(Re)discovering My Roots through Art in Eating Disorder Recovery

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By: Jamie (OJ)

It’s amazing how one day you can wake up and realize that, holy crap, you’ve been back under your eating disorder’s spell for a few weeks and you didn’t even know it. Well, in hindsight, there were some hints along the way, coupled with precarious relief, but nothing that warranted concern. But then it hits you, most likely at an inconvenient time.

A couple of weeks ago, my partner, CJ and I went on a lovely day trip, which like most other day trips included going out for lunch. I ordered what felt like a challenge food I could handle, a sandwich that sounded delicious, and was feeling proud. When the food was brought to the table though, I felt a familiar, yet distant panic. Eating felt hard again. Old narratives and personifications of what impossible superpowers this food was capable of trickled back into my thoughts:

What?!?!?! [honest disbelief]

How did I not see this coming? [useless self-blame]

Why all of a sudden?  [useless self-denial]

How do I fix this? [glimpse of motivation]

I can’t let anyone know, I just need to get out of this ditch on my own. [useless stubbornness thinking I can do this on my own]

At this point in my recovery though, the short-term relief is coupled with the haunting knowledge of the consequences of my eating disorder behaviors. I’ve gained too much awareness and insight into how I want to live my life, that I feel frustrated, shame, and fear after struggling with a behavior. These emotions clouded the clarity and control I thought I gained over my eating disorder and it was hard for me to determine where I ended and the eating disorder began. So I turned to art.

During a session with my dietitian, she brought up one of my tattoos that says, “I am rooted, but I flow” and asked me what I feel rooted in when I’m stuck in more of the eating disorder mindset? I turned to art:

art for project heal post

The image on the left represents how it feels to be stuck in a state where I’m hovering over the unstable terrain of my eating disorder, encapsulated by shame and fear. I know I’ve been in this space before and it can head down a path that will prevent me from living my life and will put me right back into treatment. It’s tight and claustrophobic. I don’t want to be stuck here, but there is also sadly, a part of me that doesn’t want to comply with what I know I need to do to break free. There’s an internal emptiness, but a sense of safety and protection from what’s outside. In this picture, I’m floating, not connected to any roots, because really, fear isn’t grounding.

 

The image on the right, represents being re-rooted in the present. My dietitian encouraged me to dig deep and connect with the roots that felt most inherent and true in my heart. I’m able to listen to the values of my own heart and I’m not stuck, I’m rooted in the honesty, in vulnerability, and compassion, in values that I know feel important to me. Listening to my heart gives me more ways to trust my intuition.

For those of us who sometimes feel stuck during a meal, a lapse, a slip, a relapse… here are a few suggestions:

  1. Take it one day at a time, try to ground yourself in what you know to be true to your values and goals (not your eating disorders’ values and goals)

  2. Notice the source of information that your eating disorder is trying to convince you is accurate

  3. Stay grounded in your roots that originate from your heart.

  4. And perhaps most of all, trust that you are deserving and worthy of and able to believe in yourself.

 

In strength and healing,

OJ


OJ is currently experiencing and documenting the ups and downs of eating disorder recovery. She and her partner (CJ) share their dual perspectives on eating disorder recovery through a queer lens on their blog www.thirdwheelED.com. OJ’s writing focuses on the intersectionality of eating disorder recovery as a self-identified queer and lesbian woman. She also documents her eating disorder recovery in conjunction with other mental health illnesses such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Jamie volunteers with Project HEAL Boston.

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