I recovered from my eating disorder but it wasn’t a smooth journey.
I used to hear voices in my head. They were telling me what I should look like, what I should be wearing, or what I should be eating. Comparing me to others to show me what a failure I was, telling me that I would never be good enough and that I would be alone for the rest of my days. That all I could control was my food intake and that all I could ever be successful at was making the calories in versus calories out deficit as large as I could. For years I got stuck in this deceptive labyrinth of self-degradation.
Then, after an endless series of on-and-off psychology expert encounters, a therapist I used to see back in 2020 gave me a magic key that I could use to get out of the labyrinth. She said: give to Ceasar what belongs to Caesar.
A biblical quote
The biblical quote that had been bookishly repeated throughout my childhood catechism, thus put in a meaningful context, suddenly sprung to life. The voices I heard did not belong to me, but to Ceasar. A metaphor for those who had conditioned me to think that way from a tender age. Even though I am sure they did it in good faith, my ever-anxious parents had drilled those ideas into my brain during those precious early years of my psychic development, performing such a great job that their voices were currently being broadcast as my own.
“Such worries are not your burden to carry,” my therapist said, “but your parents. They can go ahead and believe that if you pursue this or that life choice you’ll end up poor, alone or in any other form incomplete. They are free to do so, as much as you are free to let them bear the weight of their own assumptions.”
The simplicity of that revelation left me puzzled.
The first step toward healing
A feeling of lightness came over me, and I realized that my head was empty. There was finally some free space for thoughts that did not belong to Ceasar, but were 100% original! At the same time, however, it meant that the responsibility of whatever thoughts I was going to choose next would be entirely mine as well. Which can be, of course, a tricky matter.
I knew that the eating disorder voices that still lingered in my subconscious did not like my new discovery. They had been induced, after all, by that same series of negative beliefs that I had temporarily dismantled. And they were going to fight tooth and nail for their place of honor.
The struggle in my mind
The following week, when my two best friends asked me to go on a summer trip to celebrate our post-graduation reunion, the voices showed up in full force. While the anorexic in me was devising a very mimimal-food-a-day plan involving a lettuce-and-coke-zero-based diet, the bulimic pointed out that this was an unsustainable, nerve-wracking, and boring arrangement, and that I should therefore stuff my face at every other meal so as to appear carefree, healthy and strong instead. The only clause was making sure the toilet was always close by and reserved enough.
Torn between these two antagonist sides, I started panicking.
Afraid that my friends would think that I was a freak if I followed either strategy, I wrote them a text in which I politely declined their invitation for medical reasons. For lack of money and time. For conflict with other plans, I had already made with someone else. I chose a different excuse every time, but no matter how convincing I tried to sound, I felt like a fraud. Not only I didn’t want to lie to my best friends —I was also looking forward to seeing them.
All those times my eating disorder was in control
I thought back to all the times my eating disorder had taken over my life, obliging me to stay home when I was invited to join an event that revolved around a meal or longer trips that inevitably would, at some point, involve the presence of food. In the past, I had not hesitated to deprive myself of such experiences, persuaded that it was for a good cause: controlling my diet until the last crumb was more important than enjoying a social event.
But how did I get here? Of course, I believed that dieting was the one and only thing I was good at. This was because I had always felt not good enough at doing anything else. And that, once again, was Ceasar’s stuff —not mine.
My therapist saved my life
And now, thanks to my therapist, I had been able to unearth bits of self-esteem, which caused my ‘not being good enough’ belief to sound outdated. In other words, I was finally beginning to love and accept myself for who I was. This was something that couldn’t coexist with the thoughts that triggered my eating disorder’s self-destructive tendencies. I was not buying their shit anymore.
For this reason, I decided to go on holiday with my friends.
Scary? YES. A part of me did not want to go, but I knew that I was going to regret it. And I was beginning to feel annoyed at how uncompromising my eating disorder was: “you either choose me or choose life”, it said. Well, I wasn’t willing to give up my life anymore.
As I boarded the bus on my departure day, still on the verge of sabotaging my own holiday, I opened my meditation app in search of relief. As I did so, a random quote of the day appeared: we suffer more in imagination than in reality… Not so random after all.
My muscles relaxed and, pleasantly light, I noticed that I had been filling myself with catastrophic scenarios that —just like an apprentice’s work taking after her master’s— recalled my mother’s tendency to obsess over the tiniest matters.
Then, I used the magic key to quit the labyrinth and leaned back to enjoy the view.