Recovery: An Opportunity for Discovery

April 19th, 2012

"You have to color outside the lines once in a while if you want to make your life a masterpiece."I have the opportunity to introduce to you, Heather Purdin, M.Ed., RYT. I met Heather online and have gotten to enjoy her brisk, lively writing style. I asked her if she would like to be a part of my online world by writing a blog for me weekly. I was thrilled when she said yes! I’m sure you’ll enjoy her writing and her knowledge of eating disorders as much as I do! – Jeannie
Hindsight really does provide a great view.  As I child, I held the world in my hands. Bright, articulate, and resourceful, I was creatively expressive and I had a joyous sense of humor. I was also empathic, friendly, and caring. It is almost easy to forget the other half of the story; I was so unhappy. I certainly did not see myself in the light I do today.

Growing up, I simply do not remember there being much I actually liked about myself. This was not due to a lack of external affirmations. Rather, it was as if one negative could rule out all positives.

Thanks to my infamous “terrible twos” temper tantrums, one of my first nicknames was Stormy Heather. Next, I was crowned Worry Wart, which I earned for the imaginative calamities I was able to conjure in my mind even as a child. Around kindergarten, I remember being told I was too shy. In grade school, my peers considered me a nerd. In middle school, I was too sensitive – a cry baby. In high school, I took things too seriously – a drama queen! If you notice a running theme, it is that despite my strengths, I was hyper focused on any criticism that came my way.

I was not popular enough. I was not pretty enough. I was not good enough!
I viewed myself as fundamentally… flawed.

I had anxiety as a very young child. By age 7, I was being monitored by school nurses for depressive symptoms. By age 10, I began using food as a way to soothe thy soul, first through overeating. Coupled with the changes occurring in my body during puberty, I gained weight and became chubby. Of all of the criticisms I ever received, this one stung the most.

“I’m going on a diet,” I decided. As any good student does, I began educating myself about my subject matter, which was losing weight. I was not the only one adopting this trend. The few friends I had were also weight focused. In fact, we would weigh ourselves together during sleepovers. By age 12, the seemingly innocent diet had morphed into an eating disorder.

As I carved away more space for the eating disorder, I was slowly becoming a hollow shell of my former self. Remember, I did not much care for my flawed former self, so I clung to the anorexia like a new friend with great promise. I began putting most of my energy into learning about eating disorders. I checked out every single book in the school library about it. I wrote school papers on the topic. I watched all of the talk shows and TV movies I could find. I browsed recipes for fun. I took up gourmet cooking. I even collected images of thinspiration.

I went from being a young woman with anorexia to becoming an anorexic. It became my entire identity.

The eating disorder was fulfilling in many ways.

  1. I became unique—extraordinary in fact: This made me different, special.
  2. I felt strong. I had a perceived ability to exert self-control over food and weight.
  3. It empowered me. If I worked hard enough, I might just become the best at something.
  4. It became a coping skill. The behaviors and obsessions became a distraction from anxiety & depression, at least in the moment.
  5. It gave me meaning. I had invested significant time, energy, and passion into the eating disorder. It was comparable in importance to that of a career. Who would I be without it?

For years, I half-convinced myself that the eating disorder was filling the void. Basically, I did not know what the incentive for change might be. “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Anais Nin

While it certainly served a purpose, it was also robbing me of everything I thought it was giving me, so I began fighting.

  1. There are at least ten million girls, boys, women, and men in the country who also suffer from eating disorders. I was not terribly special for having it.
  2. Nearing 30 years of age and still struggling, I was totally out of control.
  3. The chase for perfection left me feeling utterly powerless. I ran after the goal for almost twenty years and never felt good enough. In the pursuit of thinness, good enough and thin enough are rewarded only by a grave marker.
  4. My coping skill was flawed. In the end, the anxiety and depression only grow worse.
  5. I had no sense of meaning. I wasted nearly two decades of time, energy, and passion for something which would never allow me to express my fullest potential. Who was I now?

Admitting that I had been living a lie was absolutely devastating and I was terrified to let go of the eating disorder! I feared there would be nothing left of me. At the same time, I knew it that ED was the ultimate frenemy. Have you heard that saying, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me?” Basically, I knew it was time to do something about this. I decided, “Maybe this struggle is an opportunity to recreate myself. Maybe I can shed the eating disorder by redefining who I am. Maybe recovery is an opportunity for discovery.” For me, this was a turning point! Recovery is becoming an exciting adventure rather than a scary question mark.

As you let go of the eating disorder, you have a chance to fill your life with inspiration. This is your chance to explore, experiment, discover, recover, recreate, and enJOY life beyond the shackles of ED.

Six Sure-fire Ways to Infuse Your Identity with Inspiration

  1. Be open to the possibility that what you currently believe may be only part of the story. There are two sides to every coin. I have come to learn that many of my perceived flaws are also my greatest strengths. For example, by being sensitive, I am more able to be empathic and intuitive.
  2. Reflect on your personal values. The values we hold can be physical, interpersonal, psychological, and spiritual. Examples might include: relationships, health, happiness, truth, community, gratitude. How do your values contribute to the concept of recovery or healing? How does the eating disorder fit into this relationship?
  3. Redefine Beauty. Begin by sitting down and writing out your answer to the following question, “What is beauty?” If this is difficult for you, consider the things for which you hold gratitude. There is usually great beauty in the things we are thankful for. Then, ask at least three people whom you greatly respect to write out their definitions of beauty. With a highlighter in hand, make note of what resonates with you while reading their replies. What are you willing to integrate into your current definition of beauty? Now, rewrite your new definition of beauty. Tape it to your mirror!
  4. Make a Bucket List for Wellness. Having an eating disorder poses limitations on our abilities. Identify at least 20 things you look forward to doing with your newfound vitality and write them out on a piece of paper. Include both activities you look forward to resuming and anything you look forward to in the future (e.g. dancing, skydiving, having a family, traveling). Then, cut these motivating incentives into strips that you can fold and store in a box or basket. Pull them out when you find yourself questioning your drive to get well. Add to your bucket list periodically to keep your inspiration fresh.
  5. Warm Up Your Voice. Practice making decisions. Practice expressing your preferences. If this is new to you, it can be scary and confusing to identify and vocalize what you want, like, and prefer. However, this is the only way you can begin to live by your personal values. Start with every day scenarios. The next time you plan to go to a movie with a friend, offer your preference. You may, in turn, introduce your friend to new experiences and interests.
  6. Dare to Dream. Having dreams requires an expression of courage. Believe in the beauty of your dreams.

You make your dreams come true one decision at a time. What are you willing to do today?

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