Please note that this is an Archived article and may contain content that is out of date. The use of she/her/hers pronouns in some articles is not intended to be exclusionary. Eating disorders can affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and weights.
By: Former Client
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?…. When we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” – Nelson Mandela
Our attitude about recovery determines how much we learn about our eating disorder and ourselves. Moving beyond the fear and terror of abandoning our sole security blanket liberates our souls to seek greater meaning in our lives. Challenging my eating disorder and the blurred reflection of a life it created allowed me to discover the true joys possible in existence.
When I admitted myself to Center for Change, I considered my recovery as an opportunity to reassess my life. As I tackled my eating-disordered thoughts and behavior, I realized I had lived a hollow life – a life of death. Never exploring my own self-concept left me feeling internally void. As I began my journey of self-discovery, I found my spirit. Leaving today, I realize the potential of life – to live in harmony and inner serenity. I embrace the future and the beauty of the world within which I humbly claim membership.
Eating disordered or not, I would encourage every person to take time removed from their everyday routine to reevaluate their existence. It is essential that we pause frequently throughout our lives to take a critical look at our values, our priorities, and our commitments and consider whether we are moving in a direction that promises fulfillment or disaster. Those who try to go at it alone end up isolated, alienated, and prey to all forms of madness. I drank in my own misery, wallowed in my loneliness, and in my despair. When the madness overwhelmed me, I realized I was on a journey of self-destruction. I learned a simple life lesson from my slow suicide: from here on, stay in communication with each other, search for consensus, and reflect on our common experience.
I lived for others, consumed, attempting to meet self-imposed unrealistic goals and aspirations. I set my course for failure, and struggled to self-destruct. The segregation of the virtues along gender lines – men as rational, aggressive, warlike; women as emotional, intuitive, receptive, nurturing – is integral to the ways in which our personalities and egos are formed, informed, and misinformed by our culture. I think women need to explore the spiritual dimensions of aggression and men need to practice the discipline of yielding, care-taking, and wondering. I mastered the female virtues, and only recently stretched my self-concept to include aggressiveness and strength. By stretching and risking, I gained self-empowerment.
Many of my self-imposed hurdles came from my distorted beliefs and credos. Instead of living a life of faith, I built roadblocks by rigid rules and impossible personal expectations. I never felt satisfied with my own successes, because my successes did not result in increased faith. Beliefs are ideas in the head, cognitive expressions, maps of the world, our best conceptualizations of how things are, our credos. Faith is in the gut and the heart; it is trust-in-action, a disposition to behave as if something were true or valuable. Beliefs and faith may coincide, but in modern society what we profess to believe has very little to do with the way we conduct our lives.
My self-importance, superiority, arrogance, and habit of judging others formed walls that kept me safe. I am not “like” them, I told myself. I made myself the exception, I’m better, more cultured, work harder, have better morals. I dream of conquest, winning, vindictive triumph, being number one. Then, I destroyed myself by trying to live up to the superhuman person I believed I was.
The most certain mark of spirited men or women is their willingness to view the world through the lens of their own brokenness and to wrestle with their own tendency toward selfishness, greed, cruelty, arrogance, apathy, and hate. Our nearly inexhaustible capacity for self-deception may make us closest to the truth when we remain acutely aware of our ignorance. A large part of overcoming disordered eating and negative body image is making a conscious effort to change destructive habits. Sin is the drying up of the sap of life, and eating disorders dehydrate the richness from our own. When we are unjust and uncaring, we become cold, hard, brittle, and dusty. Life is capricious and unfair because we make it a game without the opportunity to win. We can only win if we allow ourselves to. Faith in yourself and your spirit re-hydrates and rekindles the body. The unique human capacity we call spirit can also be called freedom. Freedom to explore your own potential.
It is the capacity to transcend our biological, psychological, social, and political conditioning. To live by the sign of the spirit is to give up the illusion that life, the world, other people, and the self can ultimately be known, predicted, controlled, pigeonholed, and rendered secure. Tap Te Ching said, “Without going outside, you may know the whole world. Without looking through the window, you may see the ways of heaven.” We create our own reality, and we must see the beauty in the everyday.
I continue to question myself, seek greater inner peace, challenge my own recovery, and become internally and externally congruent. “Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a foreign tongue. Do not seek the answers…. Live the questions now,” as Rainer Maria Rilke warns in her Letters to a Young Poet. I invite you to join me in my continuing journey of self-discovery. My life becomes increasingly satisfying, filling the previous void, as I discover my own identity. My recovery is more all encompassing than simply healing my starved body, but feeds my soul as I travel towards greater inner serenity. My life holds value and virtue, instead of pain and self-degradation. I embrace the future, and I invite you to join me.
Embracing the future requires that we embrace our eating disorder. We must take ownership of what self-destructive behaviors and addictions create our misery. People develop eating disorders as a coping mechanism to cope with the pressures from the external world. The toxic reality of the eating disorder as a coping mechanism is that it poisons the inside, and fails to confront the plagued mind-set of the victim. In fact, it not only poisons the body, the soul, and the spirit, but most importantly, also consumes the mind. The poisoned mind only multiplies the problem, creating mental as well as physical illness. Eating disorders are the manifestation of frustration and inner turmoil. Instead of problem solving, though, they are problem creating. Disordered eating is rarely about the food, but instead about emotions, feelings, control, and/or feelings of inadequacy.
If we are self-aware and recognize our true emotions, feelings, and control issues, we no longer need to turn to the food for salvation. An old Ethiopian proverb warns us that, “She who conceals her disease cannot expect to overcome it.” Today, I respect my weaknesses and my struggles, because I believe they allow me to be human, to hurt, and to self-correct. Today, I can face adversity and persevere. As I learn what truly matters in my own life, I see the beauty in the everyday. For the first time, I seek friendship instead of isolation. And I hope that other women can experience the same rebirth that I have been blessed with. Yet I recognize that each woman must discover her own will to live before she can discover true beauty and inner serenity. R. S Jones once said, “I’ve come to think that for the person with an eating disorder, hunger becomes a tangible feeling within the body that matches the inchoate longings of the soul that have no other means of expression. I need, I want, I hunger.” I challenge each person to explore which patchwork pieces create his or her own quilt of life, and to mend the torn and tattered fabric. To discover what they truly need, want, and hunger for. Strengthen your spirit, have faith in yourself, and challenge your own beliefs. Enrich your lives and seek the beauty in the days we are blessed with. Sarah Ban Breathnach exclaimed, “Blessed am I to live in such a beautiful temple.” And blessed are those who recognize, explore, and examine their own temple.