When You’re Feeling Stuck in Recovery

We hear frequently from people who have been diligently working hard in treatment program after treatment program, but for some reason, recovery just isn’t sticking. This is not uncommon.

Just some examples of issues that may throw a monkey wrench in the recovery process. People may have none of these, or a few. This list is meant to spark ideas, and is not exhaustive.

Please note that this list may be potentially triggering.

Relationship issues, un-processed grief

Trauma issues
A very frequent theme among both obese women and very emaciated women is a history of sexual trauma- particularly, sexual trauma during childhood. Many of these individuals had actually been “groomed” by abusers over the course of multiple years to believe that they don’t have the right to say “no” to advances from men. This grooming usually involved a series of punishments (do it or I’ll kill you) or guilt trips (don’t you love me?). The net result is that their ability to negotiate healthy bodily/interpersonal boundaries has been severely disrupted. This creates an impossible paradox where even the slightest request from a man leaves them feeling like: A. they can’t say no, and B. they don’t want to say yes.
Either unconsciously, or- often- consciously, becoming morbidly obese or emaciated was a means to render oneself sexually UNattractive to men, in an effort to prevent themselves from being presented with the impossible paradox that they don’t have the skills to negotiate through. While these individuals may want to improve their health and feel better, they often feel increasing anxiety as their body changes to a more “normal” state.
Since this is a subject that is intensely personal and often fraught with shame, they may never mention this to professionals who are just focusing on their weight.

Sexuality issues
I have lost count of the number of eating disordered people I have worked with, who relied on their eating disorder so they could avoid issues with their sexuality.
Many clients experience attraction to the opposite sex, but they are terrified of that attraction. They fear that pursuing their attraction to the opposite sex would result in rejection from their family unit or from their community. Engaging in disordered eating often results in loss of sexual function and desire. As long as they continue suppressing their sexual desire, they can minimize the anxiety of facing their sexual preference. As a side bonus, their family members will be less likely to ask them “why aren’t you married yet?”, or similar questions, if they are constantly physically ill and medically compromised.
These individuals will find it much easier to tackle issues with their eating habits if they are connected with a support system that can help them navigate through issues connected with their sexual identity.

Sensory processing issues
There is a great deal of new research in the eating disorder community that shows a connection between highly restrictive eating patterns and sensory processing issues. Many restrictive-type anorexics are actually on the autism/ Asperger’s spectrum. For the most part, these individuals suffer from an inability to filter out information from the outside world, so they frequently become overwhelmed. Many find that caloric restriction dulls their senses and sort of quiets the sensory overload.

Avoidance of Adulthood
Being sick often means that others step up to help out with daily activities and responsibilities. While this may absolutely be necessary, the transition from “supported” to non-sick-adulthood can be tricky.
This is frequently an issue for people who required significant therapeutic support during the time of transition from adolescence to adulthood. This is rarely a true desire to remain dependent on others. Rather it is often the result of a lack of confidence in one’s own abilities due to a lack of experience.

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