The following article is an excerpt from Anna Palmer’s book, Coming Home: Healing From an Eating Disorder by Finding Beauty in Imperfection. May the words here grant you deeper permission to come home to the fullness of yourself, humanness, divinity, and all. Welcome home.
Chapter 17. Coming Home to the Authentic Self: Who AM I Without the (Eating Disorder) ED?
I have been in hiding most of my 29 years of life. I have hidden myself in many forms of an Eating Disorder, in a cloud of depression and deep self-loathing, in perfectionism, and in a fabricated version of Self. At some point in my life, I decided that hiding felt safer than being seen, than risking possible rejection, abandonment, or ridicule.
Wanting so badly to be seen for your light, but simultaneously fearing being seen for your darkness is a tricky space to navigate. Having hidden my authentic Self and emotions—from myself and others—for so many years, it is still a journey to remind myself that being seen is safe. Hiding always felt safest to me, until the cocoon became a prison of pain and isolation.
So, nearly three years ago, I decided it was time to come out of hiding. I had gestated for many years underneath the surface. Hiding in a painful prison of my own making no longer felt safe, self-loving, or truly honoring of the light within me.
So, I sought to be seen over feeling comfortable, in all my mess and glory. Being seen is the only way now to feel alive and seek the life I truly desire.
It was time to reveal the authentic Self underneath the many dusted-over layers of conditioning. It was time for me to come out of hiding…
When we’ve been told for so long to be anything but ourselves, it’s no wonder an Eating Disorder (ED)—or any other addiction—comes in to fill that space of discord between who we really are and who we are trying to be. We feel like a fraud. We feel as though we are just playing a part.
I felt like this for so long. I felt I was desperately trying to convince the world (along with myself) that I was perfect because I thought that’s what I was supposed to be. I thought if I wanted to be liked (let alone loved), I better at least portray perfection.
We can try for only so long (as I did) to play this part. Eventually, our ability to continue upholding this false image comes crumbling down out of sheer exhaustion from the tumultuous, empty, unfulfilling, and self-destructive behaviors. We are living against our own truths. We are swimming upstream against the current of our truest self-expression.
Our conditioning buries us deep in layers covering our authentic Self (to varying levels of course). It takes time and willingness to peel the layers back and get to know the Self beneath these many masks.
The ED, in and of itself, is a mask and armoring of sorts. It keeps intimacy at just the right distance, acting as a buffer between you and the world. It keeps the more vulnerable, feeling self protected (to a certain degree), but at the deep cost of inauthenticity and self-betrayal.
The self-betrayal is the worst and most painful part. You know deep down you are only hurting yourself by pretending to be a certain way or hiding behind this false pretense of perfection. We do what we feel we need to do to survive and get by, though.
We swallow our true voice, feelings, and desires. We reject the authentic Self because society, our families, or our peers have also rejected their authentic selves. We swallow or deny our literal appetites with food, as well as our more figurative ones for life itself.
When we stop eating and restrict or deprive ourselves from food, we cut ourselves off from our bodies and their infinite capacity to create from impulse and desire. We can become anxious and depressed because we are not connected to our bodies or our truest self anymore: the creative self.
To pacify the disconnection from self, some resort to food and exercise behaviors.
Until we begin to question the ED and whether it is really serving us, we won’t be able to discover the authentic Self. We fear we will be less safe, more exposed, and more vulnerable to hurt and pain without it.
What if the authentic Self is worth it, though?
In letting go of my ED, I did feel more exposed at first. I didn’t have a buffer anymore between the world and me. Also, I didn’t have a buffer between me and joy either. That was (and has been) so healing to feel and experience. I could actually let the joy in.
I had withheld so much joy from myself because I naively thought I was barricading myself from just the pain. But I realized that I was also so damn afraid of feeling joy. When I started to let the walls down, I began to feel both again.
Lost to the ED for a decade, I felt like I deserved to suffer, like somehow suffering was my only option. In reality, I was the one holding myself back from enjoying life. For so long, I wasn’t ready to let my walls come down, until it became too much of a detriment to unnecessarily cause and inflict that much pain upon myself.
As I began to let myself be seen for who I actually was outside the identity of the ED, I was delighted to discover that nothing disastrous happened (far from it, actually). I felt the most connected to my friends again and open to the new friends I was making.
I felt myself connecting in even more authentic ways (though I always tried to be authentic). This time it felt even more sincere and real. I was becoming me, and I was showing the real me to the world, scars, light, and all.
