Several weeks ago, my husband asked me this question: When you think about your inner self, what do you see?
At first, I had no idea what he was asking. He explained to me his inner self looks like a 9-year-old boy. When Drew was nine, his parents divorced. It was the year everything changed for him. Life never went back to being the way it was “supposed to be.” He’s dealt with the pain and the hardship of having a broken family ever since. And on the inside, he still feels like that hurt little boy.
So when I finally understood what he meant by “When you think about your inner self, what do you see?”, I was grateful because I didn’t see myself as my past self. But then I thought about it and I didn’t see myself as my present self either. And then my heart sank.
I realized I see myself as my future self, the person I “should” be or want to be, the person I experience inner pressure to try to become. I see my inner self as a person who doesn’t exist yet. She’s always just out of reach and I can never quite get to her.
Drew’s question came out of nowhere and it hit me square in the heart. I teared up as I realized who I see my inner self as. And these words came to me: “never-satisfied.”
That’s how I see myself. That’s my battle. I never think I’m who I’m supposed to be. I’m always wanting more, better. Of course this comes from 24 years of living this way and being encouraged to have this type of mentality growing up (“there’s always room for improvement”).
As sad as it was for me to hear Drew still sees himself as a hurt, 9-year-old boy, it was just as sad to realize I see myself as someone I can never be because I’m not there yet.
A couple of weeks later, a blogger I follow asked her readers to think of some words to describe themselves. I thought, “This is easy. I’ve done this a hundred times before preparing for interviews. I’m an introvert. I’m independent. I’m detail-focused. I’m a perfectionist…”
And then I kept reading and she challenged us to go deeper. It’s like she was reading my mind. She didn’t want us to think up characteristics of ourselves. She wanted us to come up with words that describe how we live our lives, words that really describe us deep down.
The two words “never satisfied” immediately came to mind and I wanted to stuff them back down where they came from, but instead, I let them sink in. Clearly, this was an issue for me.
And since then, I’ve come a long way with learning to be present instead of always having my mind in the future. I’ve been practicing self-compassion instead of the familiar self-criticism. And this is changing my life. I’ve been giving myself grace and accepting myself for who I am right now. My mind is slowly being renewed. But this issue of never being satisfied runs deep.
A couple of weeks ago I was at the doctor’s office and the nurse weighed me as always. I shouldn’t look. But I do. I don’t own a scale because I get easily obsessed with that number and know what happens when I am aware of that number and don’t like it (I also know I will never like that number no matter what it is).
I saw the number and I hated it. I’d been to the doctor a couple of times within the previous couple of weeks and that number was a pound and a half higher than it was two weeks ago.
And then I did the increasingly problematic thing of comparing that number to past numbers (they give you those handy printouts now so you can compare your weight, blood pressure, etc. to previous visits). I realized I’d gained four pounds in six months and a total of five pounds in a year.
I was mortified.
I hadn’t felt particularly badly about my body recently until I saw those numbers. But when I saw what the scale told me, it’s as though I’d never gained any healing from my disordered eating past.
Photo by daniellehelm, Creative Commons
I told my husband, Drew, I was going to have to do something about this. He told me five pounds wasn’t a big deal and I reminded him I’d be a giant if I gained five pounds every year. And I knew where those five pounds came from and it wasn’t from muscle. It was five pounds of fat. I hate fat.
I decided I needed to stop snacking. I needed to keep more fruits and veggies in the house and no snacks. I wasn’t going to eat any more fatty meats. I wasn’t going to eat the chocolate chip cookies we’d just made. I was going to order my drinks “skinny” when we went out for coffee. I was going to get back to the pool (I hadn’t gone in two weeks and had started feeling very guilty about that). Overall, I needed to eat less and exercise more. I needed to lose weight. The same old story.
And while it sounds crazy writing it now, I didn’t think I was falling back into unhealthy thinking at the time. I was convinced I was doing what was right for my body. I couldn’t handle the idea of seeing that number on the scale increase any more and I would be back at the doctor in a couple of weeks to find out if it had. So I needed to take action. Fast.
