“Rape is not a recreational activity.”
The quote in the title comes from Ohio’s attorney general, Mike DeWine, and my new hero. He’s referring to the Steubenville horror where two athletes raped a 16 year old girl who was so drunk she didn’t know she was raped until she saw pictures and verbal descriptions in the social media posted by at least 40 partying teens who watched.
The Steubenville rape may not seem to relate to you, but it does. Eating disorders make you vulnerable to predators. You need to know this so you can take care of yourself. You may take months or years to recover from your eating disorder. But you can put protective structures into your life right now so you have a chance to live and not damage yourself further before you are in real recovery.
You know you obsess about your weight and the shape of your body. You know you have continual thoughts about food and calories. If you binge or purge or both you know that when you are caught in that activity you think of nothing else. You may or may not know that if you are starving yourself your mind doesn’t function clearly and you make bizarre decisions.
These symptoms push your mental focus into a thin channel. Your perspective is in a long tunnel of eating disorder thoughts and feelings. You can’t see through the walls of the tunnel. You just plunge ahead.
But just because you are oblivious to the world around you doesn’t mean you are invisible to others, including predators. The predators will take advantage of your oblivion, distorted thinking and selectively numbed emotions.
If you have an eating disorder you have feelings you don’t recognize or understand. You may feel afraid so much of the time that the feeling seems to be your normal state. That means that when protective fear signals come up, signals that inform you of real or potential danger, you don’t recognize them. You disregard them or minimize them. You let someone else talk you out of your desire to stop or leave. You believe your feelings signify either your superiority and that you can continue or your inferiority and that you must continue to prove yourself. Genuine fear signals that tell you to protect yourself can even seem to be exhilaration and a signal to move further into a dangerous scenario.
When you can’t recognize and respect your primitive and natural feelings that signal danger you are vulnerable to disaster.
So make a list of self-care behaviors and follow it as part of a regular routine, even if your rules seem silly in the moment. A lot of realistic thinking seems silly and irrelevant when you are caught in an eating disorder. So do some research and make your list with advice from responsible people who do not have eating disorders or are dependent on alcohol or drugs. In other words, make a list that is based on values of people who are healthy and know how to take care of themselves.
Here are a few items. What would you add?
- Make sure you know and trust anyone who will drive you in a car.
- Make sure trustworthy people in your life know where you are and who you are with.
- Get references before you let yourself be alone with new people.
- Best: don’t get drunk, high or otherwise mentally befuddled. If it does happen, be sure you are with a trusted person who is the designated sober person, and don’t wander off. Give that person the right to bring you home or call your family or the police if you are so out of it you insist on behaving in a dangerous way.
Remember the book and movie, Bambi? Remember the first time his mother takes him to the meadow? She tells him to be still and quiet. She looks and sniffs carefully, checking in all directions. When she decides it’s safe she gives him the all clear. Then he can leap and bound in the grass and flowers.
Check your surroundings or new surroundings you may enter. Predators are real. They are human. They may not even know they are predators. They may, as the boys in Steubenville exemplify, think and believe that taking advantage of a person who is out of her mind, is fun,. They may think and believe that raping, humiliating and degrading an oblivious person is recreation.
Eating disorders create selective oblivion. That’s what they are for. People with eating disorders need to block their awareness of something. Recovery work is about developing the strength and maturity to cope with what you can’t bear. So the given is that, if you have an eating disorder, you are accustomed to blocking your awareness. And that’s what makes you vulnerable to predators.
What’s on your self-care list to keep you safe?
Joanna Poppink, MFT, Los Angeles psychotherapist, author of Healing Your Hungry Heart: recovering from your eating disorder.