I bit my lip nervously as I sat back in a cushioned chair. “But what if I’m nothing without my eating disorder?. What if the disorder is all that’s left of me?”
My therapist looked at me squarely and said, “Well then, I guess you’ll have to reinvent yourself. Find out what you like outside of dieting and exercise. Think of the kind of person you want to be.”
I never imagined my eating disorder would become so powerful that it would become my identity. I never imagined that recovery would require reinventing myself or reintroducing myself, yet there I was–a week after being discharged from a partial hospitalization program, wondering what I wanted to do with the next seven months of my life. Most of my friends were away at college, and the ones who were not, were in high school, busy with schoolwork and extracurriculars. It was January so I could not run, and even if the weather permitted, I was not supposed to exercise. This left me with TV.
I thought it would be easy to find a TV show I liked until I realized that all of the shows I had watched for the past year were either about weight loss, weight gain, or eating disorders. I did not want to fill my already easily-influenced mind with ways to consume less calories or how to hide my behaviors. I was committed to recovery although there were plenty of times where I wanted to revert back to my old coping skills.
I decided to browse the suggested shows on Netflix when I came across a dramedy called Jane the Virgin. Admittedly, my first impression was that it was corny, but after watching a few minutes, I found the titular character to be intelligent, strong-willed, funny, and charming. Jane also has an affinity for grilled cheese, writing, and telenovelas.
What I found most distinct about the show was that the lead actress, Gina Rodriguez, does not fit the stereotype for TV heroines. She is Latina, a bit curvier than most modern TV stars, and her makeup does not cover every beauty mark or blemish on her skin. I find it empowering that no other characters in the show cracked jokes about her body type or even mentioned her curves. Instead, she was praised for her savviness, empathy, and strength. This is a refreshing change from the TV shows and movies, like Hairspray, that make a female character’s size the basis of her identity. It is important to realize that a woman’s worth, or anyone’s for that matter, is not dependent on their size or shape.
After binge-watching the first season on Netflix and seeing Jane feverishly write papers and even a novela, I decided I wanted to start writing again. Writing has always been an outlet for me, and being able to express my feelings helped me understand myself and why I reacted in self-destructive ways. Before this year, I never realized how impulsive I could be, but now that I can take a step back from a situation and write down my emotions, I understand that some of my actions are purely out of impulse. I do not truly want to push my friends away, take risks that could have severe impacts on my future, or lie about behaviors. Documenting my feelings helps me find better solutions to my problems. Just because I am angry does not mean I can lash out. Instead, I find the root of my anger and journal about it, listen to music, or reach out for advice. This also allows me to delay urges to engage in eating disorder behaviors.
Although I did not “reinvent myself,” I definitely understand myself more than ever. My life does not need to be defined by my weight or anything else. I do not have to be the person I was yesterday, and I certainly do not have to be perfect. I may not have reinvented myself, but I have freed myself from the chains that bound me for years.