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Why I'm OK With Losing Parts of My Identity in Eating Disorder Recovery

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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 741741.

It’s my first week back in grad school after taking a year off to go to eating disorder treatment and, if I’m being honest, it’s not going too well. After spending a year stuck in treatment limbo, I’m trying to remember what it’s like being a “real adult” and I’ve been getting seriously overwhelmed by due dates, figuring out when to leave my apartment to beat rush-hour traffic, trying to plan out when exactly I am supposed to cook and clean between writing papers and working through the mountain of readings I have to have done by the end of the week. Oh, and still make time to see my therapist and dietitian every week. I’ve come home from my internship every night and cried over my dinner; crying because I have no idea when or why things got to be so confusingly difficult, crying because literally everything makes me so anxious and uncomfortable, and crying for deciding to eat dinner in the first place.

Before treatment, I was confident. I was outgoing. I was sure of myself and proud of my accomplishments. I didn’t feel this insurmountable need to explain myself and justify my every action or thought. I was in control; nothing threw me for a loop. I didn’t constantly second-guess myself. I wasn’t scared of crowds and parties and I loved the idea of a night out with friends.

Once I entered treatment, all of that changed. Everything I thought I knew about myself fell away and I was left with what felt like a shell. I found myself making excuses to not leave my apartment. I didn’t make an effort to see friends and declined a lot of invitations out. It just wasn’t the same as it was before. Now, I had to plan out when I was going to eat and what I was going to eat when I got to where I was going. What was I going to do to make up for any parts of my meal plan that I missed? If I moved my body for longer than my dietitian had cleared me for, how was I going to supplement that nutrition? How was I going to do all of this and not have a mental breakdown in public?

The mental math that went into just that part of making plans was enough to put me down for the count because once I had all that figured out, then came the daunting task of putting together an outfit. Treatment and refeeding had transformed my body into something I didn’t recognize and it shook my confidence so badly that if selecting an outfit didn’t reduce me to tears at least three times, it was a good day.

So, it was easier to just say “Sorry, I can’t tonight,” and watch another episode of “The Office” on Netflix.

I realize now that losing those parts of me was necessary in order to heal. Those parts of me were masks that my eating disorder wore to make me feel like I had it all together, even though I was headed straight for a brick wall at 90 mph. I needed to leave those parts of me behind to work toward recovery. I needed to ditch the masks. Since I developed my disorder at such a young age, I never really knew who I was without it. It became my identity and I was terrified of it slipping away because I wasn’t sure I’d like the parts of me that were left.

Deciding to go to treatment was the most difficult decision I’ve ever made. I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into with a simple “OK, I’ll go.” I didn’t know I was in for the most emotionally intense period of my life and that there would be times I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it to the other side. I unknowingly volunteered to give up what, at the time, I believed to be the core element of my identity and the singular interesting thing about me without having a clue of the person I would meet at the end of the road.

Things are going to be difficult for a while. I have nearly a decade and a half to catch up on with myself. I need to sit down and meet me for the first time. It’s going to be uncomfortable — truthfully, it already is — but I can’t let myself float through life forever disconnected. I owe it to myself to truly know who I am and to love the person I’m becoming, and I don’t need an eating disorder to do that.

Photo by Kriss Cordova on Unsplash

Originally published: February 13, 2020
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