Jan. 12, 2018, 8:11 p.m.
Starting my recovery was the hardest decision I ever made, but I was thankful to have a supportive and trusting person by my side. My partner was the first person I ever opened up to about my eating disorder. Before them, like many, I was very secretive and ashamed of my disorder. Recently, that relationship has ended and as hard as it has been, re-entering the dating world has proven to be even more difficult.
I find the concept of dating awkward and uncomfortable, regardless of mental health concerns. It’s putting myself on display and hoping that the other person likes what they see and hear, while evaluating them in the same way. In a way, dating encompasses everything I tried to avoid through my eating disorder: judgement, evaluations, and being open and honest about my feelings. I have been told many times that I don’t “look like I have an eating disorder” which is a statement that is full of oppressive and stigmatized connotations. Opening up about my disorder has provided me with so much empowerment, but there is always a fear that lingers about disclosing within new relationships. A fear of disclosing too soon, or that the person will belittle me, not understand, or no longer be interested. At the same time, if I want to show this person my best self, that includes showing my strength in being open and honest about my past.
Going from having a partner who knew everything, to trying to open up to a new possible partner about such a personal topic as my disorder has been hard. Society often stigmatizes eating disorders and makes it so incredibly difficult to open up to people. My old fears of being judged, which were one of the factors in the development of my eating disorder, are suddenly rushing back. A part of me wants to avoid dating altogether and just keep my recovery to myself. However, another part of me, the part that I have spent so long rebuilding in recovery, knows how beneficial it is to have support and to be open about my disorder. Not only for myself, but to help keep the conversation going surrounding eating disorders in general.
So here I am. Telling myself to hold on to my recovery tools, remembering the power that positive relationships have in my life, and refusing to hide away my disorder have not been easy. However, along the way I have found a few new tips that have helped me prevent dating from derailing my recovery, and continue with my maintenance:
First, recognizing the power of openness and honesty. In recovery they tell you how being secretive is not beneficial, and for me I have found that truth both in being honest with others and myself. Sharing about my triggers, history, and disorder has created strength within me, but also within my relationships. There is always a risk when you open up, but also incredible strength. Although everyone’s experience is different, for me opening up has allowed me to take the power back from my eating disorder. I am no longer confined by my disorder, but finally able to break free from it emotionally. Rather than distancing myself from my family, friends and relationships, opening up has allowed me to create stronger bonds than ever before.
Although some people may struggle with the information, and react in negative ways, knowing how they feel has given me more insight into the capacity I want them in my life. As well, by opening up, even if it doesn’t go as planned, I am being true to myself and continuing the conversation around eating disorders rather than feeding into the stigma and hiding. Which in itself can be very empowering.
Second, being honest with myself and mindful about my feelings. Being mindful about how situations (and people) are affecting me and remembering to take care of myself when needed. If there is anything I have learned about relationships throughout my recovery it is that I cannot connect with another person and their feelings unless I first make myself a priority. For this reason, during my journey into dating this time around I am finding myself paying more attention to what I want rather than trying to please and be accepted by everyone else. Even though this is making dating more difficult, hopefully it will also lead to a rewarding experience.
Bio: Alicia is a Social Service Worker graduate and current 4th year Bachelor of Social Work student at York University. They are a genderqueer individual who previously struggled with bulimia and restriction. They are currently researching eating disorders within the trans community and volunteer with the National Eating Disorder Information Centre and Project Heal.