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National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Day Six. Your Life Story

March 3, 2012

This post is a part of a week-long series during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Let me know if you have any questions or comments! I’d love to hear from you.

Today I’d like to talk about one of the most essential parts of recovering from an eating disorder, as well as understanding yourself and your behaviors in general. Your life story, including all of your beliefs, accomplishments, messages you’ve received, and the relationships you’ve had are so important to acknowledge and understand in order to see where you are and where you want to go.

When I was in the hospital the first time for only a week, I was given a huge binder with a bunch of recovery tools that I was supposedly going to use when I actually stayed for the entire program. If you missed day one, you probably missed that I left the hospital at that young age of 14 because I convinced my parents that I didn’t have a problem, and I therefore didn’t do anything in the notebook. I was encouraged to start on my “Life Story,” which was just a whole section in the binder with lined paper. Being 14, and also having no other direction than writing my story, I wrote down what I thought “counted” as a good life story.

It went something like this: “My name is Chelsea Rowan, and I am fourteen years old. I have a twin brother. I grew up in Boulder, CO, and I rode horses and played basketball all of my life. Now I’m in a fucking hospital and I don’t know why.”

I had no idea how in the world this was supposed to help my recovery until I finally went to therapy with T, the psychotherapist I have mentioned in earlier posts. You see, all of the things I wrote above were facts about my life, but each fact also had so many meanings, messages, and feelings attached to it.

I love my twin brother and he is one of my best friends in the whole wide world, but having him in my life also meant I was always competing. Also, because I am a girl, I grew physically much faster than he did, making me at least a head taller and quite a bit wider than him for quite awhile. I can now talk to him about everything in my life, but the insecurities, comparisons, and difference we had growing up was difficult.

I grew up in Boulder, CO, which is one of the fittest cities in the United States. Some of the best marathoners and triathletes live there, and you can’t go a day without seeing at least ten bikers/runners on the road. And with my developing body, my hatred for running and exercise (unless it was basketball or horse back riding) made me feel absolutely inferior and strange in that town. I eventually joined Cross Country in high school and lost a bunch of weight mainly so I could fit in. I’m still trying to decide if I actually like to run.

I come from a family, on both sides, full of addictions and mental health disorders. I see alcoholism, drug addiction, and depression a lot.

A lot of my recovery has been to go through each of the facts of my life and process what it meant to me and what it taught me, whether true or not. I wasn’t actually inferior, but maybe some of Boulder taught me that. I wasn’t actually compared to my brother, but I sure as hell felt like I was inferior there as well. A lot of the relationships I had throughout my life weren’t healthy ones, starting in elementary school, and I never really got into what those relationships taught me (again, whether true or not) until I went more into recovery. All of the messages I received based on where I have grown up as well as my social position in society as a white, straight, female affected the growth and development of my eating disorder, and recreating “truth” for myself was how I finally escaped. Everything we believe about ourselves comes from our experiences, but those beliefs are simply that as well: just beliefs. Just stories. The stories we choose to tell about ourselves are the ones that come true in the end.

So, my challenge for you is to consider your life story. Consider all of your relationships with your parents, family members, and friends. Consider where you grew up, what was expected of you, and what you were “supposed” to do. All of these things will help you discover why you do the things you do. But also, don’t be afraid to write your own story. I literally felt inferior to everyone around me growing up. Anyone from my high school can tell you that I was very shy, and often turned bright red when I had to speak. I always felt like I had to say the right thing, and that I was inherently inferior.

Anyone from my college can tell you that they can’t believe I was the girl with bangs in my eyes never saying anything. They might also tell you I’m funny. They might also tell you I’m a bitchy feminist who won’t shut up. Who knows? The point is that I changed how I saw myself because I was able to acknowledge and see all of the fucked up ways I saw myself before.

Tomorrow I will be writing the final post to this series. I know I’m a day behind, and I sincerely apologize for that. BUT I promise tomorrow’s post will blow your socks off.

Love love love.

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