Last week I went to an amazing presentation held by the Lindner Center of Hope featuring a lecture by Dr. Chris Tuell entitled “The Addictive Brain and Co-occurring Disorders”. Although the lecture focused mainly on substance, gambling and internet addictions, Dr. Tuell brought up many points that, I believe, can be applied to eating disorder recovery as well as life in general.
Firstly, Dr. Tuell described addictions (and yes, eating disorders are addictions) as following a “Three C’s and a T” model:
C- Loss of Control
C-Continued use despite the negative consequences
I think treating eating disorders using this addiction model is very helpful for both those who suffer from the disease and those assisting him or her in recovery. Not only are eating disorders a loss of control in terms of thoughts and behaviors (contrary to what society believes), but they soon exercise control over your entire life; including parts of your life you thought were not in danger of being taken over by the eating disorder. These diseases are compulsions—you feel compelled to engage in thoughts and behaviors even though, consciously or subconsciously, you know they are irrational and unhealthy–continued in the face of negative consequences (and believe me, there are PLENTY of negative consequences and I have experienced many of them) and have many obsessive thoughts. Once both the sufferer and society view eating disorders as addictions rather than brief illnesses in the pursuit of vanity, we can get serious about getting the necessary help and treatment available to all that need it.
Dr. Tuell also related a story of when he participated in a blindfolded rope maze as part of an educational experience. Dr. Tuell and his fellow doctors attending the educational session, were blindfolded and told to find their way through a maze made from rope by walking through the maze holding on to the waist-high ropes to guide them—as they did not have the benefit of being able to see the path to the end of the maze. There were only two rules 1) you must keep the blindfold on at all times and 2) if you need help, raise your hand and we will help you. Dr. Tuell expressed his frustration when the maze facilitators would call out that another one of his colleagues made it through the maze while he was still desperately grabbing at ropes trying to find his way to the end of the maze. After twenty, then thirty, then forty minutes, Dr. Tuell’s hand when up and a facilitator came over to ask what he needed.
I’m sure you are thinking exactly what I was thinking at this point, “Ok, the good doctor was in a rope maze forever and finally gave up,” but you have probably also added, “and why is Rachel telling me about this now?” Well, simply put, Dr. Tuell’s blindfolded rope maze is very metaphoric of recovery. We go through this blindfolded rope maze of recovery without any clear objective other than to get to the end–which is, of course, recovery. We hear shouts of others as they get to the end, and use it as proof that we are hopeless and will never make it to the end. However, we continue working at finding our way; determined we will get to the end eventually. And even though we know we can get the help we need by asking for it, we are determined to “do it on our own”; after all asking for help is a sign of weakness, isn’t it (it’s not, by the way). Finally, fueled by frustration and self-hatred for not being able to make it to the end, you raise your hand and proclaim, “I need help!” You say it out loud, with pride in your voice and the security of knowing that you do not—and cannot—make it to the end alone. There is no shame in asking for help. If Dr. Tuell had not asked for help, he may still be trying to find his way out of the rope maze and would not have made it to the lecture at all. Asking for help is a strength that few people posses; it is a strength to acknowledge your need for help and find ways to go about getting what you need. I don’t know–and don’t care to know–where I would be had I not sought out both professional and personal help for my eating disorder. Ask for help. You are worth it.
The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace.