How I'm Learning to Live in the 'Grey' of Eating Disorder Recovery

Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

Perfectionistic thinking. It can be a bit of a curse. Apparently it can also be a really great personality trait sometimes — but I suspect one would have to utilize it in a slightly healthier way than I sometimes do. When you’re a perfectionist, the world is often viewed in black and white. I’m right or wrong, it’s easy or hard, I’m good at something or I suck, you like me or you hate me. Finding the shades of grey between polarizing opposites can be tricky — and I’m not talking about the 50 shades of Christian Grey…

But I’m in recovery now. I have to keep saying this, so I can come to believe it. And because I’m in recovery, it’s important I become more grey.

Today hasn’t been a great day — no idea why. Normally I would criticize myself relentlessly and lash myself with self-loathing about how “weak” I am. I ask myself why I even bother, consider throwing in the towel, etc., etc. But as someone in recovery, I must forgive myself. To accept what happened and move on. To put things into perspective. Not to analyze what happened, but to analyze why — so I can learn for next time. Forgiveness is something I have always given other people, but never myself. It is foreign and awkward and I don’t even really know how to forgive myself. But I do know I can try.

I realize how damaging black and white thinking is when I come face to face with someone else doing the same thing. The rigidity of thoughts. The inflexibility and unwillingness to try different or awkward ideas. The excuses as to why something won’t work or how I can’t do something for this or that reason. When I see someone else doing exactly what I do, it makes me realize how damaging it is. And how frustrating it is for other people.

So I’m going to learn to be grey. I’m going to try and find at least 50 shades of grey between right and wrong, good and bad, happy and sad, disordered and recovered.

So… today? Today I had a tough day managing my disordered eating thoughts. Not a great day, despite my good intentions. “Black and white Simone” wants to give up, to remind myself past recovery attempts have failed and this one will be no different. I feel “fat” and “ugly” and want to engage in my disordered behaviors. I struggle to believe I’m worth recovery, and I feel like I’m a shameful disgrace for bingeing and purging.

The “shaded grey Simone” is reflecting on the emotions and situations that led to poor decisions, and how I could make different choices. I haven’t been well lately, and I’m very tired, so physically, I feel weaker and more in need of comfort. Instead of feeding that exhaustion with food, I could have had a rest and a coffee. I was also bored, which I could have acknowledged as boredom then done something productive rather than destructive. I have recovery tools at my fingertips I chose not to use. I don’t have to like them or agree with them — I just need to try them.

What I have done for 50 years is not working, so recovery requires me going way outside my comfort zone and trying the weird, whacky and wonderful, until I find what works for me. I can: journal, do tapping, visualization, reframing, mindfulness, meditation, contact a friend, do some recovery reading, exercise, drink water, make a list of pros and cons, say affirmations and mantras — really any kind of distraction or delaying tactic! I’m sure there are other tools… That’s all I can think of at the moment. The point being, I didn’t use them when I could have. So rather than beat myself up tonight, I want to remind myself of the tools I need to reach for next time. Perhaps that is what forgiveness is. Perhaps forgiveness is just not being horrible to myself. Perhaps it’s just being analytical and working out how things might be different next time.

“Black and white Simone” is going to be very gradually replaced, with “shades of grey Simone.” A girl who can accept and forgive. Who can learn and change. Who can adopt freakishly unfamiliar tools to forge a new life, free from disordered eating.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Thinkstock photo via panic_attack.

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