Anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder or has helped someone in their recovery process can appreciate how complex, unique and different every experience can be. Reading personal essays and stories is a great way to understand what others have gone through and what they have learned. Our blog, In Their Own Words, is a forum for people to share their insights, experiences, and, importantly, to let you know that YOU are not alone
Hannah’s Story: Kindness Kills ED
Being kind is hard. Being kind to others is hard. Being kind to yourself is very hard. Why? Because being kind means you have to open your heart and open yourself up to feeling something. Being withdrawn can feel easier. Being mean can feel protective – both give the illusion of safety. Without kindness, you can stay closed off and hidden behind a wall. Without kindness, you protect yourself from feeling anything good or bad. And eating disorders thrive on the fear of being kind. They want you to withdraw, they don’t want you opening up to anyone, because kindness is the eating disorder’s Achilles heel. It took me a long time to realize that eating disorders can’t live in a climate of
kindness, compassion, and self-nurturance.
When a person suffers from an eating disorder they are emotionally blocked. That doesn’t mean they don’t feel. In fact, they feel a lot. The way they process emotion is different. The emotions that I felt a lot were emptiness, sadness, hurt, depression, anxiety, worthlessness, and the need for control. I always felt like I had a crater in my chest. Like someone had reached in and ripped out my heart. I felt hollow, empty, and it hurt. It hurt so badly there were days I couldn’t get out of bed. Days I thought I would just fall to the ground and never get up. Days that I could feel myself tumbling into the emptiness. I could feel myself slipping further and further from reality. This gaping hole could never be filled, no matter how many meals I skipped or how much weight I lost. I couldn’t fill it. I was searching for happiness in all the wrong places.
Sometimes now, where that hold used to be, I am lucky enough to experience an unbelievable feeling; something I had only read about. I feel like my chest might burst because it is so full. Full of what? I have no idea. All I know is sometimes I can’t stop smiling. Sometimes I feel like my heart is so full that my chest won’t be able to hold it anymore. I think this is joy, I think it is love, I think it is happiness.
What happened? What changed?
Kindness is what changed things.
You see, I used to lay awake at night trying to figure out how to be happy. The question would haunt me all day and I could never figure it out. After all, how could I make myself feel something that I had never felt before?
I started feeling empathy towards others, and most importantly toward myself. It took a lot of work, a lot of practice, and I have more work to do, but I can feel compassion towards myself. What I learned was that I didn’t have to “find who I was” in order to be happy. In fact, it happened after I stopped looking.
How did I start being kind? It began by being open and learning more about other people. I spent a fair amount of time in the Mental Health unit which gave me the ability to meet all kinds of people. I loved it. It was therapeutic in a way. I saw people on their good days and on their bad days. I saw how they were mistreated and misunderstood. I got to experience a whole different world and because of that I left a completely different person. I now see someone on the street and I have deep empathy for them. I feel for the people I see struggling alone in the park. I can empathize with their addiction and I know that they are just people trying to get through the day. But it was hard to be compassionate and understanding toward myself.
So I wrote. Writing helped me a lot. I look back at my life from a third party point of view and it breaks me. I realize the insane amount of hurt I felt. I cry every time I write because I realize how broken I was and I can feel my heart break again. This is where my self-compassion comes in. Realizing how hard I had it, I can begin to forgive myself for everything I did. I can begin to understand. It is kindness that stops judgments in their tracks. I see now how hard the days were and it inspires me to give myself a break. After all I made it through hell and back, don’t I deserve a rest? I have learned to appreciate myself and I know that I deserve to be here.
I don’t know how to tell someone how to be kind to themselves because honestly I struggle with it every day. I have good days and bad ones but I just put one foot in front of the other and somehow I get through the day. It is okay that I don’t always have great days and it is okay that I struggle sometimes. As long I as just keep going I know I am doing all that I am supposed to. Every time I wake up, get out of bed, and eat. I know I have done something I wouldn’t have been able to a year ago. I celebrate the small things in life, just so I remember that I am doing okay. And that things are still getting better. I am not stuck here for the rest of my life, it will get easier, I know there is hope for me.
There is hope for everyone. Your life isn’t going to be like this forever, as bad as it seems, there is always hope. I remember a time when I was resigned to the idea that I would always be sad. I thought there was no changing it. But here I am, in a place I never thought I would be. I am older than I ever thought I would be. I am doing things I never thought possible. For the first time in my life I see a future; and as much as it terrifies me, I am also so excited. Practice being kind. Stop judging yourself. Practice the skill of compassion – and see how the eating disorder shrinks in its presence.