“Identity cannot be found or fabricated but emerges from within when one has the courage to let go.”
Identity. This is a concept with which I have struggled in recent months. For nearly two decades my identity has been wrapped up inside a neat little package I refer to as the eating disorder, and subsequently my recovery. When the satin bow on that neat little package was untied it led to the contents spilling out over the table like puzzle pieces without an order. Each facet of my life lay before me, upturned and mixed up, waiting for me to pick it up, examine it, and set it in its proper place; in hopes of uncovering my true identity somewhere in there, or perhaps when the puzzle formed a picture.
I started this blog when I was merely months in true recovery after leaving treatment, and it has provided an outlet for my thoughts as much as it has provided inspiration for people who read it. Each day I grow stronger in my recovery and take more steps away from the life that once defined me; almost as if I am stepping out of my old body and life to move forward into a new one. Taking off my mask and revealing my true self. The eating disorder was the mask for so long and the space between the mask and my face formed the majority of my identity for the last two years–my recovery.
This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (NEDAW) and usually I flood my social media accounts with facts, stories, and information about eating disorders, treatment, and statistics. Not this year. My choice to not participate wasn’t a conscious one, it just happened. My newsfeed on Facebook and Instagram have been bombarded with NEDAW images, sayings, and statistics; yet I have not shared any of them. It isn’t because I no longer care about individuals struggling with and recovering from eating disorders–not at all–but my identity is not longer wrapped up by the satin bow of recovery or the messy puzzle of the eating disorder. I still greatly care about and pray for individuals who have not yet discovered the freedom recovery will bring.
I have found myself writing for BBA less and less over the last six months, as I have been stepping away from the eating disorder and recovery communities more and more. Writing for BBA only once each month wasn’t a choice I made with logic or reason, but it one that has happened as my life is being lived. Eating disorder thoughts no longer dominate my mind and a “proper” meal plan isn’t something that I cling to in order to give me normalcy while eating now. My exercise isn’t obsessive or damaging to my recovery and my body does not define me. I’ve started to leave the role of eating disorder recovery advocate and step with my whole heart, mind, and body into the roles of Christian, mother, and wife.
Earlier today I found myself sitting with a friend and discussing this very topic over coffee. Identity can be confusing for adolescents and young adults, sure, but it can be equally confusing for adults; especially those impacted by trauma or mental illness. My friend and I talked about finding our identity in Christ and what that actually means. Whether or not you are a Christian, or have a Higher Power at all, your identity is found in your personality, beliefs, etc. While I do not hold the answer as to what it means to have my identity in Christ, I know my “roles” fall under that identity. My confidence comes from Christ and knowing I am created in His image. Outward beauty holds no power over my heart and the acts of kindness I can perform for others.
Struggling with my identity 0ver the last several months culminated itself today when I realized my identity is found in more in my heart than anything else. My identity is my calling and purpose. Christ has given me a heart for people society tends to overlook or despise–inmates and individuals struggling with substance abuse–and how I focus my heart, energy, and attention speaks to my identity. I still love and care about the eating disorder recovery community, as it helped form who I am today and I’m eternally grateful for the individuals God placed in my life to help get me here, but it isn’t the biggest identifier of who I am anymore. My BBA posts may not be as numerous as they once were, but they will still show up every so often, as I wholeheartedly believe everyBODY is beautiful. There are self-acceptance and body-acceptance lessons to be gleaned in every day life and when a lesson smacks me in the face, I’m going to share it.
My identity is in Christ and the courage I have to serve the community He placed in my heart many years ago. My identity is found in the life I lead; not in my body, recovery, or past history of an eating disorder. For me, this is not my identity anymore but a building block to help form who I’ve become. I may live on a sailboat and enjoy sailing, but I don’t identify myself as a sailor to define who I am any more than formerly struggling with and in recovery from an eating disorder makes me a person with an eating disorder.
In the last six months I’ve found the courage to “let go” of the mask, and the space between the mask so my identity could emerge. It has been there all along, waiting for me to realize that my identity is found in the calling Christ placed in my heart long before recovery was on my radar.
Yes, I struggled with an eating disorder for 16 years, and yes, I am in solid recovery after two years of ridiculously hard work, but neither of those things solely define me anymore. Christ defines me. The heart He has given me for the incarcerated and addicted population helps define me. My role as a mother and wife are part of my identity. I will continue to write for BBA but I no longer feel like my recovery or being a writer for BBA is the biggest part of my identity; a feeling that is even more freeing than recovery itself. As my husband said when I explained all this, “I’ve waited for years to hear you say that.”
I’ve waited years to feel it.
With Body Love,