“Amor fati” is the philosophical concept of seeing everything that happens in your life (including suffering, loss, and hardship) as good or, at the very least, necessary. In Latin, amor fati translates to “love of fate” or “love of one’s fate.” Basically, everything that happens to us is among the facts of our existence, so it’s necessary whether we like it or not.
Loving everything that happens in your life is hard. I find it so easy to buy into the anxious spirals of negative thoughts when things get tough, but I’m working on recognizing when my brain starts to play the catastrophe game so I can pause and look at what I can be thankful for (and when I can’t find anything to be thankful for, remembering that the situation at hand is a necessary component of the experience of being myself).
My last two posts have touched a bit on my relapsed anorexia. I’ve been in an incredibly inconsistent space, finding it really easy to manage my compulsions until it’s not. Last Friday, I was two miles into my third anorexia-driven distance run at the gym when my left shin started throbbing again. I hadn’t eaten much that day and knew my body needed me to stop, but I still had my blinders on and could only see clearly when looking at Wednesday’s binge. It wasn’t until I literally caught myself thinking “the worst thing that could happen is I die” that I realized how deep I was in the relapse hole.
Making self destructive decisions is comparatively easy when choosing between fighting my anorexic compulsions and giving in. Pushing back against the obstacle that is an eating disorder requires a lot of emotional, mental, and sometimes physical energy… but giving in provides the temporary facade of control, stability, and simplicity. It’s a lot easier to say “okay” when Mean Anorexia Voice says “don’t eat” or “go to the gym” instead of saying “no” and engaging in a battle against her (very convincing) abuse.
Alas, life is not really meant to be easy and, if past experience is any indication, the better you get at tackling your obstacles, the harder they become. Fortunately, as the obstacles I face in eating disorder recovery have gotten stronger, I have gotten stronger too. I am not yet at the point where I can honestly say I “love” anorexia as a fact of my existence, but I am slowly learning to appreciate it as a necessary component of my personhood and growth. Though I often wish I could be learning a different way, there are many lessons I can take away from recovery:
When it comes to personal growth, I am not a patient woman. This manifests in my brain’s knee-jerk (neuron-spasm?) reaction to expect complete healing when a traumatic or stressful experience is concluded. You left a toxic relationship? Okay, that means your heart isn’t broken anymore! You got a new job? Okay, that means your impostor syndrome is cured! You ate an adequate amount of calories for one day? Okay, that means your anorexia is cured!
When (shockingly) life doesn’t work that way, my second neuron-spasm reaction is self-abuse. And we’ve already established that I’m really good at being really mean to myself. This is not a good thing for a number of reasons, but in the context of eating disorder recovery, being wired for self-abuse means that stress, shame, and toxicity automatically feed into the destructive compulsions I’m already feeling and make them even stronger.
Obstacles and change are the major realities of existing as a human, so true recovery for me means finding a method of dealing with them that doesn’t feed into my self-abuse addiction. Dealing with adversity and setbacks requires something other than the constant narrative of “you’re worthless” and “you’re weak” running in the back of my brain.
It’s taking time, but I’m learning to lean in to my humanity rather than cringe away from it: reminding myself that relapse is part of recovery and that I will move forward imperfectly and jaggedly, not in a straight line. There will be days when all I can do is stand up against my obstacles and keep them from pushing me back, and there will be days when I’m able to push through them just a little more. Recovering from anorexia is teaching me to practice the same patience with myself that I do with others when their humanity is not perfect.
Let me preface this by saying I recognize the irony that someone whose profession is communication can, in fact, really suck at communication outside of work. Especially with a subject as emotionally draining as anorexia, it can be a challenge to talk about in a way that’s accessible for others.
I remember when I first began recognizing the signs, trying to talk to about it, and feeling a little brushed off. I couldn’t find a way to talk about the thoughts and feelings (which I later learned were compulsions) that consumed me during meals, and why they felt so consuming in the first place. I remember a trusted friend asking if I had to talk about it during every meal.
I didn’t have the mental resources to talk about my experience because I wasn’t allowing myself to really see it. All I could feel was the terror, pain, and confusion that comes with the realization and subsequent “dealing with it” of having an eating disorder. I didn’t know how to communicate that to other people because I didn’t really have a way to communicate it to myself beyond “ow.” Pro tip: that’s not really a great strategy when it comes to trying to help people understand this major thing you’re going through.
