by Becky L. Jackson

I want to share with you some of my concepts about how codependency and eating disorder issues can become enmeshed during our childhood, and how that enmeshment can stunt our recovery from our eating disorder.

When we've used our eating disorder to adapt in a dysfunctional environment, our eating disorder gets intertwined with our codependency issues. If we have used our eating disorder compulsion and obsessions for protection, to set boundaries and/or to avoid feelings, beginning physical recovery from our eating disorder can trigger free-floating fear and terror and/or grief and loss. We will experience the loss of the “tool” that we have unconsciously viewed as beneficial--our eating disorder!

When this happens, instead of abstinence offering us more and more emotional and spiritual serenity, acquiring an average size body and/or being relieved of our obsessions can create more and more turmoil and confusion. We don'tfully understand why we begin to “play” with our food quantity and quality, again, why we put weight back on or why, with all our knowledge about our disease and the recovery, we are seduced back into obsessive thinking,emotional relapse and sometimes physical relapse.

“Inner family” work can begin to separate our codependency issues from our eating disorder issues. It can make recovery clearer and simpler. When you know “who” it is that used the extra weight for protection, you can begin to listen to that historical, younger self share the feelings and experiencesthat led to the dire need for physical and/or sexual safety. When you know which past self it was that felt safer obsessively focusing on food or body image rather than acknowledging the trauma or chaos around them, you can begin to discuss with them the memories and experiences that helped create a “solution” that has now become a major block to full recovery.

There are many books and workshops now available that offer valuable information about our inner child, how to become acquainted with that wonderful child and how to heal past experiences, memories and feelings. They help guide us to healthy self-parenting.

I suggest beginning some visualization work that includes various past selves, not just the magical and wounded inner child. Find the essence (and maybe a few photos) of yourself--of several younger “yous,” usually as a very young child (under three), maybe a middle-age child (six to eleven), and always include at least one teenager (twelve to 18). Sometimes a pre-puberty child and middle teen will both have powerful information for you. If you're 30 years old, you probably have a couple of past selves in their twenties that hold memories and experiences that need reevaluating and reintegrating. And if you're 50 years old . . . well, you get the idea.

Depending on your individual history, amend and alter my visualization ideas to fit your needs.

A beginning visualization that often sets the stage for getting acquainted with “who is it that needs to talk,” is to create a safe setting in your minds eye. Visualize a room with warm lighting and comfortable things to sit on. Place yourself in the center of a circle and invite your inner family members in to make up the surrounding circle. The goals of this beginning visualization are:

  • acknowledgement and awareness of the different selves as your inner family
  • to communicate your willingness to take the lead in learning new ways to set safe emotional, intellectual, physical and sexual boundaries
  • to express your commitment to love and care for them in healthy ways

As you use this beginning meditation over and over, always try to communicate the essence of these points. After regular “meetings” with your newly found inner family, the visualization usually takes on a very creative element. Your inner family will start to initiate communication with you. The inner selvesbegin to trust your commitment to them. They are aware of your recovery footwork and they've gotten to know and bond with each other.

One of them might tell you how they used the compulsion and the extra weight to avoid feeling small and unprotected. Another self might tell you how they obsessively focused on food and body image to avoid experiencing feelings offailure and disappointment. These inner selves hold valuable information that can be the key to inner healing, a powerful healing.

I encourage you to honor their feelings and experiences by just listening, not judging or shaming. Tell them about O.A. and Co.D.A.’s 12-Step recovery programs. Tell them about your new Higher Power, about the God of your understanding. Gently invite them to believe it's possible to let go of all the eating disorder obsessions, that it's OK to trust a Higher Power and you to keep them safe. Tell them about your commitment to live by the spiritual principles expressed in the 12 Steps. Ask them to join you in your recovery journey.

Our eating disorder will tell us to eat over anything, everything and nothing, so a decision to abstain from compulsive overeating, no matter what, will be absolutely necessary while traveling this path. If we are to begin to listen to the small inner voices that know the old ways and old beliefs bring more pain than comfort, we must stop shoving food down their throats to quiet them, we must not starve them to experience feelings of power, and we must not repeat the shaming and rejecting that they've experienced in the past.

There is a way to stop the inner turmoil--abstain a day at a time, no matter what, and seek the tools to live the spiritual principles at an inner level as well as an outer level.