Discretion advised: brief discussions of eating disorders, self harm, and suicidal ideation/intention.
There’s something of a Halo Effect that surrounds those who are recovered and those who are mental health advocates. While we are very open and generally quite raw about our mental health journeys, it is suggested that we are almost invulnerable to new stressors and upsets that precipitate into our environment. Any other reaction to these stressors is seen as a state of mind in which you’re not really recovered.
I think this is particularly true when you have recovered from something so viscerally physical in its presentation and manifestation as an eating disorder.
Being recovered from an eating disorder myself, I often feel that people get highly concerned if I express a distaste for the way I look or I feel particularly low in my self-esteem. There’s a real expectation from those around me, whether this is someone close to me or someone I’ve just met, unconscious or not, that I have to be a beacon of self love and confidence and be comfortable of every aspect of myself in order to reassure others I am recovered.
Well, let me tell you something: that is truly, truly exhausting to force yourself to feel that way. Especially on days where you are wallowing in your self-hate and you’re just trying not to be swallowed up by it all. It’s difficult to sit with lies.
So, here’s the truth.
I’ve been recovered from an eating disorder for 5 years and I still hate myself.
I’m choosing to use the word hate; a particularly strong and nasty word, because that is really how I feel. And, you don’t realise how much the realisation that I still hold a very deep hatred for myself lifted a weight off my shoulders. Sounds strange, doesn’t it?
You would probably expect someone who advocates for eating disorders and mental health recovery to be comfortable within her own skin and not wholly unhappy with herself. Well, guess what? I am not.
Hear me out. I don’t condone hating yourself. It’s not a fun state of mind to be in. It’s not cool. It’s not edgy. Hating yourself is one of the worst feelings out there. Hating yourself is like falling into a hole in the ground and, while you are trying to find a way to crawl out, someone is pouring concrete into the hole. It’s pure suffocation. I don’t know how many times I have had self-hating feelings loom over my head all day and drag me down. I wouldn’t be able to hold myself up straight. I’d curl my arms around my body, making myself smaller, shielding my frame from the public. Already so poisoned by the hate in my head, I didn’t want to face anyone looking at me. I didn’t want to give them ammunition. Even though, the ammunition probably didn’t exist.
I still carry these feelings with me. I have days, a lot of days, where it’s all I can think about it. Any social interaction that goes wrong results in me blaming myself. Any time I’ve dated and it’s ended negatively (which is every boy I’ve dated) I have fired off a list of hateful things about myself … why did I think that was ever going to work? I’m so annoying, and boring, and plain, and uninteresting, and too nervous and I’m not worth a chance… see how exhausting that is? That’s what goes on in my head nearly every day.
So, to try and convince the world that I actually love myself in order to prove I am recovered is hard work. As I said, we’re meant to be beacons of self-love, and any sort of self-hatred and low self esteem sound alarm bells. There’s no way we can be recovered if we still hold a hate for ourselves. Recovery isn’t low self esteem. Recovery isn’t overthinking every little step you do. Recovery isn’t anxiety. Recovery isn’t feeling seriously down about your body, your personality, your being, yourself.
Recovery is love.
So, what happens when you don’t fit into this mould of perfect recovery? For me, I feel like an imposter. Do I really have a right to say I am in recovery, and recovered, if there sits an underlying hatred within me? A hatred that lies there, sometimes dormant, and sometimes extraordinarily active.
For a long time, I shoved away those feelings, because I wanted to present as this picture perfect form of recovery. Because I felt that if I actually spoke about the fact I remained to hate myself, and I had not yet broken the hateful thoughts, then people would think I was a failure and didn’t deserve the carry the I’m Recovered badge. I have ignored those feelings and thoughts because I didn’t want to deal with them. They were not a sign of recovery.
Recovery had to be about loving yourself, and blocking out all hate. But, doing so was the equivalent to me shutting my eyes tight, sticking my fingers in my ears, and screaming to shut out the hatred.
It was only recently that I realised I was actually doing better than I thought. And, by accepting the fact I still bear a lot of hate for myself, this has opened up a lot for me, in terms of what recovery actually is. And not what I think it should be.
I have a hate myself, but, here’s the catch, I accept it. I deal with it.
And that’s a level of recovery.
That is growth.
A few years ago, my hatred resulted in incredibly maladaptive coping mechanisms. It played a huge factor in the development of my eating disorder. My eating disorder attempted to control that hatred whilst simultaneously pushing me to hate myself further through the punishment of restrictive eating, purging, and binging. I developed further maladaptive coping mechanisms that extended passed the physicalities of an eating disorder and self-harming. My anxiety intensified and I would sabotage situations. The minute I would sense a change in the vibe in a romantically inclined relationship, or even a platonic relationship, my self-hatred would step in and I would withdraw myself from the situation. Why would anyone want to be with me? Why would anyone be interested in liking me or being my friend? They clearly don’t want me around so I’ll do everyone a favour and leave.
My self-hatred and very low self-esteem affected me so much I almost completed suicide.
Nowadays, I still bear my self-hatred within me, but I deal with it differently. A lot differently. I have been able to reevaluate what recovery is, and where I stand along that line of recovery. Because I previously did not understand that recovery is not the complete absence of your mental health difficulties, but learning to cope and grow with them. Learning that recovery is not dichotomous, but a continuum. And, we can still experience self-hatred and low self esteem, yet consider ourselves recovered.
For me, I have learned that my self hatred has evolved in its expression. It is better controlled. As I mentioned, my self hatred led to eating disorders, to self harm, to isolation, to a near-attempt of suicide. Now, my self hatred sits there with no physical repercussions. I have learned to fight these feelings. Whenever a hateful thought or emotion creeps into the forefront of my mind, and tries to begin its consumption, I don’t let it work its way like it used to. If my hate tries to interact with my disordered eating thought patterns, I break the connection. I don’t use starvation and purging as a method to filter out the hatred. I try my hardest to stop using isolation as a method too. That one I’m still working on.
Right now, I accept that my self-hating attitude needs to diminished. It needs to be smaller. My hatred, no matter how I accept it, is always going to be an anchor that stops me moving forward. I have accepted my hatred, and now I am trying to progress from it. Deal with it in absolution and with conviction. I am actually more disgusted with how much I hate myself rather than disgusted with myself full stop. I experience an almost outer body experience when I see my hatred descend upon me. I’m on the outside looking in and I’m begging to stop hating myself. Simply stop. Love yourself fully for crying out loud.
But it’s not always going to be possible to love yourself fully. Especially when you spent years regularly bathing in doing the opposite, watching your self esteem drop and drop and drop. Until you were at your lowest point and couldn’t stand to even see yourself alive anymore.
My self-hatred is still here. But, so am I. I can outlast it. It will go away. I just have to keep moving forward. Continue to no longer welcome in the maladaptive coping strategies. Thank myself for those moments where I see love in my eyes and feel it in my heart. Allow myself to experience that love, that respect, that happiness. To continually be proud of the fact I am recovering, and no matter how long it takes, I will get there.
I hate myself, yeah, but I’m still standing.