OP-ED Optimizing Psychology for Eating Disorders by Sandra Wartski, Psy.D., CEDS
Declaration of Independence from ED
Independence Day is once again upon us. We recognize that the day is a demarcation of our country’s separation from British rule and is an important part of our national heritage, but few have really looked closely at the actual document. We learn about the Declaration of Independence from an early age, but most associate the July 4th Independence Day celebration with the peak of summer, fireworks, American flags and red-white-&-blue themed decorations.
The Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia when the Second Continental Congress led the then 13 American colonies in obtaining independence from Great Britain. The term “Declaration of Independence” is actually not used in the original text itself, but the document was clearly developed to announce and explain the intent to separate from Britain. There were multiple drafts from the influential thinkers of that time, leading to a carefully crafted outline of grievances against King George III and justification for the need for seeking independence. The document has become known as a support of human rights and of Americans’ right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The official document is on display at the National Archives in Washington DC, but versions are more easily viewed via websites, such as: http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/.
For those struggling with an Eating Disorder (ED), there is similarly the need for creating a declaration of independence somewhere along the recovery road. Like the colonists, there was initially good reason for reliance on the more powerful, seemingly all-knowing, influential source of direction. An ED can appear to be part of a solution, distraction, even a seeming savior to other life issues; however, there then comes a time when its guidance is no longer working effectively. The imbalance and detriment eventually come to be increasingly clear. It may be easier to keep the status quo, yet the status quo is increasingly problematic. The colonists spent many years attempting to work within the confines of the British rule before they chose to fight for separation.
Choosing to declare independence from ED can create an internal revolution. There are parts of one’s self that feel ready to fight and rebel, and there are other parts that would rather choose to submit and surrender. The dependence and reliance on the ED has often been long term and complex, and so there is naturally much ambivalence about letting go. Stating one’s intention and justification boldly and confidently in writing can, however, be a start.
Using some of the actual text of the 1776 Declaration of Independence, a Declaration of Independence from ED might be proposed. (Fittingly, we might short-hand this to the acronym of DIED.) Exploring a holiday-themed assignment might inspire a new angle on recuperation motivation. Utilizing a Mad Libs format, individuals might be encouraged to consider personalizing the 5-section document for their particular recovery purposes.
The introductory section of the Declaration of Independence asserted how it is part of Natural Law for people to seek independence and that the grounds for such independence be reasonable. The introductory section suggested that dissolving political bands with Britain required a declaration of the causes that impelled the separation. Similarly, in case of ED, we might declare boldly:
On _______ (date), _______ (name) makes a unanimous declaration of independence from ED. As it has become necessary to dissolve the bonds that have connected _______ (name) with ED, it is reasonable that the causes of the separation be clearly outlined.
The Preamble of the Declaration outlined the general philosophy that the colonists were upholding and explained why they felt justified in continuing the revolution against a government that was infringing on their natural rights. For individuals with EDs, a similar forward could be introduced:
I hold these truths to be self-evident, that not all body shapes are supposed to be equal, that I deserve to be treated fairly and respectfully and that I have certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
I also deserve to have more
(behaviors/thoughts/pursuits to increase)
and to experience less
(behaviors/thoughts/pursuits to decrease)
Because ED has become destructive of these ends, it is my right to institute a new leadership and lay the foundation for organizing more Safety and Happiness. Because there has been a long line of mistreatments by the ED, it is my right and my duty to throw off such governance and provide new Guards for my future security.
This lengthy section of the Declaration of Independence outlined the particulars of the King’s “injuries and usurpations” of American rights and liberties. For an individual recovering from an ED, this would be the section that might be most customized and focused on the particulars for an individual declaring independence from ED:
The ED has a history of repeated injuries and mistreatments, making it now necessary to seek independence from its rule. To highlight this, let Facts be submitted about how the ED has been oppressive, harsh, unjust, and overbearing…
(This might contain a listing of 20-30 items of concern that have unfolded as a result of the ED; in the Declaration of Independence, there are 27 separate items listed as wrongdoing by the King.)
This section completed the case for independence and the justification for the revolution. There are many variations to announcing this in regards to the ED, such as:
ED is unfit to be ruler of me any longer. I have warned the ED and have attempted to appeal to its benevolence, but it has been deaf to the voice of justice. I must announce my intent to separate.
This final section of the Declaration summarized how the colonies needed to cut off political ties with the British Crown and become independent because of the conditions of the British rule as outlined earlier. Within the context of an ED Declaration, a closing statement might serve as a mantra or guiding principle to be considered throughout recovery, such as:
I therefore solemnly declare that I have the right to be free and independent of allegiance to ED. My connections with ED will be dissolved, and I will have full power to decide how to live my life peacefully and powerfully. I pledge my intention and my sacred honor to this Declaration from here on forward.
The original document included 56 signatures from all 13 states and included well-known leaders of the time such as John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. A Declaration of Independence from ED requires only 1 authentic, valid, well-intentioned signature.
Let the Negotiations Begin
Creating a Declaration document this summer might honor the national freedom announced over 240 years ago but might also serve as a way of inspiring individuals’ inner independence and healthy nonconformity. There must be appreciation of the fact that most clients with EDs aren’t generally ready to declare independence when they are starting the recovery journey, just as the 1776 Declaration of Independence was drafted years into the American Revolution (which is dated as officially starting in 1765). For our ED clients, years may be spent in the back and forth of internal power battles before the fuller, more confident position can be taken. A personalized Declaration of Independence from ED can help with outlining the justification for the separation and with courageously crafting the intent to seek freedom. There may be many drafts and much fluctuation in commitment, but beginning negotiations can be fruitful.
And then let the celebratory fireworks begin.
Bio: Sandra Wartski, Psy.D., CEDS is a licensed psychologist who has been working with Eating Disorders over the past 25 years. She works as an outpatient therapist at Silber Psychological Services in Raleigh, NC. She enjoys providing presentations and writing articles on a variety of mental health topics, particularly ED-related subject matter. Send comments to sandra
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