This week someone I was talking to asked me this question:
One of the things that seems so scary about recovery is I feel like I don’t know who I will be when I recover. When I think of that I get so overwhelmed by all the unknowns that it feels safer to retreat into my eating disorder. How do I deal with that?
This is such a great question and one that I know applies to so many people out there who are struggling. The question of “Who Am I?” feels big for most people, struggling or not, because we put pressure on ourselves to have a complete answer. The reality is that who you will be when you recover is likely someone you already are, except braver, stronger and more rooted in your own self-worth. There will be certain pieces to who you currently are, even with your eating disorder, that will remain the same and some that will change. For example, you may be somebody who really loves the fall, the crunch of the leaves and the smell of crisp autumn air. Or maybe you are someone who is quite extroverted and loves being out and being social with those you love. These likely won’t change once you recover. What does change when you recover is you become clearer on your boundaries and the things you need in order to feel well and balanced and you feel more open to exploring new parts of yourself and your life with gentle curiosity instead of fear.
When you start to think of who you will be and get anxious, I think one of the best things to do is to try to come back to the moment. I know this doesn’t always sound helpful but the reality is we can’t know what we don’t know yet. I often find it helpful when my own mind goes to all the “what ifs” in life to come back to what actually is. We can only have an impact on the moment, not on things that have yet to happen.
I think in recovery we have to choose to recognize the things we can do and what makes those things manageable instead of focusing only on things that feel or seem impossible. In my practice, I often tell my clients that recovery is about stepping into what is uncomfortable but should never be about stepping into what is intolerable. I believe everyone is strong enough to step outside their comfort zone but we need to do so with intention, compassion and the realization that baby steps still get us across the finish line.
Another way you could calm your anxiety is to focus on who you want to be now, instead of who you may or may not be in the future. Often when we struggle we lose our identity to the disorder which is one of the main reasons why we feel so anxious about who we will be without it. Exploring parts of yourself now that speak to who you really are, not your disorder, may feel less threatening than the pressure to familiarize yourself with someone you have yet to become. There are lots of really interesting and amazing things about who you are today, they just might not be what you typically spend time focusing on. So give yourself permission to recognize the things about life that you love, whether that be the season, the people in your life, or the things you like to do that have nothing to do with your disorder. As you get to know yourself now, you may feel clearer about who you will be moving forward.
Trying to get to know your future self now is impossible and that anxiety will only leave you beholden to your disorder for longer. Take the pressure off and focus instead on what you know to be true about who you are underneath the disorder. I promise you there is more to you than this disorder gives you permission to realize. So get curious, be kind and, as always, know you can do this.