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Denial can be Powerful. Eating Disorder Recovery

It never ceases to amaze me how many layers of denial we can hide our truth under.

How we can present to the world and ourselves a version of our lives that is shiny and wonderful and Instagramable, a version we really believe to be true, despite it being nothing of the sort.

How we can shout a palatable version of our story so loudly that we are completely unable to hear the true story beneath.

It’s mind-blowing, how you can genuinely mean one thing, and yet three months later look back and realise you actually felt the complete opposite…

Briony Gordon, Glorious Rock Bottom, 2020

When I read Briony Gordon’s book, ‘Glorious Rock Bottom’, this passage really stood out to me for a couple of reasons.

For any of you who do not know who Briony Gordon is, she is a journalist, author and mental health advocate in the UK. Briony has written extensively and very openly and honestly about her experiences with OCD, bulimia and more recently about her battles with alcohol and drug addiction.

When Briony Gordon writes, she holds nothing back and does not try to make anything about her illnesses glamorous or pretty but she also does so with incredible insight and humour.

Why though am I sharing this quote here?

To me, this quote sums up the way so many of us live when we have an eating disorder. I recognised myself in this quote and I recognised many others with an ED who I have known over the years.

I know that I became an expert over the years at showing the world a version of myself that was the version I thought they wanted to see and of a person I thought I should be… A woman who is working, independent, able to get through life and take on all its demands.

Even when people could surely see that physically I was not ok, I would show them such an independent and highly functioning facade that no one would question it and I did this to such an extent that even I believed it was true. I could not just convince others that I was absolutely great thank you very much, but I convinced myself of that too.

To be honest, looking back, I think that it was at the times I was probably at my sickest (mentally and physically) that my ability to convince myself and others that actually my life was more than ok was at its strongest.

The denial when we are really very very ill of how not ok we are can be intense and feel very credible.

Of course, really, if I was forced at those times to properly slow down for long enough to face my reality and inner truth, then I did know that I was really not ok, but at that point, I had worked so hard to convince others that I was ok that it felt impossible to then admit that the opposite was true… and so the deception (even unintentional) only continued.

The impact of living like this is that we inevitably stay sick. We keep going, pretending each day and putting on the false smile and demonstrating how well we can live within our, admittedly very narrow, world of existence. And as we keep going in this way, we find that another year has slipped past where nothing in our lives has changed, other than the eating disorder has gained a slightly stronger grip.

As Briony says in her quote, it is often only when we look back that we can identify how unwell or unhappy we were and yet recognise that the image we were showing the world: the things we were saying and our actions, were all the opposite of our inner truth.

I also believe that with an eating disorder and in recovery, we can take on this self -denial of what is true for us in layers.

We can look back at a time when we were sick and realise that we had been kidding everyone that things then were ok but fail to notice that we are still doing the same now… and only realise that our current reality is also an Instagrammable deception in another few months when we look back again.

Therefore, my reason for writing this is to firstly say, when you are telling yourself and others that your life is just great and all is well and you are doing recovery like a superstar, stop and question if this is true.

When you say that you can cope with work and studies and daily chores and all the other commitments you face and that you can do all these things and still do recovery too and you will ace it all… stop and question if this is true.

And if it is not true, know that it is ok not to be ok.

It is ok not to show the world the shiny Instagrammable version of a life you think people want to see.

It is ok to be the messy human that we all really are and ask for help.

Very often the one thing we need to do most of all is to admit we are not super human and allow ourselves to be vulnerable.

It is when we can say we are not ok (even to ourselves), then ask for help and admit defeat to have time to heal… it is then that we are actually at our strongest.

Finally, it is worth remembering this quote when you do look to the influencers you follow on Instagram, and remember that they too are human and the life they portray on their accounts, might not be their true and messy reality. People too often compare themselves negatively to the shiny and inspirational images on Instagram and yet, no one lives a perfect life in which they are really ok all the time or not having messy slip ups in their own recoveries… they just don’t always show their truth.

For me, regularly stopping to check in with myself and question if I am racing through life in denial of how ok I am once again or if I am, in fact, really ok is so important for not letting the eating disorder slide back in and for keeping on top of my mental health. Perhaps it will help you too.

2 replies on “Denial can be Powerful. Eating Disorder Recovery”

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