June 19, 2015 by Deanna James, LPC, CEDS in Alumni and Family, Testimonials Guest Post by Alumna Lauren S.
Something I’ve heard a lot in eating disorder recovery is to consider my values and who I am as a person, and then live in a way that upholds my true self. Sounds so simple. But especially in the early days of my recovery, it seemed like the most unhelpful thing I could imagine.
Problem 1: I really had no clue who I was. I had no clue what I valued, other than watching the number on the scale change. In my earliest stages of recovery, I wouldn’t have even been able to tell you what my favorite color was, or what I enjoyed doing, or who my friends were, or even whether or not I was feeling tired. So how in the world was I supposed to know intimate, deep things about myself, like what I valued or what my life goals were? No chance.
Problem 2: My eating disorder has a snarky side. And is also able to turn any piece of recovery-focused encouragement into something that helps it to get stronger. So in my sickest state, I would think (and whole-heartedly believe) things like “Well, I value my eating disorder and my true self is a person who is anorexic with an exercise addiction. So to be true to myself and my values, I need to leave treatment and throw everything I have into getting better at my eating disorder.”
So, if recovering meant living according to my values and my true self, but I didn’t know who I was or if I even existed outside of my eating disorder, then how was I supposed to get started?
The battle seemed impossible. I quit… over and over again, I quit.
But through all of my trials and failures, I started to notice something. There were people by my side who never left, no matter how many times I gave up on myself. They had seen me at my very worst, and still stuck around with the hopes of seeing me at my very best.
Once I realized that these people really weren’t leaving me and truly wanted the best for me, I was slowly able to begin trusting them. And in trusting them, something magical happened – I started seeing in them reflections of who the true Lauren is.
I still couldn’t trust myself, much less have a good sense of my Self, but when I finally had someone I trusted tell me who I was, I started believing it and learning from it.
This was never a huge “aha” moment for me. Most of these reflections I’m talking about are very small, like someone saying “You always sit in that same spot, huh?” or “You’re not reading that book as quickly as usual, do you not like it much?” And when I was able to hear things like this about myself from people I trusted– not as judgments, but as simple observations – I learned to start observing myself in the same way.
So I started observing. And learning. And very slowly… changing. I found myself thinking things like “Actually, this book really isn’t that great. I’m going to stop reading it. I’m allowed to stop reading it.” Or noticing that I was always drawn to items in the store that were purple, and finally it dawned on me one day that purple was, without a doubt, my favorite color.
Of course, learning these little factoids about myself wasn’t directly useful in recovering from my eating disorder, but then again, it was an absolute vital part of the process.
Once I was able to learn small things about myself and accept them without judgment (Stop reading a book without finishing it?! I could never do that, I would seem so lazy and stupid! Like a quitter!) then I was able to dive a bit deeper, and figure out what my true values are, and understand the person that I am, and the person that I want to be.
I know now that I value genuineness, creativity, learning, family, friends, fun, and commitment. I am able now to consider these values when I’m making decisions for myself, or when I’m tempted to use my eating disorder. For the most part, using my eating disorder doesn’t fit into any of these values. My eating disorder is not who I am, nor who I strive to be.
I wouldn’t say I’m there yet. And I’ve also started to learn that there’s another dimension to all of this – that my values and interests can and do change from time to time. So the process of learning about myself will probably never end. But I’ve decided that’s ok, because what is life, if not a way to continually discover who we are? I know for me, the road to recovery looks a lot like the road of discovery, and even though I don’t know exactly what that road looks like… well, that’s kind of the point I suppose. I’ll find me as I go.