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Learning the Language of Eating Disorder Recovery

I will always and forever unabashedly share my story of eating disorder recovery, but when I left treatment this last time, I found myself having trouble writing about it. I’ve been through a lot since then, and I am sure to go through more. Recovery is fluid and ever-changing.

It was hardest for me to talk about my recovery when I left treatment because I still didn’t feel like I was “recovered.” I was frustrated that I was in a similiar place to where I had been before. Just on the edge of recovery. Eating and living a recovered life but still hating what I saw most of the time. Always thinking about the possibility of losing weight. I felt so guilty about it, like I was some sort of fraud. I told my therapist about this and she said something I now tell myself every day.

“Arielle, you are learning a new language.”

She explained to me that it makes sense that my thoughts are going to take a little longer to catch up. I’ve never done this before. I’ve never known how to talk to myself with kindness. Of course, I needed to learn this new language. Why should I or anyone feel bad or guilty about learning?

That was about a month and a half ago. Since then, I have been improving every single day. My second language is beginning to feel more familiar on my tongue. I don’t always critique the way my stomach looks when I squeeze my body into a pair of jeans. More days than not, I appreciate my body, and not just bits and pieces of it, all of it.

The vocabulary of this new language is so much more vibrant and beautiful. I’m able to express myself in ways I never could before. I have the room now to not only appreciate my body, but all the other things I was missing out on when my brain was so focused on food and size. I admire the mountains, feel the rocks under my hiking boots, obsess over my dog running up and down a trail, get lost in conversations, work toward dreams that have nothing to do with my body or food, follow politics, watch Wes Anderson movies and laugh with the people I love. I can give as much as I take in a relationship.

The way I feel emotions is different now. I can feel joy radiate through my entire body, uncontaminated by the self-hate in my brain. I also feel pain and sadness, but it’s different. It is real, and it is deep. Yet, I know it is temporary. It’s not the same hopelessness I felt before. It’s not the lingering pain that never goes away. It’s the heart-wrenching sadness I used to run from.

I can take it now. I can take the ugly shame and pain, and I can feel it. I can face it because I know a secret I didn’t before. I know the shame and the pain does not make up who I am. Ignoring it and distracting with calories will never make it go away. It kept me from feeling its full magnitude but this is not by any means better.

It was being cut with a dull knife all day and all night. It’s not having an escape. I have an escape now, and it’s everything I thought it wouldn’t be. I welcome all emotions now because I am human and this is part of the human experience, whether I like it or not.

I never thought this was possible. I’ve never known recovery. I know I have to work to maintain this every single day, but I can’t think of anything more worth the fight. I know I’m lucky. I know how hard it is to learn this new language. We leave our treatment centers and are sent out to navigate life with our box of coping skills, hoping it will be enough, all the while knowing there is no coping skill better than the eating disorder we gave up. There are no smelling scents strong enough or silly putty soothing enough to keep you safe sometimes.

I know that. I also know that with the help of my therapists, my parents and my friends, I didn’t need to distract from my pain anymore. I needed to feel it. I needed to feel it all. I needed to feel it burn through my insides and squeeze my lungs, until it felt like I couldn’t breathe. I needed to know while it was excruciating, I was surrounded by people who will always keep me safe. I could survive it.

I haven’t had to feel pain like this since then, and I am grateful. However, I know if it comes again, I do not need my eating disorder to protect me from it because I have an army of people who love me and will stand with me. I am safe. I am continually in awe of how much better life can get.

 If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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