HOW HATING MY EATING DISORDER HELD ME BACK IN RECOVERY
For a long time, I hated my eating disorder. Which is completely normal and understandable; I don’t think anyone likes being unwell, especially when it becomes so destructive to not only your own life, but those of others around you.
You hate it for what it does to you and your family and friends, you hate that you ‘let’ it happen (which you didn’t), you hate that you’re such a burden (which you aren’t), you hate yourself because with mental illness, it’s hard to separate the disease from who you are. It’s in your head, in your brain and when you’re in the depths, it feels like it’s you.
But what I’ve learnt is the longer I’ve held onto this hatred, this shame, this negativity - the harder it is to let the disorder go.
If you think about it, why should you hate something that you have no real control over? Yes - you can be in control of how you act in response to the illness, although be it incredibly hard at times, and you can be in control of your therapy and recovery process in order to re-wire those neural pathways and thoughts, but are you in control of the stuff that goes on in your brain before you act against it, the feelings or emotions?
No, you’re not.
You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control how you react to it.
Now I’m not saying that feelings of frustration, upset, anger, despair, ‘hatred’ (though I refer to hate, I feel like it’s an umbrella term for some of the other emotions listed) are ‘bad’ - I’m a firm believer that no emotion in this world is inherently good or bad, whilst arguably ‘negative’, it can be used in a positive manner. There have definitely been times where these feelings have been helpful in my recovery; where anger and frustration have given me that push to fight through my anxiety or my fears, or to bash down irrational thoughts. They have been motivational; making me want to scream (insert insult of choice here) at my disorder and fight against it.
And although this can be incredibly useful for a while, I’ve found personally that even with separating the illness from myself, displacing my negative feelings onto something else, the feelings still come back to bite at me. Because even if I’m angry at a thought or feeling I’m having and try to act against it, I’ll end up still having some negativity towards myself - for example, if i’d gone so long without feeling anxious and suddenly did one day again, it would be hard not to analyse myself, try and figure out where I went wrong, what set it all off - hard not to be annoyed at myself for feeling that way. Or if I wasn’t able on an occasion to act in the way I wanted to, or on reflection didn’t do what actually would have been more helpful in my recovery, it would be hard to combat the disappointment and self-criticism. Because on these occasions, it seems more like something thats ‘your fault’, something that’s in your control. So even with separating the illness, those negative emotions attached always come back to bite. Even though it’s detached, it’s still somehow attached in your brain. Some of those neural pathways still exist, even though they might have not been used for a while.
And what we really want, is for them to completely dissolve.
In my mind, something can only really dissolve if it’s being let go of. If no part of you is harbouring it on, holding on to pain, to grief, nothing is left festering away inside of you. And after the awareness and the separation comes acceptance. Acceptance that this was, and still is, part of you - and that’s okay. You will fully recover, but some of those traits that your eating disorder manipulated; like your conscientiousness, your perfectionism, your dedication and ability to control might always be part of you - though they too, can be let go of or dampened as you grow and change, if you want them too. Acceptance that it is an illness; it’s not something to be angry or upset about, because it won’t help you recover in the long-term.
With acceptance comes gratitude; for all the silver-linings, all of the good that has come out of this time of your life, what it has taught you and how it has shaped you as a person. Gratitude, and compassion; because it was simply a protective mechanism, that allowed you to survive in a time when your mind couldn’t see another way. Recognising that it filled a hole where your self-love was missing; where the compassion was void from your life. Recognising that whenever those voices linger, they don’t need bashed down with hatred. They need love - to be appreciated for what they’re trying to do, but to be shown that thanks but no thanks, it’s okay, you don’t need them anymore. Because you’re slowly finding that compassion towards yourself.