Who Am I Without Anorexia?
by Monika H. Ostroff
As you begin taking care of yourself and letting go of the behaviors that anorexia so rigidly dictates, you may find yourself wondering who you are. You may suddenly realize that you do not know yourself very well, and you may find yourself feeling lost and lonely. Many people say that because they have identified themselves with anorexia for so long, when they begin to let go of their eating disorder they feel as if they are losing their very own selves. That is a frightening and disorienting feeling. But if you look beyond feeling lost and search through your fear, you will find that this time in recovery is actually brimming with opportunity. It is the perfect time to discover who you really are. It is the perfect opportunity to find and reclaim pieces of yourself that were either lost, buried, or stolen. It is the perfect time to become whole.
Begin by making the commitment to get to know yourself and who you are without anorexia. Get to know yourself as you would a dear friend. Do you remember the very first time you met someone who later turned out to be one of your good friends? You really didn't know very much about that person at first, did you? But as you spent time together, you began to learn important details about your friend and her life. Over time you discovered what makes her laugh, and what makes her cry. You probably figured out all of the little things that make her feel angry and irritable and you probably also know all sorts of ways to make her feel playful and silly, too. You may still find that even though you have known each other for quite some time you discover new things about each other all the time. In the course of going for a walk or shopping together a new piece of information may reveal itself to you. That is exactly how relationships develop; that is precisely how you get to know someone deeply. All relationships require time and nurturing in order to develop, and the relationship you have with yourself is no exception.
Make the commitment to spend time with yourself in order to learn about your likes and dislikes. Take time to discover what it is that warms your heart, pay attention to what causes your eyes well up with tears. Search for the things that make you want to throw your head back and laugh, look for what makes you feel like dancing in the sun. Find out what it is that stirs fury deep within you. Acknowledge all your little flaws and imperfections and embrace them with tender acceptance. Identify and celebrate each of your strengths and successes. For it is in doing all of these things that you will come to know exactly who you are.
Perhaps you are feeling unsure of where or how to begin your quest of getting to know yourself. Below are some suggestions that will help you learn a little more about who you are. You may have done some of these things many times before, but chances are if you did them in the midst of your anorexia the activities were colored by your eating disorder, preventing you from experiencing them fully. Sometimes the voice of the eating disorder is so loud and keeps us so preoccupied that we miss some of the little, but most beautiful moments in life. Choose to do all of the activities below or choose to do only a few. Expand the individual items on the list or expand the list itself. Do this at your own pace and take as much time as you need. If you have not been out for a while you may find some of the suggested activities frighten you. Be gentle with yourself and take your time. However you choose to do it is up to you --- enjoy your journey!
Activities Just for You - Let go and have fun
Visit an amusement park.
Go alone or take a friend or two along on this venture and play! Just let go and have a ball! Ride a roller coaster or two, put your arms up in the air and cry out with glee, as you zip downward! Smile and laugh! Ride the carousel. How do you feel? Do you remember doing that when you were little? Is it a warm memory that you cherish? Experiment with all sorts of rides, especially those you have never been on before. What do you feel drawn to? Go there! This is your adventure; this is your day. Give yourself permission to kick up your heels and have fun! Play a few of the games! It's okay, you so deserve to have time to play on your life... remind yourself of that often.
Take a walk in the rain.
Feel the rain as it catches in your eyelashes and bounces off your nose. Listen to the sound of the raindrops as they pelt the leaves on the trees and drive into the ground. Hear the rustling leaves as the wind sweeps through them. If you are in the city, notice how the raindrops spring off the sidewalks and windshields. Pay attention to how the wind feels in your hair. Look for a rainbow. How do you feel? Do you feel peaceful? Do you feel mischievous? Do you feel comforted?
Hike a mountain and indulge in the majestic view from the summit.
Drink in the deep blue sky; fill your lungs and energize your whole being with the fresh mountain air. Lift your eyes up to the sky and feel the sun warm your face. Dance with the sun's rays. Feel yourself come alive in the midst of the wilderness. Listen to the soft music of the birds. How do you feel? Do you feel free? Do you feel invigorated? Do you feel serene?
Visit a playground.
