Seeing the light, feeling the heat

"People don't change when the see the light; they change when they feel the heat."
--David Brooks, NY Times editorial

During many of my years of therapy, I looked for the light. The light at the end of the tunnel, the light from the bulb that would pop on once I figured out why I wasn't eating. Mostly what I found was "light" foods- light on calories, fat, nutrition, and taste. And the light at the end of the tunnel became more of the light of an oncoming train.

Maybe, I thought, I'm just not looking hard enough. Or in the right places. So I kept on searching for...whatever it was.

Eventually, I was told I would starve to death before I saw the light, and was hospitalized. And send to treatment. Again and again and again. I felt the heat of the light as I was told eat or get a feeding tube- and so I ate. Only to fall back into old habits upon discharge.

So it was back to looking for the light.

I was told I needed to suffer the consequence of my choices. These consequences might, after all, help me see the light. Or at least start feeling the heat.

Except it was like applying heat to the legs of a paraplegic: if there aren't functioning nerves, you aren't going to feel any pain.


A new treatment team helped me realize that I didn't need to feel the heat, but the eating disorder did. Ed felt the heat in the hospital and in treatment centers where there was a subtle (or not) threat to eat or else. And when I started eating at home, my parents helped Ed feel the heat.

I still don't know if I've seen the light. Obviously, I have to take care of myself and my recovery. There's no getting around that. Yet now I'm the one keeping anorexia under the broiler, not my treatment team or my parents (though they provide admirable backup). They only make sure that I have the temperature on high enough.

So, Ed? If you can't stand the heat, you really should get out of the kitchen.

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Anonymous said...

Maybe you have to reconsider what "the light" is ... that you may have had one idea of what that was/would be/be like, but it turns out that your light is your life right now ... the one you're living b/c you're not dying from an eating disorder.

Maybe the enlightenment is in that alone and we give too much power to some holy sense of insight and what-it-all-means. Perfectionism sets you up for a tidy light at the end of the tunnel, and starvation distorts reality and expectation. "Heat" is likely day-to-day life in all its unsexy, complex, untidy incarnations ... and dealing with it, living it without symptoms is more of a feet-to-the-fire challenge than defying the eating disorder itself. In fact, living "the heat" *is* defying ED.

I hope you can give yourself full credit for staying in the kitchen.

Anonymous said...

Although not to the same degree I was also looking for the light. One day I just hoped I would wake up and 'get it'. I think life is never that simple and it takes a lot of hard work and challenging yourself. It sounds like your doing that and it is admirable.

Carrie Arnold said...


You could be very right. I think the "light" (where light equals the better-ness of my present life, etc) is what helps keep me in recovery (along with the persistant heat on Ed). But it wasn't enough to change, because I couldn't see or believe in anything better than a life with anorexia at that point.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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