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Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

I recently passed my year mark of getting admitted to treatment for the last time and accepting my new body is probably the hardest part about recovery. Because I had been in my eating disorder for a long time, I got stretch marks that seemed to appear overnight, cellulite I previously thought was something only older people got and fat in places that honestly made me cry. I struggled with with these new additions for quite a while and still do.

I still have good and bad days and when I need a pick me up, I listen to Beyoncé’s “Pretty Hurts” and Fergie’s “Fergalicious.” These songs inspire confidence and borrowing theirs even just for three minutes helps me remember why I chose recovery.

Although I would love to get rid of my cellulite, if it means relapsing into my eating disorder and risking my life, I would take my cellulite any day. I can walk and use the bathroom without someone watching or holding me. I didn’t just gain weight, I gained freedom and life. I am not ashamed that my body is beautiful and healthy now. My stretch marks are more beautiful than my sick body. Because of my round cheeks, my smile isn’t fake anymore and it’s a lot brighter too. My body’s natural fat is padding to my body so I can sit and lay down comfortably instead of being in pain while trying to relax. With every ounce I gained, I gained another day and another piece of me. I can now lift up my arms long enough to be called on by a teacher and because of this I am able to ask questions and speak my mind. When I hear the negative thoughts in my head and I start comparing myself to others, I remember others are doing the same to me. We live in a world where perfection is strived for yet it doesn’t exist. I have laughed, loved and lived more in this body than I ever had in my other one and I would never trade that to be “perfect.”

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

Some days I won’t accept my body and I will hide, but it doesn’t mean I will give up because I know I am beautiful even with all my “flaws.” My new body is a flag full of memories of me and I wouldn’t do anything to change that. I love my new body.

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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Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

When I was first told I would be an inpatient, I was tangled in a web of anxieties. I am a woman who likes a sense of certainty. So naturally I looked to the internet and found very little. So here it is, the vulnerable, exhausting reality of life as an inpatient.

I wake up, it’s 6 a.m. and I’m already guilty of being lazy and unproductive. The world is spinning and there are men in their 50s jogging outside. I’m 20 and I need to go, go, go. I start a list of everything I need to do today and my heart is pumping, pumping, pumping. I need caffeine. It’s already 10 past 6:00 and I’ve achieved nothing. I shower. I wash off all the fat, the food and the lethargy. I make the water cold so I can feel something. I exfoliate my skin, scrubbing and scrubbing until it burns. I brush my teeth twice and use mouthwash three times and take a mental note it has run out again. My tongue burns and I avoid the mirror because I’m naked.

My body is clay and everyone is dragging it in different directions. My head is screaming at me I’m not doing enough. I don’t bother with makeup because that means looking. Shaving is nonexistent. I have to request my razor and they’re always suspicious of me. I tie my hair up really high and tight so I can feel it. I shove on a sleeveless green shirt and it feels too tight on my back. Suddenly I’m the hulk and I need to be put down. My forehead is burning and I rip apart my wardrobe searching for something that won’t make me want to die. I find that good old baggy turquoise shirt I can drown myself in and slip on a pair of navy tracksuit bottoms. I wonder if I’ll bother with shoes because I’m not allowed go walking yet. It’s 6:30 and breakfast is at 8:30. There’s no way I’m going down early because that means sitting and waiting and wanting to die. I clean my room back up, I write a letter to my friend and I draw posters for other patients, nurses and my little cousin. I push down and suppress every thought and draw furiously.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

My forehead burns. I just want to run, run into the mountains, into the fresh air and the water. I want to throw myself into an icy river. The nurse comes up to do her rounds, to check if everyone’s hearts are still beating. Mine still is, it has never been so fast. It’s nearly breakfast. What am I going to have? How many calories are in one rice crispy? Why does the other girl keep taking my milk? When am I going to get my walks back? And why do I need daily blood tests? My hands begin to shake. I walk downstairs. I smile at everyone and inquire how they slept. There’s anger and anxiety burning like incense. We sit, we eat, it’s silent and it’s sunny. My friends are waking up at festivals with one shoe on and henna tattoos painted on their bodies. Nobody talks. The nurse tries to spark conversations but she’s met with grunts, nods and sighs.

The radio is put on full volume. I stare out the window and watch airplanes trail by, off to Liverpool and Amsterdam, Spain and New Zealand. Breakfast is over and I’m worried about snack time. It’s at 11:30 and that’s in two and a half hours. How am I going to get through that? I have a blood test and it’s my favorite thing to do. I get to go outside for five minutes and pretend I’m someone else. I read a magazine about gardens because I forget what forests smell like. The nurse asks me how I’m getting on and I smile at her. She checks to see which of my veins have not collapsed yet and sighs at the purple on my arms.

