Facing an Eating Disorder in Front of the Dressing Room Mirror – Kelli Evans
I recently found myself standing in front of the mirror in a store’s dressing room while trying on swimsuits.
This can be a distressing situation for anyone, but as someone in recovery from an eating disorder, I found myself suddenly bombarded by negative messages and feelings of fear and shame.
Self-judgment filled my head as I critiqued my body; a near sense of panic made me feel out of control. The body I saw in the mirror felt like my enemy.
Right then I saw two choices:
Choice 1: Believe what my eating disorder was telling me: that what I thought my body looked like determined my worth, or,
Choice 2: Question my eating disorder by stepping back with a broader perspective and seeking out people in my support system so that I could share what was going on in my head
Before I tell you the choice that I made, I want to tell you what I found most unsettling that day:
one of the biggest messages that my eating disorder was telling me was that, based on what I saw in the mirror, I didn’t deserve to have fun on the beautiful beaches during my family’s upcoming vacation.
Can you believe that?
The power of choice
One of the most powerful things that I’ve learned in my recovery journey is that I have the power to choose a lot of things in my life. I have the power to choose:
- What to do with the eating disorder chatter that sometimes gets revved up in my head (like it did in that dressing room)
- What to do with my feelings of fear and uncertainty (Should I skip the vacation? Of course not!)
- What I want to do with any given situation that I find myself in
The eating disorder promised me safety for so long as it told me that I must follow all of its rules and rituals. It told me what to eat and what not to eat. It insisted I run until I was exhausted, that I avoid heart-engaging relationships, and isolate from others around me.
My eating disorder had me believing those lies for so many years.
Seeking safety, I lost my identity — whom I was meant to really be in this world. I had become a silent follower of the strict, isolating demands of the eating disorder.
In recovery, I was able to slowly shed the shame I carried. I found my voice and realized that my eating disorder might not have been telling me the truth.
I realized that I could question the messages of my eating disorder. What I thought was safety in my eating disorder was actually an invitation to lock myself in a confining prison of loneliness, emptiness, and despair. Once I realized this, the possibility and power of choice was ignited inside me.
What was I so afraid of?
I spent much of my recovery journey asking myself this question, “Kelli, what are you so afraid of?” I tried to understand what it was that the eating disorder was keeping me safe from.
It hasn’t been easy, but with the support from many people around me I’ve learned that I used the eating disorder to shield me from being fully known. Shame caused me to think that there was something wrong with who I was. I deep down, truly believed that I was deeply flawed, and that controlling what my body looked like would give me a sense of being OK.
And, in recovery, I learned that I had been afraid of a lot of things.
Thanks to recovery, I’ve faced many fears: my fear of feeling out of control, my fear of not being perfect, and my fear of being overcome by anxiety. With help, I was able to face my ultimate fear of not being loved for simply being me.
Fears decrease and shame lessens as we make choices to be known, not simply seen.
A choice to be me
When I hear the chatter of my eating disorder in the back of my head, I remind myself that I am not living my authentic life when I believe its lies. With every choice I make, I can become more confident in making healthy decisions. I can deepen my relationships and gain the confidence to use my true, honest and authentic voice to speak what is in my heart.
Recovery has given me the power to choose the thoughts that I dwell on, the power to choose what my behaviors and actions will be, and the power to not let fear have the final say in my life.
That, my friend, is a very powerful place to be!
So what choice do you think I made above? And how will you use your power of choice today?
Kelli Evans is an alumni of Denver ERC and serves on the Recovery Ambassador Council. She enjoys hiking, reading and spending time with her husband and two children. Kelli’s passion is to offer hope and encouragement to those seeking recovery from eating disorders.