Using writing to assist healing from an eating disorder
Imagine writing a self-healing, feel-good book to document your goals and progress this year. What will your chapters comprise?
Lotta, who has anorexia nervosa, writes:
It is the time of the year when there is space to look on the traces of the last months.
It may be the time to let go.
To get silent and peaceful.
To listen to your inner voice, trust and appreciate.
To notice all of your feelings: no judgment, just awareness.
To take care of yourself
To forgive and learn.
The new year is like a book, its pages are blank, waiting for the words that will fill them.
The chapters shall be called: Hope, Joy, Love, Adventure and Gratitude.
Lotta’s beautifully illustrated, hand-made message, which took six weeks to cross the oceans from Germany to Australia, sparked an email conversation between us.
I wanted to know more about filling those blank pages. I asked Lotta how she feels right now. Her response:
How do I feel right now? Hard question. What I can say for sure is, I am grateful for (still) being alive. Sometimes this gratefulness gets very big, and it feels like a burden. Like I should live to the max in every minute, and I am constantly asking myself if I am doing so. There is an energy in my body that doesn’t know how to get in action in the best way. And at the same time there is this dark energy (my eating disorder) that suppresses the good force vehemently. The result: a kind of paralysis.
That brings me to my hopes for this year: I would love to overcome the standstill. I imagine myself opening up a new chapter. It would make so much sense to live a healthier life and consequently dare to experience different aspects of my personality. I wish to have the confidence I am more than an illness.
When healing from an eating disorder (ED), it is helpful to acknowledge that the journey of discovery we are challenged to take on is actually within our own self. Healing from an eating disorder involves learning to love and care for our self and to become our own best friend. One of my favourite mantras, borne out of desperation one day when I could not avoid facing a difficult situation, is:
“Fear is a wall of nothing through which I can pass.”
The tug-of-war of letting go and hanging on
Lotta is aware of her challenge:
Thinking of leaving the safe harbour (of the eating disorder) makes me feel in two ways: Excited and anxious! How can there be such a big YES! Let’s go! And at the same time a NO! NO! NO! I wanna stay right here, I will get seasick, there will be storms that I don’t know how to navigate. Those fearful voices are quite loud, believe me. But, yes, it is only an inner journey, I tell myself. Nothing to be afraid of. So, where would I go? To a place that is warm, welcoming, colourful, vibrant, and cheerful. Where I can meet my honest self, wander around, explore, talk in different languages, be creative or just rest and enjoy.
What do I wish for this year? Firstly, to say YES to life and to leaving the harbour! To appreciate the gift of life! To be courageous and hopeful to hop on and find my way. I wish for perseverance, the belief I may survive struggles and setbacks and that, in chaos and pain, something new (maybe better) can be born.
I am familiar with the tussle and tug-of-war of one’s true self with ED… it is energy-draining in the extreme. However, I know from experience that we can let go of the rope – we can let go of ED and walk on into the present moment and our future, without it. Letting go is the hard part. It is, as Lotta aptly describes, a kind of paralysis. That is why Lotta’s five chapters for this year are important. I hope that Lotta will find that when she lets go of ED, she will find her load becomes lighter and that her energy for focusing on healthy passions increases, amazingly so. We can all create our own story, for each of the five chapters that Lotta wants to write about this year. I asked Lotta what comes to her mind when thinking of the topics that she wants to explore and fulfil. Her response:
Hope is the true belief in the good. It is the intrinsic motivation to keep constantly trying to become the best version of oneself. Hope is the power to show up everyday no matter what.
Joy comes from the heart and nourishes the soul. It is playful, honest, and vibrant. It gives the energy for adding true value to life.
Love is the elixir of life. It makes the difference between pure existing and fulfillment. It changes perspective on everything: on humans, animals, plants, things. With love there is real connectedness, peace and understanding.
Adventure comes with the question of overload or underchallenge. Is it positive excitement due to something that is maybe new and unknown but still manageable? Is it worthwhile jumping right into it and hoping for fun and enrichment?
Gratitude is a virtue. Gratitude is an attitude to life. Gratitude is humbleness. Simply to be alive is a gift and the first thing to appreciate every morning. Everything that is a small or big, good, or bad part of life can be looked at with gratitude.
We all need a healthy passion
This email conversation led me to think about passion. We all need a healthy passion. And when recovering from an eating disorder, our passion needs to be greater than the passion of the eating disorder.
So, pinpoint your passion, hug it tight, and allow it to flower. You will be able to eat because you need to eat to fuel your positive passion. Your passion for maintaining the ED will fade, and you will become unstoppable.
Yes, I can feel the strong desire to integrate a healthy passion into life. Otherwise, I don’t see any reason, why I should let go of the eating disorder. I need a very bright light for reaching the end of the tunnel. And to keep this light in my heart and soul all the time. Especially now: It seems like I have to go to the clinic in the next couple of weeks and this scares me so much! I know it serves my health. But I cannot really fight the fear and the drowning waves of emotions. Just putting on weight without my inner belief that this is helpful for achieving my long term goals, feels like torture. Thus, your call to my passion came just in the right moment. Thank you, dear June.
I read a poem by Emily Dickinson today. (It relates to your hope question).
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
All the best, Lotta
What are your life goals for 2023?
In-patient treatment can be scary, but we need this help when our ED voice is too loud for us to hear our own true voice. At such times we need understanding others to confront the ED voice on our behalf until our healthy self is strong enough to make the right decisions for us.
I lost three decades or more of my life freedom to ED. Seventeen years on, I continue to feel healthy anger about this, and this is why I advocate against eating disorders, and make time to encourage Lotta and others. I will do so for as long as I live, for mentoring and encouraging others gives my life purpose.
If, like Lotta, you are experiencing eating disorder symptoms, allow yourself to feel ANGRY at ED. And be determined to regain YOUR freedom.
Think of 2023 as an empty canvas, a book that documents your self-healing. Follow Lotta’s suggestions for chapters, and define your life goals in a world without ED. For instance, your goals might be:
- Be healthy
- Gain employment in a career that you find fulfilling
- Meet June!
- Write and/or illustrate a book about your experiences
List the small steps to take, to enable each of these very doable ambitions to come true!
This year, write your own story of self-healing. You can do this. Yes, you can.