It’s Eating Disorders Awareness Week (EDAW). And, as a result, a lot of emotions come up. I write because I want to make room for all of it. The pain, the sadness, the passion, the determination, the guilt, the shame, the excitement, the envy, the nervousness, the encouragement, the hope, the fear, the pride… Whatever the emotion, it’s all okay and there’s a place for it within (and outside of) this week. Why? Because, that’s a huge piece of what recovery is all about. Awareness and acceptance. Realizing you are where you are and you’re doing the best that you can (while also maybe being able to do better). That where you were last (EDAW) is not a testament of where you’ll be this year or where you’ll be in ten years. It’s just where you are now. Maybe you (or your loved one) is struggling this year whereas last year you were leading the fight. Maybe you’ve recently decided to give recovery a shot or maybe you’ve taken a break on the mountain of recovery. Wherever you are, you matter. Your life, your voice, your experience, it matters and it’s an important piece of this week. It’s all part of the recovery journey. And, it’s messy and raw. It’s filled with moments of incredibly joy while also moments of deep sorrow and grief.
This year, I encourage everyone to take stalk of what their needs during the week and to act in a way that practices self-care and compassion. Perhaps, it means saying,“No” to an event here or there versus trying to catch them all (check out NEDIC or the WWEDC for EDAW events near you). Maybe it means practicing opposite action by going to an event, challenging the shame that says you “can’t” because you’re struggling. Reflect on the emotions that get invoked this week and talk about them, if you can, with a friend, with a therapist, with a nurse, with a co-patient, with a family member. And, if you can’t, notice that. Register that there’s something that’s getting in the way of that versus ignoring it. Maybe, a time will come where you will want to reach out. And, if there’s one thing that is evident about this week, there is a lot of people (professionally and non-professionally) who want to journey along side you regardless of where you are in your recovery. To spread (and at times hold) the hope that there is life in recovery from an eating disorder.
A disclaimer that the first bit of this post does talk about faith and religion. If reading about religion bothers you, replace religion/faith with academia/school as the concept will still apply.
Years ago, someone once told me, “every now and then, you need to empty out your religious cup to figure out what you need to put back into it”. Essentially, not everything one learns will continue to have meaning, apply, or hold true as time goes by and one matures in their faith or understanding. Many people have a tendency to throw the baby out with the bath water. Take the time, do the work, to sort out what is important to intentionally take with you.
Fast forward to this past summer. I found myself having a conversation with someone about my frustrations of black and white thinking that religion can sometimes bring, and did bring for many years of my life. They then reminded me that one cannot simply be in the grey right off the bat. There’s a need to learn the “rules” first. Then, after having a good foundation, one can learn to sift through the complexities of life, which will ultimately challenge rigid thinking. This made sense.
Another way to think about it is thinking about our school experiences growing up. We start off in elementary school. Then, we graduate and go into high school to build off what we’ve learned in the years prior. Some continue to post secondary education where critical thinking is fostered and encouraged, and an even more in-depth study and diversification on subject matters occurs. Each stages of learning builds off the learnings prior. You can’t go on to do quadratic equations without first knowing about the rules of addition or multiplication, right? Right!
Recovery is similar. There is a learning (or re-learning) that must occur around building a healthier relationship with food, weight, exercise, relationships, body-image, family dynamics, coping mechanisms, and so on. This period is important, and the specifics around implementation can look different amongst individuals. There is, however, life past the intense treatment regiments that are often needed to help you get back on track. It’s hard to learn how to be flexibility when building a foundation for recovery when the eating disorders is quite sneaky and slippery, never mind sorting out who’s motivation/values/thoughts is who’s, etc.
In faith, recovery, and many other facets of how this concept can apply, people can stay stuck in the early teachings and rules. There is a degree of freedom there. I don’t want to deny that. My early days/years of recovery, and the periods where I needed to be particular about what and how I ate were way better and more flexible than when I was in the throws of my eating disorder. There is, however, greater freedom past this. Sometimes, there is a need to return to the foundational pieces, and that’s okay too! Recovery, faith, life are not linear experiences. Everyday we make decisions that either move us towards or away the values we hold within these experiences. As scary as it can be to dip your toe into the unknown or flexibilities of greys, it can also be rewarding (remember, both things can be equally true!)
Take a second to think about where you could or would like to grow in your recovery (or faith). Then, try talking to your therapist about what you could do or how you could experiment with getting to know the greys.
Someone recently told me about Shark Music. You know, like the music in Jaws? We all have it...that background noise that clouds or shapes our present, stemming from experiences/issues in the past. Check out this video about we can be aware of our shark music while still being present and attuned to those around us in the now.
“You have to live spherically - in many directions. Never lose your childish enthusiasm - and things will come your way.”
- Federico Fellini
I put on "Under the Tuscan Sun" last night. I was looking for something inspiring and light. TV has been irritating me lately. It seems that every popular show or new release is so heavy in content or linked with issues that can be traumatizing (or re-traumatizing). I'm not saying that someone can't be triggered by this movie, because they can. There is a reason, after all, as to why she ends up in Tuscany.
One day, this whimsical woman enters the main characters life and shares the above quote. I'm immediately drawn to it. I think it fits nicely with what I tell clients. To be mindful about how they meet their physical, social, emotional, leisure, spiritual and mental needs. The importance of not overloading one area, neglecting the others. A sense of balance, while remembering balance isn't always allocating the same amount of time to each need. Life doesn't deplete our resources so neatly, after all.
I like the idea of growing in many directions. My mind leaps to another movie, "Centre Stage" (perhaps, some of you are starting to judge me on my flick choices... fear not, I'm well rounded!). In this movie, one of the main characters finds herself struggling at a prestigious ballet school. She was surprised by this as she had trained her whole life as a ballerina. It wasn't until she tried different dance styles, grew in different directions, that she was able to move forward as a dancer.
This makes me reflect on issues around identity. Sometimes, we get so tied into thinking of ourselves in only one way or in one particular light. You know, "the wife", "the student", "the jock", "the golden child", "the hockey player", "the smart one", "the pretty one", "the sick one", etc. We are so so so much more than just any one of these labels, parts or identities. For many, it can get scary when these labels get challenged or end, especially if that's the only thing they've associated with or tended to in their lives. Can you guess what movies I'm thinking of now? You nailed it, "The Breakfast Club".
Then, this last part of the quote, "to never lose your childish enthusiasm". "Hook" comes to mind. Come on old man Peter Pan, use your imagination. Believe! The food doesn't have to be so grey... you can fly! Yes, we have responsibilities in life. Yes, sometimes we have to make grown up decisions, which mean we don't get to stay out late playing in the creek. Let's just make sure we are still playing in that creek. Let's make sure we see humour in things and be silly from time to time versus always being paralyzed by making the "right decisions".
Things will come your way. Yup. Sometimes. And, sometimes, we will still experience pain. It's not all or nothing. It might just make life a little more enjoyable if we are living a little more spherically and childishly. Sounds better than being one dimensional and rigid, no?