Someone asked me once when the intrusive, annoying, mean and demanding eating disorder voice in their head would stop. When would that voice – or even sometimes voices – that controlled their
life for so long leave them alone now that they were working their recovery. She
asked when that voice would just STOP!!
It’s a really good question. For so many years during my disorder, that voice controlled my life. It
told me when, what and how much I could eat, what I could talk about and even when I could hang out with my friends. Sometimes the voice would be nice and helpful, as if it had my best interest at heart. It would tell me how I could do better in my ED, how restricting, purging, exercising, talking pills and denying myself basic necessitates would make me the perfect person I should be. Other times, the voice was downright evil. Punishing me for broken rules and food transgressions with violent and painful compensatory behaviors. The evil voice told me what a disgusting failure I was, that no matter how much pain I was in, I deserved more. It told me I had to work harder, be better, strive for a perfection I could never reach and it told me the consequences for not doing what the voices wanted. I remember the terror, control and fear that came along with that voice.
And then I asked myself when the voice finally went away and left me alone. The answer? I don’t even
know. What I do know is that slowly, over time as I stopped listening to the voice it got quieter. As I took back control of my life from the voice, it got quieter. And I learned to ignore it because I forced myself to stop believing what it said. Eventually I became able to ignore it all together.
Now, I don’t want to make it sound like it was easy – because it definitely wasn’t. In fact, being able to deal with that voice became an issue of life and death. To live through and beyond my disorder, I had to conquer that voice. Listening to it any longer would have killed me.
The first thing I remember deciding to do was to stop trusting the voice. I had to consciously tell myself that the voice was lying and then I had to find a voice I could trust. A member of my treatment team because my healthy voice. She was recovered from her eating disorder, which meant that she knew about the voice and how it worked. For a long time, whenever the voice told me anything –either the nice voice or the evil one – I went to her and asked if what the voice said was true. I asked her if I was fat, if I was disgusting, if I was a lazy waste of space that deserved to die. I asked if I was allowed to eat pasta.
Very deliberately, I chose to listen to what she said. Every single time, she told me that the voice was lying.
Over time I was able to believe her. What began as blind trust became real trust. She was my healthy voice
until I could develop my own.
The next thing I did was practice telling myself about the lies I was hearing. I told myself that the voice lied. And deliberately, even though it was a challenge, I began to choose to do the opposite of what the voices wanted. If it told me not to eat, no matter how scary or painful it was and no matter how hard I cried or
how desperately I wanted to die, I ate. Because I had to believe that the voice was lying.
This wasn’t a perfect process. Sometimes, even often in the beginning, the voice won. Sometimes it was so powerful that I had no choice but to obey. But over time I grew stronger. As I got stronger, the voice got
While I was doing this I learned a very valuable lesson. The voice, that for so long was so dominating, turned out to be simply part of my own thought process. Now, here’s the thing:
I CANNOT CONTROL MY THOUGHTS!!
My brain spits them out randomly and automatically. I don’t get a say. The cool thing though, is that while I can’t control my thoughts, I CAN control ME. There is a gap between the thought and doing what the thought says. I can choose if I want to do it or not. I can even acknowledge the thought, like “oh hey! Skip breakfast? Thanks for the idea, but I think I’ll do it anyways!”
Turns out that at this point in my recovery I AM IN CHARGE. Not the voice I have choice and I have
the power to sustain and grow my recovery. I can choose to ignore the voice.
As I read what I have written, I feel like I have to say – this process was neither quick nor easy.
It was years long and there were times when it was impossible and I was back in treatment. Today though,
I am grateful I chose to do the work, because I can live my life.
Do I think this is over? Yes. Do I still have to deal with the voice sometimes? Yes. If I am anxious or triggered or in emotional turmoil that voice can come back. And believe me. It can come back with a vengeance! It can still tell me that I am not good enough, a waste of space, that I should be smaller, thinner, prettier, less needy, and more perfect. That I should eat less, that I’m not burning enough calories or that I
will have a better life or more friends if I lost just a little more weight.
The difference is that now, I recognize the voices for what they are. They are my old self-critical thoughts about myself, and I choose not to believe them. It is easy to listen to them, because they promise to fix everything, but I tried that. It didn’t work and I know that the voices lie. I choose not to let them be in charge of my life anymore.
I am in charge now.
Written by Lauren Howard, Intake and Insurance Director