There is only one barrier to care and self-soothing, and that is the self. Which is somewhat troublesome, because it’s also the self – and only the self - who supplies access to the care and self-soothing we so crave.
This seems a bit of a contradiction in terms (how can I care for my self if I don’t care about my self?) but then so many things relating to eating disorders are. We think we are too heavy, even when our bones poke out from our skin. We gorge on calories only to immediately purge ourselves of those same calories. We refuse ourselves food and think we are strong for resisting, when in fact we are making ourselves weaker and frailer and more vulnerable.
I used to think that once I was ‘fixed’, once I had changed everything I didn’t like about myself and subsequently become this dazzling new individual with a bright smile, indomitable spirit and infinite patience, then I would start taking care of myself, because then I would be a person worth taking care of. Only when I had reached this state of perfection would I deserve to eat like everyone else, to socialise, to laugh, to buy pretty dresses, to drink wine in a bath full of bubbles, paint my nails peppermint pink.
The hardest thing I had to get my head around was that all of that was conducive to my getting well in the first place, not a consequence of it. That I needed to take care of myself in order to be happy and not the other way round.
Interestingly – and I think we all do this – it’s the times when someone else is hurting that we treat them most gently. We literally handle them with care. But when we ourselves are feeling raw, bruised, sad, we despise ourselves for it. Are furious with ourselves for our ‘weakness’. It’s another example of that skewed logic which plays such a huge part in fostering an eating disorder: That only applies to others; I am different; I don't deserve what other people deserve.
Once you have realised that you DO deserve the same respect and the same nurturing that you freely give to others, the barriers to recovery give way. They stop being gates of steel and become veil-like and flimsy instead. You might find yourself getting tangled every once in a while - not making enough time for yourself, over or undereating, working too hard or too much - but that's fine, it's human. And it's a whole lot easier untangling yourself from something than it is to knock down that big old steel gate.
Self worth – self belief – self-confidence - self-doubt - self-harm - self-soothing - self-control - self-acceptance - self-hate.
You have the 'self' part down already - you have a self, you are a self. It's up to you to decide the rest. What is going to apply to you? How are you going to make this the best life you can have? How are you going to treat yourself? Are you going to meet your needs or deny them? Be gentle with yourself or cruel?
It's about working out what makes you feel happy. What makes you feel calm, capable, passionate, intense, intelligen, loved - however you want to feel. And then giving yourself every opportunity you can to feel that way. Because you deserve it. We all do.
No need to hurry.
No need to sparkle.
No need to be anybody but oneself.
- Virginia Woolf