When you feel like the world is passing you by and you are at a standstill, it’s a good time to evaluate your life and ask yourself what you’d like to be doing. When I asked myself this question in my late 20’s I realized I had been living in a never ending nightmare and barely alive, instead of being awake and engaged in life. Yes, I got through college and nursing school, I had reputable jobs, and had some decent friends; however the reality was that the majority of my days were spent engulfed in the eating disorder. I was throwing my life away.
I was the type of person that thought, if only I moved to a new city, got a different job, found a new hobby, or got another degree then I’d be happy and my eating disorder would disappear. Unfortunately, eating disorders and mental health issues don’t work like that. They follow you wherever you go, maybe you get a few days or weeks of reprieve but those issues that were there before, are still there waiting to resurface. I tried my hardest to run, run from myself, from people that hurt me, from situations I didn’t like, and from the painful memories. You can’t outrun or outsmart depression or eating disorders. It’s just not possible.
The way to recovery is working through the most dark thoughts and beliefs about oneself and learning to love the person you are from the inside out. For me, my eating disorder was a way to punish myself, neglect my basic needs, and destroy who I was. My core belief “I am meant to suffer” was etched so deep into my soul that I couldn’t fathom treating myself with kindness, or even uttering a word of praise. I was set on the fact that I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t worthy, and I could never life up to the person my family wanted me to be. Getting to this understanding of myself was extremely painful and the easy way out would have been to ignore it. Has I done that, I wouldn’t be here today, living a recovered life. (more to come)
Replacing my negative core beliefs with neutral or positive beliefs was the first step in working towards recovery. Here are a few of the things I began saying to myself:
Instead of “I am meant to suffer”:
-I have value
-I bring value to this world
-I have good qualities
-I am a kind person
-my life has purpose
-my past doesn’t have to define my future
-I am likable
-I am smart
-I am hardworking
These phrases are not something I believed right away. It takes time to think and believe differently. I encourage you to be kind with yourself and also to be honest with yourself. Real change requires real and truthful work. You deserve it for yourself to honor the dark that is within you, and work towards the light. Change is possible, it just takes dedication and perseverance.
Never give up on yourself or your recovery.
As the positive messages replaced my old negative messages and old story, I realized I became more invested in myself. People always ask, what helped you commit to recovery? The two most important things for me were:
1. Taking ownership over my recovery and my future
2. Living, being, and feeling empowered.
It’s not possible to have lifelong change because someone else wants you to. You have to get to a place of wanting it for yourself, believing it’s possible (even if it starts with one ounce), and igniting the flame of hope within yourself. If you are on the fence about recovering from your eating disorder, it’s helpful to ask yourself a few questions:
Once you make a decision to recover, fight like hell to keep yourself motivated and committed to moving one step closer each day. Take back the control that the eating disorder took from you and gain back your life. I felt so powerful, in a way I hadn’t before and it was with that conviction and drive that I challenged my own thoughts and behaviors and began to live differently.
Written in my eating disorder, before embarking on the recovery journey.
I feel paralyzed.
I’m shaking inside.
I want help, but I’m not doing a good job of letting people help me.
I’m afraid of getting hurt and betrayed again.
My chest is so tight I can’t breathe.
There is so much pain.
Tears well up inside my eyes.
I want to completely shut down and not deal with any of this.
I don’t have anyone to call.
I know I’ll become too much, if I haven’t already.
I feel out of control, desperately clutching to the eating disorder with all of the strength I have left.
I am broken, torn, and in pieces.
How did I get like this?
Why is this my life?
I think I’m panicking.
The world is so big.
I’m just being swallowed up.
Who is looking out for me?
Everyone leaves me at some point.
How am I supposed to trust anyone?
I don’t want to admit it out loud, but I’m terrified. I’m scared.
My heart is racing, just like my thoughts.
Am I going to make it?
Why is it so hard to get better?
What does success look like for you? Is it in the grades you achieve, the amount of money in your bank account, your independence, your job title, the vacations you take, or the relationships you have?
When I was in kindergarten, I dreamed about being older and smarter, getting my first job, and having a lot of fun with friends; when I was in high school I dreamed about being smaller, thinner, eating less than others, not having any body fat, being the fastest on the swim team, and fitting in. How did my life’s successes change so drastically from when I was 6 to when I was 16. It seemed like as I grew older, I was never quite good enough for anyone including myself; not smart enough, not a good enough flute player, not the fastest on the swim team, not the thinnest or smallest, and not in the “in crowd”.
