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January 22, 2020

What Eating Disorder Recovery has taught me about the Weight of the Spirit.

I recently connected with my friend Mindy, and she texted one morning with pictures of her smashed bathroom scale.

She was in a bit of a state. This had happened unintentionally. The scale merely hit the bathroom counter as she was moving it, and it shattered.

But the impact of the event was both startling and profound. We acknowledged the irony (and gravity) of this accident the way that insiders do—those of us who understand the secret handshake of using that number, our weight, to order the rest of our lives. We are both in recovery from an eating disorder. Our sisterhood is unique in this way. We have a shared history in which the scale has been a sole provider of proof.

I understand this well. For many years, my body weight brought either a sense of confidence and calm, or a sense of panic and shame depending on the number. Never mind the arbitrary, self-selected weight I declared acceptable. I’d tasked myself with maintaining “artificial thinness” and worked religiously to adhere to this false identity.

It was a losing proposition at best. Health was never my goal, sadly. Thin was my goal, the thinner the better, and due to the psychological nature of eating disorders, I was never thin enough. That’s an odd truth about the illness. The bar is always moving. The sense of resting ease you seek doesn’t ever come.

But you don’t know that at the start.

At the start, you don’t even realize you’re developing an eating disorder.

These days, at 20-plus years in recovery from anorexia and bulimia, I employ a softer approach in my life. I try to notice the smaller “drops of proof” to assure I’m living in alignment with the revised goal of health and happiness. The drops of proof, though more subtle and nuanced than something concrete like body weight, are rooted in answering questions like, “How am I living?” “How am I loving?” “Do I feel I connected in my relationships?” “Do I feel nourished and rested?” “Am I learning, growing, inspired?”

In assessing questions like these, we’re invited to consider what endures (a wise expression my mother imparts). In the years that I spent focused on pursuing a particular body (or number), I vastly limited my access to other riches of life. What I eventually discovered is that a happier life, for me, is built on pillars of compassion, creativity, connection, and a sense of purpose. These are the elements that give my life meaning and order. These are the drops of proof.

When these elements are attended to, my overall sense of wellness flourishes. When I neglect them, I notice a shift in thoughts, feelings, and mindset. The actual weight of my body, one way or the other, has nothing of substance to offer. It never did. But love does. Friendship does. Kindness does.

 In many ways, recovery is the journey toward wholeness—a wholeness that becomes available when we identify, nurture, and embolden parts of us that are non-physical. The body is the vessel we occupy. But our unique and most valuable gifts are conjured more from a heart-centered, spirit-centered place. These gifts are offered through our gestures, intentions, words, actions, and humanness.

And from this place of offering, it is really the weight of spirit that leaves its indelible mark.

 

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