3 Things I've Mastered in Recovery
By Kat Bernards
I’ve been on the other side of my eating disorder for a few years now, but some of the insights and realizations I have gained about why I struggled with anorexia for so long are only just beginning to become clear. Fortunately, my understanding of how and why I am able to stay strong in recovery is also increasingly apparent to me. I’d like to share with you three key lessons that I have been able to internalize and master through my recovery process, that keep me healthy, positive, and resilient in times of stress.
- I’ve learned to practice what I preach.
I was chatting with a colleague about this particular piece of recovery earlier today. So many of us are able to offer love, support, and body acceptance to the people around us, while denying ourselves the same courtesy.
All through my adolescence and young adulthood, I was there for my friends when they worried about body image; your weight is not your worth, I’d say to them. Why would you want to want to look like someone else? Kate Moss is the only person who looks just like Kate Moss; you’re the only person who looks just like you… You are so much more than just your body.
These were not lies. I believed them then and I believe them now. But what I failed to accept was that I should extend the same care, the same compassion, the same reality-based expectations and body celebrations, to myself. I held myself to a completely different standard than the one I encouraged my friends to follow, because I was different. I was stronger, I told myself; I could handle it. I wouldn’t push it too far. I would do what was necessary to make myself fit within the narrow, impossible standard that I had created for myself. Then I’d be happy. Then I’d feel loved. Then I’d feel good about myself.
These, of course, were lies. They were lies then, and they are lies now. But today, I know better than to listen to them, or to let them make decisions for me. Today, I feel loved, I feel good about myself and I take pride in my recovered self.
- I’ve learned not to be afraid of fat.
A friend once suggested to me that I try to gain ten pounds instead of lose ten pounds, in an effort to explain to me that if I gained ten, it would barely register on my thin frame, whereas if I were to lose ten, it could push me well past the point of undernourished. I was horrified at the very thought; how could she possibly think that I would intentionally gain weight? It was unfathomable to me at the time.
Well, eventually I did gain those ten pounds, and I certainly don’t feel bad about it. I needed them, badly. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I had a deeply rooted fear of fat. I have always had a tall, lean figure, without a lot of body fat, but I was afraid that one day the fat would come for me, and I would have to fight it off. Today, I spend my energy fighting off the myths and messages that cause so many young people to fear fat in the first place.
- I’ve learned that labelling people according to categorical stereotypes (fat/thin, attractive/unattractive) is nothing more than categorical nonsense.
Once again, I was chatting with this very issue earlier today with a colleague. We found ourselves getting so frustrated by the continued perpetuation of body/weight stereotypes, but at the same time we could see the way our former selves used to think that they actually mattered- at least, when it came to our own bodies.
The truth, of course, is that bodies are bodies. They do amazing things, no matter what their shape or size. The “petite” section of a clothing store is not a thing to aspire to any more than the “plus size” section is a place to fear. These labels have no place in a healthy, intelligent, happy society. It is so obvious to me today that sizes have nothing to do with ability or value, but this message was reinforced so strongly in the world around me that it really did take me half my life to recognize its ridiculousness. There was a time when I would buy clothes a size too small as a way to “inspire” my disorder to fit the standard of a supermodel. Today, I know that I would way rather be a superhero- and put a stop to the spread of disordered eating in our society.
Kat recently graduated from Simon Fraser University with a degree in Psychology, and is thrilled to have joined the Looking Glass Foundation staff. She loves live music, theatre, writing, and singing when no one is listening.