Belief vs. Reality: How Recovery Helped Me Find My True Self

Image: Amy Goh

I have to admit… lately I have struggled in the area of accepting the way things are. Accepting reality is not an easy thing for me to grasp, and there is good reason.

While deep in my disorder for years and years, my perception of belief verse reality was extremely skewed. My wise mind told me one thing whilst my disordered mind begged me to see it differently. This was not only in the area of food, it seeped into all aspects of my life and it wrecked me for some time. Here’s what I mean…

Relationships:

I dated a boy as a sophomore in college that was a beautiful soul. He was kind, loving, and smart. He cared for me like mad, and when summer came around and it was time to part ways, my ED brain planted false fears in my head that this meant abandonment.

Belief: I was not good enough for him to stick around for.

The reality: The sweet young man had to go home to work and make enough money to support his continuing education for the upcoming fall semester.

I, of course, listened to my ED mind. Leaving the sweet guy high and dry with no explanation, I ran to the safest available man to fall back on. I have since apologized to this sweet, un-expecting guy, and I have further thought about that fear of abandonment and how my motto was always “hurt before him/her before he/she hurts you”.

This fear fueled my life. I ran away from commitment, from friendships, and from family from my teens into my 20’s due to this belief that I was not good enough for anyone… I just ran, I trusted no one.

The reality: I could not trust myself.

Have you ever felt that way? I was the classic cliché of “It’s not you, it’s me” in all my relationships. I didn’t know myself, so I could not fully give myself to anyone else. No one really knew me, it was a false identity that they were getting to know.

Back then, when a person liked me because I mountain biked, played guitar, or ran marathons I resented him/her because it really was not me they liked. The real be didn’t even really love those things.

I hated bike ramps, I sucked at guitar, and I certainly didn’t want to run marathons the rest of my life.

I was a walking fake. But here is the kicker- it was easier to be liked for something I wasn’t than to be disliked for the person I actually was. The act was a protection mechanism that saved my true self from being exposed and hurt.

I always compare it to this: singing karaoke in a funny way with a group of friends after a few drinks, it’s no big deal! However, if you asked me to go sing a meaningful song to me as well as I could… FORGET IT! I am not exposing my true voice like that for ridicule and criticism.

In my disorder, all my relationships were based on a lie. They were like the Taylor Swift states in her song Blank Space, “I’ll find out what you want, be that girl for a month.” I cried the first time I heard that song because it was not cute or funny… it was my life.

The truth?

I had to take an hour long leisure test with a therapist at Atlanta Center for Eating Disorders because I was CLUELESS about what I actually liked! Since that day, I have given up conforming to please others.

I am happy to report I have found I love the following: Indie Pop music (ALL of it!), writing, cats, hiking, Flannery O’Connor, cooking, and my family. It is possible to weed out the disorder and figure out the reality of who you are. I am proof.

Food:

Oh my… reality verses belief on this subject could be a whole book in my life, but I will try to summarize my thoughts quickly.

Belief: There is good and bad food and what I eat defines the type of person I am.

Reality: Food is fuel. Period.

Each food has a purpose and function in our body- brain fuel, muscle rebuilding, pleasure, energy… every food can be placed in a functional group, and eaten in moderation, all can be healthy and good for you both mentally and physically! Let me explain.

I use to place foods on a T-Chart of good vs. bad. This black and white thinking painted me into a corner in so many areas and levels of my life. Not healthy whatsoever. Whether my eating habits were healthy or not, my thinking and obsessive nature towards food and my fitness were breaking my heart down… literally.

The reality: My heart was dying because of the rigidity, stress, and lack of nutrition I was forcing upon my body.

Belief:  I’m doing what the world says is goof and “right”!

Health and fitness obsessions are the norm in our society, but something like a Fit Bits could be my downfall. Even though the Whole 30 and KETO promise to bring you health and happiness, the reality for me is that dieting in that manner would slowly lead to my death over time.

Do you believe the government when they say everyone should vote for one candidate? Hell no. Why would we believe one doctor/friend/personal trainer that endorses that one “lifestyle change” or “fad diet”?

Seems simple to me now in my wise mind, but I remember the ED brain buying every food/diet trend on the market. My brain was sick. Now, I listen to myself instead of the world… everything in moderation.

Some of my favorites now: guacamole, BLT’s, pinot grigio, crab dip, fresh cherries, and pralines and cream ice cream! All of these would have been on my “bad” list pre-treatment… but now they are on my “enjoy life” list. This is healthy for me. My husband knows that if I give any one of these up to call my therapist. Healthy is relative, and there is no bad food. That is my new reality.

What it means to be sick and need help for an eating disorder:

Belief: The only people who suffer from life threatening eating disorders are women with a BMI if below X.

Truth: ANYONE who CANNOT FUNCTION PROPERLY IN SOCIETY due to THOUGHTS, BEHAVIORS, or BELIEFS needs and DESERVES help.

Can you tell I am passionate about this last one? Let me explain why.

For 16 years, I researched, looked up, and tried to find ANY textbook/WebMD definition of an eating disorder that I fit into. I even was on a heart monitor for a month, where the doctor recorded my heart dropping into the 30’s regularly at night, and I was PRAISED for being a stellar athlete.

Reality??? I was a 30-year-old teacher/mom of two that was waking up in the middle of the night to exercise just to “get my work out in” for the day. Athlete? Really?

Although my BMI was in the normal range for my height and weight, I was dying.

My heart was stopping. There is case after case of women and men just like me, normal weight or overweight even that die from eating disorder related complications because we do not “fit the mold” that society deems to be “sick”.

When will the world wake up? I almost died waiting to go to treatment because I refused to eat the month prior to going because I thought I would not fit in. I would be too big to need actual help. What a crock.

It may be a blunt statement, but it needs to be said- we need to stop focusing on weight and focus on the brain. Weight is the belief. The brain is the reality.

Sadly, society glamorizes anorexia and disgraces binge eating. One is pitied and one is shamed. No one talked the people suffering with bulimia, EDNOS, chew and spit, laxatives, and any and all disorders in between. The common factor that they all share is that there are humans experiencing struggle on the other end of these diagnosis; human beings who need and deserve help. That is the reality.

Most importantly

C.S. Lewis once said,

There are far better things ahead than we have left behind.

Although these words are true, they can be hard to swallow when facing the daunting task of facing change, even if it is for the better.

The belief: I would never be able to live without my eating disorder.

The reality: I am actually living now that I have chosen to leave it behind. Now that I am living free, I get to know the true me.

And that, warriors, is a gift that we can only give ourselves.

4 Comments

  • Berenice says:

    Thank you SO MUCH Brooke for this beautiful article, which gives hope in recovery. I could relate to most of what you shared and it is relieving to read that yes! There is a way out of the ED. And yes! It is time to be our true selves 🙂
    Merci and great job for your commitment!

  • Shae says:

    I am far from an expert but from what I have learned and am still learning, this article covers so much about the many facets of eating disorders and mental health in general. It does this very well and thank you for sharing.

  • Brooke Heberling Brooke Heberling says:

    We who have suffered are all experts in our own, unique way! Xoxo thank you for the validation!

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