To Anyone Who Feels Like Eating Disorder Recovery Is Impossible Right Now
I know you’ve probably heard eating disorder recovery speakers or come across those who have struggled that have somehow “made it to the other side.” But if you’re anything like me, hearing those stories, which should have been inspiring, only discouraged and even angered me.
Sure, it was great that other people could figure out recovery, but I was pretty sure I was a lost cause. Not only had I tried over and over again to recover and failed miserably, but a big part of me wasn’t sure I even wanted it. I was so deeply entrenched in my behaviors that even entertaining the idea of hope felt like a joke.
I’m not going to get into the gory details of how many times I was in treatment or how sick I was or any of that, but I do want you to know that if you feel like you’re in the depths of despair, I’ve been there. If the hell that you’re experiencing feels like it will never end, I’ve been there. If you feel like a failure and like you just can’t do it, I’ve been there. If you don’t even want recovery, I’ve been there. I’ve struggled so hard and for so long that I truly thought if my eating disorder didn’t kill me I’d just take my life myself.
So if I’ve spent the majority of my life in that dark and hopeless state then why am I writing you this letter? I’m writing to tell you that it is possible for you to recover, no matter how far gone you feel, to find hope. I wish I could tell you what to do or how long it will take for things to get easier; but instead, I’m going to tell you the exact opposite.
For me, it took a lot of failing to find things that actually worked. It also took a hellish amount of time. I know for a fact that I did a lot of things that prolonged the process and I could’ve exponentially sped up the rate of my recovery if I’d learned how to surrender earlier on — but that wasn’t my path. My path was one of struggle and defeat and sometimes utter hopelessness.
I put the staff members of my last treatment stay through hell, and it was the first treatment center I have been to that didn’t give up on me. But there is one thing I did that transformed my life — other people didn’t give up on me, but I didn’t give up on myself either. There were countless days where I felt like I wouldn’t survive but I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I know this isn’t for everyone, but I prayed harder than I have ever prayed. I learned what it meant to surrender and even though I had no idea how to do it, I started trying to surrender in little areas, like maybe surrendering my control over not being able to pee in the bathroom by myself or only getting one 10 minute phone call a day. And then I started trying to do it with a little bit bigger stuff — like surrendering to the fact that I had to eat multiple times a day.
The bigger stuff took months and months. I fought so hard, but I couldn’t surrender to being in a new body. I hated my weight restored body so much that I wanted to die. I tried to surrender my control over food choices, but it felt like torture to eat those forbidden foods. Everyone kept telling me that recovery would be worth it, but everything I was experiencing made me feel 100 times worse than I did in the depths of my disorder. Not only did I feel recovery wasn’t possible, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t worth it.
So what happened? How am I able to write this letter telling you that it’s not only possible but that it’s worth it? Like I said before, I didn’t give up, but I also worked my butt off. I constantly reached out for help. I wrote in my journal like a madwoman. I collected quotes, I read inspiring books. I practiced being mindful even though I hated it with a vengeance. I watched people who were happy and asked myself what things they did that made them that way. I practiced interacting with people even though I just wanted to put up my walls and isolate. I looked for ways I could get outside of myself and help another person because even though I couldn’t see any good in myself, I could see why other people around me were worth fighting for.
I know this is might be depressing, but things got worse before they got better. My depression was suffocating and my urges were relentless. But slowly, somehow things started to change. Usually the changes were so imperceptible that I couldn’t see a difference. I wasn’t suddenly cured. I didn’t magically learn to like my body. But my brain started to change. I started to get glimpses of hope. I started to experience fleeting moments when the depression would lift and I’d even laugh a little. My world began to expand. Where once my thoughts were consumed with nothing but my eating disorder or other self-destructive behaviors, I now experienced brief periods of time where I would think about something else. Maybe it was someone telling a funny story or looking forward to going on a walk. Sometimes it was writing a friend a more optimistic letter for once and getting their grateful response that I was doing better. I slowly started to notice more things to be grateful for and I wrote them down. I still wrote down all the pain and conflict and difficult things I was wrestling with, but I also wrote down the good and I tried to feed it. I verbalized what I was feeling rather than stuffing it down, and as I gave my suffering words I began to find some relief.
I wish I could talk to you and hear of your own personal struggles so I could know what I could possibly say that might be helpful, but the main thing I want to say is please hold on. I know right now it might feel like it would be so much easier to give up, but I promise it’s not worth it to go back. I’ve done a lot of giving up in my life and it never got me anywhere. It was by sticking it out, doing the gut-wrenching work, and trusting the people around me who sometimes felt like enemies but were truly trying to do everything in their power to help me, that I discovered something I had never experienced.
After a long, long time the urges started to subside. Ever so slowly my body image miraculously started to improve. I still have work to do in that area, but I can now be grateful for my body even though I don’t love it. I began to find meaning in my life that never existed when I was sick. I started to think more about others, about doing good in the world and developing new hobbies and interests (still very much a work in progress). I deepened my relationship with God beyond what I knew was possible.
I’m going to be frank, I spent a lot of time in treatment and I was in a really solid place when I discharged, but the four months I’ve been home have been excruciatingly hard. I’ve had times where I’ve wondered if I really have it in me to do this. I’ve questioned whether or not it’s worth it. But I think back to what my life was really like in the depths of my disorder and I am vehemently reminded that it’s not worth going back. I don’t want that empty, lifeless existence anymore. So if that means pushing forward through the pain and sitting with the void I still feel after removing what took up so much space in my life and became my entire identity, if this pain is a necessary part of the process, then I will pray for the strength to endure it.
I wish for just one minute I could give you a glimpse of what you will find if you just hold on. It will probably be the hardest thing you will ever do, but I promise with all my heart that you will not regret one minute of that hard work because what you might discover will be better than you can possibly imagine. I know it sometimes feels like everyone is lying to you, at least I felt that way to me, but try to trust what those around you (especially professionals) are saying because the eating disorder often clouds our vision and we don’t see anything clearly. And I know this is cheesy, but remember the acronym for the word hope: Hold On Pain Ends
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Getty image via Mary Jirovaya