I in no way chose to develop an eating disorder, but every single morning I wake up and most certainly choose recovery. Every single day I choose that I am not only going to abstain from behaviors that once used to dictate my entire being but also choose to believe in the emotionally and cognitively altering process that I wholeheartedly engaged with in order to reach this point in my recovery.
But every single morning, within 5 seconds of opening my eyes, I have my phone in my hand. Before I can even process that I am awake, I have scrolled through hundreds of links, likes, shares, and photos that could potentially send me into a spiraling relapse. This is how I start my day; and I could imagine I am not alone in this habit. The mere fact that you are reading this is a testament to how the internet is an integral fixture in today’s society.
I love the internet. I love social media. I love the virtual connectivity that modern technology has provided for us. But this community environment that the internet has created for and welcomed us into is not without faults. Cyberbullying, photoshop, social comparisons, celebrity idolizations, advertisements, normalizing, minimizing… the list can go on and on. We exist in a world where virtual reality has given us tunnel vision and provided universal conditions on which we ‘should’ base our lives.
These conditions can particularly be detrimental for those of us who have struggled or are struggling with an eating disorder. Every day I work with clients who explicitly tell me that the perceptions they have of their own bodies have been influenced by popular media in one way or another; that every single time they log onto Instagram or Tumblr, they are reminded that they are ‘less than’ because their reflection does not match that of the screen. Or they obsessively wonder if those people who hide behind a screen and hurtful words might actually be right. For every single status about binging a popular TV show, posed selfie at the gym, ‘perfect’ picture on the beach, and diet advertisement for manufactured ‘happiness’ eating disorders are being reinforced and validated daily.
And so, I am often asked how I can wake up every day, fully engaged and enamored with the wonderfully exciting world wide web, and not be affected? Well, the answer is, I am! Of course, I am affected! It is nearly impossible not to be, especially with having a history of a chronic eating disorder. But it is this knowledge of my increased susceptibility to negative media influences that keeps me behavior free, emotionally aware, and cognitively focused on recovery and self-love. I embrace the community that the internet can bring, but know that the generalized standards that this community has created are not the ideal for which I am expected to live my life. I use the internet to bring people together, to speak my mind, and to be an advocate for change on a level that is much bigger than myself.
But I remember that change starts with myself, completely unplugged. It starts with experience, self-reflection, awareness, and honesty. It starts with owning your truths and being able to appreciate others’ without compromising your own. So, when I am asked ‘How did you escape the pressures of the media?’, I say ‘I didn’t.’ I explain how I survived the pressures of the media and found a way to embrace the opportunities it can bring. I explain how I could not appreciate the beauty of this virtual world if I didn’t balance it with the beauties of the world that exists far beyond the screen. I explain how a vital part of my recovery was turning off that very screen until I was able to understand how to use it in my favor instead of as a trigger. I explain how I had to learn that I could not control or censor others’ virtual actions, voices, or expressions. But I can control how I react to them. I explain how I choose to own and carry out the truths and values that are sacred to me and that continue to bring me peace in recovery, even when they are questioned, scolded, or compared by others online. I explain that the media can be a part of my life, without being all consuming and comparative. I explain how I wake up every day and choose recovery with my phone in hand and message at heart, in hopes that this will brighten at least one person’s day and answer a few questions.