Being in early recovery wasn’t easy. I had in my mind that I was fighting this external beast, trying to conquer my eating disorder, and if I could only do that, life would be great. I relapsed… A LOT!

The problem was never my eating disorder; the problem was me, the eating disorder was my solution (that eventually created other problems as well). I made an unconscious decision early on to fight my eating disorder because it was too hard for me to face myself. My eating disorder gave me a purpose that allowed me to completely avoid all the insecurities, shame, and trauma I needed to address in order to get better. I thought that as long as I stayed sick and had to focus on fighting an eating disorder, I wouldn’t have to face all of the underlying issues.  It was only in having AND PRACTICING some of the realizations below that healing became a reality.

Here are 5 lessons I learned in trying to heal myself:

1. Vulnerability is an essential part of life

I heard this Bobby Fisher quote once: “Some people play not to lose and others people play to win even if it means losing.” This is what I needed to hear to get vulnerable. I want to be that person that’s willing to risk it all in order to get something better. Before, I would make moves when I had to because I was so anxious and scared that things might get worse. I just didn’t want to lose any more than I thought I had already lost. Toward the end of my eating disorder, the reality is that it couldn’t have gotten any worse than it was at that point. I was suicidal and the only way out was to let go and try something new.

Even today, there are times that I HATE vulnerability! It’s so…vulnerable. It leaves someone open to ridicule, shaming, and more judgment. And, if for some weird reason those things didn’t come to fruition, then there was a constant fear of getting close to someone and then experiencing the loss of them leaving my life. I avoided it completely unless for some reason I was forced into it. Today, I have to console myself and talk back to the part of me that’s scared of what I might lose and remind myself of the potential upside of vulnerability.

Although the negative aspects of vulnerability listed above are true possibilities, there are also some upsides. Vulnerability creates a sense of connection, knowing, and shame reduction when you open yourself up to the right people. Not everybody deserves to hear your story, but there are definitely some people in your life who do. If you give those people a chance, they may surprise you. Ultimately, getting vulnerable is a part of living.

2. You can’t avoid you

Everywhere I looked there I was…and I hated me. I hated my own company more than I hated anything else in the world. I didn’t want to be alone with me and the thoughts that racked my brain 24 hours a day. Drugs, alcohol, eating disorders, sleeping pills, nothing was able to make me, or my thoughts, disappear or transform into someone I could love. To be honest, all it did was create more shame and add to the list of things I hated about myself.

Even though I spent years of my life actively avoiding me, to recover fully, I had to learn to face me. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done but facing myself on a daily basis is an essential part of me living a healthy life today.

3. Healing happens in connection: connection to yourself, people, and other things around you

In my eating disorder, I was so disconnected from myself and from everyone and everything around me. It was hard to be present and connected when all I could think about was food, weight, and body image. I lived in constant fear of connecting with people and having them leave me. It felt too hard to be vulnerable enough to open myself up to that possibility even if it meant I could experience something better than what I already had in my life. I hated myself so much that I figured if I really let someone know me, they would hate me too.

I just got back from a trip to NYC where I got to see some of my really close friends. Some of them saw me at my worst and stuck around and supported me while I grew into my best. They didn’t judge me and they didn’t run, even when I tried to sabotage the relationships or when I shared parts of myself which made me feel so ashamed. They listened, hugged me, and just spent time with me. They taught me how to be with people in a healthy way. They taught me that I wasn’t as bad as I thought and that what I did or what happened to me wasn’t indicative of who I was or who I could grow into being.

As I learned how to be connected to them in a healthy way, it helped me to transfer those skills into being connected with myself. I learned to be more present, to judge myself less, and to tolerate the discomfort I feel analyzing myself. More than anything, my friends taught me self-compassion. It is through these connections that I learned to heal.

4. You MUST learn to sit with uncertainty: it doesn’t mean you’re okay with it, it means you ACCEPT it.

I hate uncertainty. I get SUPER anxious (even today) and desperate for an end result, negative or positive, to happen so that I know with certainty what will happen next. Learning to sit in the space of uncertainty has been (and somewhat still is) very difficult, especially with the struggles of anxiety. Anxiety is that little voice that makes your mind spiral down and tells you all the worst case scenarios that will happen. Suddenly the end result of one potentially bad test grade is that you’ll end up homeless on the street because you’ll never get into college (or pass college) and the best case scenario is that the only job you can get is working at McDonald’s. Your end conclusion: you might as well just quit now. Your life is ruined.

Today, I’ve learned to sit in the space of uncertainty and use tools like mindfulness or positive self-talk to assess situations in a more accurate way. I’ve learned to be better about letting things go when I start to ruminate rather than feeding into the thoughts or berating myself for having the thoughts. Uncertainty still makes me uncomfortable, but I’ve learned to accept that it is a part of life.

5. Shame keeps us sick

I used to think I was the only one that did, thought, and felt “weird” things. I thought nobody would understand my experience and it forced me into secrecy and shame. If other people knew who I really am, I thought, they would see me how I saw myself. There are times when I’ve taken a risk to be open and honest and I’ve had someone give me a response that didn’t feel like what I needed or was looking for at the time. In the moment, it seemed to either reinforce the shame or just leave me feeling completely misunderstood. There were also people who had a radically different response than I expected and sharing my shame with them left me feeling free. They normalized my feelings, didn’t judge my experience, and helped me feel less alone.

How do you work through recovery?

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder or addiction, it’s helpful to work with someone who gets it and is recovered themselves. Our in-home solution helps individuals in recovery gain the skills they need to face themselves and recover in the midst of real life.

If you’re looking for more information on how we can help you, please call or text 210-502-7222 or email support @ koplinconsulting.com