6 Things I Wish I Had Known During Eating Disorder Recovery
I wrote this list as someone recovering from anorexia. For two years I fought to recover, and I had no idea what I was in for. I wish I’d had someone further along in recovery to tell me about it in an honest way. It doesn’t mean much when doctors tell you it gets better. It’s easy to brush them off because they haven’t been through it themselves. It doesn’t help to hear that “It gets better,” “It’ll pass,” ” You’ll be OK” over and over. I needed to hear that recovery would be grueling and would hurt more than living with my eating disorder but would be worth it. Recovery is a lot of ups and downs, and it takes a lot of work to get to a point where you’re happy again. I needed to know someone else felt the way I felt, that they had been there and made it through. This is what I would have wanted someone to tell me.
1. You’re not weak for “giving up” your disorder.
Really, you’re strong for fighting it. You know that pull in your chest you get each time you defy that voice in your head? The way the voice starts screaming belligerently when you challenge it? The way you panic at the slightest change to your eating disordered habits? Those are signs you are fighting. I get the feeling of wanting to give in. It’s hard to go left when someone is screaming in your ear to turn right. I know. But I also know it’s so worth every bit of fight. When you start to pull away, the eating disorder will tell you you’re weak, you’re worthless, you’re nothing without it. Fighting it means ignoring the feeling of weakness. In the end, you will see how strong you are for choosing to fight for yourself.
2. Food doesn’t have to be scary.
I know it feels that way. I know you look at the people around you and wonder how food doesn’t scare them the way it scares you. Opening the fridge seems like a hobby to your friends, yet you can’t even bear to be seen looking at food for fear of someone judging you. The truth is no one is looking, and if they are, they aren’t judging you. No one will think less of you for eating. No one will think less of you for choosing a cookie over a carrot. Food is not a bad thing. Some day, ridiculous as it sounds, you may be excited by cake again. You may look forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas and family dinners and take-out and McDonald’s hangover cures. Some day you can be OK with food. You can control it, not the other way around. You can learn to cope.
3. You’re enough.
You don’t need to starve/binge/purge/suffer to be worthy. You do not need to listen to that nasty voice in your head forcing you to do things. You do not need to listen to it when it tells you you’re fat and ugly and a bad friend. You’re not a bad person. You’re not a useless person. You’re not worthless. You are so much more than enough. It’s so hard to see the love that surrounds you when all you can hear is your eating disorder. It’s so much louder than your friends and family are. You’re so consumed by it that you may push everyone away. That voice is just so loud. That voice can go away. It may get louder, way louder, throughout recovery. But it can go away. I promise. When I run now, I don’t hear a loop of obscenities being shouted inside my head, calling me useless garbage. I hear my feet on the ground and music in my ears and my breathing. I don’t hear a voice telling me I’m terrible for eating. I don’t have anorexia yelling at me all day long. I know I’m enough, I know I’m worth the space I take up. I know I’m worthy of love, regardless of my jeans or the scale. The voice in your head can go away too. You can be free of it.
4. Recovery will be one of the hardest things you ever go through.
If you thought living through your eating disorder was hard, buckle up. Recovery is the bumpiest ride to get on. I won’t lie to you. It’s one thing to listen to a voice telling you you’re worthless 24/7. It’s another to turn around and challenge that voice. It’s a whole other thing to fight back and do what it’s telling you you can’t. The voice is lying. You can.
The hardest point for me was about halfway. I was starting to fight back, but the eating disorder was so convincing, and all I wanted to do was run right to it. The best analogy I can think of is walking on fire. You’ve already walked halfway, so why turn back? You’ll have to go back, then start all over again. Relapse happens. There are setbacks. There are obstacles. Do not give up. You can beat this. Recovery is so painful.
You’ll learn that living with an eating disorder is not a life at all. Right now, it probably sounds like it would be easier to not recover at all. I told my mom to let me die. I begged my treatment team to just walk away and let me go. I didn’t think I was strong enough, and the eating disorder convinced me I would be nothing without it. I was wrong. It took every ounce of fight in me. Every single day I got up ready for battle. It was worth every tear, every struggle, every war in my head. It was so worth it. All of those moments of anguish will be worth it when you live a full, happy and healthy life. You deserve to. Recovery is terrible — until one day, it isn’t.
5. It gets better. Really.
I told my psychologist to go to hell when she said that. I told the therapist before her, the psychologist before her, my doctor, my dietitian, my family. I told everyone I would rather die than recover. I said recovery wasn’t for me. The thing is, anorexia isn’t for me. Your eating disorder isn’t for you, either. Your eating disorder will tell you you’re the exception to recovery, that you don’t need it, that you’re better living like this. These are all lies. Eating disorders are the absolute best liars, and they make you a damn good one too. They can be so persuasive. They’re still lying. There is no such thing as an exception to recovery. We all have that fight in us, no matter how beaten down you feel. No matter how tied to your eating disorder you are, you can make it out.
The first day I remember feeling really good was when I went for brunch with my parents. I didn’t pre-plan and look at the menu online for days in advance. I didn’t cut out meals to prepare. I didn’t do an intense workout before or after. I didn’t even consider which option had the lowest calories. I chose the option that sounded the best, which happened to be caramel banana waffles. I didn’t feel panicked in the slightest. I felt good. I felt full. I felt happy. I couldn’t remember how it felt to have food feel good until that day. That’s when I realized they were all telling the truth; it does get better. You can live without your eating disorder. In fact, you can thrive.
6. You can be happy again.
Imagining how I felt during my sickest day and during recovery makes my heart ache for all of the people out there who are struggling. You deserve to feel true happiness. You’ll never get that with your eating disorder. It will always find a way to poison good moments because it’s toxic. You don’t need that. You deserve to enjoy life. You can be happy again. You’re probably thinking that recovery isn’t making you happy either, so why try to fight? You’re right. Recovery is, in short, a b****. It’s not fun. But there are victories. There are moments where you win — times where you put that eating disorder in its place. You could feel that way almost all the time. There will be times where you feel low; it’s inevitable. But most days can eventually be good days. Fight for that. For those moments. Hold on to them. That is what life is about. Your eating disorder doesn’t make you happy. It doesn’t make you feel good about yourself. It doesn’t build you up. All it does is tear you down and break you from the inside out. It makes you a prisoner in your own mind. It poisons you slowly. It controls every second of your life. Fight back. Take over your own head. Call the shots. You deserve to go to the beach and feel the sun on your skin and feel good, not scared or insecure. You deserve to eat food and feel content, not stressed. You deserve to wake up feeling free. You’ll get there if you choose recovery.
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