When the Path to Anorexia Recovery Is Not Linear


I’ve received treatment more times than I care to count, for a larger array of issues than I care to admit, namely for anorexia nervosa in a variety of settings, inpatient, residential, outpatient, psychiatry wards and medical wards.

What do I wish I knew before I turned my will and my life over to anorexia nervosa? I wish I knew recovery was not simple. I wish I knew the next 20 years of my life, my childhood, adolescence and young adulthood, would be robbed from me and spent instead locked up on various hospital units. I wish I knew of the havoc anorexia would wreak on my body, my psyche and my very life.

As a youngster, anorexia seemed to legitimately offer relief from any straining situation, be it social, academic or familial. Yet, when the issue became the anorexia itself, when my mind and actions became entrenched by such an illness, my judgment was clouded by this self-loathing disease. My personal “perfection” became a letdown as my behaviors left my umbrella of control and took on a life of their own. I felt the catastrophic disappointment as my eating behaviors became more and more scarce and ritualistic.

The idea that I held the upper hand of control became an obvious lie. Anorexia in turn controlled me. Suddenly, my imagined strength weakened. In the blink of an eye, I crumbled into an empty shell of a human being and what was left was a puppet controlled by the demonizing extrinsic illness. At 15 years old, I imagined anorexia would come to a head and that the ensuing hospital stay would provide the final closure on this portion of my life. I was terribly mistaken.

More than 10 years later. I write this from a different hospital bed, nestled into a medical floor, the wits knocked out of me yet again as days draw into lagging months. A nasogastric tube implanted like a dormant snake, up my right nostril and over the curvature at the septum, down the throat into stomach cocoon. Since the first at 15, the total number of hospital stays, emergency room visits and residential treatment programs surpasses my counting ability. I’ve played feeding tube tug-of-war, more definitively a power struggle with nurses and doctors.

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If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

In the shadow of anorexia’s monstrous grip, I have to admit defeat. There is not yet such a thing as a pervasive solution, a lasting remedy or a straight-line of recovery. These are fantasies of imaginative play, not figments of realism in my life.

I’ve discovered through years of trial and error: It would be nice, yes, but recovery cannot be summed up in one solid straight line. The path of recovery from anorexia involves detours, potholes, drop-off-cliffs, repetition of previously-traversed terrain, illuminated high peaks and sullen low spots. Ultimately, recovery from anorexia nervosa is not linear. My own path has involved multiple different hospital programs, inpatient stays, outpatient groups and therapies and at many times involuntary commitment to such programs as life-saving precautions.

Recovery, some 20 years later, is by no means a given. My personal painful discovery is how insufficient my own power is at reclaiming my life from this disease’s throes. Recovery from anorexia may often involve a plethora of tools and techniques I need to acquire and put into practice on a continuum. The easiest diversion is to fall victim to some other illness or addiction and replace its time consumption and energy expenditure with new habits. Thus begins the toxic cycle all over again. Thus, recovery is proven incongruent. I have yet to find a seamless path from sickness to health.

I often ponder those early days of falling habit to anorexia nervosa, and I wonder whether could I have proceeded more cautiously. Could I have prevented the ensuing chaos for years to come? Eventually, I can only name such questions as irrelevant, lacking in intensity of power to subdue demonic rituals, placate tantalizing behavior webs and mute disturbing thought trails.

After all these years of working at recovery, only one certainty remains: Anorexia is terribly easy to fall into and extremely difficult to fall out of. What took place in a matter of weeks or months to enmesh my thoughts and actions with the eating disorder? Well, I still rest unsure whether the damage will be fully undone.

The amount and type of such damage is tremendous, and there is no clear-cut path out of the darkness of anorexia. Its remnants linger well beyond the comfort it initially provides. What originated as a comforter, quickly evaporated any comfort. In its stead, it left a hollow and tormenting charade to unveil to those close by.

To this day, I remain stagnant in sickness. In essence, I’ve spent decades trading forms and venues of self-abuse. What began as innocent self-soothing turned ferociously into self-terrorization. Soon enough, I found myself lost in the abyss of demise, unable to tame the grip latched onto my conscience, which suckered all my being into its depths of starvation hell.

This hell has the ability to consume my entirety, enveloping my light with placating darkness. It coddles me with a hushing lullaby, disordered patterns dancing with heavy abundance. Tears weep and my heart sinks into the shallowness of pitiful pain. I am once again enshrouded by dormant death. The chaos has followed me through darkened nights, surpassing the glory days of one decade jumping into the next with no reprieve of the hell enmeshed within the illness of anorexia.

It is in times like these where I wonder: Will I ever recover? Will I ever live in freedom from this demonic disease which engulfs my being in entirety? And finally, what will the recovery path look like? Given the fact that there is no linear path of recovery from anorexia nervosa, no miracle course to everlasting wellness, there remains a vast unknown.

So here I am, after two decades, after all the hospitals, rehabs and therapies, still confounded as to the next step to take. I have tried and tested each preliminary step to no avail. So I inhale deeply and set off once more…

 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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