By Sarah Rzemieniak
I was telling my recovery story on a podcast the other day when I remembered a metaphor I’d thought of to describe my eating disorder many years ago.
I remembered how this vision came to me of a bulldog that was inside me.
However, the bulldog was not my eating disorder.
The bulldog was my inner critic, my perfectionism, my ‘too hard on myself’, what I often called my inner taskmaster. And the eating disorder was the toy I could throw to the bulldog to give it something concrete to focus on rather than attacking me. (Of course, I don’t have anything against bulldogs! But for some reason this was the image that came to me then).
Before my eating disorder I felt like this inner critic, this inner unforgiving taskmaster, would attack me for every little thing I did. It was so exhausting, and so disheartening, trying to live in such a way as to never give him reason to attack me - always vigilant against mistakes, always having to give everything 110%.
The eating disorder, in all of its pain, exhaustion and isolation, at least was something concrete that could reliably distract the dog. I knew the rules, I knew what to do, and yes the rules might keep escalating but they were predictable and the dog would be distracted from attacking who I was as a person, as long as I got my eating disorder totally right.
It was extremely exhausting though, and there was no room for error.
One slip-up with the eating disorder and the dog would be on me.
But at least I knew what to do to get him off my back again, be the most disciplined, have the most willpower, be smaller, exercise more.
But it came to me one day.
I was spending so much mental, physical and emotional time and energy dedicated to distracting the dog, but it wasn’t getting me anywhere in the long run. I had to sustain it indefinitely, the dog was never going to get softer on his own, I would never be free from having to distract him or from bearing the brunt of his attacks on me.
And I gradually started to realize that the only way I could ever be really free from how bad my inner critic could make me feel, how cruel my inner taskmaster was to me, was to begin putting energy not in distracting it with how ‘disciplined’ and ‘rule-abiding’ I was, but in confronting it and softening it.
My new approach did not stop my eating behaviors right then and there. Recovery took time and it was definitely not a linear journey.
But I began devoting more and more time and energy to things that I believed would help me to soften that inner critic, so that it would no longer be so painful to try to give up the eating disorder.
Before I took this approach, whenever I would try to recover, yes I would have some relief from my eating disorder behaviors that were making me miserable, but having to face my inner bulldog’s wrath towards me as a person often felt even worse. It made the eating disorder seem easier than the shame and hate I felt for myself without it, and so I returned to it over and over.
But turning my attention to softening the inner critic bulldog itself - now I finally began to see a light at the end of the tunnel of these constant behaviors…. Challenging my eating disorder began to feel less painful and scary, because the dog wasn’t as ferocious as he used to be.
I began meditating, and this helped me to connect with a deeper, wiser, more loving part of myself, that had always been there but had just been buried under all of my fear and self doubt.
I began reading self-help books that spoke to me, mainly in the areas of self-compassion, inner critic work, spirituality, and other topics I wanted to develop in as a whole person.
And slowly, I started building a foundation on which to connect with a deeper part of myself, and on which to value myself more unconditionally so that even when my inner critic would attack me, I had a loving part of me that could comfort me and gently but strongly talk back to it.
I gradually began to develop a sense of myself that was greater and more solid than my achievements or eating disorder.
And with time and effort of putting my attention on these things, the bulldog got softer and softer, and the eating disorder behaviors and rules felt more and more unnecessary.
Of course, challenging them and the recovery process was still difficult, but I began to strengthen a self-compassionate, wise, loving side of me who could meet my fear and pain in place of my inner bulldog.… and this made such a difference.
The Eating Disorder Center is a premier outpatient eating disorder therapy center founded by Jennifer Rollin. We specialize in helping teens and adults struggling with anorexia, binge eating disorder, bulimia, OSFED, and body image issues. We also offer therapy for obsessive compulsive disorder. We provide eating disorder therapy in Rockville, MD, easily accessible to individuals in Potomac, North Potomac, Bethesda, Olney, Silver Spring, Germantown, and Washington D.C. We provide eating disorder recovery coaching via Zoom to people worldwide. Connect with us through our website at www.theeatingdisordercenter.com
The Eating Disorder Center
We are a premier outpatient eating disorder therapy center in Rockville, Maryland.