If a stranger asked you the question “Who are you?” How would you respond? How do you define yourself?
What would you say if the stranger asked you to describe your likes and dislikes? Most of us would be able to come up with an answer that had some meat on it.
Now, imagine what your life would be like if you had absolutely no idea how to answer either of these questions.
This is often the case when a woman or girl has lived with an eating disorder for a prolonged period of time. That’s because the disease engulfs and obliterates the woman’s authentic identity, much like a cancerous growth destroys the healthy tissue surrounding it. The longer someone has the eating disorder, the more her identity becomes hijacked by it. Her every thought and action is determined by anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating.
Frequently in the process of recovery, when the grip of the illness lessens, the girl or woman who was suffering has no idea who she is - her personal identity seems to have been abducted.
At Timberline Knolls, we strive to help women rediscover identity through individual sessions, group and family therapy, and importantly experiential therapies (which are really powerful in getting at who we really are on the inside.) It’s crucial for individuals to regain a sense of self in health and find out who they are free of their eating disorder. If that does not happen for a woman in recovery, it may be all too easy to slide back into the familiar identity of the disease when life gets stressful.
We ask our residents to imagine what a meaningful life –a life of value–looks like to them and to envision how that can be achieved with recovery support on a daily basis. Residents respond differently; one might want to become a veterinarian, caring for sick animals, while another just wants to live a life free from her eating disorder. This is a core component of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT.)
We then ask if an eating disorder is compatible with the woman’s life vision and values, or if it stands as an obstacle. The bottom line remains that all of the eating disorders; and the spiritual, emotional, and physical symptoms that go along with them, interfere with the development of a meaningful life; the two can’t coexist. Fortunately, with quality treatment and a community of recovery support, full remission can be achieved, allowing her true identity to abundantly reemerge, enabling her to flourish.
- Dr. Kim Dennis
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