By Morgan Blair
Time and time again in my eating disorder recovery journey, I have sought words that would define my experience. An experience that I had somehow convinced myself was too heavy, too dark and twisty, or too downright complicated for anyone, even professionals, to understand. Each time I started with a new dietitian, therapist, or in a new treatment group, I had trouble explaining to them how I was feeling. Therefore, I came to the conclusion that I was terminally unique, meaning I felt exceptionally different than others. I got some weird satisfaction from claiming my uniqueness because I wanted to be different, yet always felt isolated as a result.
Since I had this perpetual feeling of isolation weighing on my shoulders, I wanted confirmation that I was terminally unique through some kind of concrete and factual source. So, I started reading. I read and read and read, searching for some kind of clue, which would provide the answer to my feelings of isolation. Why am I so weird? Why do I feel so deeply? Why do I care about my body and food so much? The more I read, the more I realized that it was not through reading that I would find my answers, but instead through sharing stories with others in recovery. When people shared, I learned that they too felt terminally unique. This was reassuring, because now I had some external validation from others, who struggled with eating disorders, that my feelings of terminal uniqueness were “real”. It was now “real” simply because I was not the only person feeling this way.
Isn’t that what everyone desires? Some kind of external source to confirm that their experience is real? We want someone to say that we are not “crazy” when we sit down to the table with a big slice of (fill in your own fear food) staring us in the face, and something inside our gut jumps through our throat in revolt, and we flee the situation with tears streaming down our cheeks. We want to hear that this fear is somehow a universal feeling: fearing food, fearing our body, fearing ourselves. It is universal, but only to those who experience it. Meaning, those in eating disorder recovery can connect with situations where they have felt out of control or fearful around food and therefore this experience becomes understood by us all. When we listen to one another and find a common thread in our struggles, even if the struggles don’t look exactly the same, we are suddenly transformed from feeling terminally unique to deeply connected.
This connection doesn’t, however, negate the fact that each person’s struggle and recovery journey is different. But it is different on the universal grounds that we all have problems with food, our body, and regulating emotions. Our experiences are still unique, but searching for similarities is a way to no longer feel isolated and misunderstood within those experiences. In fact, sharing my feelings of terminally uniqueness was a great starter in realizing similarities in other people’s experiences. When I shared my experiences and found someone else who felt isolated in their struggles, I suddenly felt connected to them because now neither of us were alone in this feeling. In the same way, you can claim your recovery as your own battle. You can do so knowing that if you were to share about how different your eating disorder makes you feel you are, more likely than not, going to be met with others in recovery who feel the same way.
As I have mentioned, I read a lot and I dissect my mind a lot. I search for answers a lot. I know through my hours of therapy and years of treatment, that many perceptions I have of myself are distorted and that this is a common theme for many in recovery. We all have created misconceptions of ourselves that lead us to believe we aren’t allowed to have this food or we had to throw up this one or had to run X miles to punish ourselves in some way. A common distortion is this belief that we are too different. We come to be believe that professionals won’t understand our struggles, that no one else feels this way, or that our reactions to our bodies and food are not going to be understood. I know the belief that I am too different is a lie, because when I when I talked to others in recovery, they felt the same way. We both feel different and therefore are the same. I am not terminally unique. It is just a feeling that my eating disorder clings to. Through realizing the prevalence of this distorted belief in those with eating disorders, I have come to the assumption it is the source of our isolation. Believing we are terminally unique keeps us from sharing our experience because we think no one else will relate.
Having discovered this, the key in my recovery to bridging the gap between isolation and connection was first listening to others’ experiences and realizing I wasn’t the only one feeling isolated and misunderstood. Then it was a matter of rewriting the distorted thoughts and beliefs I had about my terminal uniqueness. I had to realize that feeling different was not uncommon. I had to retrain my mind to believe many people who struggle with eating disorders feel as though their experience is too different to be understood. As I worked to reshape my thoughts, and shared my experience of feeling isolated, others to connected with it. This created a bridleway between the island I was living on, connecting me to the mainland of support and connection of others in recovery.
We can honor that we are all different, we all feel different, and we all experience things differently but in the differences there lies something in common, a seed of connection, and a thread of hope. We all are terminally unique, which leaves none of us isolated as a result.