woman walking down a tunnel towards the light

I Found Recovery From My Eating Disorder, but First, All I Felt Was Sadness


In the depths of my eating disorder, I couldn’t imagine life without it. It was my lifeline, my constant companion. The first program I entered was an outpatient one at the request of my doctor, and I reluctantly attended to make the people in my life happy. I said what I had to, to get through the appointments, and then I went home to my behaviors. My interest in recovery didn’t exist. Ten years later, after multiple programs, I had a deep desire to recover, but I was still playing the same game. Attending appointments, crying about why nothing ever changed, and going home to my behaviors. My passive approach to recovery left me stuck, unable to move forward — but I was too afraid to face the unknown.

As I attended different groups over the years I met many others who struggle with eating disorders. I watched, one by one, as some had a complete shift of the mind that took them from passive to active recovery. It was the moment they got angry at their illness. It was the moment that everything would change.

After years of being stuck, I prayed for this moment to happen to me. I begged every inch of my body to find that motivation, that anger, that strength. I imaged what my life would be like when it finally happened — all sunshine and roses. I could now dream of a life without my eating disorder.

Well, that moment finally came. I had to recover. I got angry, really angry, and nothing was going to stand in my way. I could never go back.

I used to pretend I didn’t know what shifted. But the truth is for years I had believed if I were smarter, prettier, skinnier, if I had a better job or a boyfriend, I would be happy, and if I was happy, I would recover. So here I was, with a promotion, with the new boyfriend, happy — yet I was spiraling backwards. Backed into a corner and fearing I would lose it all, I found that fear, I found my motivation.

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

The life I wanted to live was down a different path, and it couldn’t coexist with my eating disorder. So I cut my exercise down, moved a ton of foods from my so-called “bad” list over to the “good,” and actually started enjoying them. I threw out my scale, I stopped counting calories, and I started working on liking my body. I paid for therapy and fought for the support I felt I needed. I felt good, strong and inspired. I was doing everything I thought it took to actively be in recovery, and life was just going to get better and better.

Sunshine and roses was so far from my reality. A new darkness set in pretty quickly. My very own little storm cloud followed me wherever I went. I felt an incredible sadness that I couldn’t seem to control. I realize now I was grieving. Grieving letting go of my eating disorder.

But why mourn something that had stolen so much from me over the years? I was a slave to it, ruled by a monster that called all the shots and controlled every aspect of my life. Yet I was missing that monster, that cruel voice inside my head.

What was behind the sadness? What was it I missed so much?

My eating disorder took up space. It filled my time and stole my focus. With it, I numbed the pain of not feeling good enough, worthy enough, or deserving of love. It dulled the ache of not being successful enough, being in my early 30s and not married, no kids, in debt. Now, without it, I had to feel.

The feelings were overwhelming. I felt powerless to the emotions that flooded my mind. I was drowning in years of avoided pain and self-hatred. It might have been easy to run back to the monster, but this was no longer an option. I had to fight back, and I had to actually put into practice what I had learned in treatment over the years.

I forced myself to sit with the feelings, the discomfort. A yoga instructor once said in class, “This is training for life.” We were five minutes into downward dog, my arms were shaking, blood rushing to my head. She was right; this was all a metaphor for the uncomfortable feelings and emotions we face on a daily basis. I had trained for this. So I sat with them, and it was strange at first, but eventually the feelings passed. By staying present, I allowed myself to cry, to experience anxiety, to feel my anger.

I pulled out my binders from various programs and I practiced the tools I had learned. One that helped a lot was deconstructing my negative thought patterns. I explored the root of what was behind them. With every negative thought, I countered it with a positive.

I learned how to practice self-compassion. I spoke to myself the way I would speak to a loved one. I took the advice I gave to others and actually practiced it. I stopped beating myself up. Dr. Kristin Neff offers a great series of exercises on her website that I’ve found are excellent in learning how to find compassion for yourself.

Recovering from my eating disorder is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. It was also one of the best things I have ever done. We each take our own unique journey through recovery. Yours may not look anything like mine. But wherever your journey takes you, remember to allow yourself to feel and be present with whatever comes up. Whether it’s pain, discomfort or sadness, in the words of my great grandfather — this too shall pass.

Image via Thinkstock.

A version of this post originally appeared on the Looking Glass Foundation’s blog.

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