"A soteria is the positive analogue of a phobia. A phobia is an irrational fear of some object, whereas a soteria is an irrational attraction to some other object. In popular US culture, the most famous soteria is Linus's blanket, but I bet that most of us have our own examples, even if we don't have a label for them."

So writes psychologist Christopher Peterson in his blog The Good Life. I've written before about how many aspects of an eating disorder seem like a phobia, but there are also many aspects of an eating disorder that seem like a soteria--albeit a sick, twisted, messed-up one.

Let me explain a bit. I've often thought of my eating disorder as my metaphorical security blanket. No matter how bad the world got, I could always cuddle up with my blankie and make everything okay. Instead of swaddling myself in fleece, I swaddled myself in starvation, exercise, bones, and three layers of hoodies. In a sense, the AN protected me from having to deal with life because the starvation and obsession blunted the sadness and anxiety I so often felt. As long as I was losing weight, or eating a prescribed food plan, or exercising, then nothing else mattered. This happened biochemically, of course, but it also happened in a more nebulous, existential sense. I organized my life around the rules of anorexia.

In a sense, I suppose my OCD rituals and compulsions were also like a soteria. They made the world seem okay. They provided me with a sense, however fragile and fleeting, that I could handle things.

That being said, neither the eating disorder nor the OCD were really a soteria because they weren't a positive analogue to anything. I've never really had lucky socks or a very special token. Outside of the brain disease induced superstitions, I am much more on the dully rational side. And yet I crave the comfort and security of something, of...well, I don't know what. I have a few possessions with an unusual level of attachment (my crochet hooks, my journal, several stuffed animals) that I suppose form sort of what a soteria is. But I can't think of anything concrete, nothing that would counteract the hold of the eating disorder.

I don't know- maybe I don't need something specifically concrete. I would almost prefer something to do, a drive or passion that would overpower the continuing allure of ED thoughts and behaviors, rather than an inanimate object. I'd like to have something, although I'm not sure deliberately looking for a so-called "security blanket" will be the same as just becoming attached to some tatty blanket.

Do you have a soteria? How did you find it?

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Sarah said...

Wow a lot of thoughts come to mind about this post. In a way, my ED would be a positive analogue of a phobia. Doing my best to stay thin by the way I eat to push away the fear of being fat, out of control, etc. I feel safe and protected from my fears in life generally. My complete attraction though, which is irrational, of eating only pure foods, obsessing over my body in the mirror, and constantly thinking of ways to 'perfect' myself. But naturally these thoughts become out of control and the phobia and soteria essentially mesh together and I feel like a nutter. And here I am.

Telstaar said...

I do :)

I have two soft toys. One that I have had since I was born and one that I was given about 4 years ago when I was very unwell and struggling a lot. I still cuddle them a lot (at 28 years of age) and if there was a fire, they are the first thing I would save!

I guess I didn't really find them, they found me. To me they are almost "human" and I talk to them and stuff. I know they're not but there is something comforting about things that are soft and cuddly and "listen" :)

Maybe its not completely irrational... but I think given how important they are in my life, I think they do really border on being a soteria!


mariposai said...

Last year I did some creative writing about my eating disorder. Here is part of it:

Anorexia is a blanket. A warm cosy sheet in which I immerse myself, my ever freezing body comforted by the nourishing heat it generates. The colder it gets, the more I embrace the blanket, wrapping it ever tighter, covering more and more of myself, until it stifles me, choking away the life and the essence with its hypnotic squeezing. It becomes a snake that charms me with dazzling eyes and flickering tongue, the repetitive predictable patterns it weaves entrancing and soothing my agitated soul. No more need to think, only exist and receive instruction in a realm of ever present certainty.

What makes me attempt to break free from this wily serpent I often wonder. Is it the vice like grip that strangles eventually, or is it simply outsiders seeing my plight and anxious to rescue me? But I don’t want to be rescued I drone in monotone vocals, losing myself in the trance, too tired to fight. Arms are pulling me, grabbing at the beast wrapped around me, trying to separate the two of us, the closest of friends. They want to leave me naked and exposed, just as I was in the beginning away from the close maternal security of the womb that I still crave. The cold outside world bites hard at my dry cracked skin, and judges harshly my malnourished form. Without the hazy mist of anorexia to conceal me I feel out of place, at risk, unable to move independently or think for myself. The world is no longer a soft and fuzzy dream, but a loud cacophony of pain and intensity. It hits me like a wall of water, drenching me in its freezing salty reality, and still I reach for my towel, my crutch, my blanket, my anorexia to dry and warm me once again.

Sometimes I peep through the cracks in my blanket cage, scared by sudden flashes of light and bursts of colour, amazed by the free people as they live their lives so unprotected, so lightly dressed and clear minded in their pursuit of real things, real goals, reality. I scorn reality, or is it because anorexia tells me? I no longer know my own mind. Prefer to live in a make believe fantasy that I control, where I make the rules...or is it anorexia who governs my kingdom? Sometimes it feels like I’m the sovereign, the holy queen, but at other times I’m just the servant, rushing to obey a faceless master.

Sarah x

Cathy (UK) said...

