Embracing emotions in recovery is a skill. An essential practice to learn.
When Mary Jelkovsky (@maryscupoftea), was deep in an eating disorder, she felt like she had to be tough and confident at all times. As a former fitness model and competitor, she often received feedback that she was “intimidating.” As she focused on having a tough chiseled exterior at the gym, she felt hardened to emotions, her own emotions and the emotions of others.
In recovery, Mary realized that she was more emotionally sensitive than she thought. She discovered the power of embracing this side of her personality instead of fighting it.
Now, Mary is in recovery and uses her inherent sensitivity and empathy to be a leader in the self-love movement. She’s written two books, The Gift of Self Love and the newly released 100 Days of Self-Love. These are not your typical “sit and read” books. They are full of actionable activities you can do to improve your self-love and accept yourself exactly as you are.
Below are 3 pieces of recovery gold from Mary’s journey to embracing emotions and fostering self-love.
1. Be open to resources outside of the eating disorder recovery space
Obviously, here at Recovery Warriors, we are all about eating disorder recovery resources. Feeling seen and heard is a huge and necessary part of healing. And, you can deepen your recovery by stepping outside of the eating disorder spectrum to embrace other mental health and self-improvement resources.
Often there are many underlying things with eating disorders that are ultimately not about the food. It could be any number of things like trauma, depression, anxiety, grief, attachment and self-esteem issues, and so many more emotional wounds and mental health struggles that tie into food and body struggles.
For Mary, one of the most helpful things in her recovery was spiritual books that were not directly related to eating disorders:
“Those kinds of books helped me to see myself as more than a body, because at the end of the day, our body image is still a part of our ego. Ego is a big thing that a lot of these spiritual books talk about. Whether it’s money, appearances, food, and body – these are all surface-level things.” – Mary Jelkovsky
Sometimes you need to pull from different areas and resources in order to recover strong. And there are SO many resources out there. There are books, therapists, coaches, articles, websites, newsletters, classes, treatment centers, communities, social media, daily affirmations like we provide through the Daily Growth Habit. We are so blessed to live in a time with countless resources both in and out of the eating disorder recovery space. It can almost feel overwhelming, but you don’t need to be a superhuman who does it all. Take what’s best, and leave the rest.
Ultimately, whether you prefer resources that are more focused on eating disorders, or resources focused on general self-improvement and mental health – you are doing something wonderful for your recovery. Get excited to think about all the different things you can explore.
2. The goal is not to be happy
This might sound bleak and confusing. It’s like “What do you mean the goal isn’t to be happy?! I’m miserable living life with an eating disorder, of course, I want to be happy!”
Hear us out.
While the ultimate goal is not to be happy, that doesn’t mean you won’t ever experience happiness, or have more of it in your life if you pursue recovery (because of course you will!). It’s just that you don’t want happiness to be your number one end-all-be-all goal, because no matter what, life is NEVER perfect. There will always be struggles and hard things that happen, and you’ll always be growing, improving, and working on something.
Happiness is one of the many emotions
There is absolutely a better life to be found down the road of recovery, but happiness is not the goal or an endpoint that you reach. Mary explains that pressuring yourself to be happy, ultimately makes you more unhappy in the long run. This is because you’re constantly feeling like you’re not reaching that expectation.
It’s the same thing with your body. Instead of wishing you could just be happy with your body – a more realistic, proactive, and productive approach is wanting to feel more connected to your body instead.
“It’s much easier to actually feel connection instead of this arbitrary idea of happiness. Nobody really knows what it is, or how to define it. I often think about creating meaning in my life, because some of the most meaningful and best things I’ve done have come through blood, sweat, and tears.” – Mary Jelkovsky
Sometimes the best things, are the hardest things.
Mary leaned into finding meaning in her life, rather than happiness. This is the ultimate goal. To live a life of meaning, whatever that is for you. For Mary, she found meaning in things like getting her hands in the dirt to plant and garden, or riding a bike with her little sister. The “good life” isn’t about luxury and glamor or winning the rat race like what society wants you to think. It’s the simple, daily moments where you’re doing what matters to you.
3. Focus on being, rather than having
A lot of people think that life is about having things and that once they have whatever thing it is they want, then life will finally be good and all their problems will be solved. With eating disorders, in particular, the pursuit of a “perfect body” can make you believe that once you get there, you’ll get everything you ever wanted. Maybe it’s the job, the relationship, the money, or the lifestyle you’ve longed for. That’s the “having” piece.
“Being” is taking the “having” and turning it upside down to find what’s underneath the superficial wants that you are longing for, and embodying what you find. Mary divulged how she did this in her life:
“I wanted to be connected, confident, and authentic. I always thought the only way I would be that is if I had a perfect body or if everybody liked me. And then I started just living like that. Like I’m a connected, confident, and authentic person. I asked myself what confident people do, or what connected people do. Well, they’re probably aware of what they feel good in, or they share their heart with people and aren’t afraid to show up. Or maybe they are afraid but they do it anyway. When you start doing those things, suddenly the things you want just kind of come.” – Mary Jelkovsky
A mindset shift
Embrace “being” over “having.” The first one comes from a place of peace and is a process that is long-term. The latter is about chasing unrealistic goals hard and never getting there in the end.
The best thing about “being” is you can start right now! It is a state of mind, and a powerful way to practice living in recovery. The things you are longing for, are already there within you, waiting to be embraced. You don’t need proof that you are what you desire and you don’t need a certain body size to be loved and accepted. Furthermore, you don’t need a certain bank account balance to be abundant and secure. You don’t need a ring on your finger to be chosen and cherished. You can be loved, accepted, abundant, secure, chosen, and cherished right now. Focus on being, rather than having.