Embracing Strength & Vulnerability In Eating Disorder Recovery

By Sarah Kinsel, Guest Contributor

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A short while ago, just under 1 year, I was in a partial hospitalization program at Castlewood. In honor of Valentine's Day, clients were given a “self-love” challenge for 1 week. I tend to think these types of activities are far too Hallmark holiday for my preference, but I made a fair attempt to participate. At the end of the week, I was to reward my attempt in taking a chance on loving myself. Looking back on that time in my life, I had absolutely no way of knowing just how much would manifest from my attempts at self-love.

Last year’s practice in self-love became a lesson in how to simultaneously hold two things that seem like complete opposites: strength and vulnerability. A few times over the last nine months I’ve done my fair share of mucking up the progress I had made towards a consistent meal plan AND that doesn’t necessarily mean I had relapsed. In starting the work of loving myself last February, I had begun the foundation for what would turn into compassion for myself when things (bills, school, relationship, work, etc.) did not go how I felt they should have gone. Side stepping the meal plan did/does not mean I have failed, but it has become a beacon that things may be more difficult than I would let myself believe.

Loving myself--believing in myself--has not been a decision I’ve made once and didn’t need to revisit; it has been moment-to-moment decisions and choices. It has been in the very cognizant choice to continue connecting and being present in my body, even if I was afraid of what my body was trying to tell me. It was in finding things and activities that I love, that I could do outside the eating disorder, that has given me so many opportunities to feel strong and resilient within myself, even though I was afraid of what being strong could mean.

Sometimes that act of self-love has come down to stopping, just for a moment, to breathe, notice what I am genuinely feeling, and giving those feelings space to be heard and felt.

The last year has been amazing, even when it wasn’t. The bottom hasn’t fallen out all the times that my body’s nervous system was telling me the world was ending. In completing my Master's degree, I was able to grasp the line between self-care and avoidance through being productive. I had traveled pretty far from what my heart was telling me I wanted to do and, now, I have found my way back to myself. And that’s really the big ‘thing’…being strong AND vulnerable, because it’s far more likely that life, and those things, are not so black and white. Rather, strength and vulnerability together is like a spark that guides and grounds me as I continue in and through my recovery process.

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Sarah Kinsel, based out of Maryland, just completed her Masters degree in clinical mental health counseling and is working within the thanatology sector of therapy. As an individual that has struggled with an eating disorder for 17 years, she is savoring the ways she has connected to her body more recently, and the strong resolve this connection has given her in her own recovery.