How Food Stamps Saved My Life in Eating Disorder Recovery


Recovery is expensive. There are appointments with counselors, dietitians and primary care physicians, all of which require co-pays. There are the monthly bills that come from the treatment center where your recovery received a jump start. On top of that, you have your “welcome back to the land of the living” bills like rent, utilities and student loans. We never talked about how expensive recovery was going to be while I was in treatment. I wish we had.

Before I went to treatment, I had a good job. It was the kind of job that came with a title, a salary and an arduous schedule. It was a job that I could have never sustained while putting in the work that maintaining recovery, specifically recovery in the earliest stages, requires.  Consequently, after I left treatment I decided to take a full-time job that paid significantly less, but offered both a comprehensive health insurance package and a schedule that allowed me to maintain my appointments with my outpatient team.

I had been out of treatment for several weeks when the first round of bills arrived. I paid my electric and water bills. I received my first full paycheck and was able to cover rent. For a brief period, my financial situation seemed manageable. Things began to slip, however, and I soon found myself struggling to keep the number in my checking account above zero.

Confused as to why this was the case, I sat down with my receipts and came to a shocking realization. I had not budgeted for groceries. As odd as this may seem to someone who has not struggled with anorexia, it never occurred to me that I needed to create a line item for food in my monthly budget.

This oversight left me in an ironic position. I could either pay to see my dietician or pay for groceries. Things were literally that tight. Going to treatment and moving into recovery was supposed to help me put my life together, but the financial vulnerability I encountered in the months following my discharge left me asking myself if it had all been for naught.

Prior to leaving for treatment, I began attending 12 step meetings. It was a practice I continued after my discharge.  As I sat in meetings, I would hear the same question posed again and again. The question was, “Are you willing to go to any length to obtain a life in recovery?” As I was sitting in a meeting one night, it occurred to me that, if food was the cornerstone of my recovery, then I would need to go to any length in order to ensure access to it.

I had never been on public assistance of any kind before, but I knew what I had to do. The following day I filled out an application for food stamps. The application was accepted and I was handed an Oregon Trail card.

There are a lot of stereotypes about people who rely on food stamps. Few are flattering. People on food stamps are often seen as “lazy” and “uneducated.” They should work more and buy less expensive food. I heard all of these things. They were said by people I know. People I love. People who had no idea that I had an Oregon Trail card in my wallet. I never said this to them then, but I’d like to say it now: I was sick. I needed help and I’m grateful it was there.

The act of “going to any lengths” takes many forms. Though it has been inactive for a very long time, I keep my Oregon Trail card in my wallet as a reminder that, in order to maintain recovery, I need to reach out and ask for help when I need it.

Doing this will require humility. Doing this may make me insanely uncomfortable. Doing this may very well save my life.

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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