you super powers – like an extra life, or a bulletproof vest, or extra ammo? Well, you could say that staying chaste is pretty easy for me because that anorexic mindset is my “cheat code.” That yes, I want to get married, have a family, give myself to a man, but that I still battle those voices that tell me that I’m not worth being loved. And I still have an insurmountable feeling of shame about my body.
Aside from the mental scars left by my anorexia, it has also left some physical scars too. Not only do I not menstruate, but my body is still that of a pre-pubescent child. I know a lot of girls say that, like, “Oh, my boobs are so small,” yet they can easily fill a B cup. No. Like, I actually don’t have boobs. There is no extra skin to push together. Nothing there to push up. Literally, “mosquito bites” is the accurate term. Or, slightly raised bee-stings. This fact adds the shame associated with my body. And it brings me back to that ED mental tape, that I am going to be a disappointment to my future husband because I am physically not good enough. So why even bother.
And I’m not just talking about being physically intimate with another person. Emotional intimacy with another person is just as equally terrifying for someone with anorexia, or in recovery. She harbors so much shame about her past (or perhaps present). So much guilt and shame about her history of deception and anorexia, that the thought of getting emotionally close with someone and sharing that is horrifying. Because here’s the thing: she knows that to truly be emotionally intimate with someone means to let down the barriers around her heart and let another person in. She feels that her heart is so black – so tarnished, so irredeemable from the lies and deceit and ugliness that accompanies the disease – that if anyone were to really see her for what she truly is, he’d turn away. Leave her. So she keeps those barriers up. Reinforces them, actually.
Intimacy, both physical and emotional, are unimaginable for someone with anorexia, or in recovery, due to the shame and guilt they still feel about their body and the state of their soul and heart. If you’re reading this, then you know either first hand, or have seen first hand in a loved one, just how true this is, and how impenetrable those walls are around her heart. My advice to you is this: keep trying. Keep coming at her with love. Not with judgment. Be open. Honest. Accepting. Share about your vulnerabilities. The more you open your heart to her, the more she will feel safe and capable of doing the same. There is so much that she is dying to tell you. She just has to decide that getting better – that opening herself to life, opening herself to love – is worth more than her eating disorder. And that’s really hard to hear. But she has to decide that love, life, this relationship, is worth changing her life for – is worth putting the eating disorder away once and for all. Those walls around her heart are difficult to break down, but when you do, it is undeniably worth it.