It’s hard to live in an average body when average won’t do in a thin society.
Because of the fact that this condition is often mistakenly viewed as a teenage girl’s problem, it can be extremely difficult for male sufferers to be open about their illness and to look for help. The stigma attached to this condition is greater for men and can be a barrier to finding help and understanding. We need to create more awareness and understanding about the extent of this problem in the male population. We need to develop a safe environment for men to feel free about expressing the way they feel. Men with Eating Distress are extremely sensitive and emotional people and these two qualities are not yet sufficiently recognised and accepted.
The Smoke Monster
There’s something that happened for me that really changed my life and the course of my recovery and it was a realisation about the nature of the “Condition”. I know you might believe that the condition is your enemy and is something that you should battle against. But a huge paradigm shift came for me when I realised that the condition was actually a protector, someone who’s job it was to protect me from what lies beneath and what was really driving the behaviour. For years I battled and fought and hated the condition. It was like a brick wall, the harder I bashed up against it the stronger it seemed to hit back. And while I never gave up or thought for one second I wouldn’t recover, it was still something that threw me into a state of despair and frustration. I would literally say things to it like, you’re never gonna win, you’re never gonna beat me condition so you might as well give in now. Or, I don’t care how many times you knock me down I’ll keep getting back up. And that all sounds very inspirational but really the whole time, I wasn’t fighting with some thing that was trying to destroy me, I was fighting with the thing that was trying to keep me safe. I know you might read that and be annoyed at me for saying as much, or you might believe that this is something that has invaded your life and it needs to be battled with and overcome. And I get that because that’s the way I felt about it for a long time and if someone had told me it was actually something that was there to protect me………I would’ve at the very least ignored such a statement……..and maybe told that person to go f… themselves. And that’s ok, you can tell me to f… off, I’m ok with that. But just in case there’s something inside of you that feels like this is something worth looking at, then don’t feel afraid to take a step back and see things from a different perspective.
For me I just got to the point where I realised that battling and trying to overcome = control. And control is at the core of this condition. The need to have everything under a tight hold so that you don’t get triggered or upset or feel anxiety. Control is trying to make the world, people and situations conform to how you feel they should be so that you feel safe. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in recovery and life, its that the need to control and the pursuit of comfort murders your passion and lifespark, it cuts you off from the flow of life. So in the end I got to a point where I saw the condition as this doorman, like a bouncer or security guard, standing there in front of this gate and trying to keep me from seeing and feeling what was behind that gate. He wasn’t there to break my balls or make life a horrible experience, he was hired at a time when I was a little kid who couldn’t handle what was behind that gate. He did his job well and I was safe in a lot of ways but cut off from the flow of life and not really existing in the world. So instead of seeing this doorman as an enemy to do battle with, I saw him now as a tired and weary sentry who’s service was no longer required. And he didn’t even look like a man in my imagination, when I closed my eyes and visualised myself walking up to this person, he was made of smoke, like the monster from Lost. But he had the shape of a human and I could sense beneath the smoke he was human and I felt sorry for him, like he’d been there all this time trying to protect me and all I ever did was hate him. So now I placed my hands on him and when I did he turned from smoke into a person and this person was a little kid with cuts and bruises on his face. He looked sad and weary and hung his head. I kneeled down to look at him and I said, Thank you for protecting me all this time, but now I’m a grown up and I don’t need you to stand in front of that gate any longer. Will you step aside and let me see what’s back there? He looked up at me with a look of resignation and nodded, then he just stepped to the side and let me in…………when this happened something inside of me shifted, like it was seismic, like my soul had just been moved. And all of a sudden I was filled with this sense of grief. But it was bitter sweet, the kind of feeling that you know in heart is good, even though it feels difficult to be with. And literally over night the behaviours were gone. The battle was over. I went from thinking the condition was something that needed to be over powered to something that was trying to keep me safe. Because those feelings were hard to sit with. I never would’ve been able to handle them as a kid, I didn’t have the where withall or the knowledge to deal with them. But after years of fighting I finally saw the truth of what was going and when I saw that something inside of me knew it was time to face up and let the condition go. And I think that’s what it is, its something you let go of, not something you overcome or beat. It was put in place as a protection against feelings that were too powerful to process, and that has to be respected. In fact I think its awesome, that we have this safety mechanism within us. I does the job in a messed up way, like it causes distress the longer its held onto to. But at a time when it was needed to save your life, it did an amazing job.
