Rebuilding your identity after recovery isn’t straightforward.
Recovery from an eating disorder isn’t just a matter of restoring physical health, by controlling symptoms and establishing a healthy relationship with food. 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 most important part of recovery, is to rediscover your own identity, your true self.
Living with an eating disorder
The longer you live with an eating disorder, the more your eating disorder behaviors 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.
Who am I without my eating disorder?
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 people in recovery.
I used to think “I am my eating disorder and I will be nobody without it.” 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? Do you need binges to relieve stress? Are you restricting your diet to avoid painful memories? Does your eating disorder give you a feeling of being in control? Does your self-esteem depend on it?
Sometimes going through the hardest battle is needed to really discover who you are. Trust your inner wisdom and believe in yourself! You will become strong, bold and perfectly you.
Questions like these can help you identify what you think the ‘benefits’ of your eating disorder are. Once identified you can begin to move forward. I remember I felt I needed my eating disorder to deal with my feelings, my fear of rejection, and my extremely low self-esteem. This was what I needed to deal with my life in which I felt so overwhelmed all the time. I am a very sensitive person and I get caught up easily in things. I started to compare myself to others and I always ended up judging and rejecting myself. My eating disorder gave me an identity. It helped me in feeling better about myself. It helped me to survive and to be “me”.
Knowing what I know now this identity was an illusion and a lie.
Rebuilding your identity in recovery
Your eating disorder became a way of coping with your life. Becoming aware of what lies underneath can unleash insightful patterns needed in rebuilding your identity without an eating disorder. It becomes vital to separate yourself from the unhealthy coping skills your eating disorder taught you and realize that you are not your eating disorder.
Who you are? Visualize what a meaningful life looks like to you. What are your values? What do you find important in life? Maybe you want to attend college/university. Maybe you dream of starting a family. I always chose everything based on what I thought people expected from me and I felt I needed an eating disorder to be able to do it. Don’t base your values, your passions or goals on what other people might think. You will end up unhappy living their life instead of yours. What are your own true passions? What are your goals?
Exploring who you are can be frightening at first. 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. A real-life without eating disorder. Is it worth going through this challenging process of recovery? Absolutely! Yes, you will fall and make mistakes. That is the essence of the exploration. Learning and experiencing: What works and what doesn’t.
Every experience contributes to reconnecting with yourself, the person the eating disorder gradually destroyed over the years. Keep exploring yourself. You will find a stronger person than you’ve ever been!
(Last Updated: September 16, 2022)