With Independence Day coming tomorrow, I am thoughtful –as I am every year — about the freedoms I am grateful to live with every day. I am grateful to have the freedom of speech and to pursue the career of my dreams. I am grateful for freedom from the eating disorder that plagued me for many years. I am grateful to be able to choose where I live and what I eat. When I have a rough day, I try to spend time with my gratitude journal, where I list several things I am grateful for this day.
What I have learned over my years of searching for and embracing the freedoms of my life is that I have to remember where I have come from in order to appreciate where I am today. It’s about perspective. It’s about remembering the losses and the gifts I have endured and been granted. It’s also about remembering that there are many, many people who do not enjoy the same freedoms that I do. It’s about having goals to learn about as many cultures, policies, therapies, ideas, opinions as I can so that I am informed to help my clients and live a mindful life.
As I reflect on FREEDOM, the theme of the 4th of July celebrations, I am also reminded of the significant losses that thousands of people in Colorado have recently suffered because of the wildfires plaguing our state. How does freedom connect to these experiences? How can those of us who are watching these struggles connect with the experiences and lend our support? I have spent much time over the past few weeks reflecting on this juxtaposition.
Here is what I am aware of today:
I work often with those in recovery from eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating, and today I was struck by a quote from St. Frances de Sales that spoke true to me and to those that I support, even more than four hundred years after it was spoken:
“A habitual moderation in eating and drinking is much better than certain rigorous abstinences made from time to time.”
Freedom from food struggles involves balance, moderation, and listening to your inner voice. This, I believe, can be related to so many other areas of our lives. What does freedom mean to you? I encourage you to reflect on this as Independence Day draws near and to share your freedom with others.
Yesterday I found a raw, heartfelt blog post about what it is like to live with an eating disorder. I remember that through my own recovery process, one of the things that was most meaningful to me was reading the words of people who “got it”. It seemed few and far between to find someone who truly understood the way I was feeling…mostly because of the mysterious and hidden nature of eating disorders themselves. We hesitate to expose them, despite the fact that millions of people do understand what we are feeling. Today, I utilize an empathic approach to my therapeutic philosophy as much as is helpful for my clients. I want them to know that I get it, because I do.
Reading the blog post yesterday, titled Eating Disorders and the Fear of the Ordinary , I was instantaneously drawn to the writer’s reality. She wrote about something she called “the impostor syndrome: the gnawing fear that you don’t really belong there, that you don’t have what it takes, that you somehow slipped through the cracks in the admissions process and are actually an intellectual embarrassment, an incompetent fraud who knows jack-all about anything — and that sooner or later, like the Wizard of Oz, you will be found out and exposed for the humbug you really are.”
I reflected on my own journey. Did I feel like an impostor? Certainly I did, trying to fit in with crowds of people who did not accept me, trying to mold myself into something I wasn’t in hopes that I would be accepted. The most significant way that I was an imposter was in relating to my own self. I was not living within my own skin, my own body; I was detached from the neck down. I couldn’t believe that the body I had was mine, and for many years, I didn’t want it to be mine. Now I know that it was not about my body at all, but about accepting myself for who I was, inside and out. Accepting my sensitive nature, accepting that I had a streak of perfectionism in me that would always peek through.
The author talks about feeling as if we are impostors who “are horribly afraid that somewhere along the line somebody will figure this out. We are convinced in the teeth of the evidence that there is something fundamentally flawed about us, something that needs fixing and yet is unfixable.” This can lead to hurting ourselves through destructive behaviors and feeling as if we are different from everyone else. This would-be self-absorption makes us feel different, special, unique. This feeling, she says, is “miserable, but also seductive.” Thus one of the reasons that eating disorders are so difficult to recover from: we must realize that we are not so different from others, that we belong, and that we are deserve the same self-confidence that others do. But that is also, in the author’s vein, ordinary.
The author also points out that when struggling with an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia or binge eating disorder, one may feel very alone and separate, but
“what’s so funny about this whole self-fulfilling prophecy is that we aren’t really alone, and our methods aren’t really as terribly original as we’d like to think they are. The statistics don’t lie: there are eight million [reported] eating disorder sufferers strong in this country alone, each and every one of us absolutely convinced that we are unlike all the others, that we are somehow Extraordinary.”
What are we trying to achieve by being extraordinary? Do we want to be noticed? loved?
I encourage you to read the entire post, and to reflect upon how it relates to you or to someone you love who has struggled with an eating disorder. The final words are written as if from my own mouth: “I’m not extraordinary, and I’ve nearly killed myself trying to be — but what I am is perfectly imperfect. That’s what I have to offer this world — and that’s fine by me.”
Monday is Independence Day in the United States. As we think back to the reasons that we celebrate this holiday each year, I wanted to reflect on the fragility and sacredness of freedom, the effort required to obtain it, and how freedom can be taken away in a second. The United States has claimed victory over being controlled by another country and there are countless stories of people’s struggles for freedom all over the world.
What in your everyday life would you like to free yourself from? Have you freed yourself from something that you feel like celebrating? I personally have recovered from an eating disorder that was so controlling, so damaging, and so hate-filled that I try to celebrate everyday the freedom I have attained. Trying to notice this consciously takes effort. We can forget to create rituals or patterns in our lives that memorialize or highlight victories we have accomplished – however small or large they are. Many of us continue to struggle with feeling trapped and powerless against a greater force: an addiction, a traumatic memory, an abusive relationship, an out-of-control situation. We can spend lots of our money, time, and energy focusing on these things — for good reason, as no one deserves to live in pain and it takes tremendous effort to absolve ourselves of it. But what else could happen if we focused on what independence we have already achieved? And what more we can obtain?
I was consulting with a friend over this idea of asserting freedom and independence over our everyday struggles. My friend told me that she carries with her a mantra: “I release myself of guilt and worry”. She hears this affirmation repeatedly throughout her days as she encounters challenges and tries to release herself of the absorbing feelings of guilt, shame, and worry. This friend has recovered from multiple losses and traumas and has empowered herself to create boundaries between herself and others in a way that is enlightened and confident. On the subject of freedom she related to me: “Freedom is something we must strive for and create for ourselves; often times due to life’s complicated struggles, freedom is not automatic and we must tend to it like a budding flower or else it will wilt.”
This concept really struck a chord with me. On my own journey, I must continually remain aware of stressors and triggers that once contributed to the development of my eating disorder. I now celebrate freedom from this disorder, but the independence is not absolute — it has a strength within its core but needs nurturance and attention to maintain this power. Can you relate to this? How have you obtained independence and freedom in your life, and what do you do daily to maintain that breath of fresh air? What else can you do?
To finish off the metaphor, I must comment on the concept of fireworks. Fireworks represent celebration and joy. They also are a bit dangerous and we must be careful with how and where we use them. If not used correctly, they could set off a huge, deadly fire and trigger more pain and hardship. This aligns with my vision of freedom and independence in daily struggles: we should and we do celebrate our victories from devastating addictions or traumas. We have overcome and we deserve to acknowledge the joy in this feat. We also must be careful to remain aware of our recovery and not let our grasp of freedom slip away unawares. Do not allow one addiction to slip into another. Maintenance of freedom is hard work; it can often be a life-long task in some form. However, the sweet taste of release and peace is worth all of the effort. It is what makes us human.
Happy Independence Day to all!!