It’s funny the things that make us pause, and take stock of where we are at, and the journey we have been on. For me, today, the invitation came in the form of an emotional health questionnaire that I was required to fill out as part of an application for disability insurance.
The form was filled with standard questions. Each probing into the details and history of any and all emotional health issues I have ever had, been told I had, or been investigated for.
At first I felt a wave of frustration. Why do I have to relay the intimate details of my mental and emotional health to some company for the purpose of allowing them to judge whether I am “good enough” for them to insure? Mostly, I didn’t really want to relive what is now in the past.
Of course, as an insurance defence lawyer who has done her share of coverage work, I was also not surprised. Insurers must assess the risk of insuring. And so, I began to fill out the questions – grudgingly at first, and then with more and more ease and willingness.
By the time I had finished documenting my history and recovery from bulimia, my reconnection to my emotional intelligence, and the work I have achieved to date in developing self-mastery over my emotions, I felt something else: a sense of pride.
A sense of pride is an odd thing for an insurance application to bring up. But that is unmistakably what arose. And while I don’t often admit it to myself, it is deserved. I have a lot to be proud of. It is a rare thing for someone to truly and sustainably release themselves from the clutches of something as powerful as bulimia.
I rarely let myself focus on this fact: I chose to do the hard work to heal my wounds and transform the fundamental beliefs that ran me, instead of choosing the easy route of pretending, or giving up and allowing the weight of the pain to crush me.
For approximately eight years (2005 to 2013) much of my time and energy revolved around food and my body. I lived by an impossible number of rules as to how little I was allowed to eat, and the weight and shape my body had to maintain. In secret, I repeatedly broke my rules by gorging on food and then tried to undo the transgression by purging, and then shaming myself into stricter rules. It was an exhausting cycle. I feared I would never be able break it.
Yet, I did. In early 2013 my life force (my soul) shouted “STOP!” and I embarked on a new and completely unknown journey. A journey into myself, and the beliefs, patterns and fears that ran me. It was not a comfortable process. It was humbling. It required I get to know parts of myself I had long since shut down – my creativity, my physicality, my spirituality, and my emotions. It required I let go of the shame around each of these parts of myself so that I could be free to be me in the world. It required I let go of people and places and things that would not transform with me.
Through this process of allowing my own humanity, I began to hear the deeper voice of truth within me. This voice was foreign. It did not counsel me to hurt or shame or force myself into a box of rules. This voice was kind and loving and compassionate. It was playful. It was peaceful. It wanted me to be free. It was this voice who told me I did not actually want to consume an entire tub of ice cream. “You just need a good cry” the voice would whisper, and slowly, I released the shame I held around the idea of being someone who cried, and I began to allow myself to cry when I needed to. The same kind of process occurred with all strong emotions and states I had been denying myself – anger, frustration, disappointment, love, passion and joy.
As I began to get in touch with the emotions I had been numbing with food, at first they were so strong it was challenging to deal with. I did not know how to listen to them. I was afraid of them. For a while I let them have a certain amount of power over me. I began changing the course of my life based on how I felt, with little consult to reason.
It was again the deeper voice of truth within me that began to show me the way. “The emotion simply wants to pass.” The voice would say. “Just allow it. Be with it. Do not react immediately.” As I began a practice of simply being with the emotions that came up in me, I found that they really did just pass. What was left in their wake was a much gentler knowing or truth.
Slowly, I began to see and understand the needs underlying the emotions that I had been suppressing: self-love, nurturance, safety, stability, connection and creative expression. I again began the challenging process of transformation: allowing my needs to be true; releasing the shame I felt around them, and beginning to satisfy them. As I took on the task of satisfying my needs, my inner state became more and more peaceful. My emotions no longer waged war with me because I was tending to the needs they were trying to bring to my attention.
While I am still working on more subtle forms of emotional mastery – like asserting myself gracefully in conflict situations, and strengthening my ability to maintain poise and self-confidence when challenged – I am proud of where I am at and who I have become. My emotions do not rule me, and I no longer have any need for coping mechanisms.
I consider the breadth of emotional capacity I have access to as a result of my past struggles and the journey I embarked upon to overcome them a true gift. My emotions allow me to see and connect with others at levels beyond what I knew possible, and that, at times, feels magical. The degree of self-love I have learned to cultivate for myself and my own humanity has equally increased my capacity to hold healing and transformative space for others.
As for my relationship with food, it is 100% transformed, and has been for some time. My relationship with food is intuitive. I have no rules about what or when I can eat. I do not look to food as comfort, as an escape, or to cope. I rarely overeat. Food does not preoccupy my thoughts unless I am hungry. I enjoying making and sharing meals with those I love. I have not restricted my food intake, binged or purged my food in years. Most days, the fact that I was bulimic, and that my relationship with food was unhealthy, is such a distant memory, that I forget that time in my life even existed.
Today I was reminded. Both of where I have come from in my emotional health journey, and the stark contrast to where I am at today. I have truly re-written a story. A story I once believed impossible to re-write. I am proud of myself. I am grateful for all of the support I have received along my journey. I am emboldened and filled with faith for the impossible transformations and creations yet to come.
p.s. Maybe there is an impossible transformation you would like to acknowledge yourself for. Take a look. You deserve it.