Swing on the swings, slide down the side, ride the merry-go-round, do a cartwheel, and play in the sand! You are still a playful child at heart, set her free! Are you unsure of how to play? Are you unfamiliar with the child who lives in your own heart? Get to know her. Start by watching how the children on the playground laugh and play with each other. Observe how they talk together. Notice their vulnerability, their innocence. Can you see how much love and protection they both need and deserve. If one of them happens to fall and bump a knee while you are there, pay attention to how their caregiver cuddles and soothes them. How is the adult letting that child know that everything is okay and that she is loved and cared for? How do the adults play with their children? Do they get excited with their children? Investigate. Watch all of the interactions. Appreciate how special each individual child is. Children are so precious, so innocent. Tell yourself that you were that precious and innocent as a child --- you still are. Get in touch with the child that lives in your heart and tell her that you love her. Play with her. Talk to her. Comfort her. Tell her that you are there for her. Close your eyes and envision spending the day with her. What will you do together? Will you take her to a playground like this one? Imagine how she looks swinging on the swings, laughing gleefully as you push her. What does her tiny laugh sound like? Imagine her moving around the playground. What does she look like as runs through the grass? Can you see the wonder in her eyes as she watches the butterflies? Get to know this precious child in you, nurture her, cuddle her, protect her, love her.
Go people watching.
How much fun this can be! Go to a nearby mall, beach, or café. Walk around for a little while, taking in important information about the people who are there with you. Are the majority of people there alone or are they in groups or pairs? How do they seem to be acting? How many look like they are having fun? Sit down and relax for a while. Watch the people as they go by. Is there anyone in particular who captures your attention, anyone that you think you might like to meet? What is it that draws you to that person? Is it the way that person dresses? Does s/he dress in a way that is in vogue at the moment. or is it more unique, more a statement of individuality? What about the person's hair. do you like it? Why or why not? Is there anything about the way that person carries him/herself that you admire? Does s/he appear confident and self-assured? Does s/he look like a person with a jovial sense of humor who could make you laugh easily? Do you generally admire people who are leaders, who make their own paths in the world? Or are you more inclined to befriend someone who is more apt to go with the flow? What about you? Are you someone who is a natural leader unafraid to go against the norm? Are you a trendsetter or a trend follower? Are you confident or are you more self-conscious? How do you want to be? What can you do to be more the way you would like yourself to be?
Spend time at an animal shelter.
Romp with the dogs, frolic with the cats, feed the horses, and talk to the birds and any other little critters they have there. Which do you most like to be with? Do you like the compassion the dogs can offer you? Can you see the innocence and love filling their eyes. Can you feel the unconditional acceptance of you that so naturally spills out of them? Can you feel your own love for them flowing out of you? Are you feeling sad? Try hugging a dog. Dogs have a way of making you feel so loved and so cared about. Let them comfort you. Are you feeling playful? Take a piece of string or a belt and snake it around on the floor so that a cat can pounce on it. Let the cat chase the string notice the eagerness in the cat's eyes. Are you feeling calm? Let a cat curl up in your lap for a quick afternoon nap. How does its purring make you feel?
If you had all the money in the world. what would you buy and why? Go to stores and look around. What catches your eye? Which things would you like to have? Why? Which things would you fill your home with? What would you buy for yourself? Would you buy jewelry, clothing, hair accessories, shoes, a purse, or all of these?
Go to a bookstore or library
Choose a book for yourself to read just for pleasure. Which section are you most drawn to? Do you like fiction novels? Autobiographies? Psychology and self-help? Mysteries? Thrillers? Not sure? Take out one of each!
Go to the Circus
Have fun and watch the show!! Do you feel like laughing with the clowns at their silliness? Do you marvel at the daring skill of the trapeze artists? Do you gaze in awe at the courage of the lion trainer? Listen to the music of the circus orchestra. Do you like it? Do you feel like snapping your fingers to the beat? Go ahead! Ride an elephant! Have your face painted like a clown's! Do anything and everything that you want to do!
Spend a day at the ocean or at a lake
Dig your toes into the sand. Build a sandcastle or two. Run down the beach, feel the wind in your hair. Notice how the soft summer breeze feels against your face. Sit on the water's edge where the sand just begins to get wet and dig a hole with your hands until you reach water. Do you remember doing that when you were younger? Walk along the beach with your feet in the water, splashing as you go. Collect seashells, look for sand dollars and sea urchins. Inhale deeply letting the fresh air vitalize you. How do you feel? Do you feel refreshed? Do you feel tranquil?
