Why the shame?
Recovering from anorexia was the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do, but certainly the one thing that changed my life and me beyond recognition…in the best way possible. I found myself with a new career which enabled me to help others and I felt incredibly privileged to join them on their journey. I was living in a lovely area in my own flat and had the support of amazing friends which I had reconnected with and they had helped me though. My parents were supportive and understanding… So why did I feel so much shame about what I had been through?
Until recently that’s exactly what I felt, and I don’t even think I was fully aware of it. It was on the edge of my awareness and I felt uncomfortable about it. So, as with everything else in recovery, I decided I needed to face it head on and ask myself…what the hell is that all about!?
Whenever people spoke about eating disorders I would feel my heart beating faster and I would be instantly anxious. On reflection I think I felt a sense of ‘what if they find me out’. I wouldn’t actively hide the fact that I had suffered with anorexia, but I would never bring it up in conversation with people. I didn’t want members of my family to know what I had been though, although I’m pretty sure they knew already, and at work I would do my best never to mention it. I would feel a wash of shame and anxiety if I had to speak about it even to people that already knew and had seen me at my worst….and I had no idea why.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I was worried about what people would think, concerned that they would notice my ‘quirks’ that I just couldn’t shift, and that they would think I was a silly little girl overly concerned about my appearance. There still feels like there is so much stigma around eating disorders. I would feel fine discussing my feelings of anxiety but to say the word ‘anorexia’ felt like confessing a sin.
Noticing this and questioning it led me to thinking: how could I change this? Not just for myself but for others. Why does this stigma exist even in the mind of someone who deals with mental health issues all day long? Being open is the only way to challenge this. I’ve started speaking openly about eating disorders and my experience. I’ve shared openly with people at work, with friends, complete strangers and been so encouraged by their responses. The judgement I feared doesn’t come, people are not bored by hearing about my story and they don’t really care that I still don’t want to eat certain things through habit more than anything. A new relationship has highlighted all the things I still do that I consider to be a product of my anorexia; seeing that this is not an issue is freeing. For the first time I don’t feel ashamed.
The freedom from shame has been further helped by a TED talk on muscle dysmorphia and eating disorders. ‘It’s not your fault’. The power of that sentence once you believe it is incredible. The speaker spoke these words: ‘It’s not your fault’. He explained how societal pressures and norms influences the way we think, and this results in the way we think about ourselves and how we should be. Although through recovery I’ve told myself, and others, many a time that eating disorders are not the fault of the person affected…I didn’t really believe it for myself. Hearing someone explain why brought home the realisation that the statement I have been telling myself is true and it does apply to me! Hearing these words and actually believing them, I cried.
I guess my purpose in writing this blog is really to say that if you are, or have, suffered from an eating disorder it really isn’t your fault and there is nothing to be ashamed of. Seeking treatment is a brave step and one that should not bring with it a degree of embarrassment or self-hatred. And in recovery, don’t be afraid of speaking out about what you are going through. You don’t need to hide or feel alone, you are not to blame for what you are going through. Finally, recovery is a long process of self-discovery. I consider myself recovered and still each day I come to realisations about myself, my eating disorder and recovery. It’s a long journey, but don’t let that bring feelings of deflation, frustration, or wanting to give up, as I have learnt it can be the most amazing process. I believe self-discovery is a lifelong endeavour only the privileged few who become self-aware enough to notice their own growth will appreciate. Face recovery without shame and embrace the journey.