Eating disorders are full of all kinds of contradictory feelings. You hate yourself, but you are consumed by yourself. You think you are fat, but you know you are the smallest person in the room and love it. You hate food, but you love it- its all you think about, its all you care about. You do everything in your power to lose weight so others will notice, but you get uncomfortable and mad when people comment on it. You do everything for other people, yet you are so self absorbed, you can’t see beyond your body and the fridge.
Recovery is no different. You want to put yourself first and get healthy, but you are still so used to living for what other’s think. The hardest lesson to learn is that recovery is all about being selfish. You have to be 100% on, all of the time, constantly making sure you are checking your ED feelings, thoughts, actions and motives. That’s a full time job: you don’t have time to worry about other people’s thoughts or motives.
You have to stop caring what other people think of you.
I remember one specific time, when I had just started to really take recovery seriously, my parents invited me over to dinner.
A little back story: I haven’t lived at home since I was 18. I mean, the second I turned 18, I got the fuck out of there. I moved about 30 minutes away. My mother has never seen my apartment. She’s never asked to. She’s never made an effort to. So the only time I see my mom and dad is when I go over to pick up my mail once a weekend.
There were so many times I would go into a therapy session and have to admit that I had slipped up. I binged and purged. I always felt so ashamed, but my counselor never judged me: he barely even blinked when I would tell him I had given in. All he would say was “why?” This was always followed with a ton of “woe is me” responses and how tired I was of fighting and blah, blah, blah. He would politely tell me, yet again, that’s not why I did it, those are the feelings I get AFTER i did it. So what caused it?
Usually, when we got past by usual crap-canned answers, it stemmed from a visit to the folks. I was ignored, or told I wasn’t good enough in one way or another, or I was told I must not be doing well in my recovery because I looked just as skinny.
So one day in session, my counselor straight up asked me, “why do you go over there?”
“To see my parents.”
“But why? You always slip up when you see them- they aren’t good for your recovery right now. They still can control your feelings. Why do you subject yourself to that?”
“Because I have to go see them. They are my parents.” (I wasn’t very introspective back then)
“You don’t have to do anything. Why do you feel obligated to subject yourself to that? You don’t deserve that. No one does. So why do you keep going back for more?”
“I don’t know.”
“What would happen if you didn’t go over?”
“My mom will get mad and I’ll have to hear about it over and over.”
“So don’t be around to hear it.”
“I have to- she calls.”
“Don’t answer the phone. Why do you have to talk to her?”
“I’d feel bad.” I wasn’t allowed to say bad, because bad isn’t an emotion, so I had to reanswer. “I’d feel guilty.”
The magic word.
My life up until that point had been ruled by guilt. I felt guilty for not being a good daughter. I felt guilty for having an eating disorder and putting everyone through the stress of worrying about me. I felt guilty for being a bad girlfriend. A bad friend. I felt guilty when my mom would call and make passive aggressive comments about whatever the topic of the day was and I felt guilty for leaving my dad with her. I was always feeling guilt.
“You know what guilt is?” he asked me. “It’s when you let other people control how you feel. If you really want to get better, you need to put yourself first from this point forward. Don’t do anything you don’t want to do. Say no. Don’t be scared to hurt anyone’s feelings. Do what is going to get you healthy, and don’t give it a second thought.”
So, back to dinner at the parent’s. I came, made chit chat and waited for dinner. I don’t remember what we had, but I remember it was something I specifically told her I could not eat. She knew what I was and was not allowed to eat at that point in time, and purposefully made it anyway. Or she just didn’t find it important enough to remember. Either way, I was not considered.
She set the food down. I immediately stood up, thanked her for making dinner and for them inviting me over, but told them I cannot eat this food because I’m in recovery and it will trigger me, and I need to leave.
And I did.
I walked out.
Guess what happened? Nothing. Well, actually, I had to endure a lot of phone calls, some silent treatment, and it getting brought up over and over again (notice no apology) but honestly, I didn’t care. I learned to look out for me, and finally, FINALLY make a decision with only my best interest at heart.
I always thought being selfish was a bad thing: one of the worst personality traits a person can have. But being selfish is a neccessity when you are trying to get your life on track. Letting other people rule your emotions and thoughts is the surest way to give into self destructive patterns.
Stop living for what other people think of you,because at the end of the day, you are the only person you have to report to. Take pride in putting yourself first.