Oct. 26, 2022, noon
When I was nearing the end of outpatient treatment for an eating disorder, my aunt called
me out of the blue to invite me to my cousin’s cheerleading competition. I immediately said
yes when my first instinct was no. I felt this tingling warmth of sensation throughout my
body as I began to get ready. I was feeling proud of myself for taking the advice of my care
team, by being spontaneous and staying open-minded to new possibilities of fun. So off I
went, feeling light and confident and philosophical; I was breaking down the chains of
perfectionism that held me firmly in their grip and I was forging a new, beautiful path of freedom.
Oh! But as soon as I walked through those doors, I regretted my decision. I no longer felt
light and confident; I felt panicked, tense and trapped. I felt as though I had just arrived on
the set of a cheerleading movie that I never intended to audition for. I can remember the
atmosphere perfectly: the space was electric with excitement and buzzed with the wonder
and awe of possibility. The amount of hard work and dedication that went into the
mesmerizing choreography of each routine was clear in the amazing skill and technique on
display. The cheerleaders danced, moved and flowed together harmoniously from an
evident connection of both softness and strength.
I wish I had given myself permission to become enthralled with the magic of it all. Instead, I
was consumed with dark and obsessive thoughts and highly uncomfortable physiological
sensations due to the comparison of my body to theirs. My thoughts were stuck in an
unrelenting loop de loop. I felt sick to my stomach and I was afraid to breathe too deeply for
fear of making the physical sensation of choking feel worse. Looking back now, I am grateful
for the friend who helped me see the dark humor in it all and the opportunity to process the
experience in a Body Empowerment group therapy session.
That choking sensation I spoke of, along with sadness and hopelessness, were things I often
experienced at low levels when I viewed pictures of myself, including one taken of my cousin
and I at her cheerleading competition that day. I scrutinized every perceived flaw as I
observed that picture and many others before that, which led to increased feelings of
sadness and anxiety, which in turn created a cycle which became an all-too familiar
behaviour pattern for me. At this point in my recovery, I was learning how to actively make
healthy choices for my body and mind, for example, limiting the amount of time I spent
using social media. I knew that making small changes could have a significant impact on my
overall well-being. I knew that viewing my pictures with hatred and judgment was
reinforcing a feeling of unworthiness. I recognized that my intense emotions were not fitting
the facts; I wasn’t just being too hard on myself when viewing pictures in general, I was in
need of an emotional release of negative self beliefs. My negative views of myself were
influenced by the inner struggle of not feeling good enough, unloved, unsafe and uncertain.
It was never about how I looked, it was about how I felt. When I came to this realization, I
seized the opportunity to make an active change.
That said, sharing the experience may make it appear much simpler than it was and I believe
it is important to take a moment to honor the complexities of eating disorder recovery. I was
able to choose curiosity over judgment in that moment and that was a starting point for me;
I was then able to continue to motivate myself over and over again, slowly and with patience, with many “failures” and difficulties and over time, to observe parts of my physical
body in a compassionate manner. I remember the moment I really focused on my left ear in
the mirror. At first I felt ridiculous and silly but when I gently leaned into my discomfort, I
began to take notice. I slowly and methodically observed my inner ear and I noticed the way
the lines of my skin interconnected with the same softness and strength I admired in the
movement of the cheerleaders. When I stepped back and realized just ‘how in the moment’ I had been, I felt this wonderful warm flow of energy throughout my body. As strange as it
may sound, I felt pure love for that part of my body, my ear, when I certainly never expected
to. It was a simple yet magical moment.
Each time I practised self-compassion in this manner, I created more magical moments for
myself. These magical moments were like tiny puzzle pieces that contributed to the overall
picture of recovery. The actual number of puzzle pieces I accumulated was never important
to me. What was important was that each puzzle piece represented a moment in time when
I intentionally chose to show curiosity towards my physical body rather than judgment. Each
puzzle piece represented an intentional act of love. This one little change eventually became
a habitual practice of love; a cultivation of inner strength and peace. Sometimes it is still
quite difficult to view pictures of myself but I continue to remember to be self-compassionate and I continue to try.
To anyone who may have taken meaning from my experience, I hope you grow to believe
that you have everything within you to cultivate your own puzzle (peace) of recovery.