The truth is, recovery is just a place where we can tell what the costume is and what it isn’t.
You’re Not a Monster
Halloween is one of my favorite Holidays of the year, especially with an almost three year old. We build haunted gingerbread houses, we (I) carve pumpkins, and we go trick-or-treating like a million times. When I was a kid, we got ready all day Halloween afternoon- anticipating the moment it was FINALLY dark enough to be a little witch, or Cinderella, or a pumpkin. Gone are those days. Now, kids get to go trick-or-treat like every weekend for the whole month.
With that said, we typically get H’s costume at the end of September. It came in a week and a half ago: a blue monster onesie- complete with teeth, and horns, and claws. He was walking around, “ROAR! I’m a monster!!!!” At one point, he sat in his tee-pee (bedecked in furry blue) and I couldn’t keep from laughing to myself. “Okay bud, let’s get that monster outfit off!” I thought he might be getting hot or uncomfortable, but he kept admiring his blue feet and claws… “No, I wanna keep it on!”
I ended up chasing him around the house, pulling off paws and claws and horns until, voila, my sweet baby boy was standing in front of me again. The monster in my hands.
One of the most difficult realities of an eating disorder is that it becomes this never ending day of Halloween- A little naggy monster costume that one wakes up in one day, and never takes off. The claws and sharp teeth and horns become safe and comfortable. A suit of armor against everything out there, and a mask that covers everything in here.
Recovery says, “Okay bud, let’s get that monster outfit off,” and the typical response is “No! I wanna keep it on!” While also really, really, really, REALLY wanting to get rid of it. Because doing life in costume can start to get really hard. More so, life in costume can start to feel like the real thing.
“This isn’t pretend. I’m an awful person. I deserve this. I’m really this ugly, horrible person and without the costume, everyone will see what a monster I really am. I’m not wearing a costume, this is who I really am.”
I can’t tell you how many talented, intelligent, gifted women I’ve worked with whose eating disorder convinced them that they were stupid, lazy, ugly, clumsy people who needed to wear a mask in order to get by. I also know that seeing yourself as you are is no easy task when you’ve really been seeing a blue monster with horns and sharp teeth in the mirror. The monster is real, BUT it isn’t you. It’s your eating disorder, and it’s really important to have someone say that to you.
“Hey, yeah you’ve got a little monster hanging out with you. Spoiler alert, it’s your eating disorder, and you’re eating disorder isn’t you.”
Out of fear, or uncertainty, or being lost, or something you had no control over, you found this little monster suit, and tried it on, and it made you feel safe, invincible, powerful, seen (or invisible), loved or hated, in control. It made you feel strong, so you kept it on because without it, you were just…blah.
So what to do?
The truth is, recovery is just a place where we can tell you what the costume is and what it isn’t. “Yeah, the horns aren’t yours, the contagious laugh is. The sharp teeth aren’t yours, the fear of not being enough is. The blue fur, yeah, not you.”
It’s a safe place for you to look at the monster without judgement or hatred. It’s a place for you to sort out your thoughts and the eating disorder’s voice. It’s this place of discovery, connecting dots, and learning how to do life without the mask. But the magical part is, it’s always in your control and your choice when and how you take the costume off. Believe me, we’ll chase after you, and just like I removed my son’s costume, I want to take those fangs and claws from you, but in recovery, that’s what you do. My job is to help you see the monster that you and your food are not, but it’s your job to learn yourself again, and to take off that “monster” you believe you are when you’re ready.
Every bite of food you take. Every negative thing you say about yourself that you reframe. Every gentle word of grace you offer yourself. Every time you act in a way that is in opposition to the “monster” is a healthy act of rebellion against the lies of the eating disorder, and an alignment with your authentic self. Every time you question the eating disorder is a moment you may be finding yourself again.
You won’t believe us in the beginning when we tell you, “You aren’t a monster,” but one day, piece by piece, you’ll start to take that little monster outfit off, mask and all- you’ll hold that sucker in your hand, and you’ll see yourself in the mirror, and you’ll think, “Wow! That’s me!”
You may have hard days where wearing the eating disorder feels safer or more comfortable, but you’ll have hard days where being true to yourself is possible. And, one day, you won’t need or want your eating disorder anymore. If you want to take it off, you’ll take it off- no matter how long it takes you, and we’ll be there every single step of the way. We’ve got a closet full of paws, and claws, and horns that other women have left behind to prove it.
You’re not a monster, you’re just a woman who hasn’t seen herself in a while, but you will.
Martha Lee Anne RD, ACED Primary Dietitian