Your Greater Good

I've heard talk of the greater good plenty before. People donate money for the greater good. They "take one for the team." And so on. The idea is that a small, personal sacrifice right now will yield greater benefits in the future.

I'm pretty talented at delayed gratification--in fact, I'm pretty sure it's the only real way I know how to gratify myself. Outside of the fact that I've managed to equate denial with happiness, I really get the idea of the greater good. I get how it works, and I like the idea. Because it isn't all about me.

To some extent, I thought the eating disorder was operating on the plane of the greater good. I was denying myself something now (food, rest, free time), for a tremendous payout later (feeling like I was good enough). The eating disorder really didn't work like that, as my self-denial was really an attempt to nullify the anxiety I felt about needing anything. The end goal was subsumed in the here and now minutiae of anorexia, the calorie counting, the tallying of sit-ups and push-ups, the Holy Grail Quest for calorie-free food.

The writer of an OCD blog, titled "Beyond the Doubt," used the idea of the greater good in his own recovery from OCD, and has a developed website called Your Greater Good. The idea is that the OCD rituals feel good right now. They make the anxiety better, and are classified as a "good" choice. However, in the long run, the obsessions and compulsions only make you feel worse. They don't free you from what you fear; instead, they tether you to it even more strongly than before. This makes engaging in OCD behaviors not such a "good" choice. The idea, then, is to find something of greater good than your rituals, something that can provide perspective and motivation to allow you to make the more difficult decision to resist the anxiety.

I've found this idea to be tremendously helpful to me in my own recovery. I enjoy the advocacy work that I do, and it's not about making the eating disorder "worth it." It's about making the pain of recovery worth it. Much of the time, my greater good has nothing to do with eating disorders. It might be the opportunity to travel. It might encompass being there for a friend. A huge motivator for me is that I promised Aria I would never, ever leave her again. That keeps me going when few other things can.

So what's your greater good? How can you use it to keep moving forward in recovery?

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Jessie said...

I really like this concept--it makes tons of sense to me and it's a really good way for me to try and reframe my thinking. I too am pretty much the master of delayed gratification and this gives me a way to put some kind of perspective on what I see as "failure" every time I eat. Maybe it's not the most gratifying thing in the short run to eat but it will pay off in the long run. Or so I keep telling myself

Cathy said...

To draw parallels with OCD is very relevant. Through therapy I have learnt that my anorexia nervosa is driven very much driven by OCD. I had OCD pre-anorexia - actually right from being a very small child. I always had anxiety around food/eating. The behaviours of my anorexia nervosa, which started at age 11, were simply an extension or a replacement of previous OCD rituals.

The fear of breaking OCD/anorexia rituals is huge, but what I have found is that that initial, huge anxiety does diminish over time. In that way I have been able to alter my eating rituals sufficiently to gain 32 pounds from a BMI of 13.5.

My psychiatrist has often told me that we can recover from anorexia nervosa if we find something to take its place - i.e. something that works 'equally well'. I now have 'replacement rituals' and am aiming to find the deeper meaning of life...

I love your blog Carrie....



Anonymous said...

Hi! It is so funny because I read your blog ALL the time and my main problem is OCD. I am in touch with Jeff Bell who wrote that article and he is amazing. His new book, "When in Doubt Make Belief" comes out October 1st and I cannot wait to read it. I love his insight and advice into the crazy world of OCD. Your blog is amazing and always provides such great information :o) Lizzy

Kim said...

I use this concept quite a bit in my recovery. I've come to see much of my anorexia as very related to OCD. I've learned that many of the rules and rituals feel good in the moment, but they imprison me over time. I want to be free so I can be a good friend and wife. I want to be free so I can love my kitties fully. I want to be free so I can write what I want to write, without judgment or fear. I want to be free so I can travel, hike without thought of calories, enjoy the money I make. Thinking of motivators is what keeps me going.
Thanks for this!

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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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