I snail my way back to the center with figurative knives in my gut. We have a group on body image. I get angry, I blame social media and I rant and rant and rant. People thank me, tell me I’m brave, I’m intelligent, I’m inspiring. But I am none of these things. I did not ask to be sick, I do not want to be here. I miss my family. I miss my friends. I am lonely and my heart is racing. My fingers are quivering and I’m counting the days down. We have snack and I can’t speak, I can barely move. My body is an alarm, ringing and screeching. I am shaking and crying.

Why is this happening? Why can’t I be normal?

They make small chat at the table and I can’t speak so I look outside and watch the airplanes again. We go back for the second half of group. My stomach is a balloon and I squeeze it and squeeze it but it doesn’t pop. I stare at the floor because all I can think is how many calories were in the snack I just ate and the fat is growing and swallowing me up. I’ve forgotten what group is about. I draw swirls in my diary and nod and smile every so often. Group ends and there is half an hour to lunch. It is the most painful time. The kitchen smells of butternut squash soup. This means protein is on the side. There will be beans, salad, a bowl of soup and bread. In my mind that is a wedding feast. I can’t be in the kitchen. I go outside, I sing to the trees, tear out fistfuls of grass and cry. The nurse calls me and nervously laughs at how I’m always hiding away.

Lunch takes me an hour and a half to finish. I am the last to leave the table. I curl up on the couch with a water bottle and watch the smokers outside, eavesdropping on their conversations. One patient’s ex-boyfriend left her a bunch of dahlias and a card in the garden and ran away, too scared to knock on the door. I think about men for a second and feel even more nauseous. The hairs on my arms go static and Liam is here for art therapy. I sit with my legs crossed on a beach chair in the white room, fiddling with my fluffy socks. We sit in a circle. Liam checks in with each of us individually. All he has to do is say, “And how does that make you feel?” and the first girl is howling at the ceiling. The girl beside her holds her hand and I stare at the floor. He knocks us down like dominoes. Each of us unravels our cloak of problems.

On my turn I break down over my recent test results. I was two percent from getting an A. I scream, I cry. I am 2 years old again. I talk about the voice in my head. Which is what they all want you to do. Separate yourself from your disorder. For me, it’s a she. She is whispering in my ear: not good enough, waste of money, waste of air, waste of life, kill yourself. He just nods, accepts. People in the room congratulate me, tell me I did so well for a girl with anorexia. It’s not good enough. Not for my insatiably high standards. I draw a self-portrait of myself. I’m tearing my hair out at my desk at 5 a.m. while my housemates are asleep. My room is a mess of anxieties and ripped up paper. None of it seems worth it anymore. Art therapy is over but I’m still angry.

The nurse fills up balloons for me and I hurl them at the wall. I want to bang my head against it, to shut the voices up. It’s dinner time. I turn it into a mud cake, mashing, chopping and slicing. My mouth burns as I eat it. My tongue bleeds, my forehead hurts and I am exhausted. Dinner takes two hours and then the bathrooms are locked. We can’t go upstairs until 7:00. We sit around in distaste and wallow in self-hatred. When they’re finally open, I run up and change into my PJs, the ones with the self-loving mantras I don’t believe. I grab my kindle. I’m reading Portia De Rossi’s autobiography because I need something, some promise, some glimmer of hope people actually do get out of this alive. My head hurts when 8 p.m. crawls along because 8:30 is snack time. The cornflakes are gone. I am freaking out. What am I going to have for snack?

When there’s too much choice, there is no safety. Everything is an atomic bomb. The nurse calls me, locks my room and I mouse my way down the stairs, terrified, anxious and deaf to anyone else and their problems. I eat my snack. I race it down my throat, dying for it to end. I just want to sleep. Sleep it all away. None of it is happening, not to me. Not Molly Twomey, the university student with the witty friends and supportive family. I read myself to sleep and wish it didn’t have to happen all over again tomorrow.

Today, I am at home. I have deferred my studies and I am training to be a yoga instructor. I am also writing a poetry collection. Life is exhausting as an inpatient. I was forced to feel difficult emotions, come face to face with my disorder and recognize my real vulnerable self. I will forever be grateful to Lois Bridges. I am still in recovery and every day is a struggle. I needed Lois Bridges to kick start my journey because I could not do it alone. It is OK to need help and it takes immense courage to ask for it.

