I had my first therapy session for my eating disorder when I was 11. I was discharged from child services at the age of 16. During these years, one theme came up in discussion again and again… Thoughts. Specifically, my thoughts. How I viewed myself. How I valued myself. How I thought others viewed me. Thoughts, thoughts, ThOuGHTs.
I was told that I had to recognise my ‘anorexic thoughts’, that I had to notice them and separate them from myself. And, my ONLY reoccurring thought throughout this process was how the f*ck do I change my thoughts?? Get me out of here pls…
How can I change thoughts so automatic that they happen as naturally as breathing? How can I recognise anorexic thoughts so powerful that convincing me they’re anything other than ‘my own’ is truly inconceivable?
And so, I spent 5 years in therapy being told again, and again (and again) something that totally baffled me. Something I completely ignored.
To be honest, this is something that I have found almost impossible up until recently. HOWEVER, it has been one of the biggest, most crucial ‘light bulb’ moments in my recovery to date…
It is actually a little bit exciting (and empowering) to realise we have some power over our thoughts and what we focus on. I don’t have to listen to the constant barrage of abuse thrown at me, almost every single minute of every single day. We are not victims of the inner destructive war with ourselves. We can choose to intervene and recognise thoughts that are irrational and hurtful to us… Wow! We don’t have to listen!
Our thoughts play a pivotal role in the relationship we have with ourselves. The good news is that you are totally in control of the thoughts you choose to hold and focus on.
‘Beliefs have the power to create and the power to destroy.’
So I’ve realised that one of the most crucial skills necessary to recover from an eating disorder (or just necessary to simply feel more content) is to develop a relentlessly nurturing, comforting, supportive and accepting inner dialogue with yourself. This dialogue needs to replace the constant stream of thoughts that are critical, self-deprecating and dishonouring of your individuality, worth, and substance.
Sometimes we aren’t even aware of our own inner dialogue so the chronic nature of the negative thoughts become a ‘normalcy’. You become use to them.
We tend to think we don’t have much control over our thoughts. We have about 70,000 conscious and unconscious thoughts a day, so feeling out of control of them is understandable.
But, in fact, we do have the ability to consciously step back, interrupt the stream of thoughts, and do something about them.
Now, I’m not an expert at reframing my thoughts and, still, quite often I let the criticisms, that anorexia likes to throw at me, get to me. I let them control how I feel. BUT, since realising that I have some power over this thought process, I have started to become aware of a thought that isn’t true to ‘me’… Emma.
- Look at how fat, chubby, ugly and weird you look in that photo. How can anyone actually value you you as a good or nice person when you look like that? Anyone who says they do is clearly lying. And, because they’re lying, your sad little reality is that you have no friends, no one cares about you and you are better off shrinking yourself again. In fact, I’m your only true friend. This is why you need me.
… it is only recently that I’ve become aware that these thoughts are my anorexic thoughts. . And, it is only recently that I’ve began to appreciate these thoughts. Yes, they’re hellish and ideally I would adore a life without them BUT they remind me that I must be doing something right. If anorexia feels the need to feed me such ideas, it clearly means I am distancing myself from it. That I am learning to live a life beyond it.
No, I can’t stop these thoughts. But, I can choose whether to act upon them. I can choose whether or not to waste more of my life. I can choose INSTEAD to… let the thought pass. Let it rear its ugly head but do NOTHING about it (shocking, I know)… I could look at the photo 30 minutes later when I feel a little better and search for positives.
- Look at your smile in that photo. Your eyes have got those smile wrinkle things you get when you are genuinely happy. How can a single photo define your worth? Remember how happy you felt in that moment… laughing… being sarcastic… being you. Remember who took that photo… a truly incredible and beautiful friend, who supports no matter what. Look at you living life again.
So, what I’m trying to say is that none of this is easy. None of this happens over night. Rewiring your brain is a long process. It takes dedication, effort and commitment. But, if rewiring my brain means that I have the ability to enjoy life again, to feel true happiness, to speak my mind, to live my life and not just ‘exist’ as a shell of the ‘Emma’ I once was then I choose this. I choose it over and over and over again (and again).
Who knew… the professionals were right, AGAIN!! Crazy…