Finding your True Self in Recovery
Author: Katrina Wilson M.A. RPC
“Who am I without the eating disorder?” This is a question we often hear from our clients, and it highlights one of the most common maintaining factors of the eating disorder – your sense of identity. The presence of the eating disorder can become so strong in your life that it starts to seep into your sense of self – your personality, your preferences, your roles and self-descriptions. It develops a narrative of who you are as a person, and just as importantly, who you won’t be if the eating disorder is gone.
Some of the ways the eating disorder latches onto identity are obvious, such as showing up in food preferences, needing to fit into certain sizes of clothing, being known as the thin or sick on in the friend or family group, and of course, overidentifying with body size, shape, and weight as the center of who you are. Other aspects of identity that the ED uses are much more subtle, including personality traits (being a “perfectionist” or a people-pleaser) and your level of productivity/busyness.
The eating disorder zooms in on these aspects of your “identity”, while failing to recognize that there are many, many, MANY other pieces of the puzzle that makes you who you are. It is great at convincing you that there will be some part of you missing if you pursue recovery – completely forgetting that you were a whole person before the ED, and you will be a whole person after.
One way to work on figuring out who you are outside of the ED, is to consider what aspects of life make up anyone’s identity. When someone thinks about who they are as a person, what sorts of things do they consider? Things like their role in family (sibling, parent, aunt/uncle), cultural background, career/job, hometown, personality traits, and name. Hobbies, personal style, sexual orientation and gender are also aspects of individual identity. The eating disorder loves to narrow in on how it shows up in your life, but has you forget about how you show up in your life, in the above ways. A great question to ask yourself is, how do you already show up in your life that may be masked or ignored by the ED?
These are the things that you will be left with when the ED is gone from your life. There won’t be an empty hole that needs to be filled – it’s more like a part of you will be uncovered that was coated in a thick layer of dust.
It is so important when working on recovery to recognize that you already exist, and that part of the process of recovery is uncovering yourself from the fog of the eating disorder. Focusing on aspects of yourself that are already present takes away from the eating disorder identity and allows you to authentically be in your life.
This authenticity requires action, and so once you have discovered what elements are part of your true identity, it’s time to start engaging in these elements. How can you show up in your relationships in a way that honours that part of your identity? Your hobbies? Personal style? Choosing to act from this place of authentic self will allow that part of you to grow, and create space from the ED.