The Importance of Accepting Your Messy Self
By Leora Fulvio, MFT
If I had to winnow down the recovery process into one sentence, I’d give you four short words:
Be kind to yourself.
But if we all knew how to do this, there wouldn’t be multiple in-patient treatment programs, psychiatrists prescribing various psychopharmacological meds and websites and seminars dedicated to the process of recovery. Heck, I wrote a 300+ page book on the topic myself.
So why, if it’s so simple, does it seem so difficult?
Eating disorders are conditions of self-hatred, a lack of self-acceptance, impatience with oneself, a disconnection from the self and from others. Eating disorders are also a distinct embodiment of fear. Our eating disorders are a manifestation of all the ways that we believe ourselves to be not good enough, totally unacceptable, and unworthy, and this is what we do to ourselves when are disconnected from our body and spirit. We are afraid of being rejected, of people not loving us, of being left by our lovers, our partners, our families, of not being good enough, of being completely alone… and so we try to take control. We can’t control other people so we do our best to control our bodies in order to ensure that we are not rejected and that love stays with us. When we try to control our bodies rather than to love and connect with them, we become disembodied and disconnected. In the battle for control, nobody wins. The rejection that you are so desperately avoiding with an eating disorder feels more alive and more pervasive because you are actually rejecting yourself.
So, if a belief that we are not good enough and a fear of being rejected by others are maintaining factors, then the cure should be easy — self-love and self-confidence and self-security. But it’s not. Because all of these fears become incredibly intertwined with survival. We are afraid that if we muster up the courage to love ourselves, we will be alone. We will die alone. We are afraid that self-love means we are giving up on ourselves and thus giving up on ever being loved by anyone else. We have to please everyone else so that nobody leaves us. But… what if everyone feels that way? What if everyone is as afraid as we are. Should everyone be doing this?
It’s simple to say, “I’ll be kind to myself after I lose ten (or 50 or 100 or 200) pounds,” but to say, “I accept myself right now, for who I am in this moment,” and to treat yourself the way you treat a best friend, with love and kindness rather than judgment, anger and punishment… that’s where the real healing work is.
Sure, it’s easy to believe that you love yourself when you’re “being good” but what about when you mess up? The real test is ¾ can you love yourself when you’re a total mess? Because you’re going to mess up. I promise you that. Life is messy. Being human is extremely messy. We are born into a big mess (no birth is clean as you all know…) and each day at least something messy happens. We are messy both physically and emotionally. But that’s okay. It’s all part of the human experience. And we are all, all of us very messy. Even those of us who are obsessively clean ¾ still messy. And that’s okay. It’s all okay. Because for all the mess there is a purity and a perfection that is 1 million percent beauty. This is the real test; can you love yourself when you’re messy? This is the practice.
Next time you are messy, next time you binge, or purge, or overeat, or undereat, or overexercise, or drink too much, or yell at your kids… I want you to thank yourself for giving yourself the opportunity to practice being kind to yourself when you’re not “being good.” And then, give yourself credit for being human, forgive yourself, think about how to be kind to yourself in that moment and how to treat yourself with love and compassion.
The irony is that once you start to be kind to yourself, the real work of recovery begins.
So herein lies the challenge… learning to accept yourself at your messiest. Learning how to love that person who has their head in the toilet, their finger down their throat, the one who is elbow deep in a binge, who can’t get off that treadmill. Because when you are alone with that eating disorder – and we know that eating disorders love to “get us alone…” when we are alone with ED in our heads, we need that loving voice to come and put a gentle hand on our backs and say, “it’s okay! It’s okay! I promise you, it’s okay! You are perfect and whole and complete in this moment, you are human, you are a very real human being and you’re just trying to cope with your fears and your pain… but you know what? I love you! I love you no matter what! I love you when you’re sick or healthy, I love you no matter what your size is and I love you when you perfectly imperfect…”
You need this voice inside of you. Because without it, you’re trapped alone with ED in your head. And that’s just no way to recover. Recovery needs self-love and self- advocacy in order to unfold and flourish.
So how do we practice self-acceptance and self-kindness?
It starts with a noticing. Whenever you notice yourself thinking unkind thoughts about yourself or berating yourself, try to redirect that thought. Tell yourself, “I am human, I am doing the best I can, I am working toward full recovery… body, mind, and spirit.”
Take a deep breath and notice how it feels in your body to accept yourself rather than to reject yourself. Then, let yourself be in the place of self-kindness, even if for a brief moment. As you practice this, each of those brief moments become longer moments, which eventually creates a new way of thinking, feeling, and behaving. Notice with kindness, acceptance, and move forward with your next step for recovery.
About the author:
Leora Fulvio is a California Licensed Psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of Binge Eating and Bulimia. She is also the author of Reclaiming Yourself from Binge Eating: A Step-by-Step Guide to Healing. She has been treating eating disorders in a clinical setting since 2005. Her life-long mission is to help people heal from the tyranny of Eating Disorders. She is especially driven to help society move away from the cult of thin and the diet culture that is so pervasive and drives disordered eating, breeds low self-esteem, and encourages guilt and self-hatred. She is a proponent of the Health at Every Size® movement and loves to collaborate with like-minded individuals to help society at large and individuals themselves become both emotionally and physically healthy according to what that means for them.