Sometimes anorexia or bulimia is seen as a form of self harm and that is true as the eating disorder can often serve as a form of self punishment. The physical and mental side effects of restriction are painful and miserable. With food restriction comes life restriction and in turn isolation and misery. Eating disorders can and do cause harm. But something which may be hard for sufferers to accept is that the eating disorder serves a purpose. As much as restriction or binging and purging hurts it also numbs and can feel self soothing. It nulls emotions such as fear,hopelessness, anxiety e.t.c.
When engaged in an eating disorder the brain is so overwhelmed and consumed buy thoughts of food, binging,restrction,numbers e.t.c there is little room for emotions. And therefore a person may feel empty and emotionless. For someone who had previously felt very depressed or anxious the numbness can feel like a relief. Anorexia provides both self harm and self protection. It becomes like a life anchor. It weighs you down but at the same time it keeps you grounded. Recovery may therefore seem counterintuitive; “How can I leave something behind that is so central to my life?” “How will I survive without it?”
One of the scariest parts of recovery I think is not even the weight gain but the mood swings you may experience. Its starting to feel again. Not just feeling numb which may have become the norm but feeling a full range of emotions from happiness and sheer joy to sadness, frustration and anger. Its scary to face life without the safety blanket of the eating disorder. The reality is that life with an eating disorder is more an existence than a fulfilling life. You do not need an eating disorder to get through life. The eating disorder is what is stopping you from living life. Although you may not believe it there is strength in you to fight for full recovery.
There isn’t one single reason why some people may self harm and others don’t. People may self harm due to a variety of reasons such as low self esteem, difficulty coping with intense emotions,feelings of rejection, domestic violence, pressures at work, relationship problems e.t.c
From my experience self harm can be used sometimes as a way to replace eating disorder behaviours.There is a similarity between the anxiety relief provided by binging/purging and cutting. Binge purge behaviours are often used to get rid of feelings of anxiety, sadness and worthlessness.When giving up an eating disorder it can feel like you are losing control and giving up a safety net, it can feel like self harm gives back that feeling of control. When feelings of self-hatred, guilt,unhapiness,depression build up over time it can feel like self harm or binging/purging is the only effective way to get rid of them. I would often see self harm as the lesser evil. Cutting has also been shown to release endorphins which provides a similar “high” that a person may experience during a binge episode.
At times self harm can feel like a form of rebellion. Although most of the time I wanted to recover from an eating disorder at times it felt like I didn’t actually want to gain the weight and believed I deserved to suffer with an ED but continued with recovery due to feeling guilt over the upset the eating disorder caused those around me.When you feel pressure to recover and gain weight it can feel like self harm is something you can use to rebel and continue to harm your body without it affecting others in the way the eating disorder did.It can feel like its something that is in your control.
In recovery its hard not to go from one negative coping mechanism to another. My goal for the rest of this year and onwards is to continue to work on positive coping mechanisms. I’ve jumped from restriction to binging and purging to self harm the past few years but I have faith that there is a way of living without self destruction and full recovery is possible.I think the reason its so easy to go back to eating disorder behaviours or self harm is because you know they will work to relive your anxiety/negative emotions in a way that colouring,exercise, meditation e.t.c may initially not.That’s why you have to keep working on finding non self destructive methods of coping and have faith that they too in time will work just as well. At first colouring may not provide the anxiety relief purging does but overtime your brain will readjust to the new way of coping and it will be effective. You need to have some faith, belief and perseverance.