Do you sometimes do things that you know aren't good for you and you will feel like crap afterward?
I'm sure you are all quietly nodding your heads right now. Regardless of whether your destructive behavior is downing a pint of Ben and Jerry’s each night, or getting embarrassingly intoxicated in front of the wrong people, I think we can all relate to the fact that sometimes we feel a bit out of control of our own behavior.
The picture you see above shows me in the summer of 2011 vs 2016.
On the left is an 18-year-old girl who just graduated high school, didn't have much self-esteem, was fighting an eating disorder, valued partying and alcohol over her health, spent hours on the tread mill to be skinny, was using food as a coping mechanism and had no self-awareness whatsoever.
On the right is a 23-year-old girl who pumps more iron than alcohol, practices yoga, meditates every day, did a health coaching course in order to help others in their own self-love struggles while putting in the daily work to be the best possible version of herself. She prefers a calm night in with friends or herself over excessive clubbing, she's confident with her imperfections and doesn't try to be someone that she is not.
So, when you answered HELL YES to my first question, please know that you are not alone. Who among us doesn’t display some sort self-destructive behaviors from time to time, if not on a regular basis? But let me tell you that it's possible to turn it around. And trust me, I’m no superwoman. I might seem disciplined from the view of an outsider, but from within I have always felt undisciplined with a lack of self-control. For the longest time, my struggle with binge eating has made me feel like I could never change, but I did.
Let me take you back down memory lane through my own journey for a moment...If you are a reader of this blog, then you will have come across my eating disorder recovery blog posts 1, 2 and 3. You will know that my self-destructive behaviors revolved around excessive dieting and exercising, binge eating, binge drinking and basically anything that helped numb my emotions. Take binge eating: doing something long past the point of enjoyment, just for the sake of diving into oblivion rather than remaining conscious & sitting with myself & waiting out whatever it was that filled me with anxiety & pain. It's something that gave me short-term relief, but down the road, it made things way worse.
And then there was the self-loathing: there is nothing worse than hearing your own mind tell you 24 hours a day that you aren’t good enough, thin enough, pretty enough, or smart enough. Which led to more negative, self-destructive behavior. You see the negative habit loop here.
And you'll also know about the night that I hit rock bottom. That night was a wake-up call for me where I realized that I didn't want to keep going like this. I think the first step to curbing any behavior is the realization that you do not like said behavior and that it's something that you don't like to associate with your character. Once you realize this, no matter how far deep in you are it is never too late to change things for the better.
"Awareness is the first step"
Once you have admitted to yourself what's going on and you are willing to put in the work, that's when the magic can happen. Here is a list of things you can do to move from self-destruction to self-love, all things that have personally helped me a lot:
1. Turn toward the problem.
Essentially, self-destructive behavior is a means of coping with a particular situation because you have not learned a more compassionate way of soothing yourself in times of distress. For example: during my ED-days I would go to the beach and feel so incredibly fat and ugly, that I would come home and binge on a pint of Ben & Jerries. That makes NO sense, right!? Well, I didn't know how else to cope with the situation and food was my comfort blanket. Humans naturally tend to avoid anything that distresses us or that we don't consciously understand to protect ourselves from the potential pain. If you want to get out of that cycle, you have to actively look at the problem. Acknowledge it. Accept it.
2.Honor Your Feelings.
Pay attention to how situations, people, foods, actions, or behaviors make you feel. Does XZY make you feel good or bad? Let's continue rolling with the example I mentioned above: going to the beach being in a tiny-weeny piece of clothing, feeling fat and comparing myself with every girl on the beach used to be a horrendous experience for me. I hated it. I dreaded it. But I didn't honor those emotions when they came up, so instead I tried to suppress them with food and other self-destructive behavior. If I could have just sat there and said: "Ohh Stef, there the inner mean girl mix tape goes again." and actually listened to what was happening in my inner world, I maybe would have learned to deal with it earlier on.
