learning to live by your values and not your eating disorder’s values

I feel like it’s been a while since either one of us has posted! You may have seen on our Facebook page that we moved! It’s a huge step for us and we are excited. Post on moving and change and eating disorders etc. coming soon! But for now, today’s post is on VALUES.

Despite the multitude of ways it has manifested itself over the years, my eating disorder has always violated my own standards of integrity, making me act in ways that fueled my self-hatred. Perhaps because they are more intangible than friends, school, work, goals, etc., values are one of the more underestimated and forgotten losses that eating disorders sabotage.

I remember sitting on the couch in the group room of a treatment facility. I was tired yet thankful that I snagged one of the few coveted seats on the couch. I wasn’t really in the mood to participate per se, but I was ready to listen. Of course though, the therapist leading the group began by asking us to fold a piece of paper in half. I knew my passive participation was no longer an option and I somewhat reluctantly took out paper and a pen. On one side she encouraged us to write down what our truest selves valued, and on the other side, we were told to write down our eating disorders’ values.

Without preconception about the intention of this activity, I started jotting down words like “compassion,” “honesty”, “authenticity”, “intuition”, “motivation”, and “trustworthiness”. It felt relatively easy for me to mindlessly jot down these constructs that I knew held powerful meaning to me in my life. Before I even turned the page over, I realized how disconnected I felt from these values. Since I had relapsed, I had turned into the most dishonest version of myself, constantly lying and hiding to the people I loved the most. This recognition of dissonance hurt, and I felt uncertain how to return to authentic myself.

How is it possible to value my eating disorder more than myself?

As someone who identifies as queer, authenticity has been a huge motivator for me throughout my recovery. For years before coming out, years of secrets, hiding, and shame fueled my eating disorder. Additionally, in subsequent years, secrets around traumas perpetuated the shame and fear cycle I found myself locked in. Now, I strive to live authentically every day, and learning to embrace the vulnerability that comes along with authenticity has been one of my greatest challenges.

More recently, I’ve thought about what the word “value” means. To break it down, when we value something, we deem it as important and more worthwhile than other things. For instance, I value smaller more intimate gatherings of close friends, over loud parties at a bar or a restaurant consisting of superficial chatter. The experiences and constructs that I value most act in accordance with the rational and logical, and enhance my life in positive ways. On the other hand, I’ve determined that eating disorder thoughts and values stem from a more capricious, impulsive place, which is focused only on the short term and have no basis in actual reality.

There’s an obvious complication here. Values are supposed to be a part of the foundation for our well-being and happiness. It is by living a life guided by our values that we feel whole-hearted. So why does engaging in our eating disorder feel so seductive even though it forces us to act in ways that are opposite to what we value most? Similarly, when I did live by my eating disorder’s values, I didn’t feel happy, whole, or complete. Instead, I felt devoid of life and full of pain.

Eating disorders are ferocious, conniving, yet convincing beasts. Eating disorders have the power to make you mistake your thoughts for absolute Truth. So you might be wondering, how is one to maintain and live by their own Truths, when the eating disorder is particularly convincing?

First, I’ll say that it’s not easy. Every day in recovery is another battle to first recognize and label certain beliefs as my eating disorder’s beliefs and not my own, and then to subsequently act on the beliefs that remain true to myself instead.

Even when recognizing that eating disordered thoughts are irrational, meaningless, and detrimental to self-care, a new belief system doesn’t just magically appear and replace the old one. Making attempts to change beliefs in general, requires an abundance of energy, and to change what has already been established by the eating disorder as a somewhat innate belief system seems impossible at times.

But as usual in recovery, I’ve learned and am still learning ways to get through, to “unbecome” if you will, my eating disorder:

  1. Make that list of values and return to it in moments when you feel stuck, when fighting the status quo feels impossible and when giving up feels like a viable option. (Hint: it’s not). Remind yourself that using behaviors and acting on urges will not allow you to access those values.
  2. If you find yourself acting on unwanted beliefs and/or values, rather than berate yourself, offer self-compassion and recognition at how difficult this process is.
  3. Provide compassion without justification or rationalization. Try not to allow the self-compassion to present itself as an excuse to engage in behaviors, rather, acknowledge the challenge, and then try to summon up the energy to change your thinking.
self-compassion

So far in my recovery, I’ve learned that the mental debate, the bargaining, and the constant fighting with my eating disorder’s values, prevents me from fully surrendering, and therefore preventing me from living wholeheartedly. Not only is living in accordance to my eating disorder is mildly torturous, but it also gives further credence and validity to the irrational, making it more difficult to trust and act on your truest self’s values over time. It’s far easier to change behaviors when you change the beliefs that underlie it first. I encourage you to try and let go of the resistance, eliminate the “shoulds”, and have faith in your own values. I’ll do it with you. Every day it’s a work in progress. Remember, we developed our values for a reason, and we have every reason to trust ourselves over our eating disorder.

In strength and healing,

OJ

learning to live by your values and not your eating disorder’s values
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