Avoiding the truth

Alongside the truism that knowledge is power lives the fact that ignorance is bliss. Especially when it comes to knowing the truth about ourselves.

I ran across a blog post that discussed why people avoid the truth about themselves. A recent study in the Review of General Psychology identified three main reasons (as distilled by the PsyBlog folks):

  1. It may demand a change in beliefs. Loads of evidence suggests people tend to seek information that confirms their beliefs rather than disproves them.
  2. It may require us to take undesired actions. Telling the doctor about those weird symptoms means you might have to undergo painful testing. Sometimes it seems like it's better not to know.
  3. It may cause unpleasant emotions.
I think this phenomenon really captures why it's so hard to begin recovery. You have to face the truth that you're sick, that you don't control your eating disorder, and that you're going to have to begin the very unpleasant process of actually stopping behaviors. It's a monumental task.

Recovery means accepting some very unpleasant truths, and it's not something I always feel up to. The problem is that ignoring the truth doesn't make it any less true.

Humans have a particular blind spot for identifying their own foibles. Remember, though, that it's our own cars that have blind spots, and not anyone else's.  We can avoid the truth by creating our own alternate universe. Most of the time, the differences are really subtle. We're not that late, at least, not very much, or at least not when it's really important.  Doesn't everyone have odd eating habits?  There are plenty of people who weigh less than me that are doing just fine.  But as the ED progresses, the alternate universe begins to look more and more like the Twilight Zone. Everyone else can eat this food without gaining weight, but I can't. Chap Stick might have calories, so I can't use it.  I can't stop exercising or I'll gain 20 pounds.

If we really stopped to ask ourselves about how normal our routines really were and what would happen if they suddenly changed, we would have to face the truth that our eating disorder was far more problematic than we would like to believe.  Add in a healthy dose of anosognosia (a literal inability to understand that we're ill), and our brains can spin a web of lies and half-truths for years.

Recovery means admitting that we've been living a lie. It means facing those fears of food and dissolving those routines and rituals that have kept our sanity intact.  It means entering a world of the unknown.

It's much easier to just avoid the truth, put our heads in the sand like ostriches and just ignore everything.

The truth catches up to us, eventually.  It dogs our steps.  It scares us senseless.

Here's the thing that truth doesn't tell you: facing it head-on and chin up isn't as scary as we think it will be.  It's unpleasant, but stripping the lies from our lives (the lies we tell others, yes, but also those lies we tell ourselves) gives us a chance to face life on its own terms. It shows us that we are much stronger than we think we are.


Rachel said...

thanks so much for posting this! i really needed to read that today.

Jessie said...

You're so right. How are you so good at putting things into words? I was never in denial I was anorexic, but I denied that I was sick. I denied it was a problem. After a hospitalization, a very frightening blood pressure loss, and being told I'm going to die soon, I guess I have to accept that it is. Your blog has helped me make the decision to help my doctors on with my recovery. I think I'm going to actually try to start to get better. It's scary, but if you can do it, maybe I can too.
I know it sucks a lot, but just keep trying, and you'll get there eventually Carrie.

Astra said...

Hi Carrie

Agree that denial ("I am just naturally skinny", "it's normal to not have a period for a while and to cup your pees in fours before eating them...") is a key part of anorexia - and facing truth is the first step out.

But - and I hope you don't mind me saying that - I guess that really getting out of it implies something more. Somehow we have to give up what ever the ed gives us - be it the sense of control, the feeling of being special, a refugee when something goes wrong, the identity or belonging to a community of fellow ed-s. It's kind of strange to think that something so destruktive is at the same time creative for us. Maybe that's why ao many relapse or stay sick in spite of having seen the truth. Are we really willing to not just live thorugh the anxiety of weight gain but also to give up the dowry of ed?

Renee said...

This post made me think of Ellyn Satter's nice definition of "normal" eating. I'm sure you know it, but for any of you who don't:

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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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Have any questions or comments about this blog? Feel free to email me at carrie@edbites.com

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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