This kind of goes along with patience: both with myself and with others. It can take a few tries to communicate something complicated, whether it’s anorexia or something else. Going through recovery has given me time to practice, and I think it’s just made me a better communicator in general.
I sometimes (often) still struggle with stepping back from the raw emotion of an experience, but it’s getting easier. Especially if I’m in the middle of a relapse episode, I am very much still learning how to do “crisis communication” (see last night, when I let stress drive me to the gym, again, against my better judgment and panic-texted a friend before leaving and crying in my car for 30 minutes). Having an illness that tricks me into thinking even a snack can be a crisis is helping me cultivate those “crisis communication” skills so I do a little better each time.
I think most people have more things they want to fit into their lives than they have space for. Anorexia is kind of like a mental cancer — it pushes healthy mind matter out of the way and continues to grow into a repressive tumor intent on taking up as much space as possible… or maybe it’s more like a fire, because it only grows and spreads as long as you feed it.
My anorexia thrives on my internalization of worthlessness narratives, tendency to keep myself too busy to be alone with my mind for more than a few moments, and fear of disappointing people. I am still getting comfortable with the word “no” and the experience of true solitude. There are more things to do and people to spend time with than I can realistically fit into my schedule, and I am (finally) learning to accept that… I’m also learning that I’m a person I need to fit into my own schedule.
Running away from my relationship with myself is one of the biggest things that stands in the way to true recovery. As long as I continue to ignore my needs I perpetuate the idea that I am unworthy of having needs in the first place. Which feeds the anorexia fire further, which feeds the need to silence myself, which feeds the anorexia fire, which… you get the idea.
The biggest thing I’m working toward is making prioritizing myself a conscious, continual decision. It’s hard because I (like many people) have been conditioned for my entire life to leave myself off the list entirely, let alone put myself toward the top. But I can’t really serve anyone else in my life if I don’t take the time to serve myself, right? Right. My anorexia has not been getting better because I haven’t done a good job at putting myself on the list at all, so one of my first steps in recovery is paying attention to my needs and acting on them.
I STILL SUCK AT THIS ONE. I’m thinking back to yesterday at the gym again and how, after taking the step to get off the treadmill, I fell into the pit of “why are you like this,” “this is why you are alone,” “you are pathetic,” “what the fuck is wrong with you.”
I have a history of emotionally abusive relationships (romantic and otherwise), and over time the most emotionally abusive relationship I have been part of is the one I have with myself. When I experience stress or adversity, my brain plays all the tapes from those previous experiences, repeating an archive of put-downs, critiques, verbal attacks, and general nastiness. If I go far enough in the spiral, it gets to the “you deserve all of the terrible things people have done and said to you, and you deserve to be alone and miserable because you’re a terrible person.”
Mean Anorexia Voice tells me if I make myself smaller, I will somehow be more worthy of acceptance and love. She tells me if I just skip that meal, or run that extra mile, I will somehow atone for whatever sins I’ve committed to deserve the abuse, assault, and abandonment playing back in my brain. A lot of times, she’s a convincing liar because my sense of self-love is so fragile that any promise of a way to be worthy of love is something I am starving for.
Loving yourself is a huge challenge. You see all of yourself in full relief and have complete access to all of your past pains and mistakes. My mind tells me I’m not worthy of any kind of love unless I reach some level of perceived perfection, which is just its fancy way of saying I’ll never be worthy of love at all.
Navigating recovery means learning to practice self-love and gratitude because of, rather than in spite of, myself. Loving myself because I was able to step off the treadmill after two miles instead of pushing myself through six. Loving myself because I made an unhealthy choice but have the power to make a healthy one next time. Loving myself because I am worthy of love, period.
I am not yet at the point where I can say I truly love my fate. There are so many things that frustrate me about my current position, especially when I look at where I am and where I hope to someday be. Putting in the work to really make strides in recovery is exhausting and often requires more mental strength than I tell myself I have. It involves a lot of crying, a lot of messing up, a lot of leaning on the pillars of my support system, and a lot of being scared.
But it also involves a lot of joy, a lot of small victories, a lot of leaning on myself because I am stronger than I believe, and a lot of feeling brave and strong and capable. At the very least, I appreciate in this moment the reality of my situation as a necessary component of my experience, because it is helping shape me into the person I am meant to be and am becoming. I might not yet love my fate, but I think I’d at least take it on a second date.