Are You Owning Your Eating Disorder Story? – Jennifer Lombardi
“The irony is that we attempt to disown our difficult stories to appear more whole or more acceptable, but our wholeness – even our wholeheartedness – actually depends on the integration of all of our experiences, including the falls.”Brenè Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, author of Rising Strong
Owning my story. Ironic.
For most of my life after my eating disorder, I often felt like my story owned me. Even though I had been to hell and back with my illness, I carried so much shame about my story.
In graduate school, I was trained as a clinician to never “make it about you” with a client. I was taught to sanitize myself to the point where I was the embodiment of a safe space in which my clients could spill their stories.
At the gym where I teach, I lived in fear of being the “recovered instructor,” opening the door up to criticism about my body and questions about what I ate and how I did it.
With my family, the subject of my struggle became wedged between two bookends of discomfort: “don’t ask, don’t tell” and “wow – I wish I had the kind of discipline you had back then.”
With my husband, who had a front row seat to my “eating disorder show,” I felt there could never be enough apologies — I could never say “Thank you” enough to express my gratitude for him sticking it out.
With my children, I initially lived in fear of how to tell them – not because I was ashamed of being in recovery, but because I was terrified it would flip some invisible, insidious eating disorder trip-wire in their brains and send them into their own struggle.
And yet, some of the best medicine I ever received on my journey toward recovery came in the form of other people’s stories. Stories about survival. Stories about triumph over tragedy. But mostly stories that were honest. Raw stories. Real stories.
As a recovered clinician, I have the benefit and the challenge of a vantage point that can, at times, push me to do more and, conversely, remind me to sit back and be patient. Change comes in fits and starts. I know this first-hand. It took nearly five years to not only know that I wanted to get better, but to realize that I never wanted to go back. In small ways, I owned my story with, as Brenè Brown writes, “people who [had] earned the right to hear it.”
This realization started with my then-fiancé. A person who, in his own right, had not had the easiest of lives. Our relationship meant more to me than anything at that point, and I realized that the longer I stayed in my illness, the greater the chance that I would lose that relationship. I had to make a choice: rise up against my disorder or lose the one connection that remained in my life. For those of you who are working toward recovery today – in this very moment – I encourage you to rise up and own your story, even if it’s just a piece of it.
I encourage you to share something about yourself or your illness that you’ve never shared before. Share it with someone who’s earned the right to hear it. Reclaim your story so that you can have the opportunity to write a brave new ending.
And for those of you who are caring for someone with an eating disorder, to caregivers, family members and friends, I give you this heartfelt advice:
Set a limit. Rise up to the eating disorder, no matter how loud it gets. Don’t back down.
Jennifer Lombardi, MFT, CEDS, is a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator-Candidate, Recovery Ambassador for Eating Recovery Center, and works in private practice in Rocklin, California.
Jennifer, in recovery herself for more than 20 years, lectures extensively on the topics of eating disorders, exercise compulsion, and supporting someone in treatment.