The Difference Between Solitude and Loneliness

In the midst of a fall and winter of bingeing, it seemed as if all hope had disappeared from my life. All I could see ahead of me was losing myself more and more to the eating disorder. I was far from wanting to commit suicide, but looking at the dark wall ahead of me made me wonder if there was anything worth living for anymore. I knew I was blessed with so much in my life, but the black pit of grief and confusion kept me trapped in a mind and body I hated.

At a loss as to what to do for me, my friends suggested I learn to sit with myself–to find strength in solitude. Unfortunately this sounded like the worst solution, because at that point in my eating disorder being alone was the darkest part of my day.

Destruction in the form of bingeing, counting calories, obsessing, and occasional purging dominated any time I had to myself. My eating disorder thrived off of this chance for just the two of us to fight–a battle which I often lost. I was trapped in a mind with circulating thoughts, fear, and wondering when my next downfall would come.

My friends’ suggestion was not wrong by any means, but at this point in my life I didn’t want to be in my own mind. I had to learn how to battle the eating disorder with tools like the meal plan and understanding when and how the eating disorder rooted itself instead of putting a band-aid (“just love yourself!”) over the problem. Once I had a strategy to tackle the basic eating errors, loving and accepting myself eventually trickled in on its own.



Gradually I began to understand myself and the eating disorder enough to see solitude as a place of peace. I was no longer tiptoeing fearfully into isolation, but instead jumping into solitude to see what Rachael was thinking and exploring now. The screams of calories, weight, and defeat were no longer as strong, and I thought that perhaps I could actually live within myself again. The idea of being “stuck” with myself for the rest of my life finally didn’t seem too bad.

The black wall of lost hope began to disappear.

I sat with myself. I heard the real Rachael speak out between the written notes of calories and food rules. And as I stared into the darkness of the night, my mind exploding with exploratory internal dialogue, I enjoyed the new, kinder thoughts and revelations.

Healing and Growing

Now I needed time to remember who Rachael was without the obsessive thoughts. Now I had to remember what Rachael liked from the beginning–maybe even as far back as childhood when I participated in gymnastics, basketball, volleyball, and swimming along with running; the Rachael who enjoyed dessert pizza as well as fresh vegetables; the Rachael who created art, who led make-believe adventures on the playground with her friends, and who read dozens of novels (not all these eating disorder and diet books that litter my bookshelves). To find Rachael again, I had to go back to that exploration of the self through activities and adventures.


The result? I began to have experiences where I felt the highs and lows of “normal” circumstances people deal with on a daily basis: Job problems. Stress in school. A broken heart. But also the excitement in meeting new people, having adventures outside of a fourteen-mile long run, and having more time to pursue my dreams since my days were no longer solely devoted to researching nutrition and worrying about calories.

The Balance

In these adventures I began to test my boundaries and limits. There were moments when my explorations went from finding freedom and excitement to unhealthy decisions, but those mistakes allowed me to see where my limits were and what was best for Rachael.

The bingeing and restricting of life experiences went from extremes to gradually finding a happy, healthy medium–just as I had done with food. But having that connection to myself–being able to speak with and listen to Rachael in solitude–allowed me to understand my choices and helped me to continually communicate with myself and grow.

Taking this journey into self-discovery gets tricky since eating disorders often thrive in loneliness. The key is to find solitude–that “holy” place where talking freely to yourself is therapeutic and helps you to progress rather than fall back. Getting to solitude instead of loneliness requires utilizing the recovery tools (like eating enough throughout the day, talking through the difficulties with someone, etc–whatever aids in your recovery). From there the journey to self-discovery, with occasional or even many slip-ups, will help us to find that happy balance and the road to recovery–a natural path to self-love and acceptance.

2 replies
  1. Tamara Steil
    Tamara Steil says:

    You made a beautiful distinction between loneliness and solitude. You have come a long long way. It is wonderful to see how your experiences resonate with others. Proud.

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