3. Comfort your inner child.
Picture yourself at 3 years old. Would you tell her she is ugly, fat and unlovable? No! Guess what - you are still that same person. And when you do find yourself telling these things to yourself, don't buy into the story. Acknowledge that you are on a roller coaster ride of negative self-talk, but that self-loathing isn't going to make things better. I know it's incredible hard to "turn the switch around" and go from self-loathing to self-loving, but it's those times when we feel really bad about ourselves that we actually need it the most.
4. Respect your body.
I treated my body like a rubbish bin for a long time before I learned to respect it. But now I am more aware than ever of this beautiful vessel that I have been given to float through life. Learning to respect your body goes hand in hand with being grateful for your body. It’s tough to feel bad about your “flabby” stomach if you’re grateful for having a functioning body in the first place. Or it’s hard to complain about your partner's little annoyances when you are grateful for having him/her around in the first place. I have learned this especially in the last year, after my mom had a bad skiing accident (when we went heli skiing in Canada) and went from being a super active healthy fit Mama to not being able to walk properly. It's been a harsh wake-up call for me, and whenever I catch myself complaining about my thighs or the way that my jeans fit, I remind myself of how incredibly blessed I am to be healthy and active.
5. Learn from your mistakes.
If you slip up, that means you haven't ceased to learn yet. There are still more nuggets of wisdom to be gained from your situation. Mistakes and failures are gifts, gems, guideposts in our learning and growth as people. So embrace all your failures because they not only make you uniquely who you are, but also have the power to teach you powerful lessons. If you can reprogram your mind to see this, you won't deep dive into a vicious cycle of screw up --> guilt and same --> destructive behavior --> more screw ups. And remember: our loved ones who care about us will stick with us through all our flaws and mistakes, so you should too. This is especially true with binging! If the binges keep coming back even though you've been fighting and fighting it, that means that you aren't done learning yet and that there are pieces of the puzzle that are still missing.
6. Set healthy boundaries for yourself.
As mentioned, first you need to learn what your triggers are. And then you need to learn how to cope with them. At the next level, your goal is to set healthy boundaries for yourself in order to remove yourself from things that aren't serving you. I don't think anyone can be at their best if they don't respect their own healthy boundaries. Practice saying no to things you don't feel like doing and focus more energy on things that recharge you. With everything that you do, ask yourself "Does this inspire me or does this drain me?" For me, setting healthy boundaries has been a lot about making sure I spent enough time on my own, getting enough sleep and surrounding myself with like-minded and inspiring people.
7. Working out can teach you important life lessons.
You know how I talked about learning to sit with your emotions and working through the pain? I think I've learned a great deal about this through working out and physically pushing myself to the limits. Oftentimes, working out is about feeling the discomfort and doing it anyways. You show up, you work & no matter how uncomfortable you are, no matter how much your throat, lungs, legs and arms burn, you keep pushing forward. Eventually, you are done with the workout, the endorphins hit and you feel amazing. The same way I learned to survive intense workouts, I learned that I could survive the other kind of discomfort, the mental pain, in exactly the same way. Hot tip: try a yin yoga classes. It's a 1-hour class in which you only do 5-6 poses and you hold them for several minutes. It brings on long periods of time in an uncomfortable position, and it can be a real challenge to surrender to the pose and to accept what is in that given moment. I have noticed an amazing shift in my inner peace, presence and especially resilience every since I discovered yin.
Today, on the occasion that a disordered thought will float through my mind, I’m armed with myriads of coping skills to combat the situation. I honor my feelings and actively turn towards the problem through meditation, journaling or talking to someone about what's bubbling up and then I try to comfort my inner child with positive affirmations and lots of self-care. In the case that I do slip up and binge, I am very fast to accept what has happened, learn from the situation and move forward. I call all of this my personal SOStool-kit, and I make all of my clients create their own version of it too.
I hope these things helped and that providing a bit more of a deeper insight into my journey from self-destruction to self-love can be helpful to you and your own journey.