For years and years, I was fooled into believing that I was someone who I was not.
After spending almost a decade locked inside the lifeless shell of anorexia and orthorexia, I thought that my perfectionistic, obssessive and work-a-holic tendencies around food, body, work and exercise were part of my natural nature. At first I thought this was a great thing - to suddenly be deemed as a person who was ‘going somewhere’. I thought this meant that I had my life together, and would allow me to ‘become someone’. How wrong I was.
I don’t recall ever being so determined to get A stars or climb a competitive career ladder when I was younger - only until something dark and lucrative tapped me on the shoulder. And yet, I truly believed that my burning ‘passion’ to do well and be the best came from within. It did not.
What I’ve learned in recovery is that my natural nature is much more relaxed, non-rigid and flexible. The exact opposite of the determined student who regularly stayed up till 3am in the morning to ensure that I got the best grades possible at university, while carefully planning my successful career in academia. Looking back at this time, I feel a wave of empathy for that person I was falsely moulded into.
It wasn’t really me, but yet I genuinely thought that was who I had grown (withered) in to. Deep down though, something was definitely missing from my real persona. What happened to that fun loving girl who had a zesty passion for life (as well as food!), and sometimes skipped homework, chilled out on the weekend and didn’t give a dam if she ate a full packets of chocolate biscuits or didn’t do one tap of exercise all day?
Anorexia well and truly swallowed her whole. As though, in its extreme hunger and thirst for nourishment, it ate and stole my real identity.
Thankfully though, during recovery, the quest of getting better involved going on a journey to slowly but surely retrieve and revive the lost pigments of my soul that anorexia stole. I realised that I wasn’t the obsessive student or workaholic I thought I was, nor the eager academic determined to get published in a prestigious journal. I realised I wasn’t craving praise and accolades on a piece of paper, but more the acceptance and love from myself. I also noticed that as my obsession with food began to fade, so did my obsession with routine and perfectionism. Its as though those things go hand in hand with an eating disorder, and a key part of recovery involves realising that you are separate from them.
My wisdom from this experience has allowed me to finally realise who I am at heart - a person with a heart of compassion. Recovery can teach us all that. No matter how much of yourself seems lost, you have the potential to rekindle and make yourself whole again. I like to think of it as being a bit of a detective, and questioning where are true values, nature and passions lie. Is it in food routines, calorie counting, rigid exercise regimes, clean eating plans, obsessive working or constant striving to be the best? Or, is it in feeling free, content, flexible, self-accepting and fun loving as someone who takes time to see the world and its beauty with fresh eyes?
Through adopting this perspective, I have been able to release the previous expectations I once viciously held against myself, and have allowed myself room to just be. Even if that means not having a high flying job and alternatively working in retail if that is what I please. The difference is, is that I can make my own choice, and not be subject to the grips of something that tells me that I will be unworthy if I do anything to a degree less than perfection.
I truly believe that this process is such an essential component to your recovery journey too, because it is so enlightening and empowering for your soul.
Its also exciting to know that somewhere, no matter how deep down, there are pieces of yourself that you need to uncover and express. Sometimes that darkness of an eating disorder, or any other ill form of mental health, can make us feel blind. But that doesn't mean that what you require isn’t there. The process of making these things visible plays a seemingly small yet significant role in your ability to achieve full recovery and being able to reach your full potential.
So, on that note, I invite you to question your own true self. Are you truly in possession of your own identity, or is she or he still being tucked away among the shadows. Perhaps you definitely know the answer to this, or only have an inkling, but I know for sure that you have the ability to do what it takes to uncover and release the true essence of your soul. It longs to be set free and be nourished with what your heart desires.