And for a few days, I was fine. I was sticking to my plan and felt like I was still in control. But then one night, I was at work and I hadn’t eaten much for dinner. I’d forgotten my snacks at home. I’d eaten very healthy earlier in the day. And I was proud of myself. I was hungry and was starting to feel sick. But that was a good thing. I remembered this feeling. This is how you lose weight. This is how you fix “the problem.”
And then I realized I was in the thick of it again. I was controlled by my eating disorder. And even though it had only been a week or so since I’d started my altered diet, I felt helpless and like I’d never be able to break this habit.
My mind flashed back to several years ago when I was repeatedly begging God to take this evil eating disorder away from me because I wanted it gone, but didn’t know how to make that happen.
And He didn’t take it away. Not all at once. And maybe not entirely at all. It took months, if not years, from first wanting it gone to regaining control over my eating and exercising habits. And while I gained back control, I never felt fully healed. I didn’t really have an answer for why I was now in control and unaffected by my distorted view of myself. But over a couple of years, my distorted view of myself started becoming less distorted and more true as I started accepting God’s love for me, accepting others’ love for me and beginning to love myself.
For about four years, this issue hasn’t controlled me. It’s reared its head at times. I’ve been tempted to control what I eat again or to start an exercise regimen. The truth is, it might be good for me to lose a few extra pounds, but I have to understand that if I take that into my own hands, it won’t stop at a few pounds. I won’t be able to break free from the grip of my ED.
I’m better off being a little heavier than I’d like and accepting that than trying to lose five pounds even for my own health. Because my brain can’t work like that. Just like an alcoholic can’t have just one drink and stop. It doesn’t make sense to me because I’m not an alcoholic. But I can relate to being controlled by something and not being able to stop when an otherwise “normal” person could.
So I’ve been careful for years to be extremely cautious about my motives for exercising. I don’t exercise if I don’t actually want to. I don’t do exercise I don’t enjoy. I don’t put expectations to it (not a time limit, a number of times I need to do it each week or goals of any sort).
I’ve also been careful not to allow myself to diet. The couple of times I’ve considered changing my diet, I’ve almost fallen back into my ED again and I’ve pulled out of the diet as a precaution. I allow myself to eat what I want and choose not to feel guilty about it. I’m not a binger, so it’s usually not a big deal, but I definitely eat more food and less healthy food than I would with my ED. And there’s a consequence for that and it’s called weight gain. But at this point, I can live with an extra few pounds or I can live with an eating disorder. It’s my choice.
When I felt in the grip of my ED again recently, I wondered why, after all this time, I was so easily swayed back into the clutches of ED. And part of the reason is because I let my guard down. I’d allowed myself to diet again and put expectations on myself for eating and exercise. And I had a number in mind of what the scale should tell me. And all of that was setting me up for failure.
I think the other part of the reason God allowed this to impact my life again was to help me gain more healing over it. Healing I hadn’t fully gained the last time I struggled with ED.
Because while I pondered how I fell back into this trap so fast and why now, after all these years, those same two words bubbled out of my inner being: never satisfied.
And it was true. My feelings about food and my weight and my appearance were controlled by this same thing that controls every other aspect of my life: never being satisfied with myself. My ED always starts with not feeling good about my body or my general appearance. And then it takes over and controls me and it feels impossible to break free from it.
When the words “never satisfied” hit me again, I felt healed. Not cured. Not like I’ll never be tempted to lose weight in an unhealthy way again. But my mind received healing from what was causing this disordered eating and the distorted view I’ve always had of myself. And I felt ready to leave it in the past. Because now that I’ve seen the truth about where it comes from, it has less power over me. I see through it. I see the lies I was believing that led me to a place vulnerable to ED. And with light shed on that, I can move on and leave my ED in the past.
I’ve been learning a lot about myself lately, but I’m truly amazed when God shows me something about myself I’m not even looking for. I feel He’s been pruning off the dead stuff in my life at record pace for the past couple of months. And it’s actually not overwhelming. It’s awesome. And I wonder why this is all happening so fast. And I don’t know.
But within my sprit, I heard that where God is taking me, I can’t bring this dead stuff with. It’s time to leave it behind. I can’t bring it with me where He’s taking me. And I don’t know where that is. But it must be some place awesome.
My story on my eating disorder can be found in a previous blog post here.