November 04, 2011

Identity Crisis

Identity…Who Am I? Does anyone ever really know the answer to that question? I’ve spent so many painful years working on recovery and still I find myself dragging my heels – holding on with all my might to the very thing that has taken everything from me. Why? I’ve matured…I have better insight now…I want more. So why the hell do I hold on? Identity. I have no idea who I am without my eating disorder.

I’ve always felt different. That’s how my eating disorder started in the first place. I was nine. I was at a camp states away from home. I sat in the University cafeteria with my teammates who were laughing and talking about boys, and things I just couldn’t relate to. I didn’t fit in…I never had. I came up with my own little game to keep myself occupied - How long can I go without eating? It was mine and mine alone. I had a secret that made me feel special. I didn’t need anyone else.

I’ve heard it said that people with eating disorders stop maturing socially at the age their eating disorder begins. I don’t know how much truth there is to that statement, but for me it seems about right. I’ve matured in many other ways, but socially I still feel like that awkward little girl who never fit in. I don’t know where I belong. I socialize quite well on a surface level. In business or work settings I’m confident and outgoing, but amidst groups of people my own age I feel like a misfit. My life experiences are quite different than most people my age. I’ve grown to accept and respect that about myself and in many ways am okay with it, but when I’m around others who have had ‘normal’ or ‘traditional’ experiences I feel lost and alone. I’m 33 now, and I still don’t know where I fit in.

For years…and years…and years I’ve held onto my eating disorder like a life preserver because it’s one of the very few things that makes me feel whole. It’s like a consolation prize. I have it to cling to when I feel out of place everywhere else. So much of me wants to get rid of it, except that I don’t know who I am without it. I’m a hard worker. I know that. But that’s not enough for me. I can (and often do) work 18 hours a day, but at the end of the day I go home, alone, and don’t know who I am or what I stand for. The eating disorder…the counting of calories…the exercise…the spreadsheets…the obsession gets me through the nights. How do you just let go of who you are?

In my all or nothing thinking I keep trying to find that one perfect mold that I fit into. But that one perfect mold just doesn’t exist. When I moved to Utah I came really close to joining the LDS church. My beliefs never aligned with the church…at all…but I kept thinking that I could change who I was to fit in with a group of people. They made me feel like I belonged. I think part of me was attracted to the church because it was one of the few places where I felt like I wasn’t a misfit for not wanting to have sex. Except that as it turns out, most people I met in the church couldn’t wait to get married so they COULD have sex. Lots of sex, and lots of babies. Epic fail on my part! Ironically, it was my Mormon therapist who talked me out of joining the church – about a week before my baptism date. I didn’t see it at the time, but he was right. I was joining for the wrong reasons. I’m not the slightest bit conservative…and I don’t want to be. It’s not who I am.

My latest obsession has been veganism. I’ve basically been a vegetarian since I left for college at the age of 17, minus a year when I ate turkey lunch meat on occasion, and of course my stays at CFC where I lost the battle to my dietitian after she upped the ante to 3x the calories in Boost. I could only hold my ground for so long! But recently I’ve made the transition to veganism. It really isn’t that big of a switch for me as I never really ate eggs and prefer soy milk anyway. But I get caught up in the details and the labels. I find myself stressing about the disclaimer on my box of granola bars…‘May contain trace amounts of milk’. It’s not made with milk, but manufactured on a machine with OTHER PRODUCTS that do contain milk. Is that okay? Is that ‘legal’? I have a few pairs of leather shoes that I’ve owned for a while now. Do I have to throw them away…because I kinda need them for work & don’t have money to replace them right now. I pretty much only buy ‘not tested on animal’ products, but I’ve tried natural fabric softeners and can’t find one I like so I went back to ‘Snuggle’. What if it’s not animal friendly? What then? Am I not a ‘real’ vegan? WHY THE HELL DO I CARE??? It’s a label. It’s a fucking label.

Why do I care if the fabric softener I buy pushes me over that vegan/non-vegan line? In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. Except…to me it does matter. It matters because I’m grasping at straws trying to find something…anything to cling onto. I’m trying desperately to find something outside of an eating disorder to identify with…something that’s mine…that’s me…that I can say, ‘this is who I am – this is what I stand for.’ I’m looking in all the wrong places. Logically I know that. I’ll never find myself in any one thing. But that young girl inside of me is still trying so hard to fit in somewhere…anywhere.

Last week in my ‘taboo topic’ post I wrote about being unsure of my sexual identity (or lack thereof). I threw out the word ‘asexual’ lightheartedly, without giving a lot of thought to it. But then I received a few comments directing me to articles & websites addressing asexuality. What I found shocked me – there are other people out there with the same feelings as me. I found this in one of the articles I read…

‘In a world where sex and relationships are everywhere, life for someone who has no instinct for those things can be very isolating, lonely and distressing…Many asexuals feel “broken” because they do not experience the same wants and desires as “everybody else”. Many asexuals are haunted by feelings of shame and face harassment from peers because they don’t fit in. Many asexuals lead unhappy lives by trying to be “normal”.'

Wow. Is that why I’ve felt different from everyone my whole life? Is that what started this whole mess that became a self-fulfilling prophecy? The not fitting in, so isolating myself with my eating disorder, which really made me not fit in, and on and on and on. But the question still remains, outside of all these things, who am I?


  1. i love you, and i miss you! just keep listening to your heart, and you will discover who "amber" is and what she loves and doesn't love. i know you will! let's go to starbucks or see a movie sometimes soon!

  2. Amber,

    You most definitely aren't "alone" in wondering the "who you are". For me; I know deeply through and through who I am spiritually speaking. But, in this physical aspect, I struggle to find a "fit".

    However; I've come to understand that I do not need to have one, two, three or several "labels" that will identify me.

    Your journey in discovering "who you are" in my experience (and belief) does not have to fit a norm pattern. Simply begin to embrace the aspects of you that you may have tried to silence. Let those aspects have their "voice".

    I wish I could express this more eloquently, but I feel I'm not doing so in the best way. It's okay if you color outside the lines, make your own lines or do just what your soul says to do. (I'm glad that therapist encouraged you to not join the church. I was converted and am an ex-mormon myself. What a truly open soul that individual was.)

    Keep reaching for the aspects that feel FOR YOU to be in balance. You do not have to have it all figured out. I am under the belief that nobody truly does (even the Dalai Lama) as we are in a constant ebb and flow.

    Thank you for reading my random ramblings. But most importantly; thank you for sharing your experiences. It allows others' to know that they themselves are not alone in one way or another.

    With light....

  3. Hi. I got to your blog from Lisa's...

    I actually don't think the veganism is a great idea for you. And I'm a vegetarian and totally believe in animal rights and all of that (that's why I'm a veg). But for people with EDs -- we just can't do these radical things with our diets. It's not a good idea. :( I'd love to be a vegan some day, but I know that I have to be far, far away from my eating disorder in order to do that or it's a disaster waiting to happen. Please be careful.

  4. I laughed out loud when I got to the paragraph about the LDS church and sex.

    I agree with Sensory Overload - you'll find your way, and I love reading about your journey.

    For me, the more I find me, the less I need the labels. For now, you get to choose whatever label you want.