Rediscovering your TRUE self in Eating Disorder Recovery
One important thing in terms of sustaining recovery is reconnecting with and rediscovering who you are without the eating disorder. That sounds great, right? But how do we get there? This is something I commonly get asked by clients. It can feel daunting or even impossible. Many folks think their ED is their true self. This is simply not true. You were not born with an eating disorder. Your eating disorder 'part' developed as a protective coping skill. We can have gratitude for that and also realize it's likely not serving you anymore. As we let it go and work on behavior change, we may start to feel empty or lost. This is NORMAL and does not mean you are doing recovery wrong. It means your eating disorder is taking up less room in your life and it's time to start rebuilding your true essence. Reflecting on my own journey years ago, this is what helped me:
Radical acceptance that I was separate from my eating disorder.
The eating disorder can feel like it is your true identity; but the reality is, it's a mental illness. No one is born with an eating disorder and no one chooses it. I had to accept that the eating disorder was not me and it was not giving me all the things it promised. In fact, over time, I realized it was making me very miserable. This pushed me to lean into recovery- even thought it was scary. At some point, something shifted where staying with the eating disorder felt scarier than recovery.
Patience + intentional self discovery.
Recovery is one big, uncomfortable journey of self discovery. When I was struggling, I had no clue what true enjoyment/pleasure was anymore, so I turned back to hobbies that I liked when I was younger. This helped me determine what I truly liked and disliked. When you start letting the behaviors go, you will have a lot more free time and you need to have a plan for how to use this time in order to not revert back.
For me it was:
-going back to school
-meaningful volunteer work (at a farm, and child advocacy)
-spent more time with family/friends
-spending time in nature
-got a dog (this was huge)
Build a life worth living through an exploration of your values.
I explored and connected with my true passions; and started building a life around that instead of the eating disorder. At some point in recovery, I realized my eating disorder's values were very different from my own. What my eating disorder wanted for my life and what I wanted for my life were two seperate things (this was not clear at first so don't worry if you feel this way right now). My therapist eventually encouraged me to go after my dreams- the dreams I abandoned while I was sick. This slowly became more meaningful and exciting than staying sick. It was easier to let the eating disorder go at that point. Discovering what truly lights your soul up- is ultimately more fulfilling than the eating disorder will ever be. For me, this was helping people heal, having authentic relationships and getting involved in activism work.
Permission to view recovery as an experiment.
Recovery was terrifying at first. I avoided it for a long time because it meant giving up something that I thought made me special and ultimately, something that protected me from pain in my life for a little while. In order to give up something that became so wrapped up in my identity, I needed to give myself permission to just 'try out' recovery, and if I didn't like it in the end, I told myself, I could go back. This helped me slowly grieve and let go, so that in the end, when I finally recovered, I didn't want to go back. Life was just a million times better- and you can't see that in the depths of the eating disorder. I really had to trust the process and ask myself daily "what do I need to do today to practice recovery?"
I hope this helps you see that you need a roadmap to rediscovering your true self. It takes work and lots of trial, error, compassion, patience, awkward moments and curiosity. If you want help in this process, you can always reach out to my practice for help!