The evolution of my eating disorder crept in slowly, gaining momentum as time went on, and gaining significance as the years went on. I worked hard to eat the right foods, work out and have a fit body, survive off of almost nothing, and suppress my emotions both positive and negative. What I was left with, was nothing but a shell. Everything I once had the possibility of becoming or doing was disappearing, the friends I had were gone, my attention span sharp, but it was used to work myself into the ground, the expectations for myself unrealistic, and I never felt a part of the group, or like I measured up to others around me.
The eating disorder that I attached myself so tightly to took away everything that made me the person I was meant to me, and I became a person I didn’t recognize any longer. In the mirror I saw someone who was ugly, unattractive, and not successful, in reality I was withering away, shrinking inside myself, caving to the external pressures, crumbling to the internal perfectionist I was, and slowly dying. I still don’t understand, how did that life seem so glamorous?
Tonight’s message is simple, probably a bit harder to implement though, food is nourishment for the body, mind, and soul. Have some fun with it, eat with friends, and try new dishes.
Tonight’s dinner at Living Proof MN was baked sweet potatoes, peanut butter, and bananas. Delicious.
Hi I’m Shira! I’ve been living a fully recovered life from an eating disorder for the past 7 years. I am now the founder of a nonprofit organization that helps others achieve the same. My mentees have asked me to create an instagram account sharing what was helpful for me when I was recovering. I hope you will follow along.
My eating disorder was a friend to me that got me though some really hard times: abuse, feeling lost, not fitting in, and growing up with others who overpowered me. It was by clinging onto my eating disorder that I thought I had life figured out and had it all together. In reality, I was mistaking, I was actually beaten down and hiding from a world that I had grown scared of.
It becomes so hard to see ourselves clearly when the lens that you look at yourself through is marred by the eating disorder voices and the strict rules you’ve given to yourself. I was a slave to my own negative messages and to the limitations I put upon myself. I convinced myself that suffering was my sole purpose. That challenge was good for me. That the easy road was a “cop out”. I put so many demands on myself that it was nearly impossible to think about just being ok with who I was in raw form. I had to perform, I had to make people proud, I had to do better each new day compadres to the previous day.
My worth was wrapped up in the grades I got, my appearance, and how much I could do for everyone else so I wouldn’t let them down. That thinking kept me stuck for years and led me to a dark hole I couldn’t get out of. This was just the beginning of my long road living with an eating disorder.
Where or how did your eating disorder begin?
What got me into a lot of trouble and revved up the eating disorder was that question, “Am I doing it (life) right or am I doing it wrong? I wanted to please others, I wanted to protect them, I wanted to make others proud. The moment I felt an ounce of guilt I changed my response, compromised who I was, pushed down my own needs, and did what others wanted me to do. Afterwards with the negative feelings sitting inside of me, I questioned my worth, my identity, my place in the world, and was overcome with emotion. It was too much to handle and I didn’t even know what handling emotions appropriately looked like. So my solution was the eating disorder. I looked to it for calm and security, it was a friend to turn to when I felt like nobody was in my corner.
Deep down I knew that the eating disorder was a way to punish myself, a way to destroy myself, a way to further tell myself I don’t matter to others or myself. And when the eating disorder got going it got loud, it got mean, and it got me stuck into believing I was no good and yes, doing life wrong.
Who is to say you’re doing “it” right or wrong anyways? Right or wrong, according to who? There is no true definition or standard of right. It doesn’t exist. Your right, is someone else’s wrong, and their wrong is your right. When we put ourselves into categories and allow the black and white thinking to take over, we are jeopardizing ourselves.
When you are faced with making a decision, no matter how big or how small, here are a couple of helpful reminders:
*life is ever-evolving and permeable.
*you can change course and change your mind at anytime.
*there is no right way to do life
*this life is yours and nobody else’s, you get to call the shots.
*taking chances and going outside of your comfort zone can lead to opportunities you wouldn’t have had otherwise
*honor yourself, love yourself in the process of learning and growing, and making mistakes, it’s all part of this journey.
There’s nothing worse than a negative mindset. So many people attempt to create a positive mindset, but it doesn’t last. For lifelong changes, we need to create a shift in our mindset. Here’s what I have found as I’ve traveled the road from eating disorder to recovered.
1.Stop thinking your eating disorder gives you control. The eating disorder has complete control over you, and unfortunately you have lost all control.
2.Stop doubting yourself. Start believing in yourself, your abilities, your potential, your future, and your new you that you want to be.
3.Give up being a perfectionist. It is unattainable, it keeps you trapped and stuck, it ruins your relationships, your self-worth, and your ability to be flexible. (And, flexibility is one of the best aspects of being in eating disorder recovery.)
