In my last post, I wrote about tripping up and falling face-first into a concoction of sticky, sweet ice cream, caramel, whipped cream, and chocolate. I reflected on this incident as a learning experience. It served as a reminder of the reasons I might want to place greater confidence in my Wise Mind, which I am conditioning through education and the training I am undergoing in psychotherapy, rather than buying into beliefs that arise from alarming comparisons to others. Those comparisons usually come from or lead to thoughts of, “I AM NOT GOOD ENOUGH!” There was another notable feature of my experience on the Fourth of July that is worth mentioning. I didn’t waste time shaming myself, hating myself, punishing myself, or belittling myself for a perceived failure, sin, lapse, or unforgivable mistake. The fact that I was able to reflect on the events that transpired (i.e., my thoughts, emotions, physical reactions, and the behavioral choices that I made in response), assess what was helpful and what areas I might improve upon in the future, write it all down in my journal, and then move past it to enjoy the remainder of my vacation, was pretty monumental. After I put it on paper, I didn’t dredge it up again until a week later, when I was sitting across the desk from my nutritionist, and we were able to laugh as I described what it felt like to nearly black out because I was so panicked over something as meaningless and incidental as a bowl of churned and frozen cream and sugar.
My ability to forgive myself and think both reasonably and compassionately about what I consider a “slip” or a “fault” is probably a better indicator of my improving mental health and the state of my recovery than the fact that I am eating bread again and haven’t binged in roughly eight months. (*Gasp* I had to count on my fingers. I can’t believe it!) Sometimes, it still takes a while to work through my mistakes, and I spend a period dwelling in abject horror at my awfulness, but for the most part, I move through these shame-spells much more fluidly than I ever did before in my first 30 years.
My recovery journey is long, twisted, and ongoing, but if there is one insight that made a fundamental difference in allowing me to gain freedom from the death-grip my eating disorder held on my mind and soul it was this: GOD LOVES ME NOW, AS I AM, IN THIS BROKEN STATE OF IMPERFECTION. HE SEES ME MORE CLEARLY THAN I CAN EVEN SEE MYSELF, AND HE LOVES ME MORE THAN I CAN IMAGINE. If God can forgive me that much and love me that powerfully, though I am so fallen, so stained, so wretched, if God can ACCEPT me as I am while still HOPING that I will someday be better, I can accept myself as well. I realized, in essence, that acceptance is not the same as approval. I didn’t need to condone my binging, but in order to move beyond binging, I needed to accept myself for who and what I was, forgive myself for all my past wrongdoings, and start approaching my failings as opportunities for self-exploration, personal discovery, and growth.
This realization was monumental, and it literally struck me like a bolt of lightening so suddenly in the middle of a group therapy session one day, last winter, during my stint in partial, that I burst into tears and the mental health counselor overseeing the discussion stopped to make sure I was all right.
It’s difficult to describe just how vehemently I despised myself. My view of myself was as an abhorrence, a mistake of creation, something not deserving to live. I blamed myself for my inadequacy, believing that if I was more diligent, harder working, with a stronger will, I would be able to overcome all my wretchedness, stop binging, lose weight, get in shape, and achieve the “perfect” body. (Even though I was on the borderline of being underweight and was very likely malnourished). I stepped on the scale several times a day and would tear into my closet, distraught, to try on every pair of pants and every belt I owned, seeking either reassurance or fuel with which to further berate/”motivate” myself. This pattern of thinking didn’t suddenly dissolve overnight, replaced by self-compassion and reasonableness. It was a gradual change, but it was enabled by a group of people suffering in many of the same ways. It was much easier to practice compassion for others as I listened to the stories they shared during the many long hours we passed together under the mindful guidance of experienced professionals. They, in turn, treated me with empathy and love. Slowly, I started to internalize what I heard repeated over and over. I began allowing myself to entertain the possibility that my friends actually do appreciate and love me just as much as I cherish them, and that I am not the tremendous burden I imagined. I read Brené Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection, and something inside of me shifted (1). I realized that this process of becoming is really the process of living, and my imperfections are what make me who I am. Would anybody really go to Pisa if it’s tower wasn’t leaning over? I’m still a work in progress, and I always will be, but I love who I am and I love even more who I am becoming.
“There’s nothing interesting about looking perfect…” ~ Emma Watson
“The most dangerous stories we make up are the narratives that diminish our inherent worthiness. We must reclaim the truth about our lovability, divinity, and creativity.” ~ Brené Brown
“There is indeed something terribly the matter with us, and there is, at the same time, something foundationally good, something ‘divine’ at the heart of us…we must awaken to what is god-like in us, what is rich and fecund and unbroken, what is in continuity with the saving designs of God.” ~ Fr. Robert Barron(2)
(1) Brown, B. The Gifts of Imperfection. Center City, Minn.: Hazeldon; 2010.
(2) Barron, R. And Now I See…A Theology of Transformation. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company; 1998: pp. 27-28.
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