When I was actively bulimic (obsessed with nothing but food, eating all day long), and people would tell me that I was too harsh with myself, it made absolutely no sense to me. «Why on earth would I be self-caring and kind to myself, when I am unable to achieve anything at all, when I can’t spend a single day without binge-eating, when I am so fat, ugly, silly, ridiculously awkward?»
What a violence.
How can one possibly feel okay while repeating such terrible words to oneself all day long ? This is just a recipe for despair.
For years, I have been thinking that self-love equaled complacency. I thought that if I started caring about myself, even a little bit, I would be stuck for ever, absolutely unable to progress. I considered self-love something for the weak and unambitious.
Rest, taking care of my body in a gentle way, buying something nice for myself, felt dangerous, like I was
distracting myself from the real quest: fighting my own mediocrity. Being nice to myself was like giving up. And I couldn’t afford it, since–I thought–I was a hopeless loser.
When by accident I would experience moments of potential wellbeing, it would create nothing but stress and anxiety. I experienced them as if I was doing something forbidden. I would regress afterwards. If I went to the hairdresser, I would smoke a whole pack of cigarettes to ruin the nice smell of the shampoo.
Only then could I feel some relief. Not contentment, not happiness, just relief, a temporary lack of anxiety. Things were leashed again, more under control.
Everytime I self-loved, I would tell myself: «well done, fatty, you have completely missed your day. Instead of working, you wasted your time. And for what, a new haircut? You didn’t even work out your fat self ; you are a disgusting nothing. And on top of that, you reward your weakness. Go on like this, and you can be certain that you will never move on with your life.»
«Take care of yourself!»
Nothing made me angrier than being told « take care of yourself ». It would drive me crazy. It was pure nonsense, the worst possible advice. I couldn’t even understand what it meant. I told myself : «maybe you have nothing better to do but take care of yourself, but I do. I have a battle to win, demons to fight».
After months and months of therapy and sincere, constant soul-searching, I started to realize with horror the degree of violence I was inflicting on myself. I wouldn’t say the things I used to say to myself to my worst enemy.
Imagine living with an abuser, someone who puts you down. Imagine that person follows you wherever you go. How could anybody remain positive in the face of such relentless company? Well, I realized that I was the abuser. And the fact that these harmful words came from within instead of without didn’t make them any less harmful.
My crusade for perfection
Before I took a step back from my situation, I never even realized I was hurting myself. To the contrary, I felt like what I was doing wasn’t violence, but self-discipline, and it was the minimum price to pay for being so lazy and weak.
I was obsessed with what I felt like I « should » do: control myself, work hard, smile, play it cool, relaxed, but still smart, funny, fit. Even all these things weren’t perfect. I didn’t know what perfect was, just that I was extremely far from it, and I had to inflict violence on myself to become this ideal person.
There was no room at all for creativity, intuition, perception… I found these concepts superficial and useless.
Denying my emotions made them that much more unavoidable, and that much more devastating when they finally caught up with me.
Kindness has to be earned, right ?
The ancient version of myself was convinced that self-indlugence wasn’t something that I owed to myself; nothing was more conditional than self-love.
I was always angry with myself, planning unreachable goals and hating myself for failing to reach them.
My only moments of « self-care » were my bulimic crises.
This pattern was self-perpetuating. Every time I found myself weak or insufficient, I would plan stricter goals to « catch up » the lost time. For example, after weeks of crises and smoking every day, I decided it was time for a radical change. I allowed myself one last day of « degenaracy » (in other terms, a full day of bulimia and cigarettes), because the next day would be a fresh start ! I would start with a 50 minutes run, followed by 20 minutes of working out… every morning for the rest of my life. That was the plan. Fasting would be key, obviously. And I would wake up at 5 am. All while being productive and creative at work. Because, you know, this is what perfect girls do.
I might manage to run 30 or 40 minutes, which was already a pretty big feat considering the 25 pounds I had gained in a few weeks and the thousands of cigarettes that were choking my lungs. But the deal was 50 minutes. My stupid awkward body and I had failed that completely. Still I could make it up. I’d « just » add the lost time to my post-run workout. When I couldn’t do that because, of course, I was absolutely exhausted, I would spend the rest of the day trying not to eat.
After a few days of this, I would relapse. I would completely ignore the alarm, skip class, start my day with bulimia, alcohol, bulimia again. And this for days. I was tired all the time. I was anxious and afraid of my next failure. The more I would drown, the more the pressure would crush me.
How did I get out of this nightmare ?
I finally realized one thing :
The more you suffer, the more you have to be self-loving.
It is almost a law of physics. The more pain you feel, the nicer to yourself you must be. It sounds obvious, and yet we, (food addicts, borderlines), tend to do the exact opposite. The more we suffer, the more we hate ourselves for our weakness.
You probably will find the following assessment completely crazy, but still, it is the truth : instead of hating your bulimic crises, you should love them, because they save your life. How could I possibly say that ? Bulimic crises and addiction are the only way for your body and sould to handle the tension and anxiety you experience FOR NOW. It is not going to last forever, but for the moment, you can’t do otherwise. The bulimic crises are a way not to lose your mind. They are a survival instinct.
Of course, they are not healthy, they have an impact on your body, whether you vomit or not. Bulimic crises are not a viable long-term solution and life would be easier without them. We totally agree on that.
However, for now, they are the only moments where you are fully yourself and you let go of all the pressure. From this perspective, they save your life.
I know it sounds crazy, but be grateful that your body found this survival reflex instead of hating this part of you, and you will save so much energy and earn positivity.
When you respect your real self, without shame and guilt, then bulimia leaves by itself.
Stop hating yourself. Stop hurting yourself and punishing yourself for something you haven’t committed. If you don’t have the energy to workout, just do what makes you happy instead. Even if it doesn’t seem reasonable, healthy or « approved ».
When your body and mind have the energy to workout or exercise, you will.
If you REALLY have to do something annoying (for work, school, anything), just do the minimum required. Don’t do more. You have the right to cut corners. Nothing is more important than how you feel.
Life is complicated enough. You have the right and the duty to be nice to yourself.
If your body and mind feel any kind of need (and you are able to notice it, which can be difficult when you spent your whole life denying your feelings and emotions), don’t act like you know better. Trust your body when it asks for what it needs, even if it’s not intuitive or mainstream.
By ignoring it, you will pay for it with depression, even bigger bulimic crises, and many other manifestations of pain.
To feel better and free yourself from food addiction, the first step is to give up on this desperate attempt to accomplish impossible goals. And this is not weakness ; it is brave. Taking care of yourself , not being violent with yourself , is brave. It is healthy.
Still knowing all of this probably won’t solve all of your problems. Maybe you knew all this before you read this article. I wrote the article, and I often find myself sliding back to my old self-violence schemes. Knowing what is wrong is never enough. Only by putting ourselves into question– « Am I being self-indulgent right now ? » – can we do something about it.
Even when we are harshest with ourselves, self-love can be just one step away.
Illustration : painting by Dorian Vallejo « Our Lives we share »