When you have an eating disorder, it defines you as a person.
No, that’s not right.
When you have an eating disorder, you ALLOW it to define you as a person.
For years, even though no other person knew about my secret, ED defined who I was. ED told me I was worthless. ED told me I would only be loved if I was thinner, prettier, better at everything. ED was so good at being my voice that I completely lost my actual voice, my inner-self, and I spent most of the 35 years prior to starting recovery feeling 100% lost. The truth is, choosing to be defined by ED was easier than choosing to confront him.
That was the old Amber. Well, technically, I’m far older now, but with age hopefully comes wisdom, and each day of recovery breathes new life into my true voice while incrementally silencing ED. I know this to be true because I see it happening in the oddest moments. Today, one such occurrence brought me a little bit of happiness from an insane errand. There is nothing more panic-inspiring than deciding to go swim-suit shopping when you are in recovery from ED, and guess what I thought I would do today?
You might be wondering why I would even torture myself with this endeavor when I have a handful of suits that I could potentially stuff myself into with enough modesty to avoid being arrested on the beach? It all started when therapy started. That was in fall. A time of year even the most distorted of us is able to enjoy ourselves a little more because of the ability to hide under bulky clothing for the foreseeable future. The problem with fall and winter is they end. At least in Indiana, warmer weather does eventually make its way to us, and I swore to myself I would never be that weird person wearing jeans in the summer (no offense weird people). Unfortunately that Amber didn’t realize that this Amber would be facing attending a June wedding and family vacation in Florida with her in-laws; all of who are over 6ft. tall and most likely of Nordic descent.
So now you can see why I found myself with a handful of tankini’s at what I swear is the busiest Target on the planet. My theory is this, a tankini allows me to pick a bottom that covers my bits, and a top that is supposed to be loose but won’t look like a giant tent. I’ll look stylish while fashionably hiding behind as much fabric as I can manage on the beach. In I marched with my handful of suits, acting like I wasn’t starting to sweat even considering this whole process. Really the idea of finding a suit terrifies me, and I didn’t even find one I liked today, but I did find a little unexpected insight. The whole fiasco of swimsuit shopping is a scary adventure, and I can’t even imagine having the self-esteem for this to be fun, but today while wrangling straps and figuring out why there was an extra hole in that suit (was that where my arm or head is supposed to go?) I realized that other than my stomach, I’m relatively neutral these days with my arms and legs and the rest of my body.
So most of you might think that’s the silliest thing you’ve ever read, but to me it was a major accomplishment. I’m sure my therapist is cringing at this right now, wondering why I can’t be okay with my stomach, but I’m just not there yet, and honestly that’s okay too. The accomplishment is that rather than go in and pick apart every visible inch and probably invisible inch of myself, I looked in the mirror while wearing the least clothing I ever wear in public and thought, I don’t feel anything negative, and that is big step in recovery! Unfortunately, the suit that allowed me this revelation didn’t fit quite right up top otherwise it’d be hanging in my closet right now, but it did at least give me a chance to realize that while recovery feels like a lot of steps backward on some days, there are very real steps being taken in the right direction. So that is what I want to talk about today…failing forward!
As I said at the beginning of this post, every person with an eating disorder allows ED to be the voice defining who we are. It’s pretty f’d up, but it’s also true. The sooner I realized that, the faster I was able to start taking those steps forward. Listen, we’re all going to have to face a mirror at some point. We’re going to unexpectedly see our weight at a doctor’s office (this is what happened to me after throwing out my scale). We’re going to have to try on a swimsuit! What changes is that we are able to move from a point of feeling failure in these small backward steps and start failing forward. That’s right, fail, because it’s inevitable, but do it in the direction of continual progress and with positive forward momentum!
No one said we have to be fantastic at this whole recovery thing, and you can ask my therapist, I tried really hard to be that first person to do it perfectly. Needless to say, it didn’t work out well. That only ended with me having a major anxiety attack that left me unable to even go to work that day. It all catches up to you if you think you’re going to glide perfectly through recovery, and I think the tendency to be a perfectionist comes right along with ED most of the time. I realized that my need for perfectionism is because its one of the few things I feel I can control, and eating disorders are all about control. Being able to let-go of that need, and realize that failing is acceptable and doesn’t make me any less of a person, has been very freeing for me.
I heard this saying today in one of my daily motivational videos I watch for Rodan + Fields that really hit home with this whole idea of failing forward. “The champagne tastes the same regardless of when you get there.” One of the highest achievers in this business said that, and it’s true. No matter if recovery takes months or years, the victory of beating ED will tastes the same, so the important realization is that we can fail and still be making progress! It’s all about your mindset! You can’t have a bad day and whine about how you’re never going to do it, and life isn’t fair, and you have no one to talk to, and blah blah blah blah. Shut your trap! That is not failing forward! Failing forward is when you go swimsuit shopping and rather than saying how much ED is right yadda yadda yadda, you completely blacklist him from joining you in the fitting room and in the process realize that you don’t care if you don’t find the suit that makes your Shrek body look like Giselle! You realize that you’re okay with not being where ED wants to tell you to be, but rather just being where you are. Failing forward is all about being present in the moment enough to use it as power to gain self awareness and knowledge, and not allowing ED the power in those moments instead.
To fail forward we have to be willing to fully embrace recovery. To accept that the days we fail are also the days we make the most progress in the direction we want to go. When we accept that failing is okay, and start failing forward we deny ED the power we’ve always given him and start to hear our own voice…and that is the most powerful voice anyone has!