Every year, the American Psychological Association (APA) conducts a national survey called Stress in America.…
The Voices In Your Head
Strident, screeching chatter. Prodding, coaxing, cajoling that never abates. Voices so loud and imposing you can’t sleep. Anorexics, bulimics, and food addicts of all stripes know the sound. We all have “the voice in our head,” our inner voice that directs and guides us. We all hear the playback of voices from our past. But this other voice is wholly different – it has no relationship to oneself or any experience in the past. Though completely contained within our own heads, some of us hear it as vividly as if someone were speaking to us.
Each eating disorder sufferer will experience this voice, these noises, differently. But a common trait is the angry, forceful, relentless, unstoppable nature of the sound. It comes at any time of day – breaking in on sleep, work, or any attempt at relaxation. It is a constant angry shouting that cannot be turned off.
Some addicts have referred to the voice as “the monkey mind,” comparing the endless chatter to a roomful of monkeys. For some it is like that – a never-ending cacophony of distracting din. But for others, especially those suffering from anorexia, the voice is louder, angrier, more imposing, even demonic.
For one anorexic, the evil sound came at any moment of quiet. Sleep became nearly impossible. As soon as she would lie down, the voices came, crowding out rest. Sleeplessness and exhaustion gave way to further anxiety and fueled her anorexic patterns. There was no relief. An attempted nap left her in tears as she fought to stay sane in the midst of silence. The less she ate, the more anorexia ate her mind, driving her toward her own destruction.
Many anorexics are reluctant to speak of the voice for fear of being perceived as crazy or “schizo.” The inner anorexic voice is not the same as schizophrenia – an entirely separate mental condition. The anorexic voice is associated specifically with the disease, goading the sufferer away from sanity, and deeper into the compulsion to restrict and starve. Others have lost touch with reality to the point of being unable to distinguish the voice as an intruder. It feels that it is one’s own inner voice directing and guiding, but it is an evil imposter. The advanced anorexic cannot see that she has been ambushed. She bends to the will of what she believes to be her own best interest.
The voice speaks to her every weakness, confirming every fear. She has no choice but to listen to it and obey its relentless demands. People commonly mistake anorexics as intentionally self-destructive, vain, masochistic, and selfish. But they are following the orders of a harsh taskmaster. To the sufferer there seems to be no other option
For this reason, anorexia is frighteningly difficult to recover from. The sufferer at times appears (and likely feels) almost possessed by some other force commanding her to hate herself and her body. Embracing a program of rehabilitation and recovery will quiet the voices, but not immediately. Anorexia fights hard to keep its prisoners in check – it does not let go so easily. For many, the voices continue into recovery, coming out to play at the gaining of every pound, and seeking to entice the victim back into the trap.
One recovered anorexic remembered the day when she realized quiet. The voices had stopped but she didn’t know when they stopped. She had a feeling there had been peace and quiet for some time, but she didn’t know how long. This was about six months into her recovery. For her the key had been daily study of the Bible, prayer, and a rigorous program of Twelve Step recovery.
For the anorexic who is new in recovery or struggling to get into recovery, know that you are not alone. This voice is common to your condition and it is very real, very frightening, and very compelling. But as powerful as it sounds, you are free to opt out of its command. Don’t be afraid to talk about it and expose it. If you desire healing you must have help and accountability.
And remember that there is another voice in your head – one that can be hard to hear over the constant din. It’s your voice. It’s the voice that knows right from wrong and survival from death. It’s in there too and you can hear it if you listen to it. Recovery then becomes a decision to hear the small voice – the one telling you it’s time to get well. Feed that voice. Listen to it. Follow it.