It has struck me recently that a pivotal part of my recovery has been about finding my voice. When I was in the grasps of my anorexia, I lost all confidence that my opinions were of any value. I didn’t believe that what I had to say was of any worth, and I definitely didn’t know how to express them.
My experience of anorexia has been about silence. Unable to express the pain I was feeling inside, I displayed it externally by getting thinner and thinner. I’ve never really loved being the centre of attention or have ever been particularly vocal, but during my illness, I was positively mute. In my head it was just me and my eating disorder. There was nothing else to say, I didn’t have time to even process my thoughts, let alone voice them. I actually didn’t care about what was going on in the outside world. My eating disorder had made my world incredibly small and this suited my anorexia. I couldn’t be blamed for anything because I hadn’t said or done anything.
These are some of the messages I heard from my eating disorder…
- You are a nobody
- Who is going to listen to you
- Better say nothing than get it wrong
- Your opinion doesn’t matter
- You are totally inarticulate
Over the last four years, since I have been in recovery, I realise that all the messages my ED told me were complete bullshit. They were just reasons to keep me sick. Since I have stopped listening to these toxic thoughts, I have grown in confidence in ways I never thought possible, and my voice has got stronger and louder. In fact I find myself piping up quite regularly now! I’m not afraid to participate in conversation or to engage with others who don’t share my opinions. I now believe that my opinion is of no greater or lesser significance that the next persons. I speak up without fear of judgment or retaliation, and I am able to respect others and myself. I admit that on occasion I could do with reining it, but for the most part, I now enjoy hearing, sharing and discussing with others! It’s not about always agreeing with one another, but more about realising that you can only grow as an individual by learning from others. We become more whole and fulfilled outside of isolation.
So how do you begin when to use your voice? Well it’s the same equation I apply to most aspects of my recovery. You just have to do it, be brave and start little by little to connect with your sense of self. Start to engage in the world around you, and think about things that make you feel passionate. It can be hard to think about anything else than you and your eating disorder, but you have to start to break the isolation in order to feel the power of connection. As I became stronger in my physical self I was able to have the headspace to change the record that my eating disorder had been playing. I replaced messages of “I can’t” with “I can.” I swapped “my opinion is of no value” with “my opinion is valuable because it is unique to me”.
- Your worth is not based on how thin you are, what you eat, or what you look like
- You are entitled to have an opinion and share it regardless of whether people agree with you
- To share your opinion gives value to you and those around you
- Engaging in the outside world focuses your mind on something other than yourself
- Using your voice is empowering and grows self-esteem and confidence
Regaining my voice has taken time and has not been easy. As I began to formulate opinions, I had to work on challenging my eating disorder, that wanted to draw me back into negative thinking. Just as I challenged the voice around food, I challenged it in every aspect. I was able to know the difference between what my eating disorder was telling me and what my healthy self was telling me. Once I had an opinion I then struggled to articulate it – I was fearful of saying the wrong thing or too much, but I did it little by little with friends, family and at work. The power of your voice is a free ‘tool’. We all have one and once you start to use it, you will be amazed at how much more empowered you feel.