Anger and Anorexia
It took an eating disorder to finally teach me how to get angry.
Many people with eating disorders are like me in that they feel reluctant — even downright refuse — to express anger. This is by and large a learned behavior.
I grew up in a home where anger was like the steam in a pressure cooker: we kept the lid on until it burst and sprayed boiling liquid everywhere. Consequently, the message I internalized was twofold: Anger is loud, unpredictable, and dangerous; and negative emotions should be concealed.
But if you’ve ever tried bottling your emotions, then you know it doesn’t work for long. Emotions find a way to declare themselves, whether they take the form of a spectacular blast of energy, like the exploding pressure cooker, or they creep up in disguise — as an eating disorder, for instance.
By the time I started eating disorder treatment in December 2013 I had been escaping into anorexic numbness for so long that I’d nearly stopped feeling entirely. I insisted I wasn’t angry or depressed about anything — my life is perfect aside from my compulsive desire to lose unhealthy amounts of weight. However, once I began to eat normally, restoring the energy my starving mind and body needed, the emotions declared themselves. And this time, I couldn’t use my eating disorder to hide from them.
Depression and anxiety were the first to arrive (although these were hardly strangers). Fear followed closely behind, bringing shame along with it. And then anger came. It appeared at first in flickers, like the sparks from a lighter running low on butane. But because I had become expert in quelling my anger, I didn’t know what to do with it. So I put the lid back on, settling instead to deal with the other ravenous emotions.
After a month of toiling through a day program, resisting weight gain at every step, my team told me that 25 hours per week just wasn’t going to cut it. If I was going to kick this disorder, then I needed 24/7 care. I was terrified, but desperate. So, at 5 a.m. on a frigid January morning, my fiancé Luke and I — four months from our wedding — rented a car and traveled from New York City to Philadelphia, where I would spend the next 40 days slowly and painfully freeing myself from anorexia.
Luke made the two-hour drive every weekend to visit. We assembled our wedding invitations in the day room. Each week he brought updates about the florist’s proposals or describing the jewelry my bridesmaids had selected.