Discovering Our True Identity

One of the small victories I love to see our clients celebrate is the discovery of something they enjoy. A favorite museum, a new band, a great coffee shop—they may seem like small things, but for someone in recovery from disordered eating, they can be huge.

That’s because an eating disorder tends to take over your sense of identity. It so occupies your thoughts, so demands your energies, that eventually there’s little space left in you for you. So every time our clients can discover and claim something as a source of enjoyment and delight, it represents a small but significant victory in pushing back against their eating disorder, of developing and asserting a sense of who they are that’s not determined by their illness.

While those who don’t struggle with disordered eating may not have much trouble naming their favorite color or identifying what kinds of books they like to read, the question of identity is one that, at some level, we all struggle to answer. Who am I? What makes me unique? Where does my value come from?

The Christian tradition teaches us that the answers to those questions are both the same and different for each of us. Our fundamental identity comes from the fact that we are each created by God and bear God’s image—that is the basic identity that we all share, and because of it, all of us have value and worth that cannot be taken away. At the same time, our God is infinitely creative, and so we each bear his image in a unique way. Our individual passions and preferences, the things that spark our interest and give us joy, are more than just quirks of our personalities; they are reflections of our Creator and evidence of his personal love for each of us.

As Rock Recovery’s clients journey along the path to recovery, my hope and prayer for them is that their growing sense of their own identity would be rooted in the truth that they are the image-bearers and beloved children of God. It is my hope and prayer for each of you as well.

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Erin Bair joined the Rock Recovery team as its first chaplain in the fall of 2015. She is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America and has previously served in parish ministry and hospital chaplaincy. Having known many people affected by disordered eating, Erin is grateful to get to support Rock Recovery’s clients, helping them to know the freedom that God’s love and grace offers them. Erin grew up in Georgia and attended college and divinity school in Boston. Nine years into living in the DC area, she’s convinced she’s found the best of both worlds. In addition to working with Rock Recovery, Erin is a speaker and retreat leader and is training to be a spiritual director. In her free time, she loves to read, cook, hike, and spend as much time as possible in Arizona with her nieces and nephew.

Choose Compassion in Recovery

amy-klimekBy Amy M. Klimek, MA. LCPC
Director of Program Development, Eating Disorder Program Coordinator, Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

People are often their own worst critics. In a culture that breeds competition to be the best, we live to measure up to those around us, often feeling less-than, judgmental, and blind to our own accomplishments.

We compare ourselves to others from how many “friends” we have on Facebook or followers on Twitter, to our career choices and incomes; from the size of our house (while not mentioning the cost), to the size of our pants.

These comparisons usually leave us feeling shame from our inability to reach this “unachievable” status in this world and self-conscious to share our successes with others fearing it will not measure up.

Shame is a powerful self-conscious emotion, making us think we are inherently flawed. Our conversations have moved away from listening, engaging or celebrating ourselves and others, to an internal self-dialogue noting the messages of the “should haves”, “not good enough”, and “I need to change” talk. This self shaming is an all too familiar, and strangely comforting feeling to an individual suffering from an eating disorder.

Self-criticism and shame during periods of illness and recovery have a similar tone. The process of recovery is long and challenging, leaving the individual to believe recovery is impossible. Set-backs, lapses, and relapses are the harsh reminders of the suffering an individual experiences when struggling with an eating disorder.

From the self-hatred messages about their bodies, to the questions of how many calories can I have or how many calories did I just have, to the internal agony of wanting to be invisible, damaging, and lost to the eating disorder thoughts. The ever-present societal message that no matter ones physical, mental, or emotional state, they are not good enough becomes even more pronounced as individuals struggle through recovery. These social cues often drive an internal message board of criticism and shaming which perpetuate the illness.

Now is the time to respond with compassion to our internal struggles, with our bodies, and our overall internal well-being. Recovery comes with choices, choices to return to old behaviors and unfamiliar choices that leave individuals feeling vulnerable to something and everything different. Choices are made every minute of every day in eating disorder recovery. Sometimes it’s living one minute at a time, inviting the choice to be mindful and accepting of our present moment.

Choose appreciation instead of indifference. Choose connection in place of isolation. Choose honesty when faced with uncertainty. Lastly, choose compassion to practice kindness to yourself and your journey.

Mistakes will be made. Uncertainty is unsettling. Listen generously to your healing in both mind and body, hearing the truth within yourself. Practice presence to the life around you and within you. When you are truly present, you are already experiencing compassion.

Begin to learn to love, care for yourself again. We live in a culture driving messages of inadequacy, but we also live in a culture of resiliency with individuals on the road to recovery fighting every day for their life back. Show up to your life, learn to live again and share with the world around you, who you truly are, resilient, present, and compassionate.

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