It’s been almost 6 months since I first shared about my relapse. When I posted, I had been working with a treatment team of 4 professionals for 4 months already. Almost a full year ago my behaviors with food tipped from obsessive and restricted, yet socially acceptable into diagnosable anorexic criteria (though, still in some ways socially acceptable…more on that later). Over these last few months, I’ve written at length about my real, raw experience with this disorder that’s gripped for more than a decade. Lately, I’ve exchanged powerfully vulnerable captions for brand-building, educational, and promotional ones. For me, this shift has been an organic one; I write what I feel I can speak about with truth and clarity. So while I have completely recovered (more on this below) I’ve not yet felt comfortable sharing my experience in a way that feels authentic and anecdotal. From my own experience following recovery stories, I know that there is a thin line dividing those that are inspirational yet allow the readers to retain their own identity and agency, and those that read like hollow advice or bragging (“I recovered and SO CAN YOU!”).
However, I’ve been bombarded lately by the same question: “How are you?”
The tone of people’s voices and/or the looks on their faces suggests they want to ask a different question but can’t find the words; one that allows them to express the fullness and complexity of what it is they are actually trying to ask, rather than the culturally and socially conditioned greeting that lends itself to only one answer – “Good”. No, I imagine they’d rather say something like, “So I know you were super open about a relapse into anorexia; you look fine now – thicker, softer, fuller. Are you better? Are you still sad? What’s going on with you, really?”
I’m awake – I feel again, I care again. I want to learn, to teach, to touch, to cry, to laugh, to dance, to sing, to scream, to protest, to write, to speak, to hug, to move, to rest, to sleep, to fuck, to eat, to drink, to swim. I want to LIVE again, when for months I wanted to die; I felt dead inside already.
I feel more connected to life than I ever have been before – life feels important, precious. The most dramatic shift I’ve experienced is that for the first time I feel like my life, specifically, is important, precious. I’ve wanted to believe it for so long; my first few years of recovery helped open my eyes to the possibility that I could matter. I had hints of hope that I could contribute to this world in a way that no one else ever has, is, or will. Yet even in all the years of working in recovery, the belief remained that it would take a certain amount of repentance or restitution to overcome what a waste of a person I’d been before. I’d still need to accomplish something to earn the purpose and meaning I so desperately sought. So I spent years diving into personal development and wellness, trying to fight my way to the top of those realms so that eventually I could say I’d helped enough people to matter. I had this unconscious belief that still ruled me – it was the belief that originally sparked and drove my eating disorder for so many years, that kept me enslaved by perfectionism in years of pseudo-recovery. I’m inherently broken. At my core, I don’t deserve love; deserve to be severely punished in fact. I must never let anyone see how broken I really am, and must always, always be working to hide my dysfunction and brokenness, and striving to overcome it. I had no idea how powerfully this narrative was still running in my system. I certainly had no idea that it was keeping me from extended deep compassion and acceptance to others; even causing me to carry judgments into my classes, closest relationships, let alone strangers. This relapse brought that belief and its ripple effects glaringly into awareness, and forced me to break up with my relationship to being defective. I was carrying the burden of being unloveable into every aspect of my life. Every struggle I had been facing was caused in some way, or at the very least exacerbated by my own inability to see myself as a miniscule yet magnificent part of a universal system of physics and chemistry infused by spirit.
Important here is that I tried to see myself (and the world) in that new way for a number of years. Conceptually, I latched on to every idea from Buddhism, Christianity, New Age spirituality and so on that claims we are all deserving of love and part of the same whole – no different than anyone else, yet paradoxically unique in our contribution. I could intuit that as true, and on a cerebral level absolutely held it as Truth. Yet somatically, the old belief remained – an old, infected software program covertly operating my entire neurological system.
For me, this relapse provided a unique opportunity to heal what I didn’t know I hadn’t healed. To break the systems I didn’t know were silently breaking me. It took a while, but eventually I was able to see the severe restricting, the compulsive exercise, and the self-hatred as a call to a higher level of functionality in this world. With that perception (and a fucking phenomenal support team of physicians, therapists, family and friends) I started to question things I’d never questioned before. No behavior, thought, communication pattern was off limits from my own inquiry and challenge. I spent hours each day filtering through my thoughts, writing out my behavior chains, asking over and over, “Is there another way to see this, think about this, experience this? Is this really how it seems to be? Why might I be inclined to see it only this way? What is my fixed perception protecting and perpetuating?”
This inquiry led me to healing techniques I would have never considered before, challenged my ideas and opened my soul to new conceptions of health, weight, wellness, wellbeing, what it is to be a woman in 21st century America, why we act/think/believe the way we do, movement, fitness, eating, sex, trauma, recovery, and spirituality. I found great teachers in Intuitive Eating, Health at Every Size, Tantric philosophy and practice, sexual vibrancy/vitality, embodied and intuitive leadership and communication, and healing the body as a tool to balance and heal the BEING. I could go on for pages about how my behaviors have shifted, what tools/modalities I recommend, etc. etc. and for this post, none of that matters.
Yes, my relationship to food and exercise is drastically different than it’s ever been in my entire life. My body is healing, growing, softening, and my perception of that is changing. And just as importantly, my soul is changed. My relationship to life is changed. My purpose is changed. I am malleable. I am practicing compassion. I am allowing myself to be loved. Does that answer your question?