No More Privacy

As I listen to the recent hype about the discovery that our cell phone calls are not private, a few thoughts cross my mind. First, it’s a bit naive to think that using a device known to have a GPS tracker inside of it is at all private. Second (and here I’ll admit I’m a bit naive), if you’re not guilty of anything major, why is it such a big deal for the government to know who you’re calling and at what time? (Admittedly, I’m someone who feels comforted by a government that is trying to keep me safer however it can.) Lastly, is privacy really a good thing? Let’s talk about this last question, especially as it relates to disordered eating.

In several chapters of my book, I shared my struggles with the privacy of disordered eating. At first glance, privacy seemed like a good thing; no one was minding my business. And no one knew about my eating disorder. I was free to do (and eat) whatever I needed or wanted without prying eyes. But privacy soon became mixed up with secrecy. And the trouble with secrecy was that the voice of “Ed” (eating disorder) told me things like, “It’s shameful to eat cookies. So, you shouldn’t eat them in front of people. But they’re so good. Since no one is home, you should just eat the whole bag and then run out to the store and replace it with a new bag so no one ever knows.” Or Ed said, “You’ve worked really hard today. You should reward yourself with one of those cookies sitting on the secretary’s desk. It doesn’t matter that you’re not hungry. Oh, but don’t let her see you take the cookie because cookies will make you fat and you don’t want her to look at you as fat.” Privacy became secrecy and secrecy led to shame. Shame is one of those “sticky” emotions which, along with guilt, keep us rooted in difficulty.

Shame and guilt are at the root of a lot of the recent discussion of privacy, or our lack thereof. Of course, on the surface, it seems like we’re just outraged. Any good counselor, however, will tell you that anger is most often masking an underlying feeling such as fear, sadness, guilt or shame. In this case, we’re ashamed of what we’re doing, who we’re calling and when, and that we can’t stop our obsession with being constantly connected to someone through a mobile device (and we’re fearful that others will find out). The same can be said for the shame and guilt of disordered eating; those of us who experience it can say for certain that we feel ashamed of what we’re doing, when we’re doing it, and that we can’t seem to stop (something which the uninformed masses keep telling us to do: “Just stop overeating.” “Just don’t eat junk food.” “Just eat less/more.” “Just start exercising.”). We constantly fear being outted as too fat, too thin, disordered, mentally ill, sick, lazy, or undisciplined.

At some point, early on in my recovery from Binge-Eating Disorder, I had to tell “Ed”, “No more privacy”. That was not easy. Ed freaked out and was consoled only by my promise to only tell one trusted person. That one trusted person had a reaction I never expected, accusing me of being unhealthy, undisciplined, and selfish. Ed said, “I told you so!” and I went back to keeping my eating disorder a secret for many more months. But again, as the privacy and secrecy built up, so did the shame and guilt. I again had an urge to break that wall of privacy and reveal myself to someone. This time, I hesitantly chose someone I knew less well, figuring, “If they’re mad at me or blame me, it’ll hurt less than before.” That person’s reaction was compassionate and caring, concerned and helpful. Down with privacy. Down with secrecy. I revealed as much as I could and then shared my story with my parents, my brother, a therapist, co-workers, and eventually “the world”.

Relinquishing my right to privacy was the first and biggest step forward in my recovery. Are you ready to let go of privacy, secrecy, guilt, and shame?

Peace, joy, and health,

Megan

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