Advice for the avoidant

I was watching reruns of House the other day, when this little snippet of dialogue caught my attention:

Emotionally, you may be you want to run away. But in my experience, if you're staring at a pitbull in some guy's backyard, you're better off staying right where you are. Face the problem. That way, it can't bite you in the ass.

I generally try to run away from my problems.  You could look at my exercise issues as a literal attempt at that.  I've been known to deal with upticks in ED thoughts and behaviors by simply hoping they'll go away.  They didn't.  The hilarious part is that is that is really shocks me when that doesn't work.

The quote really reminded me of what recovery is about: learning how to face those pitbulls head-on. The ED allowed me to mentally run away from all of the crap in my life that I just didn't want to deal with.  Much of it was related to anxiety and depression, but plenty of it was just life.  I kept running away and kept getting bit in the ass.  My solution wasn't to turn around and face it, but to try and run even faster.

Again, it didn't work.  Again, I was shocked.

Avoidance is (in my opinion) one of the key ways an ED "works" in our lives.  By channeling all of our energies into our disorder, life starts to melt away.  Everything becomes about finding food or avoiding food or throwing up that food, and the other stresses seem less...stressful.  Because they're secondary.  All of this other crap in our lives are the pitbulls in the quote.  We run away.  They bite us in the ass.  The more we run, the bigger their teeth get.

Not to mention that the ED itself creates its own pitbulls.  I found myself falling further and further into the ED in order to avoid the pile of crap that the ED itself was creating.  It seemed much easier to avoid it with ED behaviors than it did to face the mess of my life and start cleaning up.

Avoidance of anxiety-provoking things brings short-term relief because we're avoiding the anxiety.  Duh.  But the anxiety continues to build and the urge to avoid grows higher and higher.  Facing the anxiety (returning that phone call, accepting your role in a negative situation, eating those scary foods) is harder, short-term.  I also know that I'll feel better knowing I've tackled whatever it is, and not having the task sitting over my head.

One of the hardest parts of recovery is stepping away from the running away.  Between the anorexia and the OCD, I don't remember a time when I didn't avoid life with any number of rituals and avoidance techniques.  So it's all very new to me.  And it's hard.  Really hard.  Avoidance is engrained, and so are the fears of dealing with real-life stuff.  The irony is that, anxiety aside, I'm no scaredy cat.  I like a challenge.  So there's nothing else to say but: bring it.


hm said...

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." (Albert Einstein)

I think it's about neural pathways that turn into deep grooves. We travel the same route in our heads over and over and over simply b/c that's where the wheels settle when we get in the wagon.

The trick then is to have a familiar feeling or urge, and then force the wheels onto a different path. Create new neural pathways. Not an easy task and definitely not a comfortable one.

Anonymous said...

i thank the pitbulls for biting my running self. without them sometimes i wouldn't know i was going the wrong freaking way.

1979 Ford Fairmont AC Compressor said...

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Anonymous said...

During treatment my T had me make an "avoidance" list. Ironically the first thing I did was avoid making the list. :) We worked head on with all the items on the list. It was tough work at first. Eventually though it has gotten better. Avoidance is now one of those precursor symptoms of relapse. Catching that before I really tumble is key.

Kellie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I was diagnosed with OCD before I developed anorexia. It is so interesting to me how both seem to go hand in hand. I am at the point in recovery where the real work begins. I am not dangerously thin (still waiting on my period and my heart rate to go up), but now I have to face issues head on. Over-exercise, scary foods, rest..all issues I am going to have to work on.

Tracey said...

So true. Anorexia is a powerful, powerful defense mechanism. My recent blog post might interest you?

Beth said...

This is one of my favorite House quotes. I also just blogged on a similar subject using another House quote on my new blog:

The quote I used was “There’s something freeing about being a loser, isn’t there?…You got three choices in life: be good, get good or give up. You’ve gone for column D; why? The simple answer is: if you don’t try, you can’t fail.”

The ED can as a way to avoid things, and also as a scapegoat, as in "well, it's ok I didn't get x,y or z done because I spent that time at the gym." Without the ED, there is a lot of crap that you really have to face. Having the ED there as a safety net kind of gives you the "freedom" to not face those problems head on. And as House says, if you don't try, then you can't fail. Of course, as you said, the ED creates even more stress, creating this vicious cycle of stress/anxiety - behaviors - more stress/anxiety - more behaviors.

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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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