And it needs to be acknowledged for that job it did. I think it will fight you so long as you’re not ready to talk to it like it’s a protector not an enemy because what you resist will persist. When you’re ready to see it this way then you’re ready to let it go. You’ll never be given more than you can handle, like I said, its your protector and it knows if you’re ready to face what’s behind all those behaviours. For me it was intense, it was a couple of weeks of the long night of the dark soul. The mistake I made was not telling anyone this was going on. Don’t do that. If you have people you can confide in and who you can trust, then let them help you. But David Henry Theroux said that the only way out is through and I really think this is what he meant by that. You can’t go around it and you can’t avoid those feelings that lie beneath. You can’t control them or make them go away with techniques or medication or by controlling your thoughts or controlling the world. But I’m not asking you to do anything you’re not ready to do, when you’re ready it will happen. All I ask is that you maybe look at your condition as a person, someone who is not your enemy but someone who is your protector. See what happens, see how you feel and then go from there.
You Are Not On Your Own
At about fifteen years of age I noticed that food was playing a very important role in my life. I was constantly thinking, ‘What am I going to eat next?’ At first I did not mind. I quite enjoyed eating. I was tall and I could have done with a little extra weight. But as time went on these food thoughts were coming more and more to my mind. Sometimes I used to find that even after a substantial dinner I was still very hungry, and even if I felt physically full I could not stop. These feelings started to bother me. I was afraid that other people would notice that I was eating so much and I started to be embarrassed about my eating habits.
My eating became more and more secretive and slowly and surely it changed to binges. At that time I thought I was the only man on the whole planet who had this problem and that made things even worse. I was starting to panic. I did not know what was happening. I felt so desperate and lonely and the more I felt this way the less I wanted to see any other people. My friends slowly gave up on me and gradually I became a loner. My only company was my food. Now I can see, that each time I binged I forgot all my problems. I was numb, I did not feel, I did not think, I did not mark my existence. This went on for so long that I was afraid to look back and ask when it actually started. That would only bring more and more guilt, which I was full of anyway.
A time came when I knew I could not continue to go on this way, but I was not able to see any other way. I knew I had an Eating distress, but where was I to go from here? This is only a woman’s problem. How could I have it? There must be something wrong with me. I went to numerous bookshops trying to find out more about it. But every book talked only of girls and women. I just felt I couldn’t go on anymore, and I definitely couldn’t tell anybody. What would they think? They’d probably lock me in a mental hospital. The despair was growing and I could not handle it anymore, so I decided to finish it forever. For a while I debated whether to do it, but then I knew I would feel like a failure who couldn’t stick to anything. I did it.
Now years later I am so glad I did not succeed. I can’t even remember everything that happened that night. Nobody ever talks about it in our house and I did not ask. It is better that way. My mum has since passed away and I am just sorry I could not explain things to her. But I am sure she is watching me somewhere and it was probably she who gave me the strength to go and fight this illness. It did take a long time. I was sent for treatment for depression and even there I could not tell them about my ED. I just could not. But I learned more about myself and about life. Today I think I am nearly recovered. I am finishing my studies and I’ve found my own worth. I still cannot talk openly about my ED, but I have found somebody whom I trust and with whom I can be myself. I am being helped to let go of this monster. I know I am not the only man to suffer from this condition. There are thousands of us and knowing that helps a lot.
I just would like to say to all men who suffer as I did, please do something about it. You are not on your own. It is only people who have been there themselves who can bring about changes and re-educate our society about eating disorders. I hope the time will come when I can speak more openly about it. I do not wish anybody to feel the same way I used to.
My name is Simon. I am 41 years old. I have suffered from Eating Distress for many years. Eating Disorders/Eating Distress are often labeled as a ” women’s” disease however I am a male and also have an Eating Disorder. I find it very annoying and very unhelpful when it is reported in the media as mainly a female problem as it is not. There is a large percentage of males that suffer and have more trouble seeking help as it is nearly a taboo subject.
