Practicing Self Empathy Through Recovery

By Eric Dorsa

I recently heard a friend say, “Recovery is always the end goal. It’s more of a direction than a destination.” This struck a chord with me. I had always heard, “recovery is a journey, not a destination” however, this new phrase was slightly different. I took it to mean that life is the journey, and Recovery is the direction I am walking in. I can always change directions. What I used to think was Recovery was, in fact, not Recovery at all. Yet, this place was necessary for me to arrive at what I know to be Recovery today.

I used to think that Recovery was a harsh voice of self-criticism pointing out when I was “slipping.” My past version of Recovery included a lingering fear of relapsing versus trusting myself. Throughout my addiction, I numbed my body and my emotions with drugs and alcohol. It was trying to hate myself into being an acceptable version of myself.

Today, Recovery means loving and caring for myself no matter what, even when I am struggling. Recovery is less about getting it right and more about how I treat myself when I am getting it wrong. Recovery is about developing empathy and compassion for myself and healing the relationship I have with myself and my past.

Learning and experiencing this truth about Recovery was life-changing for me. I wouldn’t have been able to experience this either if it wasn’t for the darker days previously mentioned. All of it was necessary, and in a way, all of it was part of my path to Recovery. The pain I experienced during that period of my journey, where I was still very much in the causes and conditions of my eating disorder but not acting out in disordered behaviors, was trying to point me in the direction of proper Recovery. 

I will never forget the phone call where it all changed for me. I was so terrified that if I didn’t “fix myself,” the eating disorder was going to come back into my life and destroy everything. I was constantly trying to outrun real emotions that I had never really learned to feel and then heal. This distance from myself was causing real pain, and I was unsure how to open up about what I was thinking and feeling until the day I could no longer avoid the pain. I called my friend Tiffany, and I let out how scared I was, how angry I was, and how lost I felt even having not acted out in behaviors for almost seven years. She said, “that is your truth. Stay there and listen to yourself. That is the beginning of healing; it is time to heal.”

My Recovery is centered in loving myself no matter what, even when it is the last thing I know how to do. Learning to see me from a place of compassion and empathy has been one of the greatest tools to navigate my Recovery life and have an honest and authentic relationship with myself and the world around me. Building self-empathy has been closely tied to learning how to love me. So much of my eating disorder was rooted in shame that I was not enough and what I was feeling was bad. Learning to trust what I was feeling and allowing myself to feel it as it is, is self-empathy. I am already feeling the emotions; can I listen to myself and begin to trust myself?

Nobody knows what I am feeling better than me. When I stopped trying to fix myself and began to listen to myself, everything began to change. Today, when I feel like I am being critical and starting to hear that “I must be broken” tape, I sit down and say to myself, “I love you, I am listening.”

Written by

Eric Dorsa

Eric Dorsa is an LGBTQ advocate, actor, comedian, and drag queen currently living in Chicago, Illinois. As an advocate for the LGBTQ community, Eric travels around the country sharing their…