The friend foe dichotomy

When you’re sick, you want to get better.

Unfortunately, it’s rarely that straightforward with an eating disorder. It’s never just an illness – it takes a while to even recognise it in this guise – and it’s hard to work out whether it’s a friend or an enemy.

Because it’s both.

The paradox screws with your head.

The dichotomy makes moving on and getting better a real challenge.

Ironically, it’s also the key to recovery.


This bit was written a while ago. It makes a little sense of the situation. I can’t say it any better now. My head can go back there but my heart can’t:

Sometimes my capacity to self-destruct hits me like a cannon. It sends me reeling. When I am lying in bed turning over the day and thinking of what tomorrow will be – and how much I want tomorrow to actually be – I can feel the knowledge that I am slowly killing myself searing through my body. It is a physical pain and a fear. The fear derives from the fact that the thing that I am most scared of losing is also the most lethal thing that I have.

I am terrified by corporal punishment. The irrationality and intensity of my fear is like a phobia. I have not been whipped or beaten, nor have I witnesses anyone else being whipped or beaten, but the sadism and cruelty that I imagine in the perpetrator that provides the closest parallel to that which I sometimes recognise in myself. Anorexia and bulimia is a twenty-first century version of self-flagellation.

It may be this similarity that has created my phobia. I can’t watch beatings without crying or even becoming hysterical, I can’t read about whippings without flinching – even writing about it makes me wince. Yet it is what I am doing to myself.

The violence in eating disorders is so terrifying because it belongs to this vein of torture and malice. Guns and knives are deadly but there is a distance that lessens their brutality. Torture is about power and interaction, its longer lasting and its effects are longer lasting.

For many years, I did not see the violence of my eating disorder. Even when I was forcing myself to throw up for hours on end; or when I was compelled to march through the rain from shop to shop in search of food; or when I pounded the streets and dragged myself out of bed at 6am to exercise. I recognised the sensation but it was something separate from the eating disorder – and it was easy for me to make this transference because the eating disorder was my best friend, the thing that I prized above everything else.

My recovery hinges on this recognition. Whilst admitting that an eating disorder is dangerous and getting better is the right thing to do is relatively easy, appreciating the important position that it has assumed is equally important. Particularly when it comes to letting go.

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