Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, RYT is a yoga teacher and yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. In recovery herself, Jennifer is extremely passionate about helping others reconnect with their bodies and be empowered in their lives. Jennifer works with clients in person and via Skype. She also teaches yoga at the Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia, is a partner with the Yoga and Body Image Coalition, and leads trauma-sensitive yoga classes. In this week’s post, Jennifer discusses detaching from your diagnosis identity.
When a diagnosis becomes our identity and our identity a diagnosis, we unknowingly become walking, talking containers of illness, pain, and even hopelessness.
We separate ourselves from others in the belief we are different or broken. As we embody the disease we believe precedes us, we disconnect from our unique gifts and passions. Our bodies hurt, our minds become one dimensional, and our spirits wither. Our world narrows to a single dark point chained to the fear of not knowing who we are without our diagnosis identity.
It’s only having lived to come out the other side of shedding the diagnosis identity of an eating disorder that I can say with conviction that you have permission to detach from yours too. I understand the fear, anxiety, confusion, and uncertainty that accompanies even the smallest of steps to let go of that which you believe keeps you safe, in control, and put together. For decades I fiercely resisted detaching from the diagnosis of anorexia. From my hair style to how my clothes hung on my body to the bags under my eyes to the food on (or not on) my plate, I dedicated my every action, word, and thought to fulfilling my identity as an anorexic. That diagnosis was the lens through which I viewed the world and my place in it, and it was a dead end.
With time, persistence, willingness, and a whole lot of support, my eyes opened to the shadow I was living in, the shadow of my diagnosis identity. Once I spotted this identity as a menacing shadow and not the entirety of who I was, I realized I had the power to walk out into the light. As I inched away from the shadow, new possibilities for healing came into my life as did new relationships and opportunities. Slowly but surely, I began to resent the shadow for holding me back from embracing more and more of the world around me and the food, people, and sensations in it. The stronger my resentment grew, the more willing I became to detach from the diagnosis identity and replace it with the gifts, talents, and passions that were buried but by no means dead.
It took practice giving myself permission to detach from the eating disorder identity. Every morning for months I asked myself Who are you? until the words anorexia, anorexic, and eating disorder were not my first answer. Little by little, more answers surfaced in my mind, like mother, daughter, wife, yogini, writer, creative soul, kind person, etc. I did this exercise over and over until the words related to my diagnosis identity moved down the list and one day slid right off it. Getting to this point took perseverance, and it wasn’t a straight line, just as recovery is not.
With the help of a therapist, other supports, and my Yoga practice, I was able to arrive at complete permission to detach from the diagnosis identity. Now the words anorexia and eating disorder do not define me, nor do I strive to embody them. Rather, I respect and honor these words for the profound experiences in my life they represent and the gifts they provided: self-awareness, empathy, resilience, compassion, and ultimately my life’s purpose to support others healing from eating disorders through yoga.
My friend, you are capable of detaching from any identity that keeps you trapped in shadows. Once you give yourself permission to do so, the possibilities for goodness to fill your life are endless. Take a few moments and reflect on these questions:
How would your life change if you shed your diagnosis identity?
What dreams would become possible?
How much more fulfilled would you be?
How much more connected would you be?
How much more whole would you be?
Don’t be afraid to ask yourself who you are. Let the answers come as they are in this very moment. Ask again tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that until new words bubble up. With permission, they will. Be patient and gentle with yourself as you step away from the shadow, but trust you can do it. I fiercely believe you are more than a diagnosis. You have permission to detach from your diagnosis identity. You have permission to explore who you are without it. You have permission to move through this world as an whole, vital individual.