Who Am I If Not My Eating Disorder?
Ten years ago I was diagnosed with anorexia and for those ten years it has been a big part of my life. Until very recently the illness played a significant role in shaping how I saw myself as a person. For many years it defined me. It was me. I might as well have had it written on my business card.
I completely lost sight of the other parts of my life that make me who I really am. I went from having an eating disorder to being the eating disorder.
And to me, at the time, this wasn’t something I saw as a bad thing. After all, I was good at it. I was good at being anorexic. When other things in my life weren’t going so well, I knew that I could come top of the class at under eating and over exercising. There was a sense of pride that came with it too. I felt proud when I lost weight. I felt proud when I burned off more calories than I consumed.
I clung onto this identify because it was comfortable. Ironically, it felt safe. And when you become this comfortable, whatever it is you’re getting comfortable with, it’s hard to let it go.
You start to ask yourself the question “Who am I if not [insert noun]?” because you don’t know what would fill its place if you weren’t 'being' that person or playing that role.
But the thing is, you don’t need to fill its place. You can let go of the labels and roles you’ve taken on or others have assigned to you and still be OK. We attach so much meaning to labels, whether it’s 'mother’, 'sister’, 'girlfriend' or in my case 'anorexia sufferer’. But they don’t need to define us.
If I think of my identity as a pie chart, when I was unwell, my eating disorder took up 100%. There wasn’t any room left for the real me. But what I realise now is that the only thing that was holding me back from letting go of this was my own thinking, which went something along the lines of:
“This is the only thing I’m good at”
“I’m not capable of doing anything else”
“Giving up means you’ve failed”
It goes on…
But no one ever told me these things. No one ever said anything like this to me. I was the only one telling myself that I would be lost without my eating disorder. I was believing the self-limiting stories that I was telling myself so that I would stay in the comfort zone of my illness.
But all we have to do to break out of this is to realise that our experience of life is created through our thinking. That’s it.
And when we realise that we can start to see through the stories and see that they’re not based on anything other than the thoughts running through our mind. And when we do that we can see that we don’t have to believe them. And that changes everything.
So if I were to ask myself the question “Who am I if not my eating disorder?” now, I would say that I am whoever I want to be. I’m a sister, a daughter, a girlfriend, a budding photographer, a writer, a tennis player, this list goes on.
Because when we understand how the mind works we are no longer limited by the unhelpful voices in our heads telling us what we can or can’t do or who we can or can’t be.
So it’s time we started challenging the stories that are limiting us in our lives and making us play small.
Try it, you might be surprised…