I was being initiated into who I was always meant to be, and who I was already. My heart began to lighten. I released the heavy weight pressing down upon my chest. I remembered joy and laughter again. I was no longer holding myself back, imprisoned in my own castle dungeon of pain and suffering.
I felt it all. I felt intense sadness and overwhelm at times. Simultaneously, I felt like a sunflower finally blossoming through the earth’s soil after years of painful stunted gestation below the surface.
With this new blossoming, I felt myself reclaiming my beauty and my body. I felt myself reclaiming the Goddess essence with me, exploring how I felt in my own skin again, as my body went through the needed healing changes. It wasn’t—and isn’t—always comfortable, but I began to welcome the changes as markers of my growth and truest Self coming through.
It is a true joy remembering the authentic beauty of the Self. You finally see with more clarity and wonder, the beautiful, amazing being that you are.
After years of being buried in the darkness of an ED and clouded in shame, I found my authentic Self again. I discovered who I was buried beneath the armoring of pain and various identities of perfection. I found out who I really was. She is a person I am still getting to know every day.
I found my light again. I found that the light I had been searching for externally existed within myself. I found it because I started to choose lightness again over darkness. For so long, I had identified with the darkness and suffering of the ED. I forgot that the light was my true nature.
Choosing to be the authentic unmasked Self is a risk. It is never a sure guarantee. It is a messy process at times trying to communicate to others what you feel even if it doesn’t match up with what they feel or believe. However, it is the greatest, fiercest act of love we can give to ourselves and to the world when we give ourselves full permission to be who we are.
In doing so, we reclaim the self who was criticized, devalued, shamed, ridiculed, abandoned, or betrayed for being “wrong,” or “too much.” We say to these fragmented parts of the Self who were judged and ridiculed by others or by society: “You are enough. You are loveable just as you are, and I will accept and embrace you now for who you are.”
This is the permission slip we’ve been waiting for. But, no one but you can give it to you. It says, “You are so damn beautiful for being you.” It’s that feeling of communing with the beauty of nature and knowing that beauty as a reflection of your own beauty. It’s the deep unearthing of your passions and creativity.
As children, we do this so easily. We do it easily because it is our nature. We play, sing, dance, paint, and create. That part of us didn’t go anywhere. It just became hidden by our more serious, and slightly traumatized adult selves. Or, perhaps, it became hidden by an addiction or an ED.
I realized my Inner Child was not the one in pain, though. Fragmented, wounded parts of myself still would (for the rest of my life, probably) need validation and reminders of love and forgiveness. Despite that, I found my authentic Inner Child to be quite free, full of love and joy.
My Inner Child is playful. She is imaginative. She is a mermaid Goddess. She is bright like a beautiful sunflower. She is beautiful and free. She is all I ever needed to be.
She is already with me and all I had to do was choose her. She had already chosen me. I am choosing her now, and letting her be the wild, free, expressive, and uninhibited spirit she already knew how to be.
Read part one of this series: Coming Home: On Healing from an Eating Disorder.
Read part two of this series: How Eating Disorders are a way of Coping with Emotions & the Effects of Traumatic Events.
Read part three of this series: Hello Bulimia, My Secret Friend: When Food Becomes Survival & the Body the Enemy.
Read part four of this series: The Real Toxin: The Harm of our Fat-Phobic Culture.
Read part five of this series: How Eating Disorders Feed on the Insecure Self.
Read part six of this series: What Sparked my Healing Journey from an Eating Disorder.
Read part seven of this series: The Dark Side of Religion: On Religious Trauma & Body Shame.
Read part eight of this series: When Lines Blur: Journey into the Heart of an Empath.
Read part nine of this series: Spiritual Bypassing Won’t Heal You—but This Will.
Read part ten of this series: Shadow Work, the Unintegrated Ego & How to Reclaim our Wholeness.
Read part eleven of this series: The Seat of Addiction: Trauma, Emotions & the “I am not Enough” Club.
Read part twelve of this series: The Body Holds the Key: We Heal as we Feel.
Read part thirteen of this series: Reconnecting to the Divine Feminine Essence of Life.
Read part fourteen of this series: Myths of Perfectionism & Why we Need to Back the F*ck Off.
Read part fifteen of this series: Astrology & Plant Medicine: a Healing Journey “Off the Beaten Path.”
Read part sixteen of this series: Reparenting Ourselves with Loving Boundaries.