I'm going to tell you a personal anecdote. It involves boobs, but trust me, it never goes beyond PG-13.
Not long after I started dating my sweetheart, and before I was earnestly pursuing recovery, he gave me what he thought was a compliment. It was along the lines of "whadda rack" and basically implied that I had large breasts. Now, in retrospect I have learned that this is something he thought that women like to hear. Maybe some women do enjoy hearing things like this. But not me.
I didn't want to have big boobs. I didn't want to have any boobs at all. Having boobs meant that I was eating too much, that I was fat, that I wasn't trying enough to stay skinny.
So, something crazy happened to me when he gave me this "compliment". Inside of my head, all of these things are firing:
"I don't want big boobs".
"Are my boobs big?"
"I must have gained weight if my boobs are big."
"I am fat."
"I am fat and unlovable and I have failed at life by letting my boobs get big."
I know, ridiculous, right? I went from zero to crazy in practically no time. Of course, all of this is in my head, and instead of explaining this process to my partner, my response involved a terse and snippy remark that since I barely filled out an A cup thankyouverymuch, my boobs were most definitely NOT in fact large.
Way to kill the sexy mood, right?
Honestly, the situation is a little silly, but what it represents is not. Even if the idea that my boobs are big is ridiculous (they're not). I wear an A cup, which I don't always totally fill out. I do not have large breasts. But that's not the troublesome part of the conversation.
What is troublesome is that my eating disorder kept me from being able to enjoy sexuality.
Even if I don't have big boobs, I could have gone with that moment instead of retreating. I could have played along, even if it wasn't true.
What is troublesome is that my eating disorder alienated me.
Instead of having a human, adult conversation with my partner, I retreated into myself. This is letting the eating disorder WIN.
What is bothersome is that it affected my relationship.
Seriously? I'm going to let my eating disorder turn itself back on just because of a comment? I'm going to let my fears about having boobs cause a rift in my relationship?
When this conversation occurred, we both felt badly afterward but then it wasn't really mentioned again, until recently (and this is after a few years) when I was told that my response seemed vicious and a little too-mean.
It's true. My partner had no idea what was going on in my head, so for him, it felt like I was lashing out at him when he was trying to connect with me. It makes me feel shitty, even with years past, that I responded like that.
But to succumb to those feelings and think "I'm just a terrible person and I'll never be good enough" would be going right back into my disordered ways.
So here comes the big question: how do I never let this happen ever again?
As I see it, here are some keys to overcoming this type of eating disorder-fueled, relationship-damaging behavior.
In a moment like this, when fear hits hard, instead of being so battered by my thoughts that it feels like my only possible course of action is to hit back hard, I can tell my partner what happened inside of me when he said that.
In addition to being honest, I can hold myself accountable for my thoughts. Yes, he said something that was triggering to me, but I let myself be triggered. And I responded in a bitchy way. That part is not his fault. I'm still responsible for my own reaction, which was mean.
When my eating disorder is triggered, I tend to run away from connection (with a partner, or with people in general) as fast as I can. It's the emotional equivalent of locking myself in solitary confinement. To really move forward and not let things like this bug me, I have to fight that impulse and make a concerted effort to connect, even when it feels really really hard.
4. Sitting with the thoughts.
In addition to being honest about what is going on inside of my head, really taking the time to observe what is going on in my head. Instead of trying to push those thoughts away, letting myself at least entertain them. Reflecting on them.
5. Dismissing the thoughts.
Now that I have pondered the thoughts and let myself sit with them, hopefully by this point I'm smart and recovered enough to be like "well, that is ridiculous, let's move on". Easier said than done, but this is what I aspire to.
If I'm having trouble dismissing the thoughts or if the thoughts lead me on the winding path toward more destructive thoughts, it's time for distraction. A walk, a massage if I'm feeling rich, getting my nails done, heck, even going to the mall and just looking at shops. DISTRACTION.
7. Moving the eff on.
Acknowledge the thoughts, let them exist. Dismiss them, or try to. Distract yourself if you can't. Cycle through these steps again if needed. But ultimately, move on. Don't let stupid comments and conversations like this ruin more time in your day than they need to.
I choose not to let my eating disorder eat me up from the inside, and I certainly don't want to let it eat my relationship alive.
Sometimes the hard thing is also the right thing. These steps are not easy, but they are worth it, because the view from the real world is great.
Do you ever succumb to negative thoughts like this?