Do you ever feel like you're a unicorn from outer space (or at least from a different time and place)?
For me, one of the greatest barriers in eating disorder recovery has had nothing to do with food. It's been all about learning how to function as a human being in the real world.
Let me try to explain.
Ever since I was young, well before disordered food issues began to crop up in my life, I've always resided in my own kind of mystical-magical world. I would hide under my parents' ornate dining room table with my dollhouse people, where the supports would become majestic catwalks and the ledges on the table legs would become princess towers. In the summer, my lair was outside, where we had a row of dwarf peach and apple trees: along with my stuffed animals, I was the fairy princess queen of a truly magical, secret tree-castle world.
To say that I have a rich imagination would probably be an understatement. I can easily just dive into my own brain, existing with myself, for hours, days, on end. I don't necessarily need companions in this world. I can go deep.
It carries over into my everyday world. In many ways, I take pride in not "needing" other people. I can do it my own way, man. And yet while my head is in the clouds, my feet are on the ground. And I recognize that living in this way is not always inclusive of other people.
Further, the fact is that even while I am quite content with a high level of solitude, I recognize that it's not good for eating disorder recovery. When I do live in my head, while there's plenty of magic there, there's plenty of darkness, too. That's when solitude switches to a sort of self-dictatorship, and it becomes easy to fall prey to thoughts like nothing will be OK unless this particular pair of pants is loose on me, or that everything is literally going to shit if I eat more than xxxx calories on a given day.
And the fact is, I (I think we all?) need other people. Human connection, contact, touch, love. It's these things that are buoying in what can be a big scary world.
For example, I recognize that after I have a walk and a big love hug with a friend, I'm far less likely to have toxic thoughts toward myself about the slice of pizza I ate yesterday, or less likely to count how many calories I've eaten in my head on endless loop.
The trouble is...it's hard to be a human being.
Around the age of 13, right when I might be going through growing pains and having the sometimes sharp experience of learning to navigate relationships with others and the world at large, I developed an eating disorder. That eating disorder effectively created a barrier between me and others for a solid 17 years.
For those many years, from about age 13 to 30, it wasn't necessarily my big storybook imagination that kept me separate from the world, it was calorie counts and bingeing and purging and constant food thoughts.
No, I wasn't a total loner with no connections for all those years. In fact, I was incredibly fortunate to forge relationships and enjoy experiences that have been pretty amazing. But in many ways, for a long time, there was a separate-ness: I am only a visitor in this world. I'm not quite like the others.
When I turned 30 and began truly committing to real recovery, I had to emotionally go back to age 13 and deal with all of the pain and reality and growing pains that my eating disorder had buffered me from.
At this point it's been over 20 years since the onset of my disordered eating, and I've had about 6 years of learning how to be a human being.
Now, I recognize that I'm a little different. I mean, I see very few people wearing a unicorn onesie around town or glitter in their hair or matching their little pink cowboy boots to their glasses. But I recognize that while I might look different and have a different outlook, what resides in my soul still rings true with the other beating hearts in the world.
And so, I choose to continue to learn how to be a human in hopes that connecting with others will continue to lift me up from the depths of eating disorder isolation. That is to say: it's OK and necessary to continue beating to my own drum, but it's also OK and necessary to allow others to accompany me with their own drum beats, ukeleles, finger cymbals, et cetera. We can be strangers and explorers and seekers and nobodies together. Because that's where the real magic resides.