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To Those Still Struggling in Eating Disorder Recovery

Throughout my recovery, I have been told by my friends that I am inspiring. I’ve been told this by people who have recovered from eating disorders, people who are in the process of recovery and people are not actively in recovery. I’ve heard a variety of messages from “you are an inspiration,” to “I’m so proud of you. I remember how you used to be,” to “I wish I could be like you, but I know I won’t ever recover.” I don’t want to be “that recovered person” who says things like, “Oh, I was just as sick as you are and since I recovered, I know you can, too.” Every person’s journey is different. Every person’s ability to get quality care is different.

What I can say is no matter what level of access to care a person has, recovery is possible. Even people with the best access to care can have a variety of ways in which their eating disorders either minimize their access to care, think it isn’t good enough or think they are not “sick enough” to deserve treatment. The classic response to having an opportunity for treatment is that people with eating disorders often say they don’t “deserve” treatment or they’re not ready for treatment. Most people won’t feel ready for treatment… ever.

When I started getting well, I didn’t think I was ready for treatment either. Ultimately, I did not recover after an inpatient or residential treatment stay. In fact, at my worst, this type of treatment was not available to me for financial and insurance reasons. I was lucky enough to work with a therapist who disregarded the opinions of my past treatment providers — someone who conveyed full faith in my ability to make changes. I don’t know if she truly believed I would get completely well, but she was willing to put as much effort into the process as I was willing to. Prior to starting outpatient therapy with her three times a week, she laid down the law. In her outpatient practice she requires individuals to be medically stable enough to be in outpatient therapy. While I did not meet her minimum biological requirements (as I’ll call them), I was able to meet her in the middle and stop several harmful behaviors before I began treatment with her. Throughout my treatment with her, I committed to trying tactics to reduce eating disorder behaviors and begin healthy behaviors. I also committed to honestly reporting to her how I was struggling.

When I went into therapy with this particular therapist, I didn’t feel ready to get better and I didn’t know what my life would look like if I got well, but I was willing to try. I had spent the last several years in a dangerous dance with death, and I pretty much knew what my life and death would look like if I didn’t make changes. While I once thought that dying wouldn’t be so awful, because of my experiences, I knew I was terrified of dying and terrified to keep living the way that I was — in a way that was horrific, painful and ugly. I knew there were no guarantees in recovery. After all, I couldn’t know if my body would have the ability to recover, and I didn’t know if I could recover the damage that had been done to my life. I didn’t know if I would be able to have a career. I didn’t know if I would be able to fix my financial situation. I had lost all my relationships. It was terrifying to step into the therapeutic process with no guarantees.

Somewhere early in the process, I refused to take “no” for an answer. I wanted everything that had been taken from me. I wanted to live up to all this potential that I had been told I had. I knew I was at a point of no return. If I didn’t begin to act quickly — that is, fight like hell — my chances for a career would be very small, given my age. It was extremely difficult to take all the small steps that were necessary in my recovery on complete faith, but I knew I had to try. In my recovery, I became an immense problem solver. There were so many obstacles. Every time I hit a wall in any area of my recovery, I had to find ways to navigate around it. My intelligence is one of my greatest strengths, and I fully believe in strength-based approaches. I believe all psychotherapists should harness each client’s strengths, and use them to steer the treatment process.

So what I have to say for those who are struggling with eating disorders now is this: Listen to that quiet part of yourself that wants to live. Listen to the part of yourself that is screaming, crying and is angry about how your eating disorder affects you and has changed you. But listen to it with your wise mind. What is it that you really want? Let yourself dream about a life without the eating disorder. Whatever you want, whatever you hope for is still possible, but you have to be willing to take the little steps to get there. Don’t ruminate over all the hurdles to get there. Take them one at a time. Harness your strengths and let them fuel you in your journey to recovery.

This post originally appeared on Thoughts on Psychotherapy by the Therapist.

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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Thinkstock photo via kontalino.