Being honest with myself is something I find vey difficult at times, and this has been particularly true in terms of recovering from an eating disorder.
Partly it was that I didn’t want to give up the coping mechanisms of anorexia, bulimia and self-harm, so I would tell myself things like it’s ok, today doesn’t count, it doesn’t matter if you don’t eat today…you can start again tomorrow. I would know this was a lie even as I told it, but at the same time I would genuinely intend on trying to be healthy the next day. I would come up with excuses: by not eating, I was just being lenient with myself like I’d been told to be, I was just trying to do what I was capable of one small step at a time.
It seems so obvious now when I look back. I think How could you have managed to deceive yourself for so long? But that’s the thing about hindsight: it’s 20/20.
I think there was one core thing that kept me from being truly honest, even with myself, and that thing has recurred over and over in my journals (although I didn’t acknowledge it until I was ready to read between the lines and see what was really there): secretly, I thought that if I tried and failed to get better, then I would have no other option but to end my life because I couldn’t go on knowing that there was no hope of escape. At least if I didn’t try (and therefore failed only by default), recovery was always an option on some distant horizon: something that could maybe happen one day, just not that particular day.
I lied to myself. I lied to my friends. I even lied to my therapist, usually at the times when the truth would have been most beneficial. I told myself that if I was honest about how I was feeling, I’d end up drugged into a safe stupor or strapped to a bed on a locked ward. Other times, I would angrily tell myself that I was only looking for attention anyway, I was creating my own problems and was selfish, and a drama queen.
There wasn’t any one flashbulb moment where I saw through all the self-deception to the truth. It was a gradual realisation that dawned after months of therapy, mountains of reading and writing a lot of anxiety and a lot of thinking. Looking at my old journals was amazingly helpful, although painful at times. One of the biggest lies I told myself – But I’m only happy when I’m thin – was disproved time and time again. In the bleakest entries, I’m usually at a low weight, and obviously very depressed. The entries get distinctly lighter and more hopeful as my weight increases and I start eating more consistently. That was a sad thing to realise – that the truth had been visible all along, written in black and white in my own handwriting, and I had ignored it, and then wondered at the source of my pain.
I really believe that honesty is crucial in recovery. You can want to get better, you can want to not be depressed all the time, you can want to be able to socialise with your friends without worrying about calorie consumption…but until you’re honest with yourself, you can’t challenge the misconceptions that are keeping you stuck, and you can’t acknowledge and prepare for the things that have to change. And being honest with others is hugely important, too – people can’t help you how you need to be helped if you’re hiding the real situation from them.
The honest path is the harder path. It’s also the longer, straighter one - keep lying to yourself and you keep travelling in the same small circles. And you tell yourself that at least it’s familiar ground, and that you’re comfortable there. But all the while you’re gaining pointless blisters and getting more and more exhausted without getting any further on in life at all.