It is slowly becoming more acceptable. My Eating Distress was brought on by bullying in school and my early years in work. I became obsessive about food and my body. I began to exercise regularly. I could not stop thinking about food and my body. I was constantly worrying about what I had eaten. I was completely exhausted and most days as I was feeling weak and had no energy.
Having a very poor diet lasted for years before I accepted I had a problem. It came to a head one evening as I broke down having a conversation with my sister. It was a cry for help. I was just sick and tired and an emotional wreck. Within a week I was in the treatment centre getting some much needed help.
They were many tough times but I came through them with the help of my therapists, my Doctor and family. I can happily say I am well on my way to full recovery. Many things have helped me on my road to recovery like learning to forgive, accept and love myself. I hope this will help others to seek help and not suffer in silence.
Men and sensitivity
By current society’s standards the words ‘men and sensitivity’ do not ‘fit together’. In general it is not a value that men are comfortable with.
This is as sensitivity is often perceived as failure and weakness that could be exploited by others and which dilutes masculinity -you have heard the PC term metro sexual.
In reality for men sensitivity is a healthy attribute and it is within the context, comfort and security of masculinity.
Sensitivity needs to be complimented with resilience but more on this later.
I am currently training to become a therapist and the nature of which brings me into contact with exclusively female company. Any sensitivity that I have helps with understanding, appreciation and empathy and personally I identify it as a powerful quality.
I would also add that one night a week I train in Aikido – a martial art. Whilst I would not promote that all men do the same, for me it helps to ensure balance.
Within society one person who stands out to me as well balanced in both sensitivity and masculinity is the singer Sting. I am an avid fan and make no apologies for that.
Sting would be considered as very strong (and physically so), astute and tough masculine character.
However if you read various biographies and comments attributed to him, we see a sensitivity – the impact of the divorce of his parents and subsequently reaction to both their deaths within a short time period, money worries when he started as a full time musician as well as effect of the breakup of his first marriage.
Some may consider this as a ‘flaw’ in his character – conversely it is a strength which I believe that he drew upon to pen some of the best known songs from when he started his career in the late seventies . Many of his songs relate either directly or by metaphor to loneliness and isolation. Please consider the words to the well known hit ‘Message in a bottle’
Just a castaway
An island lost at sea
Another lonely day
With no one here but me
Than any man could bear
Rescue me before I fall into despair
I’ll send an sos to the world
I’ll send an sos to the world
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
Message in a bottle
[message in a bottle]
A year has passed since I wrote my note
But I should have known this right from the start
Only hope can keep me together
Love can mend your life
But love can break your heart
Walked out this morning
Don’t believe what I saw
A hundred billion bottles
Washed up on the shore
Seems I’m not alone at being alone
A hundred billion castaways
Looking for a home
Sensitivity helps us to feel, connect with our emotions, increases our awareness, to feel compassion and humanity. To use it as a positive tool it needs to be complimented with resilience.
Sensitivity coupled with resilience helps us to process the issue, move forward and take action/reach a decision or closure, to contextualize the feeling , see the wider picture and to be strong enough to become a problem solver as opposed to a problem stator who has awareness who either runs away from the issue or at best gets ‘stuck’ with it.
You may have heard of the fight or flight reaction to stressors – a reference deemed to have originated from the time when there were very real physical dangers to man from wild beasts. It did not take much sensitivity to realize there was danger but very immediate action was required – either run or fight it. There was not the luxury to just sit with the feeling of fear – poor me I am in danger – it could have been one of the last emotional feelings whilst the lion or whatever prepared for lunch.
Today in our society we seldom have such acute physical danger and it may appear that is easier to do nothing. The leading investor Warren Buffet, known as the sage of Omaha, is quoted as saying words to the effect ‘it is easier to look in the rear view mirror than focus on the route ahead’
when we have feel issues due to our sensitivity – we need have courage to move forward –otherwise in reality if we simply dwell and focus on it without balance, we sit with the stress of that thinking, our bodies have to deal with the physical consequences of stress and emotionally we may enter a dangerous place.