Tag Archives: Denial

The Five Stages of Grief in the Recovery Process from Binge Eating

When browsing blogs on mental health on Mumsnet, I came across a blog on recoveyr form alcoholism. While there, I found a post on the five stages of grief in substance abuse. You are probably familiar with Elisabeth Küber-Ross’ five stages of grief in bereavement. These same stages apply to some extent to those recovering from an addiction:

  • Denial: people feel that they do not have a problem concerning alcohol or substances. Even if they do feel as if they might have a small problem, they believe that they have complete control over the situation and can stop drinking or doing drugs whenever they want.

  • Anger at the fact that the addict has an addiction or at the fact that they can no longer use alcohol or drugs.

  • Bargaining: the stage where people are trying to convince themselves or others that they will stop substance abuse in order to get out of trouble or to gain something.

  • Depression: sadness and hopelessness, which usually happen during the withdrawal process from alcohol or drugs.

  • Acceptance, not merely as in admitting you have a problem with alcohol or drugs. Acceptance involves actively resolving the addictioon.

I do not have an alcohol or drug problem, but I do exhibit disordered eating. I wonder to what extent these stages of grief apply to the recovery process from eating disorders, in my case mostly binge eating. Denial is certainly common in individuals with all types of disordered eating. I for one was in the stage of denial up until quite recently. This is not merely not being aware of the problem, like I was in early adolescence. Rather, from my teens on, I did realize to some extent that my eating habits weren’t normal. I remember one day buying five candy bars at once and eating them all in one go. When my classmates pointed out that this was outrageous, I shifted from lack of awareness of my eating disorder into denial.

As I said, I stayed in denial for years. I continued buying sausage rolls for lunch every single day until the end of high school, then at blindness rehab ate candy and chips everyday. I gained rougly ten pounds in those four months at blindness rehab, thereby reaching the upper limit of a healthy BMI.

It took several more years before I moved into the stage of anger. By 2008, I was convinced I would die young, and my unhealthy eating habits were one reason for this. I hated myself and my body, yet didn’t stop eating unhealthy amounts of candy. If anything changed at all, I binged more.

I don’t know how I maintained a relatively healthy weight until 2012, but I did. I did start purging in 2011, which can be seen as either a response to anger or a form of bargaining. After all, bargaining can also be seen as trying to reduce the (effects of the) addiction while not completely trying to abandon it.

I reached overweight status in 2012, then obese a few months ago. I started going to a dietician in 2012, then quit going again, went back in the fall of 2013, quit again, and recently started going again. I am still at the stage of bargaining regarding my disordered eating. When told I just need to stop buying candy, I object. Instead, I want to lessen my candy consumption, keep it under control. Yet isn’t the whole point of an addiction not the substance, but the lack of control? I know that one difference between food and alcohol or drugs is that you can’t completely abandon food, and my dietician said that getting fruit or veggies within easy reach as a substitute for candy, is unlikely to work. After all, I’m going to keep the idea that food is an easy way out of emotional stress.

Stages of Adjustment to Blindness

Today on the Psych Central blog, I found an article on coping with chronic illness. According to Donna White, the author of the post, people who are facing a chronic illness go through the five stages of grief populated by Elisabeht Kübler-Ross as occurring in bereavement. These stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. This post inspired me to pull out Dean Tuttle’s 1996 book Self-Esteem and Adjusting with Blindness. He describes not five but seven stages of adjustment:

  1. Physical or social trauma. This is a situation or circumstance the awareness of which brings about severe anxiety, discomfort and/or turmoil. In blind people, this may be the onset of blindness or vision loss (for those losing their sight later in life), becoming aware of one’s blindness (for the congenitally blind), or the knowledge of impending vision loss (for those who know they will lose their sight at some point before actual onset of blindness).
  2. Shock and denial. This involves mental numbing, including feelings of detachment or unreality, as well as the cognitions involving denial. Denial can be partial or full.
  3. Mourning and withdrawal. This stage happens when people become more aware of the reality of their situation and the psychological defense mechanism of denial decreases. Characteristics of mourning include self-pity and a sense of helplessness. People in this stage often withdraw from their physical or social environment. Hostility may also be part of the mourning phase.
  4. Succumbing and depression. This phase involves a gradual awareness of more specific consequences of vision loss. When these (real or perceived) consequences exceed a person’s ability to cope, they may fall into depression. The succumbing phase is characterized by negativism and pessimism.
  5. Reassessment and reaffirmation. This phase involves the re-evaluation of one’s situation. Anger, depression and self-pity begin to recede and people re-examine the meaning of their life, their values and beliefs and habitual patterns of behavior.
  6. Coping and mobilization. In this stage, individuals manage the demands of their social and physical environment and direct their energy towards the tasks of everyday life.
  7. Self-acceptance and self-esteem. Having a positive self-image is the last stage in adjustment. Accepting one’s blindness is a prerequisite for this. However, a positive self-image is far mroe than accepting blindness. It involves the realization that one is a valuable person. This means confronting one’s beliefs about oneself and one’s blindness, and challenging negative ideas about oneself.
I was unable to see where bargaining fits into the seven-stage model. Bargainign is where I believe I’ve been stuck for years, although I may confuse bargaining with partial denial.

In 2004 and 2005, when an online friend had sent me Tuttle’s book, I had done a series on my old blog on adjustment with my vision loss and actually the reality of finally having become totally blind. I guess in the next few weeks, I will revisit these posts. I realize I’m actually back where I was in 2004, realizing I’ve become totally blind and (now truly) there is no way this can be fixed.