This piece originally appeared on Spunout.

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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I’m experiencing this weird phenomenon now. I’m not sure many other people can relate. It all started after I recently got “sick” with a cold for the first time in years. I was recently discharged from a lengthy residential stay for the treatment of anorexia nervosa, a relentless demon I have been fighting for the majority of my time on this earth. Prior to my intake, I had been in the throes of a harrowing, two-year relapse.

Flash forward to now. I’m anxious, irritable, weight-restored and here comes this: the common cold. The fevers, the aches and endless stream of mucus flowing from my face all made me feel more alive than I have felt in a long, long while. This very normal experience brought me to a sobering realization. For the first time in over two years, I was no longer inhabiting a dying body.

Instead of living in a constant state of physical stagnation, my hair is now growing, my skin is supple and my immune system is responding to foreign invaders in an appropriate manner. This is bringing about feelings of confusion. Of bizarre grief over the loss of the dying body and of sadness thinking I existed in the state, unaware of the severity of my illness, for so long. A new self-consciousness has emerged. Others around me doubtlessly witnessed this overt deadness, while I flitted about in complete disbelief of it. At the time, I was in no mental state to comprehend this.

I am coming back to life in a way I have never experienced before.

The feeling is surreal.

Follow this journey on SkinnyLies.

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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When I was little, I decided I needed to protect myself from the world. It was too big and loud, and I didn’t know how to exist in it.

At age 17, I found my protection. Anorexia invited me to fix what I hated about myself and the world in one fell swoop. I had always felt emotions longer and harder than my friends, and starvation numbed them. It created a barrier between me and the world. While my body’s physical deterioration was painful, it was nothing compared to real life. From the start, the world had threatened to swallow me up. And after a lifetime of running, anorexia was my surrender. I needed the world to know — I can’t do this anymore.

But my disease was not a long-term solution. Because my health made me a liability, my university threatened to kick me out of housing. And while they didn’t say so, I knew my friends were growing weary of my constant crises.

And so I started recovery.

At the beginning, recovery was horrific. My first day in treatment, I broke down in sobs over a small bowl of penne pasta. Each time I sat down to eat, it felt like someone was asking me to jump off the Empire State Building. My heart pounded; my mouth went dry. I would stare down at the ant-like people as the nurses said, “You have to jump! If you don’t jump, you’re going to die!”

To this day, jumping is the scariest thing I’ve ever done.

But then something else happened. In treatment, I learned I could turn down life’s volume another way.

Recovery.

At first, this was a good thing. I needed the structure and round-the-clock care. But treatment and recovery catered to the part of my personality that had fled to anorexia in the first place. The part that craved order and structure and to avoid harm at all costs.

My life was a swirl of meal planning worksheets and weigh-ins. I spent most of my time talking about my eating disorder or my life in relation to my eating disorder. Anorexia loved this. It loved planning carefully portioned snacks and meals. It loved obsessing over food and weight.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

Each time I got close to a full recovery, I felt the pressure of the real world. There were criticisms and deadlines. There were relationships that fluctuated up and down and sideways. There were terrifying expectations. Spending therapy sessions talking about my fear of cheese was far easier than talking about the friend who was angry with me. Recovery was hard, yes. But for me, life was harder.

So I relapsed. I fell back into the protection of my illness, and the comfort of treatment and recovery always followed. This became a well-worn path for me. “In recovery from an eating disorder” became my identity. How could it not? I spent my life in treatment. Nobody on the outside understood my jokes about the caloric content of Ensure vs. Boost. And when my non-eating disordered friends talked about boys and parties, I had nothing to contribute. I’d spent the night processing my feelings about a quesadilla.

Recovery was necessary, without a doubt. But it wasn’t until I explored life outside of it that I was able to end the cycle of relapse and recovery. It required sitting down and asking myself simple questions.

What do I love?

What do I care about?

Who am I outside of my disease?

When I first started my list of things I loved, I wrote, “1. School.” Horrified, I realized I couldn’t go any further. I liked losing weight. I liked my illness. But was there anything else? Weeks later I wrote down, “2. Puppies. 3. Taylor Swift.” And to begin, that was enough. I loved school, puppies and Taylor Swift. It was the beginning of my new identity. (Years later, I got a puppy. And I still go to every Taylor concert I can.)

Today, my list is full. I love road trips, mountains, candles and tea. I love the way my best friend makes me laugh, and how my puppy stands up like a person when she’s excited. I love research, memoirs and the way little kids talk too fast. The world and I are still on shaky terms. Life still hurts. It still feels too loud and fast. But I’ve decided to live in it anyway.

