“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” ~ Khalil Gibran
I don’t identify myself as being anorexic.
That said, I was severely anorexic for quite a lot of my life. There were many, many years when I was more than defined by my eating disorder, I was trapped by it.
And a lot of people have body image disorders. Frankly, we keep getting farther and farther removed from being healthy human animals—the time we spend on computers and not outdoors, the processed foods that are sold in our grocery stores and the ways that we praise both being overweight and overly fit—and this disease of human kind is a breeding ground for festering, poor relationships between bodies and spirits and minds.
Still, there’s something completely different about the truly and severely eating disordered and having body-image problems (not to diminish the latter). And one thing that I’ve found to be very true about the predominant personality to most likely suffer from an eating disorder—aside from other contributing social factors, genetics, etc—is that many are women who have strong personalities.
Yet being a strong woman in many of today’s cultures is still completely frowned upon.
We can say that we love aggressive, passionate women who easily shine and radiate large personalities, but, in reality, we still expect them to fit into certain boxes.
Boxes that look like this:
Wear a certain size. (Be thin, but not too thin.)
Be pretty but not too pretty.
Eat healthfully but not obsessively healthfully.
Don’t be loud.
Don’t be funnier than the men around you.
And this list goes on and on.
Because women are still contained within walls and by barriers, and these constraints leak from societal expectations into self-expectations and self-beliefs.
It wasn’t until I learned how to set myself free that I was able to see the most important thing about recovering from this emotionally and physically life-destroying disease: that the strongest people are the ones who can fully embrace their fragility.
Learning to love myself enough to not care about what the world around me wishes me to be meant loving myself enough to drop my own expectations of what strength looks like too.
And strength is something that is absolutely personally defined, but, for me, the most healing realization was coming to terms with those qualities about myself that are hardest to stare at in the looking glass. So hard, in fact, that I pretended that the problem with my mirror was something physical, because it was easier.
It was easier than owning my craving for acceptance by peers.
It was easier, too, than honoring my demanding, independent and dominating nature—my more “mannish” personality.
More, it was much simpler to admit my physical imperfections than to recognize how broken I was—how broken I had become—in order for me to fully become whole.
Becoming whole is something that all of us should put effort in to.
All of us, man or woman, eating disordered or not, have areas of our lives and of ourselves that are difficult to welcome. It’s often much easier to place our unhappiness and our unfulfillment onto other areas of life—challenged early lives, relationships, children—than it is to admit that the fault lies somewhere inside of us.
Yes, we crave love and partnerships and, like I said, acceptance from others, but if we spend our entire lives not realizing how empowering it is to first accept and love ourselves, then none of these subsequent relationships or successes will matter.
So how do we love ourselves? How do we become strong enough to feel safe being vulnerable—strong enough to show our scars? Like this:
We speak lovingly to ourselves.
We think of our inner child and we let our inner voice speak to ourselves like we would a small, beloved toddler.
I’m patient with my daughter because she’s young and still learning (and, really, we all are). I speak with words of comfort and kindness to her because she deserves it (and so do we). Begin this journey of self-love by speaking to yourself with love. Stop speaking hateful words inside of your head and then expecting to be happy with yourself (or with other people).
And then we begin to verbalize this new loving self-speech outwardly.
The first step is talking with a gentler inner voice, and then the next step is to speak these same types of words externally.
Completely cut negatively perceived words from your dialogue. (Words like “fat.”) We are much more easily defined by the way that we label ourselves than we understand consciously. Begin to shape a new self-perception by using your words positively.
I’m perhaps the most impatient person in the world. Okay, maybe not, but I’m not necessarily a patient person. That said, it’s imperative to find patience with what we see as our flaws.
For example, I try to find patience with my impatience. I try, also, to give myself a break when I say something out of anger. In short, I’ve learned that in order to be a healthy, whole person I need to understand that I’ll always have flaws and, further, that these flaws are not diminished by my highlighting them in self-judgment and loathing. (Actually, this feeds the fire and strengthens these qualities.)
We embrace our emotions, completely.
For me, embracing my fragility—and my strength—came hand in hand with owning my more negative emotions, like jealousy for instance.
Being a human being, however evolved we are, means having primal emotions that we need to allow ourselves to experience, especially if we want to move forward from them in a healthy manner.
The main purpose that an eating disorder (or being an alcoholic or chronically self-deprecating or…) serves is as a coping mechanism for uncomfortable emotions. If we want to learn to love our bodies and our minds, and treat ourselves well, then we need to be in touch with what we’re feeling.
And being a strong person doesn’t mean that we’re impenetrable to attack. I’d argue that a gigantic part of true strength is durability—the ability to bend and stay malleable throughout life’s ups and downs—and that this can only occur when we stay open and exposed to both joy and pain.
So, yeah, I don’t consider myself to be eating disordered anymore. But I wouldn’t give up those tortured years for anything.
Through my illness I learned that my imperfections are where my real beauty lies; I learned that who I am is someone much more powerful than society’s current definition of who I should be; I learned that my own self-love is enough–and I finally understand that I’m strongest when I don’t try to cover up my scars.
” A really strong woman accepts the war she went through and is ennobled by her scars.” ~ Carly Simon