Everything is Fine
Imagine this scenario:
I walk out to my waiting room to greet my client who is struggling and in the grips of a deadly eating disorder. She has been in a state of misery for years, constantly thinking about food and her body. Self Loathing. Self hating. This has been no easy road and she has been walking it exhaustedly for months. Some days it feels like giving up on recovery would honestly be the easiest thing. It makes sense, getting better in recovery often doesn't feel better.
She sits down on my couch and I ask; "How are you today?"
It's an intentionally loaded question. One that I could predict the answer to with almost perfect accuracy. I wish I couldn't. But I have learned over time.
She smiles her best and most exhausted smile and says a truly enthusiastic Oscar worthy "Fine."
If I could have any sum of money for the amount of times I hear "fine" I would probably have all three of my kid's college paid for.
This particular night I am feeling particularly done with whatever "fine" has to offer. So I decide to challenge a little. "Okay, you can say you're "fine" but only under one condition...we come up with a different meaning for "fine" because all of the evidence happens to tell me that the current definition of "fine" is inaccurate for you."
My client sort of laughs. She knows about this habit.
It's one of the most exhausting things a person recovering from an eating disorder does; pretending to be fine.
It takes Herculean effort, made more difficult by inadequate nutrition, our mostly disordered world, and the particular brand of terrible an eating disorder can bring into your life.
She decides to roll with it. Challenge accepted. And she settles on what I think is the best definition to the word "fine" in eating disorder recovery.
F.I.N.E- False Isolating Nonsensical Eating Disorder Statement.
Now this I can work with!
Fine is False- In eating disorder recovery, being fine is false. It is so hard for a person in recovery to admit that they are not fine because appearing to be fine is at the very nature of the eating disorder's job description.
It is some of the biggest work of recovery to be okay with not being okay. Is this comfortable for people? Heck no! Most of the recovery process isn't (more about that later). Is it necessary for recovery to be able to sit with discomfort? Absolutely!
Fine is Isolating- When a person is falsely fine- they cut off the ability to receive support. Brene Brown teaches us that vulnerability drives connection. Being falsely fine breeds shame and shame makes us put up a mask, which inevitably creates disconnection.
Falsely fine is not authentically showing up for life. Not to mention the fact that pretending to be fine sends a message to the people around you that they must also pretend to be fine.
Fine is Nonsensical- There are some situations where it would be really strange to be fine. Eating Disorder Recovery is one of them. It makes no sense to be fine when every meal you eat has an evil dictator screaming in your ear.
It makes no sense to be fine while your body is shutting down from lack of nutrients. It makes no sense to be fine when you have a constant inner critic telling you that you are the most absolute worst. In that given situation it makes sense to be hurting, anxious, and uncomfortable.
Fine is an Eating Disorder Statement- In recovery we work hard to differentiate healthy self statements from eating disorder statements.
Healthy self statements come from our true authentic selves. Eating Disorder statements come from the Eating Disorder and usually have nothing to do with what we value.
If you ask a friend how she is doing and you genuinely want to hear the answer, this means you value authenticity. If you then would be false in your own answer to others- this can't be consistent to your values. See the discrepancy?
I want authenticity but I give falsehood.
Anytime we are living inconsistent to our values, misery shows up- which makes being "fine" all the more impossible.
I am swearing off fine. It's the new F word in my life.
You might ask "what can I say then, what if I am in a time or place where I don't want to launch into my struggles?"
Those are great questions. Only you can determine who is worthy of knowing your truth.
With people you trust, you might try:
"Recovery has been really hard."
"This is tougher than I thought it would be."
"I want to say I am fine, but that just wouldn't be the truth right now."
"I am working hard to improve my well being."
"I am taking it one meal at a time today."
"I am really glad you asked, but I am afraid I don't feel comfortable answering honestly in this setting. Could we talk about it one on one sometime soon?"
"I am not okay right now."
Recovery is a long process. There is going to be a lot of "not fine." This doesn't mean that there won't be amazing, redemptive, life bringing moments. Those moments will be more than fine. They will be glorious. In the meantime, be where you are, especially with the people who count.
You don't have to tell everyone everything but there should be at least one person you can tell anything. Admitting that you aren't fine is the first most necessary step in the recovery process.
The world trains us to put up that pretense. I can work with not fine. I can't even begin to help someone that is living under the impenetrable barrier of fine. It takes a great deal of bravery to admit to someone you aren't fine, but when my clients do this in session, I breathe a sigh of relief, lean in and think finally, now lets let the real work begin.
About the Author: Celeste Smith
I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate practicing in the piney woods of East Texas. I work exclusively with clients who struggle with eating disorders, disordered eating, and body image struggles. I love working with families and helping them helped their loved one through the recovery process. When I am not doing therapy I love to roam the forest, read all the books, and write.