I want more for my life than illness. I want a life that is brimming with connection, joy and purpose.

I don’t know if the world will ever stop feeling so loud and terrifying. But every day I remind myself that this is my one life. There won’t be a do-over where I get back the joy I lost trying to protect myself. This is it. If I spend it in surrender, or in fear, or in self-hatred, there will nothing left to do but wish it could have been different.

And I want more than that.

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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I have spent a lot of time – more than I care to admit – studying my body, thinking about my body, worrying about my body, hiding my body. But never so much as when I’m pregnant.

Please, do not misunderstand me. I wholeheartedly believe growing a baby, another human being, is no doubt a miracle of miracles. I have often – through four pregnancies now – taken a moment to thank Mother Earth and God for the absolute gift of creating life inside my body.

Yet as a woman with an eating disordered past and a seemingly-fated lifetime destiny of body image issues, I’m obligated to keep it real. So here it is. This is hard. It was hard the first time and it has gotten no easier the fourth time. My body is changing and growing, sometimes so quickly I think I can see it happening. And it’s all completely out of my control, control being at the very core of my eating disorder. There’s the belly, sure, but that’s not all. There’s also the butt, the hips, the boobs, the cankles and the pimples, to name a few. For the most mentally-centered woman this would feel strange, I imagine.

For those of us like me, it can be a struggle.

While the active part of my own eating disorder was many moons ago, my recovery is ongoing. I have struggles with food and weight and control and my own body I have come to accept are part of the fabric of my general being. This was true when I was a sprightly teenager and it has been even more true as an aging woman who is not immune to gravity and it is never more true than when I am faced with gaining so much weight in nine months.

I have often said and I truly believe recovery from an eating disorder is very much like recovery from alcoholism. Once you have had issues with eating, you might always have issues with eating and recovery becomes about learning to thrive despite and with those issues. The glaring difference between recovery from alcoholism and recovery from disordered eating of course is you can’t – and shouldn’t – just walk away from food. And so the work lies in learning how to live this life where so much of who we are and how we interact and how we nurture and celebrate and mourn and cope and nourish and soothe and gather lies completely wrapped up in and around food.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

Somewhere in the silver lining of my own anorexia and bingeing struggles lies the fact I never lost my passion for reading cookbooks and spending time in the kitchen. So much so it has become wrapped up tightly in my identity as a mother and a wife. I have an incredibly hard time apologizing in heartfelt actual words when I am wrong, but I am quite fluent in the language of conciliatory casseroles. Nothing in my daily life makes me feel more maternal and more feminine than my own family enjoying food I have planned, cooked, prepared and brought to the table.

And being pregnant gives me the incredible opportunity to nourish myself and my baby from the same meal.

This, I know, is a gift.

It’s worth mentioning the media has done us no service in terms of putting the pregnant body up on the pedestal it deserves, either. All an unassuming “mama-to-be” like me in dirty sweatpants and last night’s mascara has to do while grocery shopping on a weekend morning is glance towards the gossip rags and feel pregnant women should be mocked for their weight gain. This message of failure and self-doubt is received by countless ordinary women, the ones without personal trainers and chefs and assistants paid to help us lose the baby weight. We are the ones who are not paid absurd sums of money to walk down the Victoria’s Secret runway sporting nothing more than a few strategically placed gemstones and some furry angel wings two months after giving birth.

And of course, I see all of this through the lens not only of someone in recovery but also as someone who is raising two girls — two girls who are in my humble opinion, the epitome of perfection. But two girls who may nonetheless struggle with body issues of their own. What do I want them to see through this pregnancy?

Me, as a beautiful, radiant, confident pregnant woman with a big belly full of their brother or sister?

Or me in a puddle of self-pity on the kitchen floor wondering if the cottage cheese I am making them as a snack looks as much like my legs as I think it does?

But if I’m honest, it’s not just my own daughters who have been on my mind. It’s all the women of my life. My daughters, my mothers and maternal figures, my tribe of friends and extended family and neighbors. A pregnancy makes you draw close your circle, and these women are mine, each unique and beautiful and perfect like a snowflake. What’s funny is each one probably has things about their own physical bodies they struggle with and would likely not be comfortable strutting down the Victoria’s Secret runway with jewels wedged in their crevices. But in my eyes, they are absolutely perfect.

I know there is a lesson in there and every day I get closer to accepting it. And this is what recovery actually looks like, right?

One day at a time.

This story originally appeared on lizpetrone.com.

