“Be love” is one of those expressions that you might have come across in any number of places, from yoga studios to self-help and wellness titles. It’s one of most important of my five ED recovery affirmations, but I feel a little funny writing about it, because I don’t have much to say that relates directly to food.
When I was in anorexia recovery, I was often encouraged to “love myself” or “love my body.” I have complicated feelings about these invocations; I appreciate their spirit, but I’ve truthfully never been able to love my body in the way that media or culture seems to want me to, which is a topic I’ve written about in the past.
I’ve stopped labeling this as “body dysmorphia,” which makes it sound more fraught and contentious than it I experience it as being. It’s no longer a wound or a struggle; I simply feel neutral about my body at best, at odds with my shape on difficult days. I’m not alone in this, and I know that the dynamic will grow and change with time. It already has.
When it comes to me and my body, I’ve settled on a vow of unconditional respect. I don’t have to love what I see in the mirror, and I don’t have to feel great in my skin, at least not always. I do need to treat my body kindly no matter what; I need to nourish it, listen to it, and extend it my unwavering compassion and appreciation.
So, the mantra of self-love feels like an imperfect fit for me, which isn’t to say that I don’t have my own iterations of it: self-appreciation, self-respect, self-care, and so on. The invitation to be love, though—to embody lovingkindness as best I can, applying it inwards and outwards—that is a fundamental part of my recovery process.
Anorexia spoke to the part of me that is wounded, defensive, and locked. It appealed to my most frightened and delicate self, who gets hurt and then generalizes the experience, vowing not to be vulnerable in the same way again. It joined forces with anger that wished to fester rather than to find expression and release. It invited me to be alone with myself, where I knew I’d be safe; it told me that love and connection mattered less than being inviolable.
Recovery issues a different set of invitations altogether. It asks me to be loving and open and curious, to trust that no wound is more powerful than the resilience I’ll gain in healing. It asks me to stop applying sharp judgments, inflexible thinking, and good/bad binaries to myself and the world around me. It challenges me to give and to receive, to find out what’ll happen if I step out of the safe confines of solitude and risk sharing my voice, body, and spirit with others.
Sometimes it feels delicious to settle into these intentions, and sometimes it’s terrifying. I’ve gone through periods of unguarded, unbounded loving and periods of extreme self-isolation; I recognize that there’s a time and a place for both inwardly and outwardly focused attention. Because solitude comes so naturally to me, sharing myself is usually the more important challenge. It’s connected to my second recovery affirmation—to take up space—because giving love always feels bold and brave and expansive.
I’ve heard it said that the opposite of love isn’t hate, but rather fear. Fear was the heart and soul of my anorexia, which means that feeling and extending love is a healing act for me as well as a pathway to connectedness. I think it’s probably true that we can’t truly love others until we love ourselves, but for me, it’s all bidirectional. Sharing my love with others teaches me how to extend it to myself; giving love teaches me how to receive it.
Extending boundless love to everyone who’s been reading, commenting, sharing, and connecting this week. I’ll be circling back with my final affirmation tomorrow.
This week, I’m working with GoFundMe to raise money for the National Eating Disorder Association and the work it does for people with eating disorders and their families. Your contribution will help to keep NEDA’s helpline, referral system, and legislative advocacy going, and I’d be so grateful for any show of support that feels right to you. You can learn more and donate here.