“The longest journey you will ever take is the 18 inches from your head to your heart” – Andrew Bennett
I think this quote applies to so many areas of our life but as an eating disorder therapist I truly believe it applies more than most to this population. When someone struggles with an eating disorder, often they are completely disconnected from the neck down. For many, the body is something they feel betrays them which makes connecting to it seem counter intuitive and unsafe.
While I understand this logic, and even felt that way myself for many years, I’m not sure we can reach a place of ease in our bodies or in our recovery if we don’t learn to connect the two. Our bodies house our emotions – one of the most critical pieces of understanding who we are and our place in the world. If we deny what our body (and therefore our emotions) are telling us, we react to things in a way that typically leads us towards temporary relief but prolonged suffering.
Emotions are scary in more ways than one. We constantly receive messages about which emotions are okay and which ones “make us weak” for feeling, and they are strongly linked to our anxiety, something all of us would rather avoid than experience. The challenge is that our freedom to live a life where we are at ease and feel secure in our very being, depends on us having feelings.
So how do we start the very long trek from our head to our heart? In my opinion, one step at a time. Don’t try to figure out in your head what your body is doing. Instead, start by familiarizing yourself with the physiological reactions that take place all throughout the day. What does anxiety feel like in your body? Not the thoughts attached to the anxiety in your head, but truly in your physical body. What about moments of joy? How do you know it’s joy you are feeling and not another emotion? If emotions are too tricky, start with sensations like hot and cold or tired vs energized. You may want to say there is nothing going on in your body but that is impossible, you’ve just become really used to ignoring it.
The journey from your head to your heart is a difficult yet extremely important one. It is the path that leads you towards authenticity, recovery and confidence. As we start to own and understand who we truly are and how we truly feel, we no longer have to protect ourselves through our eating disorders and other destructive means. So take a first step, get comfortable there and then take the next. I assure you the journey is not just worth it but critical to your wellness.