Ok, first of all, I should explain that some of my posts are going to be responses to a challenge set by Arielle Bair in partnership with 'Hungry for Change'. Arielle is one of the people responsible for the hugely inspirational Freedom Fighters video blogs on Youtube, which I would recommend to anyone suffering with / recovering from / wanting to recover from an eating disorder. The video messages there have been so relevant to me, and have helped so much, not only when I was in a positive, self-motivating kind of mind frame, but also when I was disheartened or struggling. Please do go and check out the channel on Youtube at WeRFreEDomFighters.
The prompts for these posts is a single word, and there will be a daily prompt for the month of June. Day One is 'Change', so here are my thoughts.
I am almost always afraid of change. I like my plans and routines. I like to know what I’m doing, where I’m going and who I’m going with. If someone suggests something different, or we have some kind of system overhaul or process change at work, my immediate response is panic.
I don’t know why this should be, as every time dramatic change has occurred, it has actually worked out for the best. I changed jobs because I had to…and got a better one with flexible working hours and greater freedom. I changed my eating behaviours…and yes, it seemed impossibly difficult at first, but it got easier, like anything does with practice, and now, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I am happy and positive. I am contributing and living instead of retreating and merely existing.
I remember my therapist once asking if I was aware of placing restrictions on myself, not just with regards to food, but relationships, situations, appearance. Absolutely, I replied without hesitation. I have rules about everything. And they all overlap and tie in with each other…it’s sort of like being in a very strict grid. And as long as I stay within the lines of the grid, then I’m ok – I’m in control, I’m safe.
I’ve been through the therapy process twice before. Both times, I managed to get my weight up (eventually) and eat reasonably normally for a while. But both times, I inevitably relapsed. Looking back, the reasons are obvious: I hadn’t made any real changes in dealing with who I was as a person. I still didn’t like who I was. I hadn’t built up any self-worth or gained a more positive self-image, and I hadn’t added any activities or relationships to my life to compensate for the things I’d lost – the over-exercising, the hours spent obsessing about food and calories, the miles and miles of supermarket aisles I hiked, looking at the foods I wouldn’t allow myself to buy.
I’ve done a lot of work this time round, and it’s taken almost 18 months to get to where I am now. I have learned about mindfulness, and the importance of relaxing self-imposed rules. I have learned about lowering self-expectations, and a hundred other things. But the single most important lesson I’ve learned is that positive change doesn’t happen as a neat result of making a few alterations. Change – real, permanent, wonderful change – comes about as the result of continued work and commitment.
Seeing the results you want takes more than just ending destructive behaviours. I’d done that, and still found myself falling back into those old, familiar habits. The problem was that I hadn’t made any positive life changes, so I had no incentive to keep going with my recovery when things got tough.
It was eye-opening to realise that the person I wanted to be was my responsibility, and that it needed a continuing effort. One of the most important exercises my therapist had me complete was a series of questions about self-identity – how would you describe yourself, what do you like about yourself, what would you like to change. The answers were, as you can imagine, overwhelmingly negative. There was hardly anything I liked about myself, and I wanted to change completely, I wanted to effectively be someone else. But then came questions like, how would you describe the person you love most? What qualities or skills would you like to develop? What would you do if you could not fail? Describe in five words the person you would like to become. It was something so simple, but for the first time, it really hit me – that I didn’t like who I was because I wasn’t, essentially, allowing myself to be a person. I was afraid of attention, I self-isolated, denied my interests and my hungers. I didn’t let people get close because I didn’t want to need anyone. I was scared to try because I was afraid I’d fail.
I described the person I wanted to be in five words: creative; open; loving; contented; worthy. And it was so obvious once I’d written it down in black and white – the only person stopping me from being any of those things was me. People had said things like that to me in the past, but realising and believing it yourself is a wholly different experience- like the difference between swimming and looking at a photograph of water. I didn’t have to change the person I was completely, start over with a blank slate and create a personality I could live with. I only needed to build on the person I already was, allow her to do the things she wanted and let her grow.
In recent weeks, I’ve started a yoga class, joined a meditation group. I’ve started writing again. I’m reading anything I can get my hands on (because I have the focus and concentration again now that my brain isn’t starving; I forgot what it was like to feel clear-headed, to have a memory that actually retained information). And I’ve signed up to a volunteer organisation because as cheesy as it sounds, I want to give something back.
I know that the caterpillar turning into a butterfly is a popular symbol of freedom and rebirth. I prefer to think of personal metamorphosis – whether that’s recovery from an eating disorder, quitting a bad habit or simply letting yourself become the person you want to be - as something more like a baby bird beaking its way out of the shell. It’s a bird inside the shell and it’s still a bird once it’s on the outside of the shell – but because of its grit, persistence, effort and faith, its whole world has changed. Its tiny, blind room has become a whole open world - sky and sun and tree and rain and flight.
Even when you feel like you’re pecking and pecking and pecking at that shell without any result, remember that every peck takes you closer to a break. And eventually, your whole world can crack open and the light come flooding in.