Making Friends With Our Demons

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Anorexia. My demon. The entity that defined, determined, and disciplined me. The part of me I loved to hate and hated to love. The very part I spent the better part of my life striving to banish and preserve at the same time. For who would I be without my demon, without Anorexia?

I contorted my body to cling to it but commanded my mind to renounce it. I showed up to recover but dreaded letting go. What was this “freedom” everyone spoke of? Who was I to be free?

The guilt and shame of failing my demon was heavy, but so was the pain of failing to banish decades of beliefs, behaviors, and rituals. For as much as my favorable character traits and values were a part of who I am, so too was this eating disorder.

The effort to exile Anorexia was exhausting. The struggle was suffocating. The push and pull between wellness and sickness created a momentum of its own, making healing from years of an eating disorder slow going at best and frustrating beyond measure.

But then, a breakthrough. A most unexpected twist to my story. A therapist I deeply trusted asked me about my love-hate relationship with the eating disorder, pointing out how swinging between these two extremes was a barrier to accepting myself.

“What if you made friends with the eating disorder?” she asked. “What if you got to know it? Learn from it instead of hate it or love it?”

She went on, “What if instead of being ashamed of the eating disorder, you embraced the truth that you are capable of all that you are despite and because of it?”

Then this, the most poignant question: “Jennifer, this so-called ‘disorder’ has been a part of you for all these years. Is it realistic to think you can banish it in the first place?”

As I took in her words, something snapped into place. It was me; I snapped into place. The two parts of me that had been warring for so long—my demon and the “real” me—effortlessly integrated, like two puzzle pieces destined to fit together. I felt complete somehow, whole, no longer two halves.

She was right. If I flipped my thinking from believing I had to cast out the eating disorder to honoring it as a part of who I am, then I could also be free of the shame that kept the eating disorder going in the first place.

If I respected Anorexia as a teacher instead of labeling it a demon, then I could engage the eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, and beliefs in the spirit of understanding, growing, and ultimately healing. Rather than dwell on the guilt of “being bad” or “having a bad day” when I used symptoms to the point of depression, I could look on those moments as “experiences” filled with wisdom and guidance—a truth about something within myself that needed attention, validation, and healing.

I’ll share that once I made this mental shift, of befriending versus demonizing the eating disorder, my symptoms decreased dramatically, I felt more comfortable and confident in my body, and I worked through “my stuff” with much more ease. Without the heaviness of guilt, shame, depression, and failure to hold me back, I was free to move through my life, to accept myself, and to value all my experiences (eating disorder related and otherwise) as opportunities from which to learn. By adopting this approach to relating to the eating disorder, I came to appreciate that I have a unique lens through which to see my life and the world.

To all my friends on a recovery path, you too have an opportunity to understand your life through a healing and empowering lens. What if instead of calling your inner struggles “demons,” you called them teachers, healers, or even friends? What if instead of striving to banish your “crazy,” you embraced the lessons and gifts of your experiences. How would your relationship with yourself change if you traveled the recovery path with a friend instead of a demon?

This can be a tough perspective shift to make. In fact, it may feel like more of a leap than a shift. I often share this story with my yoga therapy clients to introduce the notion that they aren’t “bad” for having a slip with symptoms, because the symptoms are a part of an experience that can be examined, discussed, and processed. As “ugly” as they are, eating disorder behaviors hold wisdom; they want to tell us something. The symptoms don’t make us “bad,” they make us students of our lives.

Certainly, we must resolve to learn our lessons and keep moving forward; I am not condoning actively engaging in eating disorder symptoms! Rather, I offer a perspective shift—from demon to friend—to enlighten you to the truth that you are whole already. No matter how divided or fragmented you may feel in this exact moment, you are whole. Befriend yourself.