Exploring identity after an eating disorder – who am I?

Exploring identity after an eating disorder – who am I?

Exploring identity after an eating disorder – who am I?

Hi Grandma, How’s your Darwin trip so far?

This message from granddaughter Olivia, 13, comes when I’m in the Top End, Australia’s Northern Territory, about 4000kms from home in country Victoria.

Olivia was born just prior to my memoir being published (see letter to Olivia in A Girl Called Tim) in 2010 and, along with her siblings and cousins, she gives constant encouragement to be adventurous.

My grandchildren chorus, “Grandma, you’re young, you can do it!”

My daughter Amanda says, “Well done, Mum, Keep having a go at everything.”

Well, I am young in mind if not body. If I delete my 44 years with anorexia nervosa, I’m 28 years old in terms of catching up on MY life.

I continue to heal from the eating disorder that ate a hole in my life from age 11 to 55. I continue to experiment and learn about who I am. I continue to develop my sense of self. I enjoy companionship and connection with family and friends, and I especially enjoy time with me and myself.

This trip to the Northern Territory and Central Australia is ticking the box on a childhood dream. To learn about our indigenous culture, to see crocodiles, to take a boat ride in Katherine Gorge, swim in waterfall pools, climb the rim of King’s Canyon and walk around Uluru. This is living.

When in the clutches of my eating disorder, any travel was tainted with anxiety about the unknown: about meals, about what I looked like, about forgetting an item of luggage, about being in the right place at the right time, about trying and failing to be ‘present’ in the company of others while my eating disorder voice was screaming within, and about over-analysing the minutest detail to the detriment of all else.

The anxiety would begin weeks, months, prior to the departure date. My desperate mind would decide I had to be in control of me, to make the trip worthwhile. I’d make a plan (endless plans) to ‘be the person’ I wanted, and had, to be. Accordingly, it was imperative that I weighed an approved amount (stipulated by the eating disorder) before stepping on that plane, and I had a strict schedule of what I could eat and not eat.

Of course, all such plans were doomed to fail within 24 hours because they were made to support and strengthen the eating disorder, not me.

Mood swings in trying, and failing, to meet the eating disorder’s demands made life hell for me and anyone around me. Family holidays, when my children were young, were fraught with struggle because the eating disorder always came too.

An eating disorder does not want you to be happy and has endless tricks to destroy your determination to have a carefree holiday.

How wonderful then, to holiday now, with me and myself. No eating disorder in sight.

To go shopping for a new bathing costume would never have occurred with my eating disorder. It would have insisted that a certain weight be recorded on the scales before going near a swimwear store. Many fun activities were missed because I failed to meet the eating disorder’s demands and expectations.

Today I have no idea of what I weigh. I don’t care what I weigh. I do care that I am well and happy.

It is never too late to start LIVING.

I don’t feel lonely even though I am travelling alone. I am catching up on being a best friend to self, pampering myself, giving myself treats, showing myself I can be independent and self-reliant.

There are always people to speak with – the person sitting next me to on the plane, bus or in the restaurant, the shop assistant, the concierge, the waitress, and fellow walkers in the park. I  enjoy meeting new people, and listening to their stories.

Right now, I am on a small group tour; most are couples. I am enjoying becoming acquainted with them all. How wonderful to be free to be totally present, to be free to socialise fully, in the company of others. How wonderful to be completely present with myself. How wonderful to have no eating disorder injecting guilt in my brain to ruin the pleasure. 

‘Recovery’ is a many-faceted word

“Recovery” is a many-faceted word. After 44 years, “recovery” from an eating disorder doesn’t seem appropriate. I prefer, “ongoing healing”. I cannot recover much of what was lost, especially in terms of relationships and opportunities, during those 44 years. But I can continually add to my life quality NOW.

The eating disorder is part of my life experience. It developed in childhood to assist me in coping with some anxious times. My diaries, kept since age 11, are testimony to this. That period of life cannot be deleted or replaced. But, it can be reshaped in a way that facilitates development of healthy coping skills and ongoing healing. Freedom to embrace the fullness of life and improve  life quality, is possible at every age.

I can hear my grandchildren chorusing: Don’t settle for less. And my daughter: Have a go at everything.

I am not settling for less and I am having a go at everything that June-the-child, June-the-adolescent, and June-the-adult wants to do. This catching up is fun to do.

Go for it.

June Alexander

About June Alexander

All articles by June Alexander

As founder of Life Stories Diary my prime motivation is to connect with people who want to share their story. Why? Because your story is important. My goal with this blog is to provide a platform for you to share your story with others. Building on the accomplishments of The Diary Healer the Life Stories Diary blog will continue to be a voice for people who have experienced an eating disorder, trauma or other mental health challenge, and provide inspiration through the narrative, to live a full and meaningful life.

My nine books about eating disorders focus on learning through story-sharing. Prior to writing books, which include my memoir, I had a long career in print journalism. In 2017, I graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy (Creative Writing), researching the usefulness of journaling and writing when recovering from an eating disorder or other traumatic experience.
Today I combine my writing expertise with life experience to help others self-heal. Clients receive mentoring in narrative techniques and guidance in memoir-writing. I also share my editing expertise with people who are writing their story and wish to prepare it to publication standard. I encourage everyone to write their story. Your story counts!
Contact me: Email june@junealexander.com and on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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