Can Unhealthy Behaviors Help?
Eight years ago this Sunday I was on a plane flying to Utah. I was exhausted, weak and miserable. I felt like a failure and was completely hopeless. I was flying to an eating disorder treatment center for a second round. The anxiety boiling beneath my skin was intolerable and the fear infecting my heart was indescribable. I sat paralyzed in my seat and prayed that everything surrounding me was simply a dream. I was bursting with anger for my parents since I felt like they were forcing me to go back and pissed with myself for getting caught in my lies of recovery and progress.
After I landed and completed the 2-hour drive to the facility, I was presented with my first dinner in what would be 3 months of inpatient treatment meals, snacks, group therapy, individual therapy, intense soul-searching assignments and a variety of unforeseen challenges. It was at this first dinner where I made a decision that would ultimately change the course of my life. I decided that this time I would work the program and make recovery count. I had reached the point of being sick and tired of being sick and tired and desperately wanted a life that was anything close to normal. This chance would not go to waste. I started to reclaim my life in that very first bite.
I was recently asked about my eating disorder and why I kept engaging in behaviors that were so harmful and destructive.
Did my unhealthy behaviors serve a purpose?
Believe it or not they did. And whether it’s an eating disorder, alcoholism, drug abuse, binge eating disorder or abusive relationships, many unhealthy and dangerous behaviors do indeed serve a purpose in our life. If they didn’t then why the heck would we keep doing them in the first place?
For me, my eating disorder was a way in which I could control my world. When everything seemed like a complete disaster I knew I could focus on my weight as a way to not only feel in control but also feel better about myself. Losing weight was and still is applauded by everyone and it was a way to define my self worth and feel like I mattered. Being complimented for my “dedication” to my workouts, or how great my body looked provided me with the validation I so desperately craved; allowing me to feel like I was enough and that I was acceptable. I believed that if I stopped practicing these destructive behaviors I was dead; no one would love me, I would be thought of as worthless and a failure.
That was my “why” – what about you?
So many of us are very aware of our “self-sabotaging” ways when it comes to our health and wellbeing but really have no idea why we keep doing them. It becomes easier to throw things against the wall in hopes of something sticking rather than dig down into what’s really going on. We give ourselves fancy labels and stop; not investigating any further because we are afraid of what we might find. We label ourselves as an emotional eater and try different diet plans, we call our problem a sugar addiction or food addiction or we are insomniacs or we have anger problems, ect, ect, ect…
From a cognitive standpoint we know our behaviors ultimately DO NOT serve us but we keep doing them because it is easier, safer and not as scary as than the alternative. We hold onto the destructive behavior or addiction not because it empowers us but because without it, we feel like our world would fall to pieces. Life would be impossible; we would be raw, exposed, vulnerable and alone.
Knowing the why behind destructive behaviors is not exactly a fun game of detective, but it’s incredibly necessary if you ever want to get off the endless merry-go-round of self-destruction.
Imagine for a second what would happen if you finally did the thing you know would help, but never actually completely do. What would happen?
What if you left the destructive relationship?
What if you got help for alcohol abuse?
What if you stopped ignoring your hunger?
What if you forgave your enemy?
What if you had to feel all the hurt, all the shame and all the fear you know is waiting in that one terrifying moment?
What would happen?
Life would happen and you would be free to live it.