Sometimes, in order to understand our problems we need to visit the true roots of our behavior. Our actions are the surface of a stormy sea, and beneath lie the emotions, distortions, and mantras that secretly generate the waves. At times like these I force myself to stop and ask: Why am I doing this? Where are these feelings originating from? What is really going wrong underneath all my distress?
I have a wonderful book that my former therapist recommended to me called 8 Keys to Recovery From An Eating Disorder: Effective Strategies From Therapeutic Practice and Personal Experience, by Carolyn Costin and Gwen Schubert Grabb. When I was first working very seriously on my recovery from anorexia, this book helped me dig deeper into the mysteries of my illness through comprehensive lists, anecdotes, and helpful writing exercises.
Yesterday, I was browsing my bookshelf for something to read (it was on my to-do list for the day), when I came across this book. I’ll be honest, a large part of me is currently uninterested in changing my behavior, but the part of me that doesn’t want to see my life crash and burn again picked up the book and started skimming.
Nothing about the book has changed; it’s a book. It’s static, what it has said once it will say again and again until it rots away or burns up in a fire. I felt disconnected from most of the material, understanding but unenthused by the material that had once helped pull me out of a dark hole.
Halfway through my lazy revisiting, one section leapt off the page, grabbed me by the collar and shoved my face into it. It was titled “Real Issues”, and it listed 14 reasons other than eating and weight control that lie at the root of an eating disorder. A few of those 14 felt like personal attacks. I felt affronted, and then guilty, like I had been caught with my hand in the cookie jar. My deepest insecurities had been predicted like a poorly written soap opera character; my thoughts were not uniquely my own. It felt like an invasion of privacy.
Fill Up Emptiness, it said, as if it knew that the hole my baby left in me was being filled with obsessive thoughts and compulsions. Drive for Perfection. Poor Self-Esteem. Need to be in Control. Desire for Power Over Self, Others, Family, Life. But what truly hurt were the two most embarrassing reasons of all: Desire to be Special/Unique, and Desire for Respect and Admiration.
How shallow of me, to care so much about what others think. How deeply flawed my priorities were. I was so desperate for others to see me how I wanted to see myself: a special snowflake, a fragile flower, an object of beauty and envy. When I look in the mirror I see none of those things, but validation from strangers fuels the hope that I could become them. Compliments, likes, and public stares tell me that maybe, just maybe, I am worthy of the attention.
I hate that I care about how others see my body more than how they view my personality sometimes. It’s not always this way. When I socialize with friends more, when I’m feeling proud of my accomplishments, or when I am making someone laugh, I care infinitely more that they like me than my looks. But when I find myself feeling empty, worthless, and in constant need of reassurance, I take to the laziest route to flattery: thinness, nice clothes, makeup, and highly orchestrated selfies posted on social media.
How desperate I must seem. Even a self-help book can see through my facade. Sure, my followers on Instagram may applaud from a distance, but what about what my husband thinks, or my parents, or my friends? They know to worry when I begin to obsess over my appearance. How do the people I love look at me when I cannot look away from a mirror? Have I retained any dignity at all?
I feel immature, like somehow I have gone back in time to when I was 23 and tight dresses were my drug of choice. I don’t feel like a real adult when I behave this way… and I don’t feel like a mother.
Recognizing these things about myself, posing these questions and facing the truth of my vanity has made me reevaluate my recent slip in recovery. It’s not too late for me to pull out, to shift my focus to school and hobbies and my relationships.
I am not a lost cause, and these flaws do not make me a bad person. I am simply struggling right now. I am grieving, and lost, and feeling powerless. Those things may be behind my choices and my actions as of late, but they do not define me. They are not truly reflective of my character.
I think that today I will make a list of some of things I feel are admirable about me that do not fall under the umbrella of appearances. It is time I remind myself of my worth, and set back to the difficult task of rebuilding my self-esteem and my relationship with my body.
Someday I will grow old and shriveled, and what I do and say will be all that people notice about me. I don’t want to have nothing left to offer them in my final years. I want to be full of stories, and laughter, and light. I want to make my grandkids smile and my husband never regret marrying me. I want to be someone to look up to, a life to strive for, a story that could fill a book.
All that is gold does not glitterJ. R. R. Tolkien
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.