From Shame to Curiosity: Finding Self-Compassion in Recovery
In honor of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, we asked our community to share the lessons they learned in recovery.
**Trigger warning: this anonymous recovery story contains descriptions of relapse and disordered eating behavior.
This past August, I relapsed in my eating disorder after over a year and a half of strong recovery. Even now, after treatment and getting back to a better place, I find it difficult to type those words because shame wants to start to creep in and tell me to feel negative thoughts about myself for falling back into my disorder.
In October, I entered into residential treatment and I did allow the shame to come in. It knocked me over and constantly beat me down until I felt helpless, pathetic, and so, so ashamed. I was so embarrassed that I considered not even telling some of my closest friends that I was struggling again because I felt that I had failed. Shame can be very mean and very loud in our minds.
For a long time in treatment, this shame kept me stuck. Shame and its negative messages bullied me into believing that I was incapable, weak, and simply too broken to recover. Shame is a challenging emotion and it is one that tends to be pervasive in the minds of those of us struggling with eating disorders. Whether it is shame for struggling, shame for the secrecy that surrounds our eating disorders, or shame for relapsing, shame is a familiar emotion in eating disorder struggles.
In order to pull myself out of the shame spiral and move forward in my recovery, I had to be gentle with myself and do my best to find some self compassion. Several things helped me with this process like sharing my feelings with my treatment team and getting support from friends and peers in treatment. I was encouraged to think of what I would tell a friend or peer if they had also relapsed. Would I tell them to throw the towel in? Would I tell them that their relapse was proof that they simply could not recover? Of course not! Instead I would meet them with love, compassion, and a listening ear.
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I realized that I needed to give that listening ear to myself. I needed to get curious about what was happening before, during, and currently in my relapse that had brought me back to attempting to cope with life through my eating disorder and its associated behaviors. That listening ear I gave myself needed to be the same I would give to someone else – nonjudgmental, attentive, patient, and understanding.
Recovery and understanding your eating disorder can be like a puzzle. There are all these pieces that contribute (trauma, societal ideals about beauty, perfectionism, your personality, etc.), but you do not know where to place any of them. They are all in a big jumbled up pile and you do not know where to begin. Simply trying to put a random piece together with another can often lead to frustration. However, if you begin with the edge pieces, then it can be easier to fill the frame in, until you finally have a picture that can inform you of the how and why behind your story. When I began to be curious rather than judgmental, I started to “put the frame together” of my own puzzle because I felt like I had understanding and direction, instead of just a giant pile of shame and self-disgust.
Being curious and asking myself what was missing, what needed to change, and how I could support myself is what helped me to begin to pull myself back out of the pit of relapse. The curiosity helped me realize that several factors around me had created a perfect storm that led to relapse and opened my eyes to recognize that my struggles had not been caused by failure or a lack of ability or strength. That, curiously, led me to fostering self-compassion and understanding. Shame is a strong emotion, and I know it may try and sneak back in, but this time I am ready for it. I am ready to be curious, instead of judgmental and tell shame that it is no longer needed in my recovery story.