“Recovery is about challenging the belief that it’s wrong to be kind to ourselves”

By our client, Kirstin…

I’m ill as I write this (no, not the eating disorder thing). The seasonal virus-fest is partying its way around town and exposure to too much shared public air has left my immune system desperately needing a holiday. Anyway as it is, I’m currently on my second day of being at home. Yesterday was spent in bed sleeping and resting, and this morning I woke up feeling considerably better. No pains, aches, sickness. Nothing physically wrong. So when I had to stay home again my perfectionist never-miss-a-day-of-school-self panicked. I feel fine. I don’t need to stay home. No way am I spending another day lying in bed watching bad TV and online shopping for things I know I won’t buy. I’d rather swallow my own teeth.

In the depths of my illness, I didn’t miss a university lecture all year. I spent my time working, cycling to work/lectures/meetings, or sleeping. If I missed one commitment my world would come crashing down around me. In my (very unhealthy) mind I had to be unstoppable, and part of me did feel that way. What I was really doing was bringing myself ever closer to being very, very, stoppable. Running through potholes and ditches without even slowing down, whilst heading straight for a cliff led me to plummeting off the edge soon enough.

Sure, but what’s this got to do with World Kindness Day? An essential part of my healing process at Recover has come not just from therapy, but from connecting to the some of the kindest, bravest, most compassionate and huge-hearted women I have ever met. The support and safety I have found in this community is truly down to the incredible people – therapists, fellow participants and facilitators – who define it by their kindness. Our fears, shame and pain can only be released through being met with unconditional acceptance and kindness.

As empaths we may easily be able to hold space for others, but our hearts are often shut down to our own needs. Eating disorders thrive on the belief that we are undeserving of love, nurturing, kindness, and connection. And so the struggle with our illness is the struggle to show ourselves what we give others unreservedly. That’s why I think kindness is so central to this process. Recovery is about turning it inwards; challenging the belief that it is wrong to be kind to ourselves.

I am trying to become softer, gentler, more compassionate towards myself. Never have I stopped to listen to my needs, let alone prioritise my mental, physical, emotional or spiritual wellbeing so it’s not been easy. Every day I have to challenge my inner critic as well as an overculture that emphasises doing instead of being. Unfortunately, the patriarchal values of our society revolve around masculine traits: striving, effort, force, hard work. It’s hard for anyone to feel like it’s fine to just be. Even mental health discussions on social media seem to be tinged with that productivity mentality: #selfcare is often promoted as a long list of tasks to complete. The only missing thing is the ‘TO DO’ title at the top.

But being truly kind to ourselves isn’t just ticking boxes and setting goals, even if they are to do with ‘self-care’. It’s not always about taking a bath, going for a walk, meditating, lighting candles, doing yoga, cooking a nice meal… those things might be right for some people, under some circumstances. But they might also be completely unachievable or detrimental to others. Sometimes showing myself kindness actually feels pretty unpleasant in the moment. It might be not doing the thing I’m supposed to do. It might be forcing myself out of bed when I just want to disappear into its doughy depths. Or taking a shower even though the idea is unbearable, because I don’t need poor hygiene to add fuel to the fire.

Today, as I struggled with needing to rest and not do, I had to ask myself how can I be kind to myself in this moment? It’s a question I have to ask myself constantly in recovery, on every level. It’s how I can try to bypass the immediate reflex action and choose my response. I am not always kind to myself: sometimes the question doesn’t even cross my mind, or I don’t make the right choice. But I’m trying to just start again in each moment. To keep asking the question. It’s a long, painstaking process of rewiring my brain and I often have to imagine what I would tell a loved one in the same situation.

Kindness is an unquestionably powerful force for change. The generosity and understanding I’ve received from those around me have supported me through my darkest moments. When we have eating disorders, we want to alleviate the pain we experience around us. But we neglect ourselves. We forget that we cannot heal if we are not healthy. We cannot fill other cups if our own is empty. We cannot hold space for others if we cannot claim any for ourselves. And so in the spirit of World Kindness Day I’m thinking about being kinder to myself, first and foremost. Even though different moments and situations present different challenges I know I can ask myself, what is the kindest thing I can do for myself right now? I have noticed myself asking myself that question more and more frequently. And when I do, I often do choose to be kind to myself, something that never would have even felt remotely possible 6 months ago.

Kindness is worth noticing and celebrating. The care and love I have received has taught me to start treating myself with more kindness. And in turn, I hope I am able to alchemise it before offering it back into the world. I can think of countless ways to express more kindness to others in my everyday life, and I’m sure you can too. Don’t stop, of course. It is an essential medicine for the world. But my reminder to myself is to place myself in the flow of that kindness, too. To be gentle, generous and forgiving with myself. To consider and honour my own needs. That way, the cycle continues and flows through the collective. That way it fills every cup.

What’s next?

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