Thank you for all of the NEDA week support so far! I’ve been chatting about my ED recovery affirmations this week, which are as follows:
Yesterday I wrote about what “keeping it real” means to me in the context of recovery. Today, I’m moving onto #2: take up space.
For a long time I took this affirmation literally, because weight gain was a part of my recovery process, and it was hard. As time went by, recovery became less physical, but the idea of taking up space continues to guide and challenge me.
Like many women, I was given the message very early on that I was too much: too big, too loud, too messy, too hungry, too unusual. I think a part of me always sensed that there was something wrong with this framing of my identity, but young people can’t help but be influenced by the narratives that are handed to them, and this one stayed with me. I can’t remember a time in my life, childhood included, when I didn’t think of myself as being ungainly and monstrous, or didn’t worry that my uninhibited self would alienate the people around me.
I haven’t come close to undoing this idea; it’s so old that it populates nearly all of my unconscious fears. But I’m aware of it now, and if recovery has taught me anything, it’s that this way of thinking is ruinous.
Recovery is all about learning how to take up space again, to stop hiding, to inhabit your body and the world around you. If you’ve come to believe that you are lovable only if you make yourself as inconspicuous as possible, this is really hard work.
For me, it began physically, with weight gain and filling out clothes. I learned to stop draping my body in baggy layers and tucking myself away behind folded arms and hunched shoulders. I struggled with these changes, but the real work lay ahead of me, which was learning how to take up space in other, intangible dimensions.
Recovery has given me the courage to use my voice, to take pride in my appetite, and to own the fact that I want things: food, experience, pleasure, and love. It’s pushed me to stop trying to sanitize and tone myself down. It challenges me to let go of the notion that people will like me more if I give them less of myself.
This isn’t a leg of the recovery journey on which I’m very far along; actually, I think I might still be navigating my way around the gateway. There’s still a part of me that fears my own wholeness, regards it as being fundamentally unmanageable or undigestible. I recognize the fear for what it is—untrue, limiting, outdated—but it hangs around anyway.
When I was sitting down to write this post, I thought of a quote from Geneen Roth’s Women, Food, and God: “You are not a mistake. You are not a problem to be solved. But you won’t discover this until you are willing to stop banging your head against the wall of shaming and caging and fearing yourself.”
I don’t really know how to shake off my own sense of being problematic. I have a feeling the best thing I can do is to be aware of it and invite myself to see its falseness while also accepting the fact that the belief is still there.
In the meantime, I try to embody sensations of fullness and wholeness and fully-realized selfhood, trusting that the more I longer I do it, the easier it will be. Anorexia recovery is a good teacher here, because the process asked me to embody a certain kind of self-acceptance long before it felt completely real to me.
I hope that some of this will resonate with some of you today. Perhaps NEDA Week will encourage you to share yourself more freely than ever with the world around you, to give yourself permission to be full and whole and real, rather than shadowy and obscured. Everyone, including you, will be enriched by having access to your most boundless self. ❤
More tomorrow. Happy Tuesday.
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.
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All I can say is thank you. Thank you for speaking out for us who are not ready.
Again, Gena, such beautiful forthright writing and truths here. This is actually the one I read first and then went back to keeping it real the other day read that one. Now I’m on to breaking rules (which will likely be my favorite!) and more. I, of course, like most women have struggled with thinking myself tool large–but the actual visceral extent to which you felt and struggle not to feel this is always sobering to me and helps me understand the cutting edge of these kinds of disorders and the recovery they require and how amazing and brave it is. I kept thinking about how sometimes I LIKE to disappear but it’s in a playful way–as Obi Wan Kenobi does in order to “pass through” a checkpoint–if I’m not noticed in some instances I am more free to do as I please. But I never think I’ll be better if I literally physically disappear. To come back from that, to recognize the literal destructiveness of that, oland to work to change it is such a meaningful life’s work in progress. Book, book, book. . .xoxox
“I don’t really know how to shake off my own sense of being problematic.”
Thank you for putting all these things so carefully into words ❤️
Learning that I deserve the space I occupy is one of the hardest things. Even harder than just eating.
Hi Gena, when I first read the list of affirmations you are addressing this week, I had the feeling that no. 2 would resonate greatly with my own experiences – and it does: Recovery for me had so much to do with taking up space, with realizing and claiming what I need. Just as you are writing, it is a process and I’m nowhere near achieving it constantly. However, what really helps me in this is sports, both running (I’m making space my own by running it but also I become more aware of my bodily requirements through feeling its needs for proper nourishment after a run and by refueling accordingly) and yoga (all those stretching that seems to extend the physical boundaries). What is more difficult to do for me is the taking up of space in social settings, especially with people I’m not necessarily close with. But, I believe that improvement comes with time: Experiences from physical activities and the self-assurance they grant enable me to dare to take up space in these social settings as well. For all of us who share the sentiment in their individual recovery journeys I’m excited to see where gradually taking up more space will lead us.
I look forward to the next affirmation! All the best! xx
Wow, this one resonates. Thank you, Gena.
Oh Gena thank you for this, it’s so wonderful ❤️ I relate absolutely to worrying that people won’t like me if I present my true self – I already feel pretty isolated (for various reasons, and though no fault of anyone), and I really worry that if I am myself it’ll alienate people still further. You’re so right that the best we can do is trust that the people around us love us, and still will even if we’re not perfect. It’s a difficult journey but post like these give me hope that we can talk about it openly and help each other along