Taking Up Space
This is one person's story; everyone will have unique experiences on their own path to recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors or symptom use. Please use your own discretion. And speak with your therapist when needed.
By Liz Rognes, a former Emily Program client in recovery. She is a teacher, writer, and musician who lives in Spokane, WA.
When I was hired for my current job, I was elated. But a little voice in my head tried to justify this success by telling me that the hiring committee must have not have had any other applicants to interview. They probably chose me begrudgingly, it said, and only because the position needed to be quickly filled before the next quarter began. When I received a notification that a magazine wanted to publish one of my essays, I was thrilled, but that voice in my head told me that they had probably made a mistake and sent the acceptance to the wrong email address. When a friend congratulated me about the publication, the voice told me that she was just doing her duty as a friend and that she probably thought it was a mistake, too.
When I tell my partner about these fears, he reassures me. He smiles and points out the absurdity of the voice. Why would a mistaken email include a contract with my name, spelled correctly, and the title of my essay? Why wouldn't my friend be happy for me? And, of course, I can see that the voice is irrational. Usually, recognizing the irrationality of it helps to lessen it, at least somewhat.
My eating disorder told me that I was not worthy of taking up space—physical or intellectual or creative. It told me that I was not deserving or competent. It made me feel ashamed and inadequate whether things were going well or not. It was not reserved only for the moments in which I felt like a failure. It showed up—and still shows up sometimes—when good things happen, too. In fact, my shame can feel even more powerful when good things are happening; then, if the shame is strong, I feel both inadequate and fraudulent.
Listening to this voice isn't harmful only to me. When I concede to this voice, I diminish my own intellectual and creative strengths, but I also devitalize the intentions and agency of my best friends and of my community. I miss out on opportunities for connection and collaboration and growth.
It's not only the external validations, either. Sometimes, even when I'm feeling warmth and love, that shame pushes in and asks me if I really deserve to be happy. It finds a place deep inside of me where I feel vulnerable and hurt and insufficient, and it tells me I am not good enough.
Shame keeps us silenced. It keeps us restrained and tempered, and it can make even the happiest moments feel unhappy. My eating disorder latched on to my shame; using symptoms was a way to temporarily numb the shame. But I've learned that I don't have to listen to that voice. When it starts to sneak in, when it starts to tell me how broken and lacking I am, I talk back to it. It can help to have validation from my partner or a friend, but the thing that really works to silence the voice of shame is responding to it myself. If I can tell it that I don't believe it, that I am capable and worthy (even if, in the moment, I am not feeling convinced that I'm capable and worthy), it actually listens! And eventually, I start to believe in my own strength and competence and worthiness, too.
We deserve to take up space! We deserve to take up physical and intellectual and creative room. We deserve the full extent of our entire bodies, of our big and full emotions, of our love, of our needs and wants, of our creative and intellectual potential.
This is an ongoing process for me, but the more I work to embrace the fullness and strength of the spaces I fill, the more I am able to truly trust that I am qualified and worthy of those spaces. And the more I challenge that voice of shame, the more I am able to enjoy the abundance of the spaces that I inhabit.