How My Journey Through An Eating Disorder Taught Me To Love Myself
When I was 25 years old, I considered myself a “weekend warrior." My friends and I worked hard during the week, focusing on work, fitness, and hard-core diets. When the weekend rolled around, we turnt up — drinking excessively, bar hopping, and constantly “on the scene." I had always been a partier and surrounded myself with other partiers. I didn't know anything else.
Then, I decided to go into residential treatment for my eating disorder. Preceding rehab, I was prepared for a lifestyle change. But I was not expecting to connect with the other residents on such an intimate level or learn a whole new way to live.
For three months, I experienced fun and interaction that didn't involve drinking or drugs. There were movie nights, beach walks, dinner dates, and gelato jaunts. We painted pottery, crafted our own jewelry, planned and prepared meals together, and learned new card games.
At the end of the program, I knew I would miss these people — strangers 90 days before — who had become some of my closest friends. But I missed the friends I'd had since childhood, and I was eager to enjoy my new lifestyle with them. But when I got back, I realized the only thing that had changed was me.
I tried to have fun at bars with my friends, but my anxiety was at an all-time high. Drinking only made it worse. Being in a heavier body and trying to reenter my old life without my eating disorder as a crutch was much more difficult than I had imagined.
I soon retired my barstool and started to resent my friends. I didn't have the friends I had made in treatment nearby, and the friends in my city weren't interested in that kind of connection.
After a week of sulking and blaming other people, I decided to take myself on a date. When I told my therapist, she asked me to elaborate. “Well," I said, "I’m learning that people are generally preoccupied with their own lives. I think in coming home, I had unrealistic expectations for my friends. So, instead of letting them be in charge of my happiness, I'm going to take myself out for dinner and a movie on Friday night.” My therapist liked my idea and asked me to write out my plans in detail.
All week, I found myself looking forward to my Friday night plans. I had decided to eat at my favorite restaurant, then walk to the movie theater to see Boyhood. This restaurant had always had an amazing menu, but I hadn't been able to enjoy it before I'd been treated for my eating disorder. I set a time to meet myself for dinner and treated it like a real date.
As I got ready, I played music and wore my most comfortable dress and shoes, only thinking about what I wanted — not trying to impress anyone else.
That was the first time I had felt beautiful since before treatment. At the restaurant, I asked for a table for one. When the hostess asked if I was meeting anyone, I firmly (and proudly) said, “no.” I ordered fish tacos and a pint of beer. I put my phone on silent so I could fully be present for every mouthwatering morsel. I felt such a relief and radical acceptance as I enjoyed my meal — eating till I was full! — without judgment or anxiety.
After dinner, I walked through the dusky fall evening to the movie theater. I chose the center row, middle seat — my favorite spot. I got water and a small popcorn with butter and salt. During the movie, I laughed and I cried, I lost track of time, and I truly enjoyed my own company.
I felt so good after the movie, I didn’t want the night to end. So, I walked to the nearby fro-yo shop for a dessert nightcap.
When I felt myself winding down, I noticed the absence of pressure. No one cared if I stayed to shut the place down. Totally contented, I went home to journal all about my date. It was truly one of the best nights of my life.
This experience taught me that I am the only person in my life who will be there for me as long as I live: not my significant other, not my friends, not my parents, not my pet, and not even my children. Learning to like myself is one of the most important journeys I've ever taken.
Here are my tips for getting comfortable with (and enjoying) the process of dating yourself:
1. Show compassion to yourself and be playful.
2. Journal about your ideal date night beforehand.
3. Be realistic (i.e., if you live in South Dakota, your ideal date night should not consist of eating a hot dog at Disney World).
4. Research events in your area and make note of any that interest you.
5. Decide on a time and place, and stick to your decision. (You deserve a punctual date.)
6. Put it in your calendar at home, at work, and on your phone.
7. Once your plan is formalized, tell people about it. It'll get you more excited and help you stay accountable.
8. Give yourself plenty of time to get ready — treat it like a real first date.
9. Acknowledge and process your feelings (i.e., anxiety, loneliness, doubt, excitement, boredom) and let them be OK. Avoid judgment.
10. Wear something you feel confident and comfortable in, according to your own standards.
11. Eliminate distractions. Enjoy your own company.
12. If anxiety creeps up, count your inhales and exhales. Focusing on your breath will help you calm anxiety and be present.
13. Instead of trying to make the moment, be in the moment. You are a part of the experience.
14. Be open to spontaneity, but stay true to yourself.
15. Don’t be shy! Interact with people and be social if that is your nature.
16. Be open about your date night if people ask why you’re out alone. (You shouldn’t be ashamed to be seen with yourself.)
17. Use your intuition to decide when it's time to go home.
18. End the night on a positive note. (Do something nice for yourself at the end of the night. Give yourself a compliment or buy yourself a gift.)
19. Reflect on your night and journal.
20. Tell friends, family, and co-workers about your night. You might inspire someone.
Just like any first date, there are going be things you like and don't like, excitement and insecurities. Give your date some grace, and be proud of yourself for going out on a limb. The most important thing? Have fun. After all, don't you want a second date with you?