Fantastic post as usual Carrie :) I so often 'click' with your words... In particular, you wrote "In a sense, the AN protected me from having to deal with life because the starvation and obsession blunted the sadness and anxiety I so often felt." DITTO!

Although I have come to rely much less upon my anorexia as a 'crutch' over the last few years, I don't think I have found a single soteria as yet. I thought I had found one in my early 20s (I am now 44 - eek..) - when I fell in love, for the first time. But I somehow 'defaulted' back to my exercise and food rituals, which drove him away.

I guess the best soteria is/are my 3 close friends. They have stood by me through my recovery and been willing to put up with my many quirks. I couldn't have recovered to the level I have done without them.

And then there are my two gorgeous cats... I rescued them as kittens in April 2007, when I was in a very tenuous stage of weight recovery. They were so little and helpless that they diverted my attention away from me and my woes. These little creatures depended upon me for their lives, and so I HAD to eat. They have also brought me immense pleasure, pride and love.

Libby said...

Hmm... I've have a few pieces of jewelry that I think would qualify. They've changed over time. In high school it was this bead that I wore on a string ALL the time. Then for a while it was an amethyst ring. Then it was my "hope" necklace... which I still wear sometimes. Not sure if I've got a new one lately or not...

prophase1 said...

I have nine younger siblings who have always been my soteria, especially the toddlers. Even now that I'm grown and moved out, I still make random visists back home when I feel I need a comforting escape. Nothing is more consoling than cuddling up on the couch with a three year old. :-)

Katie said...

I felt similarly about my anorexia. I never felt that the idea of learning to love yourself in recovery and the rest of, stuff :P applied to me because I saw my eating disorder as comforting and protective. Trying to fight it made me anxious and unstable, so why would I do that to myself? I was terrified of gaining weight, but I saw it as a rational fear rather than a phobia. I was consciously aware of how anorexia affected my brain and that was why I clung to the illness. It made me numb and calm, made everything easier to cope with. I still don't know if I could classify my fear of weight gain as a phobia because it wasn't the weight or the food I was scared of, I was scared of going crazy, and since I had been hospitalised for a co-morbid mood disorder previously there was a definite possibility that without the anorexia, my mood would become unstable again. It wasn't entirely irrational.

It WAS overblown though. So far I have been in recovery for ten months and I have yet to lose my mind ;) I think the turning point for me came when I suddenly realised that I could live with my anorexia for decades and nobody would try to interfere. I'd already had it for 13 years, but the idea of getting to 40 or 50 and being a chronic patient still (it's easy to maintain a BMI down to 14 in the UK without being hospitalised), with no career or social life...that just filled me with horror. I didn't even resent or hate being in recovery and gaining weight this time around because I started to see the anorexia as the enemy, rather than being terrified of being healthy. It wasn't the health problems or the risk of death or the threat of hospitalisation that really swayed it for me, it was the idea of not dying, of living like that for the rest of my life. No thanks ;)

Cammy said...

Like others have already said, this definitely fits with my experience as well. Anorexia was like a (pseudo)safe zone that I could always retreat into when other things were not going well, were out of my control, or if I was just preemptively assuming that things wouldn't go well.

As for other soterias....does coffee count? Even without the caffeine?

Megs said...

Carrie, this is such a great post! For me my soteria is medical school. I'm in my 2nd year and this has been my lifeline, my anchor so I won't be washed away by the ED. My dream of going to medical school has been the only thing that I have been willing to set down the ED behaviors for a day or an afternoon or moment. Now that I am here and still struggling w/ my ED I wonder if medicine will be enough to keep me anchored. But at the end of the day, I really do love medicine, the human body and it's ability to adapt and heal.

A:) said...

I can relate to a soteria being my ED -- It definately was a form of comfort when I was so anxious about going away to university for the first time. I had gotten out of treatment in March 2008, only to relapse before September when I went away to school. I was sure that if I had my ED NONE of that fear and uncertainty that was school, marks, grades, living in a new place, socializing etc. would touch me. I would be invulnerable and therefore safe.

Interestingly enough, once I GOT to school I realized I was in danger of having to drop out. During our frosh week everyone was talking about the excitement of starting classes and midterms, etc and I was acutely aware that I had an inpatient assessment coming up in a few days. . .

Now, in second year university, school has become my soteria. It is school that keeps me safe from my ED and keeps me going. It gives me a reason and a purpose not to be actively anorexic as I try to climb out of this hole. I love learning and I realize I cannot do academically well and enjoy my classes if I am ill.

At the moment, the attraction of the soteria (school) outweights the fear of the phobia (getting fat). I hope it lasts.


Jessie said...

This is actually something I've been feeling a lot lately in trying to come to terms with where I am in recovery. For me, anorexia was a soteria. It made me feel safe. It was something I could always rely on. And there are times that I miss it. I miss having something that I know I can always fall back on. I miss the certainty that it gave me.

Kim said...

I've definitely experienced anorexia as "soteria." There is comfort and security in the routines and rules and rituals. I think finding something else alluring is a pretty big part of recovery. I used to feel this way about fiction; I'm still re-finding my passion for that.

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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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