Take a walk through a field
Feel the grass brush against your legs. Does it tickle? Stop to smell the wildflowers. Pick one for your hair and several more to take home with you. Lay on your back and gaze up at the puffy white clouds as they drift by. What do they look like? Chase a butterfly or two. If you go at night chase fireflies and moonbeams. Lay in the grass and watch the stars dancing against the black blanket of night. Is there any one star in particular that stands out and looks unique? Do you see any constellations? How do you feel?
Go to an art museum
Explore the paintings and look at photographs. What kind of art do you most appreciate? Which artist is your favorite? Why? Is it relaxing for you to do this? What new things have you learned?
Visit an aquarium
Watch the dolphins play. Find the sharks and watch them swim. Does the aquarium have penguins? What is your favorite attraction in the aquarium? Why?
Go on a schooner ride
Notice how the sun sparkles on the water as you glide across the top. Listen to the sweet song of the birds. Will the captain let you help steer the boat? Would you like to? How many seagulls are flying over head? Do you see any fish? How do you feel? Are you enjoying yourself?
Write a letter to yourself
Write it the same way you would write it to a friend or to a new pen pal. Ask yourself the same questions you would ask a pen pal. Tell yourself about your life. You can even mail it if you like. When you receive it write a reply.
You will have to try things, test the waters, and discover which things you like and which things you do not like. If you find things that you do not like, that is okay too. Doing things that you find you do not like is not a waste of time, rather it is an experience that provides you with valuable pieces of information about who you are. It is part of the process of getting to know yourself better.
An Activity for Self Exploration - A Look Inside
This is an activity that you can do anytime, anywhere. It is meant to help you take a closer look inside yourself. It is a vehicle for gathering more information about yourself and who you are. It can also be used to assimilate the information you have gathered from all of the activities you engaged in earlier.
Ask yourself 20 questions then go and do a little research about yourself and find the answers! You may choose to ask questions that require only yes or no answers, or you may choose questions that require more introspection and lengthier responses. Choose to do this activity several different times if you like. Alternate between questions that require short answers and those that require deeper thought and more research on your part. Come back to these questions in a few weeks and see if any of your answers have changed in anyway. Need some help thinking up questions? Try some of these:
Which activity was my favorite one to do?
Reflect on all of them. Remember how you felt during each one. Was there one that felt particularly exciting to you? Was there one that made you feel especially at peace? Did any of them help you to discover a new interest? For example in the course of people watching you may have noticed someone, and perhaps that is something that you yourself have never done before and would like to try. Perhaps you enjoyed being on the water and decided to try something related such as canoeing or white water rafting.
What are my favorite colors?
Take a box of crayons and color designs on a piece of paper. Fill the whole page with color. Which colors do you find yourself drawn to. Notice whether or not you have any particular reactions to a certain color. Does purple make you feel calm and relaxed? Do you think red is vibrant? Does it make you feel energized? Many people use the color red to represent their fury when they are using art as a therapeutic method of expression. What feeling would red represent for you? Some people feel that red is a color of confidence, that it is a color worn by people who are unafraid to take charge. What do you think of this statement?
Do I consider myself a cat person or a dog person?
If you own pets think about why you like them. Do you like your cat's independence? Do you appreciate your dogs devotion to you? Do you value their unique personalities? If you do not own a pet, would you like to? If so what type of animal would you most like to have as a pet? Why?
Who would I say is my best friend?
Why do you consider this person your best friend? Can you talk to him or her about anything at all? Do you feel you can be yourself with this person? Will this person accept you however you are, however you happen to feel? Do you like the way this person can make you laugh? Can you be playful and silly together? Can you celebrate together and cry together? Can you embark on mischievous adventures together?
Do I like sunny days better than rainy days
What is your first reaction? Some people find rainy days relaxing, where others may find them gloomy. Some people find sunny days uplifting and energizing. Some people have no preference whatsoever. Do you have a preference?
Copyright 1997 by Monika H. Ostroff