by Aubrey Butts
An eating disorder is like a cocoon. Nothing can hurt you inside this cocoon. It’s the bargain that an eating disorder strikes to make giving literally everything else in your life. At least it won’t hurt. At least the outside world can’t touch you.
I’ve come to learn I’m what I call, a “feeler.” I feel things deeply, I feel things quickly, and I sometimes feel things so erratically, I can’t quite establish its root cause. For “feelers,” this cocoon is essentially a dream. I now had a “blanket” to hide away in and my extreme feelings were now numbed. I no longer identified as a “feeler.” In fact, I nearly felt downright psychopathic, lacking any sense of empathy or longing for human contact.
I lived like this for quite awhile. Nothing could touch me. Of course, what they don’t tell you, is the larger your cocoon becomes, the smaller the contents inside become. Both literally and figuratively.
I no longer knew how to take up space. I was unquestionably terrified of it. My body became smaller. The way I sat took as little space as possible. Sorry’s ended my sentences like periods. My voice became quieter and quieter until I nearly lost it completely. But I was enmeshed so deeply in my cocoon, I couldn’t see this as a problem. It was, in my opinion, what I was supposed to do. Deserved to do.
The first chink into my cocoon came during my experience in a treatment center with a Skype call with my sister. Family therapy was a part of the treatment center’s program. My parents kindly drove up a few times for meetings, but my sister couldn’t. Instead, we were able to set up a Skype session with her to discuss her experience with my disorder, how it affected her and anything else that needed to be processed. In my worldview, my sister was Beyoncé.
I loved her with as deep a love as I feared and envied her. Things always seemed to be so easy and perfect for her, which I now realized was only with a lot of effort and strong work ethic. But in my disordered and damaged brain, she seemed to have a life I would kill for. Plus she was blonde, beautiful, had an incredible boyfriend and could eat and drink anything she wanted without fear.
As invincible as I felt, I knew she was more so. No way had my struggles affected her. She was hardly home when I was growing up…
And this, I learned was because of my disorder.
My disorder had become a fire that consumed all of the time, care and attention from my parents. The fires in our home burned my parents into ash, but my sister also smelled smoke. Instead, she fled the fire like any logical person would, building a world outside of the embers. Who could blame her? But I hadn’t realized how difficult and frightening this had all been for her.
Hearing her side of the last few years created a little crack into my cocoon. Suddenly the weight of what I had done wasn’t protected from me anymore.
The relationship with my sister has been complicated, to say the least. But the time I’m able to spend with her, the meals we’ve shared, the advice and support I’ve received, and the utter joy I get in seeing her life unfold has been one of the biggest motivators to me. Yes, she is the Beyoncé in my world, but just as Beyoncé is a role model and inspiration to so many (including me, duh…) so is my sister.
In honor of all of the important support people who have helped people during their recovery, NEDA, Project HEAL and Recovery Spark have created this wonderful video called Recovery Heroes for Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Check it out. And if you would like to contribute a blog post about and important support person who has helped you during your recovery or any other topic contact SMEDA at firstname.lastname@example.org.