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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: Safety in Numbers

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Safety in Numbers

In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week...and in honor of all who are swimming around in any one of many painful feelings. I just want to put out a reminder that there is safety in numbers. In the right kind of numbers.

Between ten and twenty-four million, to be vaguely exact, and according to recent stats on eating disorders, Americans have an eating disorder. And many more skirt the diagnostic criteria and "just" have issues with weight, food, and body image.

So here's how it goes, lots of the time, for lots of women (men too, but mostly women). We feel a feeling, a difficult one, a disturbing one, lets even say, an out of control one. Anger, frustration, pain, resentment, hate, love, whatever. Just one, or a stew of them, that seem too difficult to bear. Or to bear alone. And we feel it somewhere deep inside. It starts to gurgle in some unknown location in our psyche and we are fairly certain that we don't want it, anymore than we would want to stand in front of an oncoming train. Unless we are that low, which does happen to some, that we would consider this, too.

And we turn to the numbers. For some, the run to the count is deeply about the belief that the number on the scale is the ultimate key to a safe and happy life. To controlled, painless, protected, guaranteed peaceful living. Or to revenge, containment, blissful forever thinness and satisfaction. Whatever it is, some are deeply beholden to idea that there is safety from all ills, from fat bodies to fat emotions, that relief is found in the numbers.

We do not want to go it alone. So what happens? We turn again and again to the numbers. The numbers on the bathroom scale. The number of calories in a bag of Oreos. Or in a whole day's worth of meals. Or in a ginormous binge. Or in a cucumber slice. Only three calories. Ah. Some women I know get on and off the scale up to forty times an hour. This is not only mind numbing, it's also aerobic. This is where safety is sought. It is craved. It is absolutely necessary.

Many escape into the endless task of calculating calories, consumed or burned. How many miles run, at what speed, to burn off what bagel parts in how many minutes. How many sit-ups to cancel out how much fat free fro yo. Okay, you get the picture.

Right idea, I think. Wrong numbers. Temporary safety. Of course the scope and problem, the pain and process of eating disorders is far greater than my musings in this post. But the point for now is this. There is safety in numbers. These numbers: One good friend. Two people who understand your pain. Twelve Steps. One good therapist. Five good support group members. One journal, with one good writing pen. One hundred (thousand or more) words spoken to someone who just listens. Ten things you are grateful for. Two arms around you tight.

Safety in numbers.

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