To explore the progression of my attitude towards recovery and mental stability, as opposed to just my food or behaviors, over the past few months, I composed a then-now comparison of the characteristics (honesty, hope, faith, courage, integrity, willingness, humility, self-discipline, love, perseverance, spiritual awareness, service, unity, trust, open-mindedness, responsibility, acceptance, equality, and fellowship) talked about in Tradition Five of Overeaters Anonymous. We read this tradition aloud in my meeting this morning, and in light of my recent slips, I felt inspired to compare how my definitions of these core principles have changed since starting recovery.
This is lengthy, and I did not intend to publicly post it, but in doing so, I am hoping it will inspire, help, or possibly enlighten one of my amazing readers who may feel ambivalent, resistant, or afraid of the joy and freedom the journey recovery offers.
Then: I had no real concept of honesty. Rather than assert my feelings or needs, I used passive-aggression or non-assertiveness. I was absolutely out-of-touch with my feelings. I kept secrets; I used deceit; I became the person people wanted me to be, meaning I was essentially a different person depending on the context.
Now: I have realized just how much my eating disorder made me a liar, and not just with the food. I have learned how to be assertive with my needs and I try my best to express my genuine emotions. I try to stay accountable by regularly engaging in my support system, be it through my treatment team, friends and family, or anonymous blog community. I realize that omitting information is just as detrimental as distorting it. I am not always honest, but I am better than I once was.
Then: I felt my situation was hopeless. I thought I was the “special snowflake” who could never get better. I just “hoped” I could wish away this problem.
Now: I have underlying hope everyday in my recovery journey, even through the slips. I may be a special snowflake, but that’s because nobody else is the same as me. My disorder, on the other hand, is not special or different, and I can get help the same way others can. However, I cannot recover by “wishing” alone.
Then: I thought faith meant exclusively having faith in yourself, and because I didn’t have much of that, I had no real concept of what this meant.
Now: Faith, to me, represents simply letting go and trusting that the universe and all of its glory will fall into place. That everything will be okay. Faith means knowing that my life can be a happy existence and that my world can be a serene place.
Then: I had little courage concerning my eating disorder. I was afraid of telling people; I was afraid of people “finding out”; I feared judgment, ridicule, disbelief, and criticism. I wanted to be strong for myself and for everyone else.
Now: I feel so brave, because I have been able to disclose and talk about my eating disorder to so many people. I am no longer so afraid of their reactions. Finally, I know that courage means being able to identify and work through weakness, rather than just focusing and honing in on strength.
Then: I just thought I was a good person with good intentions and a good personality. I didn’t think I had to change anything about myself.
Now: I know I am a good person with good intentions and a good personality. I now realize I don’t HAVE to change things about myself, because I am worthy just as I am…however, I can CHOOSE to change things about myself in order to heighten my own happiness, sanity, and meaning in life.
Then: I was willing to try any new diet, exercise regime, self-help book, or quick fix to heal myself and recover from my eating disorder. I was willing to lose weight. I was willing to absolutely fix myself on my own!
Now: I am willing to work recovery every single day. I am willing to own up to my mistakes and continuously accept that where I am is the right place to be. I don’t care if I lose weight. I know willingness is more than just the desire to eat (or not eat) this food. I am willing to fix myself through the means of the support and faith I now have in my life.
Then: Humility scared me. I didn’t like being vulnerable. I didn’t think it was okay. I thought mistakes made me a bad or unworthy person.
Now: Humility still scares me, and I still don’t like being vulnerable, but I do know it’s okay, and I do know mistakes don’t make me a bad or unworthy person.
Then: Self-discipline referred to “willpower,” in that I just had to control myself and get my act together. Self-discipline meant pushing myself, meant over-achieving, meant striving to be the very best I could be. It meant hard work, perseverance, and often overextending myself.
Now: Self-discipline is so much less than just willpower. Self-discipline means learning how to prioritize what matters and focusing my attention on those things. It means learning how to work to the best of my ability, but also, to know how and when to give myself a break. Self-discipline still means hard work, perseverance, but NOT overextending myself.
Then: Love meant sacrifice and a willingness to work hard at it everyday. It meant great compromise. It meant learning how to trust another individual; it meant deepening a strong friendship; it meant unadulterated happiness and security. True love meant complexity, passion, and absolute acceptance of each other.
