Mirror Mirror on the Wall: Using Mirrors in Addiction Recovery

Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?

If you’ve had an eating disorder or addiction you’ve asked yourself a thousand different versions of that question while standing in front of your mirror daily. But mirrors can be used to your advantage in addiction recovery.

What I’ve found that’s common with addiction is that we don’t stand in front of the mirror and tell ourselves how wonderful we are. Instead, we seek out a mirror and berate ourselves in front of it, telling ourselves terrible cruel things about ourselves.

The more we tell ourselves something the more we believe it and so all the times I’ve said, “You’re disgusting.” All the times she’s said, “I hate you.” All the times he’s said, “You’re a failure.” All the times we’ve said, “You’re worthless, damaged, pathetic, broken, or unlovable.” All those times we told ourselves these things, we eventually believed them.

During my eating disorder recovery, the negative body image thoughts were the last to go in spite of stopping the dysfunctional behaviors. I still had a difficult time looking at my ass and thighs in the mirror and being happy that this was my body. I wasn’t going back to a life of abusing my body because I knew too much, but I still wasn’t at the point of accepting or loving my body.

My friend asked me to do an exercise where I looked at my eyes in the mirror and told myself, “I love you.” I scoffed and told her something like, “Fine.” I thought it would be easy but the second I held my gaze I felt like someone punched me with all the sadness in the world. For years, I’d been so busy chastising my body and believing the cruelty that I’d forgotten to really look at myself, to look deeply into my own eyes and see myself looking back. The first time I did this, I burst into tears when I saw how terribly sad my eyes were. It was like there was someone trapped in there that I’d been ignoring for years.

Naturally, I called my friend and told her what a terrible exercise that was and she said, “I know right. I cried the whole time too when I first did it.” Keep doing it, she said. So I did.

Recently, I walked someone through the same exercise. They told me that they’d purposely find a mirror when they were high and tell themselves how much they hated themselves. My heart pulsed. I started out the window as they stared into the mirror crying as they repeated the words I gave them, of acceptance, love, and kindness.

When we’ve been telling ourselves horrible things for so long, the reaction to nice things can be tears. The reaction to kindness and love can be overwhelming . . . and worth it.

Mirror Mirror on the wall. Can I love me most of all?