Author – Laura Carter
Okay, deep breath…
So I’ve been wanting to write a blog post for a while, and being the perfectionist that I am, I’d not wanted to start until I’d decided on exactly the right subject. I didn’t want it to be a stereotypical account of my story and struggles etc etc. I wanted it to be current, relevant and captivating, exploring my views on important news-worthy topics or the latest theory in eating disorders. Something I was keen (although uncertain) to talk about was the ever increasing obesity epidemic and how the NHS and government’s weight loss campaigns and initiatives have affected me personally, with an eating disorder. I wanted to produce a piece of text that would stand out; showcase my passion, endorse my skills as a writer or at least portray some sort of intelligence worthy of featuring on the dauntingly exposed entity that is the world wide web.
I could have been waiting a long time because the truth is I just wanted yet another thing to hide behind and I’ve been hiding my whole life, whether it be behind a facade of false confidence, a cloud of mood altering medication or more significantly… the blanket of denial and secrecy that comes with an eating disorder.
So I said F**k It.
(Thank you Lauren for introducing me to John C. Parkin’s guide to The Ultimate Spiritual Way). What have I got to lose? I cannot keep shying away from life and retreating to my safe little bubble whenever things get scary. So here I am stepping out of my bubble (even if it is only a baby step) and into the territory of the unknown, where discovery and vulnerability go hand in hand…
And what is it that’s so terrifying? Undeniably it all comes down to shame; essentially the shame I feel in myself as a person, but more recently the shame in admitting I struggle with a human process as utterly basic and instinctive as eating. Eating for goodness sake!! Putting food in one’s mouth is a simple hardwired act of survival and yet I find it so incredibly difficult to justify being deserving or worthy enough to nourish myself.
It’s embarrassing having to own up to the irrational thought processes and self-sabotaging neurological pathways of my brain because when it comes down to it, it’s just not normal. And ‘not normal’ scares people. Despite mental health awareness increasing in the UK, there remains huge stigma around those two words. Accepting that the current level of understanding and recognition of this category of illness isn’t going to be changing overnight is something I need to work on. In reality the only viewpoint I can hope to change in the near future is my own and that’s an undertaking in itself.
The concept of shame is one I hadn’t thought about before my time in inpatient treatment, and by no means was it something that I thought could apply to me. But actually, shame is at the very core of everything I’m dealing with and realising this has absolutely changed my perspective. As a self-confessed self-help and self-improvement book junkie, I immediately downloaded every book on topic that I could find and among them I came across a golden ticket to recovery. I cannot praise Brene Brown’s ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ enough. I think the title says it all but she advocates that while shame exists whole hearted living is impossible. She writes about the art of self-acceptance and encouragingly provides a practical yet clinically and psychologically based guide on how to cultivate self-compassion and dissipate feelings of shame.
Peter, my old clinical psychologist lived by a profound mantra that has been ingrained on me as it really is so very true. ‘Shame loves secrecy and only dies on exposure’. He explained that by showing vulnerability and baring the things you fear sharing most, the shame that shrouds us will inevitably lessen. So this is my tribute to Peter… daring to expose my inner most thoughts and feelings and admitting my insecurities in the form of said blog post! I like to think he would be proud!
When you’ve grown up in an adoptive family, not knowing anything about your birth or background, everything that surrounds your sense of self becomes such a big question mark that this in itself becomes your identity. For me, having gone through this separation and then experiencing childhood in a very dysfunctional, albeit loving family, intertwined with neglect, abandonment and abuse, I’ve inevitably struggled when it comes to finding myself. But every day I’m trying to do exactly that. I’m not entirely sure whether at some point I lost myself or if I never had to the chance to become whole in the first place, but either way I’m ready now to embrace the changes that come with recovery.
“Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes in the middle of nowhere you find yourself.”
By far the hardest part of the search is turning inwards as opposed to seeking validation and reassurance from external sources, which is what I’ve always done. I place so much of my self-worth on the opinions of those around me in the hope of gaining comfort in the recognition that I get from them. And while some of these figures are friends and family whose judgements I value deeply, other times I allow for complete strangers, first time dates as a prime example, to determine how I feel about myself, which is absolutely ridiculous.
Discovering that I show almost all the traits of a co-dependent was one of my first turning points and since then I’ve gained so much awareness of myself and how I interact and communicate with others. ‘Codependent No More’ by Melody Beattie has become my absolute bible. I cannot recommend this book more for those who struggle to maintain healthy boundaries within their relationships.
This time last year I was physically, mentally and emotionally at an all-time low. My rock bottom finally hit me with full force after an eight year-long love-hate relationship with my eating disorder… The Fish as I like to call him. In actual fact this had been my only relationship to the detriment of those with family and friends – I just wasn’t able to see it at the time. It really was as if only I existed with a relentless and dictating fish swimming around my head. From the first waking moment of each day he had me. He would berate and belittle me and drive me to hurt and punish myself. But he was sneaky and deceitful and convinced me it was for my own good. ‘It will all be okay when you weigh X amount’ he said, making promises he never intended to keep. If only I knew back then how his lies would destroy me. He was my unremitting personal trainer in the gym and inner most critic. He was my motivator and my mentor, my meal planner and my life coach. The only problem was, he wanted me dead. He was gaining more power day by day as my body became weaker. But it was only when my mind started to shut down and I began to lose the ability to speak and form coherent sentences that I realised how soul destroying this place was and how I needed to get out of this very deep hole. And I knew I needed help doing it.
A Glimmer of Hope
The Recover Clinic has not only thrown me down a ladder but they’ve sat with me in the dark, as individual therapists as well as a network of support, and when necessary back tracked with me to dig up old damage and lay down a new and more solid foundation. They really have been with me every step of the way and my whole outlook on life has begun to change. Although I’m not at the top yet, not knowing what lies ahead (does anyone?) seems much less scary when you’re not alone. And in any case I can already see a glimmer of hope in what’s to come where I know the sun shining.