I am an extremely empathic and sensitive woman. In fact, like 20 percent of our population, I possess the genetic trait of being a Highly Sensitive Person. This means my sensory neurons are more alert, and I experience the world at a higher frequency than others. As a child, these traits were scary for me. The world felt big and overwhelming and unsafe. It was as if the volume on life was turned up all the way, all time. I had all these big emotions and I didn’t know what to do with them, or how to articulate them. And when I was around other people, I didn’t just hear their voices- I heard their FEELINGS, screaming at me- relentlessly. But it seemed I “heard” things that others didn’t. Even at a very young age, I could pick up on discrepancies between what people said and what what they did. I could sense when things were wrong even when everyone told me they were ok. It was confusing, and I got the message early on that my ability to perceive the truth, and see and hear what was outside the awareness of others was dangerous- and would bring me only rejection and ridicule. I began to think something was wrong with me. I thought I was bad- flawed somehow. So I started trying to conceal who I was, to quiet the voice inside of me, to distrust my feelings. Rather than searching for the true me, I began to allow others to define who I should be, what I should do, what I should look like…
I spent most of my childhood and teenage years trying to make up for this “flaw” I thought I had. I felt if I could just make other people happy, be the perfect daughter, student, and friend- that I would be accepted, that I would be okay. I never thought about what I wanted, it was all about what I “should” be doing. Because I was so tuned into the needs of others, that became my focus- and I would push my own needs aside. This perfectionism served me well for a short time. I was a straight A student, a loyal friend and daughter. But it wasn’t long before the poison of perfectionism began to seep into my blood, and turn dark and crippling.
When I graduated from college, I had a breakdown. School had always been good for me- it gave me structure, a clear set of rules to follow. I knew what I had to do to get praise and acceptance. But out in the real world, with no one telling me what to do anymore, and no one in my often chaotic family really needing me to take care of them at the particular point in time, I was lost. I had become so disconnected from who I truly was, from my ability to listen to my emotions and inner guide. I was flooded with anxiety. I felt I had no anchor, no map to life anymore and it was like I was a lonely floating balloon, just being swept around by the wind. I needed something to hold onto, to ground me- and so I started to fill my mind with thoughts of food and exercise. I’m not even really sure where the obsession started, but it wasn’t long before that became my new reality.
The eating disorder swept in with a vengeance and dug its claws into me. It stalked me. It vowed to be my best friend and keep me safe as long as I played by its rules. And I did. It gave me something to strive for, and something to hide behind. Looking back, I realize that self destructive behaviors like eating disorders are there for a reason. We are trying, in our own broken way, to take care of ourselves, to fill our needs in the only way we know how in that moment. My eating disorder let me be good at something again. I needed that feeling of success, of acceptance, of winning. It gave me a false sense of control, and that control was SO soothing to my anxiety. It allowed me to continue to run from my big and scary feelings- to numb out. I didn’t have to feel when all I thought about was food and exercise and work. And most of all, it was a way for me to punish myself- for that ever nagging feeling of not being good enough.
But as the years passed, my anorexia and bulimia totally robbed me of any sense of self I had left. I felt like a shell- a walking, talking eating disorder and nothing else. No passion, no depth, just me and my drill sergeant of a mind searching for that elusive win. I isolated myself almost completely. My thoughts were consumed with calories, exercise, the numbers on the scale, and when my next binge was. I was deeply cruel to myself and it was a most miserable and suffocating life. But by then I felt trapped. I couldn’t see anything outside of the web of lies that my eating disorder had created for me.
One day I was trying on jeans in Urban Outfitters. I remember so clearly fighting my way into some insanely small size, and looking in the mirror and all I could see was a fat girl. I started complaining and criticizing myself, and my best friend just snapped. She started crying, and yelling at me: “You’re killing yourself!” Looking at her pained and teary face- something shifted inside me… I realized that I was no longer only hurting myself. I was horrified. It had not occurred to me that my disorder was affecting those I loved. I guess I just hadn’t thought I was worth enough for them to care. And in that moment I knew I had to get help.
Getting treatment was not easy, and recovering from my eating disorder meant learning how to really love myself. How to look within for the things that I was searching for, and not outside of myself. I had to learn how to take care of myself, how to show up for myself. And most of all how to reconnect to those feelings that I had stuffed so far, far down… because that’s the thing about feelings- they won’t just go away by ignoring them. They will build and build and build and wait for you- to see them, to hold space for them, to respect them, and to move through them. I was so used to distracting myself with being so busy caring for others needs that I had a landfill of feelings just piled up waiting for me.
So instead of a life filled with activities, chores, and an endless list of to-dos, I had to learn to slow down and to create a relationship with myself. And that is something that we often don’t think about- we put so much energy into our relationships with others- but how often are we showing up for ourselves? A relationship to self needs just as much attention and nurturing as any other. You have to get to know yourself just like you would a new friend. As I began to commit to that relationship with myself, as I meditated and journaled, and had alone time- slowly the true me began to show up again. As the redness in my cheeks returned and my strength grew, that beautiful hearted creative little girl began to peek her head out from behind that curtain of shame. I began to feed myself what I was TRULY hungry for: love, rest, comfort, affirmation, time to breathe and just be. I made friends with my feelings, and began to see them as allies and guideposts, that helped me to understand who I was and what I really wanted. I let myself dream for the first time ever. And I made peace with my sensitivity, seeing it for the gift that it is.
Today, I love myself very much. I discovered that self love and self care are skills that can be learned, and I commit to them on a daily basis. I am grateful for my eating disorder because it taught me this lesson. I don’t want to hide from the world anymore. There is is nothing more empowering than using your voice. Than showing up as who you truly are, and being okay with the fact that some people aren’t going to like that. But the most important opinion is yours.
The most valuable thing I learned, and continue to learn, through my journey of recovery is that your relationship with yourself has to be #1. It is a daily practice, a commitment to being your own best friend. To allowing space to process your feelings as they come up. To going within and seeing what it is your soul needs and then finding healthy ways to give that to yourself. To letting yourself dream, and discovering what your heart truly desires. To standing in your authentic truth and using your voice. Remember, your unique gifts are needed in this world. Never stop showing up for you. If you feel different, if you are sensitive like me, find the good in that, and embrace your uniqueness! Find your tribe, the people that DO understand you! And above all, take care of your sensitive warrior heart.
Follow Amber Rochelle on Instagram, find her on Facebook, and join her Super Sensitives Facebook group. For inspiration and tips on loving yourself and your life, and caring for your sensitive superpower, sign up here.
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Tags: #bodyboop, Amber Rochelle, Amber Rochelle Hargett, body boop, eating disorder, eating disorder recovery, eating disorder treatment, eating disorders, edrecovery, intuitive life coach, life coach, nicole rohr, nicole rohr stephani, nicole stephani, recovery, sensitivity, Super Sensitives