Leaving Loneliness Behind

Recovery can only take place within the context of relationships; it cannot occur in isolation.
— Judith Lewis Herman

Loneliness is a peculiar, complicated state of being. To be lonely, you don’t necessarily need to be alone; you just need to perceive yourself as being alone and feeling isolated. Nor is loneliness just about yearning to find that unparalleled sense of belonging and comfort through connecting with others. Instead, an equally valid characterization of loneliness is feeling disconnected from oneself. When we lose sight of who we are as individuals and what our inherent values are (as is the case with eating disorders), we can feel lonely like no other. Not only do we feel like we have no meaningful social bonds, but now we cannot even rely on our own self to be a compassionate, unwavering, constant source of company. Loneliness, simply put, is terrifying. It can even be conceptualized as a disease or a “hidden killer” that leads to poorer physical and mental health and even premature death. More than anything, if someone asks me what it feels like to have an eating disorder, one word comes to mind: lonely. Utterly and irrevocably lonely.

As I fell deeper and deeper into the suffocating grasp of my eating disorder, I grew increasingly more lonely because my illness became my primary relationship. I began to devote all my time to fostering my distorted commitment with my abusive partner. When my eating disorder wanted plans, wanted to have me all to itself, I didn’t refuse. And it always wanted plans. When it told me to meet it at the gym and go for a 5 mile run, I didn’t refuse. When it told me to keep it company in my dorm room on a Friday night and treat myself with an apple for dinner, I agreed without a second thought. And because of this, the actual genuine relationships I had that made me feel good and happy about myself began to dissipate. After the fifth rejection in a row, friends slowly began to stop asking me for plans….they didn’t need to ask to know how I would respond: “Sorry, I’m busy. Definitely another day though!!” What they didn’t know was that I wasn’t busy mainly with school work or extracurriculars, but constantly trying to please my intoxicating eating disorder. And because the demands of my disorder grew exponentially faster than I could fulfill them—with every task I completed in a desperate attempt to soothe the incessant voice of my disorder, ten new tasks seemed to appear in its place—this became a full-time job.

Because of my disorder, I stopped hanging out with friends because most social gatherings occurred in the context of food, and there was no way I could betray my “best friend” (my eating disorder) so profusely by associating myself with its ultimate enemy (tasty food with actual sustenance). Because of my disorder, I lost communication with my parents. I couldn’t bear answering their concerned calls and blatantly lying to their faces, so eventually, I just stopped picking up altogether. Because of my disorder, my relationship with my siblings fell in shambles, for they were immensely frustrated (rightfully so) by all the pain I afflicted upon my parents. Because of my disorder, I no longer was in touch with myself. Looking in the mirror, I couldn’t recognize the shell of a person staring back at me. Who was this lifeless creature with dark circles under her eyes and balding hair gazing at me? It couldn’t possibly be Simran, the lively, happy, passionate girl I once knew! Because of my disorder, I became isolated from all the most important people in my life. Before I knew it, I had no one—not even myself. The only thing (or rather monster) I had left was the one thing I wish would just go away forever, the ultimate source of my suffering and unbearable loneliness—my eating disorder.

Nothing is worth experiencing that horrible feeling of being utterly alone in this enormous, complicated, uncertain world. Not even the so-called high concomitant to restriction or the state of being thin….Despite what your eating disorder may trick you into believing, isolating yourself from the ones who truly care about you will only lead you down a long, dark path suffused with unhappiness and anguish. Thus, perhaps the most important component of the recovery process is opening up your heart and letting others in once more. You deserve to be loved and cared about and worried over by the people who truly matter. You deserve to experience that essential sense of belonging foundational to our collective human genome. You deserve so much better than remaining in a toxic relationship with your eating disorder that will only leave you feeling empty and completely miserable. Even though it may be difficult to put yourself in a vulnerable position, try to answer next time your parents call. Try to say yes next time your friends ask if you’d like to grab a bite to eat. Try to become a person your siblings would be proud of. Try to be kind to yourself by distancing yourself from the all-consuming beckons of your disorder. Try to turn to people—to human beings with hearts who possess the capacity to feel empathy—instead of that emotionally abusive voice. Only once you stop satisfying all the needs of your disorder and start listening to your own needs and only once you leave loneliness behind can the recovery process truly begin.

A life of eternal loneliness or one filled with love, laughter, family, friends, & good, wholesome food: the choice is yours.

Simran Bansal1 Comment