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National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Day Two. What I Learned at the Hospital

February 27, 2012

This is day two of a week long series in honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which began yesterday. If you have any requests of what you would like to see this week, or have any questions, please feel free to comment below.

Today I would like to talk about a few of the awesome epiphanies and words of wisdom I learned during my time both with my first therapist T as well as my two months during my second stay at the hospital. Before I start though I’d like to remind all of you of a few things: first, just because you haven’t “been to the hospital” or “been diagnosed” or “your weight isn’t ___” DOES NOT MEAN that you are free of disordered eating. Please remember to give yourself a reality check if you start comparing your story to mine. That is not what these posts are meant for.

That being said, because list form is the easiest and most fun way to get this information out, I’d like to do my classic list, which I shall title “AWESOME THINGS I LEARNED DURING MY FIRST ROUND OF RECOVERY”

1. Perfect is boring. Kudos to the long, gray haired worker at the hospital for giving me one of the most memorable pieces of advice I could ever remember and pass on. Perfect IS boring. Many people with eating disorders and eating issues often feel a great need to be “perfect.” You know, possible things like getting straight A’s, always being in control of emotions, always saying the right thing, being the best at sports…the list could go on and on. And while most of society thinks these are all awesome things, how many real friends do you have that are actually perfect? I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t stand being friends with a “perfect” person. Who would go out with me on Friday nights and do stupid things because my “friend” can’t drink too much/say the wrong thing/be dumb? Who would talk to me, be able to actually empathize with me, and then share him/herself with me so that the relationship grows mutually? Who would be able to put their own accomplishments away for a second to recognize how I have been successful too? The problem with being perfect is that (first of all it’s impossible) perfection leaves no room for complexity, love, emotion, growth, and life. So let go of trying so hard!

2. When you 80 years old, do you want to look at your life and say “Well, at least I was thin!” Thanks to another worker at the hospital. I’m sad we only really saw her on the weekends because her frankness coupled with wonderful advice was so refreshing. And the above, well, might be enough said. When you look back on your life, what do you want it to look like?

3. You have to be your own #1 fan. One of the most valuable lessons T could have ever taught me. Here’s the deal. There is absolutely no one on this earth who can measure your worth or give you enough self-confidence so that you can be yourself and live on your own. There is no boy, girl, friend, parent, grandparent, cousin, or lover who will ever be able to give you enough in order to feel fully wonderful, self-confident, and beautiful. Let me repeat that: NO ONE CAN MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE THAT. And here’s why: each and every one of us is a human being. We are fragile, emotional, and imperfect (which is kind of awesome if you think about it. See #1). The only person who knows you, and who can find out more about every corner of your heart is YOU. The only person who can fulfill your needs (eat when you’re hungry, cry when you’re sad, ask for help when you need it, etc.) is YOU. And you are also the only person who can love yourself like you deserve to be loved: fully, wholly, and with all of your ripples, differences, and ruts.

4. Don’t put your thermometer in other people’s mouth in order to check your own temperature. Okay, I understand this sounds funny, but bear with me. You know those times where you look around and ask those questions like “should I be crying? No one else is crying,” “Should I eat this pizza? No one else is eating pizza!” And of course, when you ask all your friends “Do I look okay? Am I okay? Is this alright? Should I be doing this?” Maybe there is something to be said to get extra opinions on difficult choices, but really? Let me tell you something: only you know when you are sad. Only you know when you are hungry (or just really want a fucking piece of pizza). Only you know if you are okay, and, as I stated in number #3, no one can tell you enough that you are a good enough person. Your thermometer is your thermometer. It’s just wrong to stick it in other people’s mouths.

5. Emotions are really important. Emotions tell you all the shit that’s going on inside you. To cry, to laugh, to be angry…all of these emotions direct us to take action and to be true to ourselves. Sometimes we spend so much energy in keeping emotions down when in order to embody our whole selves we need ways to express them. One therapist told me once that bulimia makes sense…it’s one way to stuff down all of your emotions and then express them all without actually feeling them. It’s explosive. And after awhile, it doesn’t work anymore.

6. Finally, eating disorders actually do serve a purpose. The most common thing that people who haven’t had an eating disorder say is “that doesn’t make any sense. I like to eat. You need food. Why doesn’t he/she just eat?” Or, “throwing up is disgusting. I don’t understand. I could never do that.” Or even, “How can someone eat that much? Just push yourself away from the table?” The problem with all of these statements is that they fail to acknowledge what eating disorders actually do for people who have them. Eating disorders are like the logs you grab on to when there’s a raging river rushing around you. There’s so much going on, so much shit happening, and you have to grab onto SOMETHING in order to survive. And for awhile, you do survive. Eventually, it’s time to let go because you’ve found another (less insidious and healthier) log, or because the waters have calmed.

Those are some of the most important lessons I learned during my first years of recovery. Let me know what you think. My hope for all of you today is that you feel what you need to feel, do what you need to do, and always, always, have grace, forgiveness and love for yourself.

Love love love.

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