Sometimes I catch myself fantasizing about a day in the future, when I’ve lost a bunch of weight and somebody who has known me a long time asks earnestly with a blend of excitement, surprise and awe “How’d you finally do it?!?” And I simply say “I stopped hating myself.”
I’m not really proud of this fantasy, because I’ve been working hard to convince myself for the last few years that my recovery is not really about the weight. I’ve even practiced righteous indignation at the idea that I should have to. But then I constantly feel reminded of how much better/easier/happier my life would be, if only I didn’t have to spend it in this inconveniently, unacceptably sized body… the one that makes me hate myself.
See? Two paragraphs in and it’s already a catch-22. The only way to change my body is to stop hating it/myself, but the only way to stop hating it/myself is for my body to change. SO obviously, that’s not going to work…
The other thing that becomes obvious to me as I read back my own words is that I identify who I am with what I look like and what I do. My unhealthy relationship with food started longer ago than I can remember. I don’t remember who I was then and don’t know who I might have become if the love-hate relationship with food hadn’t taken over my life. I don’t know who I am without ED. What I do know is that it has been reenforced to me for most of my life that my inability to control my behavior or modify my body to fit the expectations of family and society is the thing that *proves* I’m not good enough. Not lovable.
Throughout my recovery journey, I’ve learned a lot about shame and worthiness. I’ve learned that “failing” at unrealistic expectations does not make me a failure. I’ve learned that making mistakes makes me human, not fundamentally bad. And I’ve learned that the only way out of self hatred is acceptance.
I didn’t really understand the stuff I had been learning about acceptance for myself until I was having a conversation with a recovering alcoholic who didn’t believe he deserved another chance from his family and friends. What he hated the most about himself was that he knew all the things he was supposed to do to be the person he was supposed to be, but he just. couldn’t. seem. to. change. who he was.
This was one of those magical moments for me, where the clouds parted and everything became clear. He felt like a failure, because he believed he was a disappointment to his family, a disgrace. He wasn’t an achiever, like the more celebrated, well adjusted members of his family. He was different. A musician who made a few bad choices that led to other bad things that solidified his belief that he was bad. He was the problem. He was simply not good enough. Believing something like this about yourself is a pretty heavy burden, so he self medicated, to numb the shame, which led to more bad decisions, which led to more self hatred, which led to more drinking, more bad decisions, it’s a trap.
I suddenly realized that if he could forgive and accept himself for being an imperfect human, like all the rest of us, he didn’t have to feel shame for being imperfect and if he didn’t feel shame for being who he was, then he wouldn’t have to drink to feel better. Acceptance. I am who I am and that’s good enough. Perfectly imperfect.
I told him, “maybe you don’t have to change who you are.” He said “if you are a raging alcoholic, you definitely have to change who you are.” I said “you have to change what you DO, but you don’t have to change WHO YOU ARE. Drinking is what you do, because you can’t accept who you are, but if you could believe that who you are is good enough, if we all could believe that we are worthy of a good life, then we wouldn’t need the food and alcohol and other distractions to get through a day. We wouldn’t have to feel ashamed for using those maladaptive mechanisms and we wouldn’t be driven to more bad behavior to cope with that shame.”
Now don’t get me wrong. This is much easier said than done. It takes a lot of work to train your brain to believe this new thing, especially after so many years of trying to prove that something else is true. But it’s possible and it all starts with acceptance of whatever IS, right now.