4.Stop comparing yourself to others. Comparing always leaves you hating yourself and thinking you don’t measure up to others. When we compare ourselves, we’ll always find something we don’t like. Instead, keep your eyes on yourself, your own plate, and your own life.
5.Stop assuming the worst is going to happen. When you do, you spend a lot of energy conjuring up what could happen, and 9/10 times that never actually happens. Don’t waste your precious energy on future problems. Stay present in the moment.
6.Stop placing others’ opinion over your own. This is your life, you get to make your own decisions. At the end of the day, it is you and you alone that needs to be fulfilled with what you did, how you lived, and the person you are.
During our zoom meeting today this concept was at the forefront of our conversation. *Behaviors need to be stopped; Emotions need to be understood*. Don’t push down your emotions, feel them, welcome them in, ask them questions, and get to know them. Emotions are normal. They are the key to unlocking the door to recovery.
For years, and I mean years, I pushed down all the emotions that I had, good and bad. I learned to put on a fake smile and pretended to be happy, great and perfect. And the more I pretended the more alone and ashamed I felt. And where did that all get me? In a long-standing relationship with anorexia and bulimia. It caused me to miss out on years of my life. It caused me to hate myself, punish myself, and beat myself up over and over again.
Recovering from my eating disorder required me to stop pretending to be happy and just feel what I was feeling. It was so foreign at the beginning but I let the feelings out slowly and methodically and tried to sit with them. It was ugly and messy and they didn’t make much sense, but the more I learned to identify my emotions the more I learned about who I was as a person.
Stop stuffing down the emotions with whatever negative means you use. We are all full of emotions and that’s how we interact with others and the world.
During a family session I led between a woman with an eating disorder and her boyfriend this week, I was reminded about how irrational and misunderstood eating disorders are to the general public. For me, and others who have had an eating disorder or who work with people with eating disorders, the concept of an eating disorder is less foreign; however for those without that background, eating disorders are mind boggling, difficult to comprehend, and make sense of.
When I was deep in my eating disorder, I remember my family telling me; “sit and eat dinner with us”, “don’t let people’s comments affect you so much”, “just don’t throw up after you eat”. It sounded so simple and yet, I couldn’t get myself to do any of those things. Eating disorders are not logical, they are mystifying, and they are so challenging to break free from. Eating disorders are not about the food, nor the weight, nor the size clothes you wear. You may think that’s what drives an eating disorder, but it’s so much more (deeper) than that.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
*How much respect do I have for myself?
*How much do I allow myself to make mistakes?
*Do I say kind things to myself?
*How many times a day are you comparing yourself to others?
*Do you make your own decisions, or do you look to others to tell you what to do or how to live?*Am I fulfilled on a daily basis?
For me, recovery truly began when I put others aside and got real with myself. I decided to take complete ownership over my life and my choices. I became honest with myself and others. Instead of saying yes to everyone, I had to be okay with saying no. When I put myself down and blamed myself for anything negative in my life, I took a step back and forgave the situations that may have caused me to think negatively of myself. And lastly, I learned to love the younger Shira, the growing and evolving Shira, and the future Shira.
Today, start by telling yourself that you are exactly the person you’re meant to be. Even if you don’t 100% believe it today, it’s okay to start before you are there, that’s how you’ll get moving in the right direction.
We spend so much time trying to be someone that we’re not. We all want to fit in with others, be accepted, and be seen as having it all together. And yet, the more we try the further we get from ourselves. I remember my days in middle school high school, and college; I was a good student, but lacked a sense of who I truly was. I was a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I thought...."if I can fit in with each group of people, I'll be ok.” I thought that by fitting in, I’ll love myself. And yet, the more I tried to be a little of something for everyone, the more lost, hopeless, fearful, and untrue to myself I became.
I lost my identity of who Shira was, but gained an identity in my eating disorder. I thought I outsmarted everyone else who was searching for their place as well; unfortunately, that was far from the truth. Because my identity in my eating disorder grew, I lost connection with the friends I had. My eating disorder was taking over every aspect of my life and it distanced me from people, pleasures, accomplishments, and milestones. As I got older and the eating disorder ruled every part of my life, I realized I was the furthest from myself I could possibly be. Shame, disappointment, and grief swallowed me whole; and the faith I had in myself decreased to nothing. I was sure my life would be cut short. Please follow for the next part of my story.
Things to think about:
*Are you truthful with yourself?
*What are your values?
*Can you love yourself just as you are?
The Beyond Rules Recovery blog is written by people who are passionate about mental health and wants to spread the message of hope, resiliency, and recovery.