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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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The last couple years of my life are an absolute blur. It’s as if someone took my brain and all of the memories it held and mixed them up in an incomprehensible sequence. When I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed and see my friends from what I call my “previous life,” my heart drops and aches for what could have been. And almost always this pain would be turned inward and twisted into anger at myself. But as I sit here today, I can say and start to believe I am not at fault.

At age 11, I was diagnosed with anorexia. I went to outpatient therapy for the next four years until it was determined it simply wasn’t enough. My sophomore year of high school, I was sent to get an evaluation. I entered a day program for a week when they realized I needed an inpatient program.

The day after Christmas, I entered my first inpatient program on an eating disorder unit. I figured it would be quick. I figured it would suck but then I would return to my normal life.

But I never did return to the school. And I never did return to my life.

As I entered treatment, the painful events of my life unfolded. Trauma came out. My depression took over every fiber of my being and my anorexia became my best friend. I was lost and scared. The next four years I spent in and out of this hospital, a residential program, other hospitals, two rehabs, a halfway house and two sober houses.

As I did better with my eating disorder, my addiction would come out in other ways. I was impulsive, I self-harmed and I eventually began shooting heroin. When I blocked my impulsive behaviors, my eating disorder would entirely take over.

I continuously put myself in situations that destroyed any sense I had of who I was. I allowed myself to be a victim. I allowed many more traumatic things to happen to me. I allowed my life to end in a way. I spent four vital years of being a teenager trying to kill myself in anyway I could. I hurt everyone around me just to prove to myself there was no reason to stay. My parents watched as the daughter they raised and loved disappeared before their eyes. They tried everything. Medication, electroconvulsive therapy, ketamine infusions. You name it, they tried it. And they watched as nothing worked. As their daughter became unrecognizable. As she moved place to place, hospital to hospital. My mother would tell me she was preparing for my funeral. And the last time I entered rehab, my mother simply said: “Hope, you are going to die.”

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

But here I am, four years later, age 19 and alive. Today I can say I am sober. I am celebrating six months sober in a couple of days. Today I can say I graduated high school. Sure, not in the traditional way or at the “right time,” but I did it. And with honors! Today I can say I got into every single college I applied to. Today I can say in two weeks I will be starting at my dream school with a $20,000 scholarship per year. Today I have a boyfriend who loves me and isn’t abusive. Today I have my parents’ trust back. Today I want to live. I truly crave the feeling of being alive.

No, I am not fully better. I am actually in treatment for my anorexia right now. However everything is so different. As I entered treatment this time, I went in voluntarily. I went in to prove to myself I could do it and do it right.

As I saw myself slipping, I normally would’ve let it go until I was legally being forced into treatment, but this time the real Hope came out. I allowed myself to be vulnerable and I allowed myself to feel. I went in more scared than ever because this time, I was leaving something. This time, I had a home. I had friends who would do anything for me. I had a sponsor who loves me endlessly. I had a boyfriend who would support me in anything I did.

This time as I left inpatient, I truly felt I would never return. As I beat myself up for being in my 19th hospitalization in four years, a staff member I have known the full four years came up to me. She shared with me how she has watched me grow. She reminded me how far I have come. She listened to me and empathized with me. She reminded me today I am a real person and if I allowed my inner demons to take over again, I would be sitting here next year saying the same exact things. This time around I started to actually listen and trust.

Yes, I got angry about my weight and my doctor not giving in to my eating disorder, but I learned so much. As my discharge from day program is approaching within the next two weeks and I am about to start this very new, but also scary chapter in my life, I strangely feel at peace. A feeling I have never experienced. I feel different. And I can look in the mirror at myself and can be honest with myself.

But most importantly, I realized a few short months ago this would not have been a possibility for me. Being a human and a member of society was not a possibility. But today on this cold January night in the year 2017, I want to tell myself something. To the girl who has spent her life in and out of treatment. To the girl who could not stop flirting with death. To the girl whose demons had nearly taken over. It’s going to be hard and you’re going to want to give up. But please, do not give up. Prove yourself and the people who doubt you wrong. Because you my dear, are a wonderful arrangement of atoms. You are a very interesting soul. You have more to offer this world than you can realize right now. Don’t let this continue to be your life. Stop being so afraid, because this isn’t living. And you deserve to live.

Please believe me. I have been there. “Impossible” should not be in your vocabulary. Because you can start to live. And as exhausting as it is to keep fighting, as tired as you are, there is no better feeling in the world when you start to realize you are blooming. When you realize you are more than existing. You are slowly, but surely, making it.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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