Did you have a comfort object as a young kid? Maybe a special blanket, or a stuffed animal? When I was little, my aunt gave me a small, white teddy bear named Theodore. Theodore went with me everywhere. Theodore was not only the stuffie I slept with every night, but he was also my companion on road trips, campouts, and trips to Taiwan. As a college student, I snuggled him through homesickness and post-breakup woes. Theodore has been around for nearly 30 years, and he now belongs to my son. My heart swells when I see my little boy hug and talk to his teddy bear. Theodore was (and is) very important to me, first because he was my favorite toy, and later because he came to represent home, safety, and comfort for me (and now for my son). We all need a “Theodore” in our lives–something constant and comforting to turn to when we feel vulnerable, hurt, or alone.
Recently, in a group therapy session I was leading, I asked group members to write down what their eating disorders have given them. On this occasion, every group member listed the word “comfort.” An eating disorder often emerges, and persists, in times when you need comfort the most. It might be something you turn to for soothing and relief when life is painful, or for control when life is chaotic and overwhelming. Your eating disorder might feel like the only thing that can make you feel better when things are at their worst.
If your eating disorder wasn’t comforting in some way, you probably wouldn’t have it in the first place. As safe as your eating disorder might feel sometimes, it is not a harmless teddy bear. It will ultimately create more pain and damage the longer it stays in your life. Not only that, it keeps you from finding and using other sources of comfort. As long as you are tied to your eating disorder, you aren’t free to explore what other things in this world might bring you a sense of comfort and safety. Clinging to your eating disorder makes it harder to care for and nourish the relationships and experiences that can make your life more meaningful.
There are other sources of real, meaningful, healing comfort available to you outside of the eating disorder. There are people who are willing and yearning to support you and help you feel safe. There are experiences full of beauty, purpose, and peace that are waiting for you in recovery. Even if comfort and safety have been scarce in your past, the healing in your future can be so much bigger than what your eating disorder promises you.
It can feel terrifying to think about saying goodbye to your eating disorder, especially if it has been your most reliable source of soothing in the past. I promise you that letting go of your eating disorder will be worth it. Recovery won’t mean you’ll never struggle to find comfort again; what it will mean is that you’ll be able to find comfort from sources that expand and enrich your life, instead of making your life smaller and more painful. It’s ok to need comfort. It’s ok to need some “Theodores” in your life. Recovery will help you find them.