Your New Identity

"The longer you live with an eating disorder, the more your eating disorder behaviours are shaping your identity. At some point, your identity becomes so intertwined with your eating disorder that you believe it defines who you are."

Recovering from an eating disorder isn’t just a matter of restoring physical health by controlling symptoms and eating enough to maintain. That's simply what non-eating disorder individuals are fooled into believing. But we sufferers, professionals, carers and loved ones know all too well that an ideal weight will never solve our problems. While our bodies may look and act 'fixed' our relationships with food, our bodies, our minds and ourselves are still damaged.

What recovering from an eating disorder really means is often invisible to the human eye. Healing your self trust and mind-body connection, practicing intuitive eating, experiencing emotions and feelings that you had locked and forced out of your life, establishing a healthy relationship with food, accepting your body, the mirrors, and others opinions, abolishing bad habits and self destructive behaviours like lying, over-exercising, self-harming, learning to love yourself and deleting all paranoid and illogical thoughts that once circulated in your mind. It requires breaking free and learning healthy and effective coping skills to deal with life. The process of facing your fears and emotions that have been masked by your eating disorder is not straightforward. It requires a tremendous amount of courage, commitment and patience. The most difficult, yet far more important part of recovery, is to rediscover your own identity, your true self. That's recovery and almost all of it was invisible.

The longer you live with an eating disorder, the more your eating disorder behaviours are shaping your identity. At some point, your identity becomes so intertwined with your eating disorder that you believe it defines who you are.. When I was in recovery my identity was so wrapped up in my eating disorder, that I was terrified and couldn’t imagine who I would be without it.

I wanted to recover so badly, but I was frightened at the same time. I was completely dependent upon that voice inside my head.

That voice had been guiding me in every aspect of my life for many years. Who am I without my eating disorder and how do I find myself? What if people think I am not good enough? All common questions for many, many, many warriors in recovery.

I used to think “I am my eating disorder and I will be nobody without it... who am I without Ana". Eating disorder thoughts were my truth. I had completely lost connection with myself. In recovery, I had to investigate what I would give up when I would recover. This is a really vital part in finding yourself. What do you think you need your eating disorder for? Does your eating disorder give you a feeling of being in control? Does your self-esteem depend on it?

Questions like these can help you identify what you think the 'benefits' of your eating disorder are and they will highlight exactly why you are holding onto it and why you fear getting rid of it. Once these feelings are discovered you can begin to move forward in the march to find your lost self and bring them home.

I remember thinking that I felt like I needed my eating disorder to deal with my feelings, my fear of rejection and an extremely low self-esteem. My eating disorder was a coping mechanism that I clung onto for dear life, it was a way for me to feel 'good enough' or to at least dream and hope of one day feeling 'good enough'. Good enough for love, a friend, a hug from my Mum. Good enough for a seat, a slice of bread, or a good nights sleep. Good enough to feel calm and confident... one day. But these feelings of one day being good enough one day were false, they were lies and games threaded into my thoughts by Ana. She made me believe that the only way I would ever feel good enough for all these things was with her by my side, her being me.

Yet the only way for me to ever feel 'good enough' was without her in my home, being me and only me, the real me. I only discovered this when I forced her to slip on her shoes and leave my soul. What I know now is that this identity was an illusion and a lie that she had brainwashed me to believe. It was always my home, I never invited her in, she made me believe she was the boss, but I kicked her out, I took back my home, my soul.

Your eating disorder also became a way of coping with your life. Becoming aware of what lies underneath can unleash insightful patterns needed in rebuilding your identity without your eating disorder. It becomes vital to separate yourself from the unhealthy coping skills your eating disorder taught you and realising that you are not your eating disorder. Once again we are talking about the all important split. The split, in my eyes is the most crucial element of recovery.

Exploring who you, the real you, the no-eating disorder 'you' can be frightening at first. Even a simple question like, "What is your favourite colour?" can send you into clueless panic. It is not something that happens overnight. it has to be lived. You have to go out there. Challenge yourself. Discover your talents. Overcome your fears and find out what you like and dislike. Think about music, books, clothes, culture, art, food, nature and anything that is part of real life. Real life without eating disorder.

It will be frightening, you may feel clueless and confused, and it will be emotionally draining. That is the essence of the exploration. Endlessly learning and experiencing, thinking and dreaming.

Every experience contributes to reconnecting you with yourself, and every lesson helps you separate further away from your no-longer welcome eating disorder.

Photography by: Rebecca Alison

Photography by: Rebecca Alison