The Silencing of Self: Finding Your Voice In ED Recovery

September 16, 2011 Angela E. Gambrel

My thinness is an outward manifestation of my inner pain that I am unable to voice.

This is my last year of graduate school and I have started working on my thesis. It will be a creative non-fiction piece divided into two parts. One part will be about my struggles with anorexia nervosa, and my ultimate decision to begin the work of recovery in the midst of personal chaos. The other piece will review the memoirs and creative non-fiction writings written by women who have experienced anorexia and/or bulimia.

I deliberately chose to write my thesis about women only, in part because I plan to apply feminist theory to my thesis and I believe that eating disorders develop differently in women and men.

I have been enmeshed in writings about eating disorders these past few weeks, and I have found a common thread throughout the writings that resonate with my own experiences with anorexia.

Silence. At some point, each of these women have written about feeling silenced and having to regain their voices during recovery.

I believe at heart that eating disorders are illnesses of silence, of an inability to speak about inner pain, to give voice to what we are feeling and going through in the deepest reaches of our souls.woman-with-tape-on-mouthThere are those within the eating disorders community that might disagree with me. That is okay. I have heard many theories about eating disorders. That these are illnesses about control. That EDs are caused by genetics. That young girls are developing eating disorders at an alarming rate because of our society's continued obsession with thinness as the ideal body type of women. That those with anorexia starve themselves as a response to anxiety and depression.

And I do not disagree. Society does pressure young girls, and increasingly young men, to try and adapt their bodies to one rigid shape. There are studies about genetics that show much promise, and could offer hope and help for curing eating disorders in the future. Anxiety and depression are rampant within the eating disorder population, although it is questionable which came first.

But I am talking about something different. I am talking about the manifestation of silence that seems to permeate those with eating disorders. I used to be a very outspoken person, but I realized recently that I have submerged much of myself.

I have been silently screaming for years, and yet feel as if no one hears me. The words I put at the beginning of this post has been my answer to why I illogically starved myself for years. I couldn't voice the pain I felt inside, and therefore starving myself was the only way I could speak.

And it seemed as if many women I have met or read about with eating disorders have expressed in one way or another that they also seemed unable to speak about their inner pain. They are quiet, shy when talking about their problems, as if they are too afraid to be too loud and shout out their pain.

As I gained weight and health, I found my voice coming back to me. I reached out to friends, and talked to them how I was feeling. I started to tell people about what was really hurting me inside.

I was finding my voice again.

My fear is that I still hear within me to be quiet, to not take up too much space or make too much noise. Eating disorders don't give up without fighting back, and because of some extreme personal stresses, my eating disorder has been particularly noisy lately. I find myself being quiet when I should speak, and burying feelings and thoughts when I should be releasing them.

I know what I have to do. I have to find the courage and strength to move forward in recovery, and that includes no longer being silent no matter what. Anything less will diminish me and create an atmosphere that could be dangerous for me.

I can no longer stay silent. I need to continue to find my voice, and then use it. I need to occupy space in the world, and make no apologies for that.

I need to stop silencing myself.

APA Reference
Gambrel, A. (2011, September 16). The Silencing of Self: Finding Your Voice In ED Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 29 from

Author: Angela E. Gambrel

September, 21 2011 at 9:40 am

I work in this area and have also experienced anorexia with a close family member. You have really gained a profound understanding of what underlines the outward symptoms of this disease and the ongoing struggle. Your writing is both moving and enlighting..... Thank you. X

September, 19 2011 at 6:11 am

I too suffer from Anorexia, and have been in recovery for 4 years. And there is always a day to day struggle with my inner voice. Especially because it seems easier to let life get in the way so I don't have to feel the feelings. Kudos to you for writing about this disease and the effects on women. Keep your voice strong!

Alistair McHarg
September, 18 2011 at 8:24 am

This is really powerful stuff. I applaud your work, and your courage. The "silent scream" metaphor is very powerful. I have often thought that my fits of mania (I'm bipolar) were like ritualized screams for help - although I never thought of them that way at the time. We let our behavior do the talking for us, because we are afraid of what will happen if we speak aloud.

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