Imagine this situation: You’re in recovery from your eating disorder, and your roommates invite you to go out to dinner with them. Your mind starts to argue with itself. You want to make this dinner a recovery win, but you also feel self-conscious about eating in front of your roommates because they know about your eating disorder. Will they think you’re eating “too much” for someone who has an eating disorder? Or will they be watching you the whole time to make sure you’re eating enough and not struggling? Will they think your eating disorder isn’t that bad, and you’re being dramatic? Or will you feel embarrassed if they notice you stressing about food? Should you eat in a way that will prove that you really do have an eating disorder (because you do), or should you eat in a way that shows you’re totally ok (even if you’re not)? Now should you even go, or should you just stay home? Then what will they think?
If any of this sounds at all relatable, this blog post is for you. If you’re feeling like you have to prove your eating disorder is real, and at the same time feeling like you have to hide your struggle, please know you’re not alone. I hear my clients express these feelings on a regular basis, and it’s a struggle that makes sense! Here is the core of what I hope you can take from this post: You deserve (and can have) both validation and recovery.
Having an eating disorder is an incredibly painful and difficult thing, and you DO deserve validation and help as you work on healing. At the same time, you don’t have to engage in ED behaviors to prove that you are “sick enough” to deserve care, concern, and support from others. You are inherently deserving of all of those things right now, and you will still deserve them after you recover from your eating disorder. You deserve attentive, loving support, regardless of how ill or how well you are (and you deserve to be well!).
Choosing to challenge your eating disorder by going out to eat with your roommates will not mean you don’t have permission to struggle or ask for help. Challenging all-or-nothing thinking is an important part of recovery, especially when it comes to feeling like you have to be either 100% struggle-free, or 100% sick in order to merit validation.
Even if you are progressing in your recovery, that doesn’t mean your eating disorder was never real, or that recovery is a walk in the park for you. It can feel SO scary to acknowledge and talk about the unseen struggles of your eating disorder (past or present), especially if you worry about others not validating you.
A couple of gentle reminders: (1) even if others don’t or can’t understand what you’ve been through, your experience IS valid. (2) The fact that you’re doing better now than you were before you started recovering doesn’t mean that your eating disorder wasn’t/isn’t a serious reality. Your successes in recovery don’t invalidate the struggles in your past, and the struggles in your past don’t invalidate your successes in the present.
You don’t have to stay in your eating disorder to make your struggle valid in the eyes of others. Your battles were and are real, and you deserve to feel free to move forward into a recovered life. What’s more, you are worthy of help and support in your recovery process, no matter where you are on that journey. You deserve validation of how painful, how challenging, how exhausting, and how miserable your eating disorder has been, AND you deserve to heal. You don’t have to trade recovery for validation. You absolutely deserve both, and there is care and help available for you.