7 Things Anorexia Recovery Taught Me
1. Recovery is not linear.
There is not usually a straightforward progression from “sick” to “well.” Chances are you will relapse, and that’s OK, but please keep getting up and trying again. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve slipped in recovery, but what matters is, I’m still trying.
2. “Fat” is not a feeling.
Many therapy sessions might contain the words “I feel fat,” however, I believe eating disorders use “fat” as a synonym for “overwhelmed,” “scared,” “sad” and other emotions that are difficult to deal with. I have spent years numbing my feelings and responses through restriction. My disordered brain combined all complicated and unpleasant feelings, and put them under a simple umbrella: “fat.” Something I believed I could fix with disordered behavior. A “solution.” But it wasn’t a solution. I could have lost all the weight in the world, but it would never fix the real issues and challenges in my life. Identifying and working on these is difficult, tiring, challenging and scary, but with this, comes a wonderful freedom.
3. You have to work. Hard.
Professionals, friends and family can give you all the support and advice in the world, but if you do not put effort into recovery, it will not work. No one can recover for you. You have to decide you want a life outside the comfort of your illness. You have to push yourself, again and again and again. You will have to challenge your thoughts and behaviors, and trust things will get better.
4. You may never be “ready” to recover.
You may never be 100 percent ready. The time to fight is now. You don’t have to get to a certain weight before you are deserving of help. I repeat, you do not have to get to a certain weight to be deserving of help.
5. There is no “thin enough.”
No matter how much weight you lose, the eating disorder will always want more. When you reach the “goal” your disorder has set for you, it will simply set another, and another. It will take and take, without ever giving anything in return.
6. Weight is just a number
Really, it is. Nothing more, nothing less. I thought my world would dissolve into flames the moment I reached my healthy “goal weight.” I thought my friends would leave me, strangers would turn away from me and my partner would no longer find me attractive. None of this happened. Yes, it was hard, so hard. I thought everyone was talking about me and judging me for eating, but they weren’t. I believe people are far too concerned with their own eating habits and weight to care too much about yours.
7. Your struggle is valid.
Eating disorders are competitive by their very nature. However, your struggle is still valid even if you have not been in hospital, you have not been “underweight,” you are not medically compromised, you have not had a feeding tube or you don’t purge/exercise/engage in whatever behavior someone else does. Your struggle is yours alone, and it is valid. You can still have a life-threatening eating disorder and be a “healthy weight,” or even overweight. The media likes to portray skeletal figures at death’s door, but this isn’t all of us. Don’t minimize your illness because it is not as “severe” as someone else’s. The illness will forever try and convince you that you aren’t “sick enough,” but it will keep saying this until you die. It will never be satisfied.
Even though I have “learned” these things (often more than once), I still have to remind myself. Recovery is a long and tiring process. I believe it’s the hardest thing we will ever do. Hang in there.
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 Blackmoon9.