There are widely accepted markers for loss such as death or a familial experience with terminal illness. I would like to speak to the unspoken and unacknowledged losses that all people experience: the end of a relationship, the death of a pet, the end of a stage in life (entering retirement, leaving school, getting divorced), and the recognition that loss carries an individual meaning for those affected by it. Grief can be born from any experience and for those of us with eating disorders, experiencing loss can reignite the need for disordered behaviors.
After suffering from depression for many years, suffering a loss may almost come as an uncomfortable kind of calm. You can finally point your finger at something and say, “You did it! You are the exact reason why I feel this way!” It can be incredibly validating to be able to have an external representation of your pain that, for so long, was a blameless, internal struggle. Regardless of the cause of grief, it is important to remember that loss (cause) and grief (the effect) is defined entirely by the individual experiencing it, and does not need to be justified to anyone.
Recognizing the direct source of pain and hurt does not make the suffering process any easier. There may be some guilt or shame in acknowledging the loss because it’s considered trivial compared to more widely accepted losses such as death and illness. One of the most important things to acknowledge at this time is the presence of your eating disorder. This may be a counterintuitive act for your recovery which often focuses on coping mechanisms to counteract the disorder. What I mean by acknowledging the eating disorder is the act of identifying and recognizing that maladaptive urges, patterns, and feelings that may come up during this time period.
There will be moments when using the eating disorder may feel like the only way to escape from the pain and the grief. If you use old behaviors, move on and forgive yourself. Holding onto the shame and the guilt that your disorder brings will only perpetuate avoidance of your feelings. Grief and loss are a natural part of life and accepting and working through our feelings associated with the loss can help in recovery.
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