I’m sitting in Holland Park on a beautiful, sunny, rare-for-London March day reflecting on my recovery journey so far. Often we don’t take the time to have a moment of looking back on our achievements and congratulating ourselves on how far we’ve come. For eating disorders sufferers- and just most people- it can be considered bragging or self-indulgent to openly say to oneself “well done”. However, one of the most important things I’ve learnt throughout my year and 3 months of being in treatment is that we can never be too proud of ourselves or too loving of ourselves. Looking at how much self-hatred I had for most of my life, it seems only fitting that I need to generate as much self love- if not double- to remedy all those years of thinking of myself as worthless. This is still, and will be, a work in progress. I don’t yet fully love myself, but of course how can this possibly be measured? I still have my good days and bad days- days when I feel a lot of shame towards myself, days when my body image is dodgy etc. I don’t quite know what sort of day this is, or where this blog post is going. I do know, however, that I’m not going to apologise or self-deprecate as I write.
Looking back to when I first went into treatment, in the depths of my eating disorder which seemed like there was no way out of it, my life’s perception was the size of a pea. I genuinely couldn’t see anything past my level of body hatred, and my obsession to just “have a flat stomach”. I wasn’t aware of my un-wellness, didn’t understand what was happening to me. I only knew I was desperate to escape my unhappiness. After years of depression, hatred of myself and my life, I didn’t ever believe I’d ever be happy. I had a sad acceptance that this was what my life was going to be, just this bleak hole of emptiness where I couldn’t enjoy anything. The days of just lying in bed trying to sleep in an attempt to escape my head seemed to go on forever.
I went into treatment like a student praying for teaching, hoping for a way out of this. I began to soak up very quickly the wisdom of my therapists. When I first heard the term “self-compassion” I knew I wanted as much of it as possible. I was sick and tired of the militant, harsh and bullying words of my eating disorder and the demons of my past. As some time went on and I began to see the possibility that I could view myself with warmth and appreciation, I jumped on the band wagon and became a self-proclaimed “recovery dick”. I’d had enough of thinking I wasn’t good enough or attractive enough or not worth anything unless I was thin.
Working on a connection with my inner child was a huge step in my journey. I loved learning about how there’s a little child in me that is craving love and attention, and I had the power to give her all she needs. Viewing myself as that scared little girl was a monumental step in growing compassion and self love. I remember my therapist asking me if I would ever treat a little child with as much anger and resentment as I treated myself- and though it was a painful realisation to come to- I decided that since I would never treat anyone in this way then why should I treat myself like that either?
Along the way, I began to see my world in a different light. One of the hardest things I began to work on, and I’m still working on, was my role in relationships. I had never heard of the “drama triangle” and the roles of rescuer, perpetrator and victim until I started my treatment. I also never realised how unhealthy my role in relationships was, and how always rescuing people wasn’t being a good friend, it was co-dependent. I couldn’t fathom that not always being there for people 24/7 was anything but selfish and “letting them down.” It was all I knew. With time, I began to see how I was, and always will be, incapable of always taking care of others and constantly sacrificing my own needs. Logically it makes sense- if you don’t look after yourself then how can you just look after others? Eventually you’ll burn out. By this point I’d burnt out. I suffered in my co-dependent relationships but I felt selfish to just walk away from them. This is still a process I’m working on. It’s difficult and painful to stop doing what you’ve done for most of your life if it’s all you know. And it was all I knew. I noticed though, as I started building boundaries and respecting them, it helped me build intimate and healthier relationships with those around me. The spiritual family I’ve created in and out of treatment consists of beautiful, loving people who respect, support and trust me. I never realised I had never been intimate with anyone before, my un-wellness and rescuing behaviour always stood in the way- though at the time I thought that this was what intimacy was.
One of the cornerstones in my recovery was, of course, re-building my relationship with food and my body. For years I’d been ingrained with the message that one’s body needs to be controlled or else it will just balloon bigger and bigger. I though that maintaining an acceptable figure could only come through eating certain foods at certain times in certain portions. I was so disconnected with my body that I wasn’t aware of how malnourished it was. Looking at my body now, I see that through all the years of weight fluctuation, bingeing and starving, it’s still alive and healthy and keeping me alive. My body forgives me for everything despite the suffering I and my eating disorder put it through. Learning to trust food again was not easy, I was petrified of putting anything outside my regimental “safe foods” into my body. The day I decided to stop counting calories and just go for it, just try eating more and what I wanted was the day I never looked back. It didn’t change my body image, it didn’t suddenly put my terrors at bay. However, I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for that scary process. Now, the fears of “getting fat”, the days when I think my body is less-than haven’t vanished. But the fears aren’t strong enough that I would ever return to that dark hole. Food and body issues aren’t the reason for an eating disorder, but they are a big symptom and the fear around them can be paralysing. The more I challenged them and persevered, slowly and gradually, I realised the voices had gotten quieter.
The scariest thing that I have started to face recently, is my fear of the outside world. Before I went into treatment, my life consisted of the gym, my home, food and the quest for thinness. It was a world where you might as well not live if you are “fat”, where you’re only good enough if you look a certain way. It was horrible, a torturous existence, but what I didn’t realise was that my eating disorder was keeping me “safe” from the world that I had learnt to fear. I never realised how it was peculiar that I never left my area of London, how travelling scared me and how I just wanted to remain in a child-like state of being looked after. I sit here now, with drama school auditions approaching and though a part of me is still bloody scared, there’s also a part of me that’s excited for the final push to getting me to be a functioning, living, independent woman. I didn’t see until recently how vast my fear of being independent was and how prominent my child-like tendencies were, but I also know now that if I were to stay in this place then I would never fully live my own life.
I feel like saying “well done Chrissy” for all this. I also want to say “well done” to all of you out there, in treatment or not. I want to say well done to all of us. We are at heart loving and compassionate creatures with a limitless capacity to love others. Imagine what we could do if we all loved ourselves so limitlessly, if we all made our health and happiness top priority. Would you tell me I’m undeserving and unworthy of a life? No, so why tell yourselves that either? “I am bad/worthless/fat etc” maybe seem like the reality sometimes, maybe all the time. But it’s just a belief, not a reality. We can believe that we are undeserving of the love of those around us, that we are truly hateful horrible creatures. But why is it fair that any human being should think that of themselves? That’s all we are, we are just human. No one is born good or bad. I know that one of my core fears is being alone. Even that shows a deep desire for love and intimacy- how could I be a bad person if I just want to be loved? And even if while you’re reading this you still think you are the exception, that you’re actually the one hateful human being, then maybe entertain the possibility that it’s not real. I was that person once, my eating disorder still insists I am. Does that mean it’s true? No, it means I’m still not completely cured of my illness. Change is always a constant, remember that.