Having an eating disorder is a very personal thing.
It consumes your being and feels as intimate and destructive as an abusive relationship. Even after recovery, your disorder can feel as rough as a breakup with a significant other, to the point where you might even miss it.
To explain it to those who are on the outside looking in: to me, anorexia consumed my life, my thoughts, my mannerisms, my relationships (or lack thereof), to the point where my eating disorder consumed my identity.
Every day revolved around food, my behaviors, my body image. I simply didn’t have the energy to think about anything else.
So, once I’m in recovery and am no longer anorexic, who am I?
Not, “I am”
One of the most valuable things I learned during recovery was to be careful not to say, “I’m anorexic,” but rather, “I have anorexia.”
That statement allowed me know the difference between having an eating disorder and not letting it be a part of my identity. Rather, it was something I was experiencing, not an essential part of my being.
Too often, we let our disorders define who were are.
Some people let their job define them. Or their fame. Some might let the number of followers they have on Instagram define them.
But it’s unhealthy to be defined by a tangible thing because it can easily disappear. Or if it’s unhealthy, that mindset can make those unwanted behaviors linger.
We have so many layers of our personality – of our soul – that putting labels on ourselves puts unnecessary restrictions on what we can and cannot do.
A quote I love is, “There is a difference between you experiencing suffering and becoming your suffering.” I learned to look at my eating disorder as an experience. That way, recovery became the end of that experience and the start of a better one.
What makes me “me”
Holding onto unhealthy behaviors as a part of identity only makes it harder to let them go.
If we look at our behaviors as a trait that can be changed, rather than a huge part of who we are, we’re able to adapt.
I discovered that when I stopped obsessing about food and my body (and yes, that’s possible), I had energy to focus on what actually made me me. Even now, I don’t get too attached to anything to define myself. I simply know what I love, what I don’t love, and I concentrate more on the latter.
Identity can be so fragile and as humans we’re supposed to change constantly. Just because you’re struggling with an eating disorder now doesn’t mean that’s going to be you in the future.
Your eating disorder is not a part of your identity, it’s only a part of your ongoing journey through life.
Go easier on yourself, let go of the notion of “identity”, and embrace the freedom of knowing that you can leave these things in the past without losing your sense of self.