Growing up I think I would have described myself as outgoing. I had a good amount of friends, I was a cheerleader and involved in sports, I attended youth group and had friends there too. Whats weird though is I’m not sure I would have said I was extroverted. I didn’t realize until I was much older how introverted I actually was/am. Yes, I can hold a conversation and have a good time with people when I go out, but I would prefer a night in, by myself or with one maybe two friends, watching Anne of Green Gables or reading over going out any day.
As my eating disorder developed I became less and less outgoing and social, and increasingly introverted. I hated being around people because I would just compare myself or worry about what they thought of my weight or me as a person. My eating disorder made me feel inferior, fat and ugly, even though I had so much to offer and looked like a toothpick. If there was food involved in a social event I would avoid it at all costs. I was unable to eat in front of others and the anxiety that came and the destructive behaviors both before and afterward just ended up making it not even worth it. Slowly, over time, I found myself not only introverted, but isolated.
I think my eating disorder was even able to use my introvertedness (is that a word?!) against me. It would convince me that I didn’t want to go out because I’m an introvert, not because it was in fact isolating me.
This all became even worse as I recovered. I was so embarrassed about the weight I was gaining and how sick I was that I basically never went anywhere. I stopped going on trips, hanging out with friends, having people over for dinner, you name it. The mental anguish I was in was something I thought no one could relate to or even understand. I even began to FEAR going out. So much so that my anxiety about it would be so overwhelming that I simply stayed home. If I did go out it was so rare that my anxiety grew even worse. I made a million excuses. I don’t have the clothes, I don’t want to be seen, I can’t eat without feeling sick, I’m swollen and in pain. Many of these were actually true, but why not go and buy clothes, why not challenge my fears, why not go out on a day I’m not swollen? The answer is, eating disorders isolate. It’s that simple.
Somewhere along the line I think I decided to accept my isolation and just make it my new life. I would be ok just being alone. I can go to church, but other then that I just wanted to stay home by myself. I convinced myself I was better off that way. I could keep all the comments about my weight out, all the anxiety about eating at a minimum, all the pain, shame and jealousy I had over others in their normal bodies at bay. I will just stay in my safe little introverted place and live life until I recover.
The problem with this is, and I’m sure you have heard this before, you can build up walls to keep the bad things out, but those same walls also keep the good things from getting in. I started to realize that I was not just introverted, I was extremely isolated. My recovery, fears, anxiety and eating disorder were keep me from living life and connecting with others. I found that although I still didn’t want to go out every night and make small talk, I DID want to hang out with people and have at least SOME social life.
I believe we were created to be in community with each other. We need to help each other out, laugh with each, talk things through! While staying in is a form of self care, so is socializing. I knew things needed to change and to be honest I saw this as a sign that maybe I was getting healthier, both mentally and physically. Maybe I was now almost to the finish line because I desired to be less isolated and a little more social. I was now willing to overcome the anxiety of being seen, having to eat with people or wear new clothes in order to not be so alone anymore!
So that's what I did. I slowly started to reach out again to some friends and ask to grab a glass of wine. I made it my weekly goal to say yes to an invitation from another person who asked me to do something. I decided that it was now going to be a value of mine to participate, even if it took a coping skill...or three! Slowly I started to integrate back into living and out of isolation. I asked my best friend if she wanted to start a book club. We did! (The name of it is Reading Between The Wines and we meet each month at a winery...does it get better then that?!). I started to go to a bible study with people I don't know. I went on a weekend trip and swam in my bathing suit because I wanted to a part of what was going on. I consciously made the decision to stop avoiding places that I might run into someone because I realized I am tired of fearing other peoples thoughts!
One of the best things is that the more I put myself out there, the more I realized that what I was fearing wasn't all that real. People wanted to hang out with me whether I'm skinny or thick. I laugh with friends over a glass of wine whether I'm wearing Zara or Target. Being social is about connecting with other people, whether I'm struggling through recovery or not.
I'm not going to lie though, it's hard! After I go out, my eating disorder always wants to punish me or try to push it's ugly way back into my thoughts and life. I have to actively take steps to challenge those thoughts and give myself a lot of self care when they become ugly. It's that dance of pushing forward, but also realizing when I need to take a breathe.
I'm still not the most extroverted person. I still would rather grab my cross stitch and listen to a podcast in my insanely comfy bed over hitting the newest cocktail hour in downtown DC. But, I'm learning that there is a time for both and isolation isn't healthy. I can go out with people and then realize I need to re-coup and rest afterward and stay in for a bit.
I feel like little by little I keep reaching little achievements in my recovery. People that have gone before me always say that recovery isn't instant and huge, it is little wins here and there that over time lead to full recovery. Realizing that I wanted to get out a live a little and no longer be isolated, I think was a big win! It clapped back at my sneaky eating disorder and put me one giant step forward in my recovery!
If you are a person who is in the midst of an eating disorder or trudging through recovery and are feeling very isolated. I
really encourage you to start making small goals to isolate less. Our eating disorders THRIVE in isolation. I'm not saying you have to throw yourself into a social nightmare that will cause you to relapse or be triggered, but making small little steps out of isolation will truly help. Maybe it's starting with texting someone twice a week to say hi or have a convo. Maybe it's asking your best friend, significant other or family member to go for a walk and grab a tea. It could even be going to a movie by yourself, but at least getting out of the house and around other people. Small, intentional steps paired with coping skills and self compassion will keep us on the road to recovery and out of isolation!
So.....who wants to hang out?!
- Sara -
p.s. I know I've been blogging a little less the past two months! I will be more consistent now! We were busy buying a house and traveling back and forth to where we are moving! Can't wait to get back at it!