When I work with clients recovering from eating disorders, part of the work is identifying and challenging the voice of the Eating Disorder (sometimes called “ED”). And then the work is to develop a new “Recovery voice,” one that has rainbow (instead of black and white) thinking.
This “Recovery voice” is both compassionate and fierce. It can call your eating disorder on its shit and have compassion for the part of you that is struggling.
Though I recovered from the eating disorder I had twenty years ago, I still have an “ED-like” voice that shows up as a critic. This voice has many black-and-white, non evidence-based directives. Here below are some of the obstacles the critical voice said while writing my book. (Exciting news: it was just accepted by Jessica Kingsley Publishers!)
Following what the Critic said are the challenges that helped lovingly guide me through obstacles. Feel free to try this journal exercise dialogue-ing between the parts of yourself and see what emerges for you.
Critic : You should do it alone.
Fiercely Compassionate Voice:
(The short version): Why?
(The long version): It’s easier with help, honey. Every hard thing you have ever done – recovery, graduate school, writing the dissertation, passing your licensure exams, marriage, having a baby, postpartum – has been done with help and support. Ask your community to help you with this. You do not have to do this alone!
(Note: If your critic says, “I don’t have a community,” that’s not true. Do you go to work, church, yoga, dance, music events, your child’s school? Do you have recovery friends and/or colleagues? Are you in a support group? Do you have a therapist? Do you know other writers? Pay attention to where you go and who you see every day. There’s your community. Join them. If you don’t have a community, ask people who have one how they connected into one.)
Critic: Don’t share about it until it is perfect or done.
Fiercely Compassionate Voice:
How do you feel when someone else shares about being in-process with something? Do you feel judgmental and shaming toward them? Of course not. You feel excited, empathic, and wanting to help. Just like when you are watching a movie, you know the main character will encounter obstacles, and you are rooting for them. You are on the journey with them. You want them to cultivate resilience through the hardships they encounter. You want the movie to end well.
Share about your visions and the obstacles you encounter along the way. The people who cheer you on are your tribe. Cheer them on, too. Those are your people. Keep them close. Share your “movie writing” with them and support them in theirs.
Oh, and, as your little one often repeats back to you, “There is no perfect, mama.”
Critic: The writing process should occur daily. At the same time. In a perfect leather chair (or, if in the bay area, a vegan version of leather). At the perfect desk. With a perfect cup of tea.
Alone. (Did I mention that already? Because if I haven’t, you should definitely be doing this alone. I know you are a mom with children hanging off of you most of the time. But you should still have this perfect alone-place.)
Fiercely Compassionate Voice:
First of all, you don’t really like tea, honey. If you don’t like something, you don’t have to drink it. And you could write daily, but you don’t have to. Write when you can, where it works in your life. If you are a mom with a toddler that only goes to sleep at nap time in a moving car, write in your car (once you pull over, of course)! You “should” (change all shoulds to coulds) write where and when and how it works for you. Maybe it will be twice a week. Maybe it will be every day. Maybe it will be different on different weeks, depending on the rest of your life. Flexibility and the slow, consistent, practice of showing up are much more sustainable than Rigid Must-Look-Like-This plans.
Critic: This should be done and published in 1 year.
Fiercely Compassionate Voice:
Remember your “Birth Plan” for Labor and Delivery? Remember how you told the baby how and when it was supposed to come out? And, in response, that baby clung to your womb like it was was going to stay there forever? And then the baby came out in exactly the way and time that was right for the baby? That’s the process here. The baby (book) will be done when it is done. Your job is to show up for the writing, and surrender the results. Be Anne LaMott and write lots of “shitty first drafts.” Be Dory finding her way home through the unknown: Just keep swimming. You don’t get to decide when this baby (book) comes out, and in what way. Your job is to make the baby (book). Write.
This “ED” critical voice, though annoying, is actually a great teacher. Just like my eating disorder twenty years ago gave me an opportunity to grow in ways I might otherwise have not, this critical voice lets me know when I am suffering and need to write. How do I know this? Because when I don’t write, the critic gets louder and when I do write, the critic becomes silent. Isn’t that interesting?
As a friend of mine loves to say “What’s in the way IS the way.”
What do you notice about your ED or critical voice? What emerges when you talk back with fierce compassion? What else helps you challenge it? What visions are you working toward?
May you keep swimming, keep surrendering the results, and keep traveling through the obstacles toward your happily (good-enough) ever after.
For years I have been following this blog, and the founder, Jill Smokler, who paved the way for moms to be their gloriously imperfect, irreverent, non-glowing selves.
I’m happy to now be contributing to the blog! Today I write about the importance of (Tim Gunn style) self-care for moms and, despite sleep deprivation and new mommy boot camp, making it work. To see the post “Make it Work”, pease click here.
I’m reading Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love author)’s new book Big Magic. It is a fabulous journey exploring the relationship between fear, creativity, inspiration, and life. Here is an excerpt of a letter she wrote to fear.
“Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do. I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life, and that you take your job seriously…But I will also be doing my job on this road trip, which is to work hard and stay focused. And Creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring. There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way…You’re allowed to have a seat, you’re allowed to have a voice, but you’re not allowed to have a vote…above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”
It can be hard to talk back to fear, to allow it, without letting it run the show. Fear likes to be dictatorial. It lives in the land of cognitive distortions, so it is full of globalizing, catastrophizing, shaming, and emotional reasoning. “This will never work,” “If you do this, you will never have enough money to live on,” “Who do you think you are?!” “You are a fraud, and they are going to find out eventually, so why even pretend you’re not?” “This is the way things have always been, so this is the way they should be.”
In my own recovery I had to learn to identify the voice of fear, like a subtle click of the clock, tick tick tick, always whispering in the background of my mind. I had to notice this was part but not all of me. In my work with clients, I help facilitate separating out the voices of fear and also of the eating disorder (sometimes shortened to “Ed”). They are often quite similar in tone. This is an important aspect of recovery, and of cultivating the courage to be your full self, because it allows you access to the other pats of you. Fear and Ed do not like you to be aware that you have other parts to yourself. They speak loudly, and try to run your life. OK, sometimes they speak quietly. Actually, they’re quite sneaky that way: they morph. Sometimes they are so quiet that you can’t even hear them talking to you, because it is more of a niggling, silent belief that colors your whole world view. For example, it might not say this, but rather imply strongly as a silently pervasive belief, don’t even try because you are going to fail. Before you act on this belief, it is important to take opposite action. Jenni Schaeffer, in her book Life without ED, writes about the importance of learning to Disagree and Disobey the Ed voice:
When you are trying to begin your separation from Ed, it is important that you first recognize Ed’s rules in your life. You must be able to distinguish between standards that Ed holds for you and healthy boundaries that you set for yourself. You must realize that Ed’s rules do not make sense. For instance, many of Ed’s rules contradict each other. On one day, Ed tells you not to touch that ice cream or dare drink that soda. Then, the very next day, Ed says, “Eat that entire gallon of ice cream, and drink three cans of soda. Eat as much as you can until you feel sick.” Ed’s rules are designed to harm us.
After you are able to recognize Ed’s rules in your life, you must try to disagree with and disobey them. Even if it seems impossible for you to actually disagree with one of Ed’s rules, you must still try to disobey him. If you are able to break his rules no matter what, you are taking a huge step toward separating from Ed. Disobeying Ed means you are moving in the right direction. Don’t expect it to be easy.
In the beginning of my recovery twenty years ago, I would say this to my ED voice every week when getting ready to attend my recovery support group:
You can come if you want. You are welcome to ride the bus with me to get there, you are welcome to attend the meeting. You don’t get to decide if I go. We are going. I show up, now, regardless.
And then I would go to my support group. Every week. For the record, Ed kept trying to convince me otherwise:
“You haven’t had any eating disorder behaviors in a week (a month, 6 months,…), you don’t need to go!”
“You just had a hard day at work. You already did your job today. You need to rest. Just skip it this one time.”
“You’re fat.” (Ed’s answer to every question and reason for not participating in any and all aspects of life.)
My Ed voice doesn’t do this anymore because it knows it has been banished. It’s not driving the bus, car, or whatever vehicle you want to use as a metaphor for the-part-of-the-Self-that-is-driving-decision-making. However, fear is still here. Fear says
“You don’t need to do your spiritual practice today – just sleep in.”
“You don’t need to write. It is too tedious, it doesn’t pay, your favorite publisher is closing down, no-one reads anymore, anyway… “
But the thing is, writing makes me happy. Not euphoric-happy; but content-happy. Clear-happy. Free of resentments and the cumulative-gunk-of-living-cleared-out happy. My first year of recovery I worked in a recovery book store. Sometimes, when I had to open the store early, I would not have time to write before coming in. The owner of the store (who was also my friend and inspiration for getting into recovery) would know the days I had written and the days I hadn’t. He would say “STEER CLEAR OF HER” and bring me coffee on the days I hadn’t. 🙂
Writing is like recovery, meditation, or any creative practice that you show up for on a regular and consistent basis. It gradually, subtly, integrates the shit (compost, anger, resentments, fears) into new sprouts. And these sprouts grow into plants (or not – some of them die and that is appropriate). And the plant that survives becomes the tree of who you are and who you are becoming. It brings the gift of hard-won persistent and regular work. It makes you more authentically you in a subtle but essential way. It wears down your anxieties, softens your fear. It uses your sadness and grief as a way into the interior of your (and other’s) Hearts. When you show up to the page, day after day, month after month, year after year, you become real. Velveteen Rabbit real. And by the time you become Real, you don’t care anymore what the Ed-voice or the fear-voice have to say. They can’t stop you any more. You have found the Real-ness. That is the Big Magic.That is recovery.