Every year on January 1st, like clockwork, the diet industry seems to awaken with a roar, screaming some newly packaged rendition of the same old cry, “new year, new you!” The notion that we need to transform ourselves physically in order to achieve whatever our year’s goals and desires may be, is a flagrant and desperate marketing scam for sure, but it also drives home a desperately sad deeper message. In order to grow as humans in any way “that counts,” we need to invert ourselves so that we are no longer recognizable. While it seems like this message would be so painful that we would easily turn away from it, somehow, every year, it remains dazzling to so many.
However, for some individuals, transformation is terrifying. For my clients working towards recovery from their eating disorders, transformation is something to be feared. For some, this is due to long held fears of their bodies changing in one way or another and the barrage of messages they have internalized about how that must be avoided at all costs. But even more than the physical changes that can at times, accompany recovery, is the fear, “who will I be without my eating disorder?” There is this notion that without the beliefs, behaviors, rituals and drives that accompany the eating disorder that whatever is left will be entirely unknown to them, and not only that, it probably won’t be that great. I used to find this idea puzzling, but now I see that it extends to a lot of clients struggling with a range of challenges that have molded to their identities until the two seem so fuzed that one ceases to seemingly exist without the other. In this way, being told you are working to get rid of _____, becomes the farthest thing from hopeful.
The concept of “the self” is a long-standing point of philosophical exploration and debate. It was John Locke, who was the first to coin the notion that “the self,” is formed by the continuous experiences and memories that compound over time. I find this belief quite comforting. With this lens, we could go through radical changes and still, our sense of self would remain. This is often what I witness with my clients, but it’s a hard thing to reassure someone on until it has been lived through.
Butterflies know a great deal about lived through radical changes in the course of a single and continuous life experience. It is not surprising that they are often used as a symbol for eating disorder recovery. However, this podcast may surprise you in what you think you know about them and the next time it feels like the walls of your life are melting all around you and that you no longer recognize your place in the world, remembering these champions of change might bring a little comfort. May they also serve as a reminder that no matter how our forms shift throughout life, we continue to inhabit them as the same being and anyone who says otherwise is selling something.