After I left treatment, I felt like a misfit. I remember standing in the cereal aisle at the grocery store, completely frozen, unable to think or speak. My eyes slowly moved from box to box as I desperately tried to pick a cereal that didn’t scare me, that wasn’t a threat, that didn’t feel like “too much.” The harder I tried to decide, the more scared and nauseous I became.
Countless shoppers whizzed in and out of that aisle in the time I stood scanning cereal boxes, grabbing their Kashi and Frosted Flakes and Wheaties and Honey Nut Cheerios, filling their carts without a care (or fear) in the world. No hesitation. No panic. No pausing to calculate or plan or portion.
I felt helpless. “You are broken. You are not fit for this world,” I told myself.
I don’t recall if I ever bought a box of cereal or not that day. But I can conjure up memories of not feeling “fit for this world” in a snap—those moments when the world effortlessly moved around me and I was paralyzed by fear, my hope for being “normal” broken.
With support, practice, and time—lots and lots of time—the helpless and broken feeling became less pervasive. I could move more freely through the grocery store and spend less time and energy on fear. Planning meals became less of a chore, and eating out shifted from dread to closer to enjoyment. Sure, I had my food and body hang ups, but I was able to participate in the world despite them. The more I allowed myself to belong, the more I wanted to belong.
The feeling of belonging was pivotal for me, because it challenged the beliefs I carried about my self-worth. For a very long time I believed I was broken, that I was not worthy. And so, I measured my worth in all things that amplified a lack of worth—namely, my eating disorder. My worth was measured in numbers and sizes and the depth of my hunger. The high that came with these behaviors was fleeting, and once the feel-good-feelings passed, what was I left with? No worth and the feeling of not being fit for this world.
As I moved from isolation to belonging, I slowly (and maybe subconsciously) began to measure my worth in new ways that were not related to the eating disorder. I put time and energy into people, places, and things that nourished my spirit, raised my self-confidence, and focused on my skills and talents. I sought out moments to laugh with others instead of hide alone. I rekindled simple passions and forms of pleasure from earlier in my life, like reading, writing, coloring, and practicing yoga and other spiritual practices. I reintegrated into the world, and no one questioned my right to be in it.
Now, looking back, I know it wasn’t the world that threw me out because I couldn’t decide on a box of cereal; it was my lack of self-worth that kept me from believing I had the right to my struggles in the first place.
I share this with you, because I believe that when we measure our worth in ways that are not connected with the eating disorder, we open ourselves up to opportunities for deep healing. We remember who we are at our core and we reconnect with the things that makes us smile from the inside out a very authentic and genuine smile—the kind of smile you can feel and know you are happy, fulfilled, and whole in that moment.
So, my friend, I say to you with complete confidence and sincerity: You are not broken. You ARE fit for this world. And you are worthy.
I encourage you to begin to measure your worth in new ways. To get started, for every one way you measure your worth through your eating disorder, list two characteristics or ways that are not related to it. Initially, this may feel uncomfortable, but stick with it. My hunch is you will surprise yourself and may even take pleasure in remembering parts of yourself and activities that make you smile, giggle, or feel calm and relaxed. This is how we build our inner resilience, by giving ourselves the time and space to reflect on our true worth and know that we belong.
Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, RYT, is a yoga teacher and yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. In recovery herself, Jennifer is extremely passionate about helping others reconnect with their bodies and be empowered in their lives. Jennifer works with clients in person and via Skype. She also teaches yoga at the Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia and is a partner with the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. She leads weekly trauma-sensitive yoga classes. Jennifer contributes regularly to eating disorder and body image blogs and the Yoga Living magazine.