Now: Love means sacrifice and a willingness to work at it everyday, but it shouldn’t feel like hard work. It means compromise, to an extent. It does mean trust; it does mean deepening a strong friendship; it provides security and happiness, but one must first feel safe and happy on his or her own terms. Love does not have to be a complex mystery, although it does involve passion. Acceptance of another does not mean you have to feel guilty for not liking one feature or characteristic of another; rather, it means you can accept your feelings for what they are and remember that you can only control your own life.
Then: Perseverance meant “never giving up.” It meant never quitting and never surrendering. It meant having a goal and doing everything in one’s nature to achieve it.
Now: Perseverance means “never giving up,” but in doing that, we may have to quit the people, places, or things that no longer serve us. Perseverance is about surrender; surrender to do what we can, try our best, and continue chipping at it without judgment.
Then: I had no concept of spirituality, and I looked down on people when they started with their religious babble, as I considered most of them narrow-minded or ignorant.
Now: I am learning what spirituality means, and I absolutely embrace those with deep religious convictions. Spiritual awareness means learning how to find faith in something greater than myself and channeling that faith into freedom and happiness.
Then: I had no concept of what this meant.
Now: Service means giving back what I have received, be it through reaching out to another individual who may be suffering, using this blog to openly talk about my struggles, sharing and volunteering at meetings, and raising eating disorder awareness. Service simply means willing to help someone else.
Then: I understood unity with regards to feeling a sense of belongingness in a greater group setting. Unity meant feeling safe, reassured, understood, and accepted. I had experienced this with many friends and groups of people. However, I had never associated with other people recovering or in recovery from eating disorders, so I felt alone in my suffering.
Now: Unity means all those feelings: safety, reassurance, understanding, and acceptance. Now having associated with others recovering or in recovery from eating disorders, I no longer feel alone in my struggles. I have experienced an overwhelming sense of unity with people similar to me, and I know now that I do not have to feel strange, abnormal, or inferior for having what I have or doing what I do.
Then: I thought I trusted people too easily, and that is why I often got hurt or disappointed. I figured trust could be broken, but I assumed forgiveness was the automatic, “right” response when this happened.
Now: I realize that I don’t easily trust people. I have had many one-sided friendships and relationships, in which people have expressed their deepest fears, exposed their greatest vulnerabilities, and shared their darkest secrets with me, but that has not always been mutual. I now understand trust is a two-way street, and that it takes time to develop and evolve. Trust does not have to be freely handed out. It is sacred and delicate; breaking it can be detrimental.
Then: Open-mindedness was an abstract term for me, in the sense that I have a tolerant understanding and willingness to learn and absorb new information and ideas. I considered myself a brave risk-taker and warrior who loved and thrived on constant change.
Now: I still have a tolerant understanding and willingness to learn, absorb, and grow. I realize now that I wanted to consider myself a brave risk-taker, when really, I have struggled with deep apprehension and fear when actually taking risks. Likewise, I wanted to believe I thrived in changing environments, but in actuality, it has been hard for me to embrace the unknown and accept each moment for what it is, without worrying about the potential outcomes.
Then: Responsibility meant being a good girl, following directions, making the right choices, and avoiding disappointing or hurting others. Responsibility meant taking care of others in the best way I knew how.
Now: Responsibility means doing what is good for me, following directions in the best way suitable, making the right choices for me, and avoid disappointing or hurting myself. Responsibility means taking care of my own needs before others.
Then: Foreign to me. I couldn’t accept anything in my life. I equated acceptance with laziness, with a Type-B personality, with a general lack of effort to make your life better. People who were content with “just being” confused me, as I was constantly seeking how to enhance, heighten, change, or challenge myself, others, or the world. I lived in a chronic and chaotic state of anxiety and fear.
Now: Acceptance means the serenity prayer: accepting the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Acceptance means knowing that when I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation-some fact of my life-unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, or thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Acceptance means knowing my life is how it needs to be for right now. Acceptance means knowing that for right now is all I truly need to concern myself with.
Then: Equality meant we were all the same; we were all on an equal playing field, and thus, we needed to embrace each other wholeheartedly.
Now: Equality means we are not the same, and we are not an equal playing field, but in spite of those differences, we still need to embrace each other wholeheartedly. We are equal in the sense that we are all one universal race: human beings. Anything less is ignorance.
Then: I had no concept of this term.
Now: Fellowship means the unity, likemindedness, and stability seen within a group of people. Fellowship, in it of itself, can be a saving grace, as it provides a safe haven for exploration, disclosure, honesty, and a genuine exchange of love and acceptance.