“At any given moment, you have the power to say, ‘This is not how my story is going to end.’” -- Christine Mason Miller
As you begin to heal physically with improved nourishment, you can begin work on overcoming your disorder more fully. Eating disorders are called illnesses for a reason; though classified as mental disorders, they have biological, as well as psychological, features.
Heal the past, and when you are ready, forgive yourself and others. Do this for yourself. Sometimes merely acknowledging what you went through and how difficult it was to endure is enough to begin healing from past traumas. And trauma can be different for everyone. What might seem like no big deal to one person can be incredibly upsetting to another. Processing the situation, healing from the damage and moving forward will make you feel more at ease in general. Express your pain regarding what happened in the past, and let it go. Then, do what you can to focus on the present.
Strategies always available to you include:
Be kind to yourself and to others. As much as possible, observe without judgment. This includes observing the thoughts and feelings you experience, especially those that come up before and after you eat. Ask yourself if the thoughts you have, especially those about yourself, are accurate.
Surround yourself with, and seek out, positive and healthy people. Are there people you admire who lead healthy and well-rounded lives? Who are your role models and who do you look to as an example of a positive role model? Look for role models who are accepting and who embody strength, courage and wisdom.
Notice and care for the child within you. Though you can’t go back and change the past, you can provide yourself some comfort and heal from the pain of past events. This includes making sure you are getting the attention, love and care you need now. You can give this to yourself in the form of self-care, or you can ask for help and encouragement from others.
Visualize the future, your future. Imagine yourself healthy and fully able and capable. Jot down a few of your life and long-term goals. Choose these goals over looking a certain way or staying stuck in the disorder. Any time you feel yourself struggling, remind yourself where you want to be. Accept where you are, but keep working on your short- and long-term goals.
Be gentle with yourself. Navigating feelings and learning how to process them can involve bumps in the emotional road. There isn’t a specific set of steps to take in order to go through an emotional experience. The main thing is to make sure you are expressing yourself in a healthy way and allowing your feelings to come to the surface. Though it might feel like your sadness or anger will last forever, do as Diane Israel suggests and look at these feelings like you would fluctuations in the weather. A bad storm rolls in, but it eventually passes. It’s a temporary situation. You can’t control it, but you can control your reactions. You will get through it. Write, scream or cry into a pillow, sing, dance, talk to friends, and do whatever it takes to make sure you are dealing with your emotions safely.
When I read about Jenni Schaefer and her book Life Without Ed, I was concerned that she advised people to compartmentalize their thoughts, as if they belonged to a separate entity, in this case “Ed.” I strongly believe that our eating disorders are very much a part of ourselves -- something we create and must take ownership of, not something to necessarily fight against; a set of actions and circumstances to understand and from which to learn.
There are times when it feels as if choosing to recover means fighting the urge to harm yourself. This is true, but healing comes from going deeper and addressing the underlying issues, not blaming “Ed” without delving into the whys. The technique of externalization, and using “Ed” (or some other name) to address your disorder, does help to identify the negative thoughts, though, and I fully support that aspect. If it works for you -- whatever works for you, in fact -- then use it.
When you are struggling, it can be difficult to determine whether a given thought is healthy. I don’t see anything wrong with labeling a thought “Ed” or any name you like, but, again, I would suggest taking this one step further: Look at why this thought is coming up, and determine how you can address or even counter it in a healthy, positive way. Try writing the thought down first. In a separate column, write out possible reasons why you think this thought arose when it did. Finally, in a third column, see if you can write something positive that opposes or disproves the negative thought.