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5 Truths I Want to Share on My Eating Disorder Recovery Birthday

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Today is my birthday. It’s not the kind of birthday that comes with gifts and a cake ablaze with candles — it’s the bittersweet kind. It’s a day that catalyzes a deep sense of gratitude for all the people who took risks on my behalf when I was sick. It’s a day when I look back on the years I lost to anorexia and allow myself to grieve. It’s a day when I take an inventory of my life and am overwhelmed with awe at all it has become.

Today is my recovery birthday.

Recovery birthdays are tricky things for people with eating disorders. Unlike individuals struggling to overcome substance abuse, there is no single moment when we decide to put down our drug of choice. Instead, our recovery is a journey comprised of steps that bring us closer and closer to doing something that most people do every day without a second thought. Eating. Rather than abstaining, our recovery involves partaking.

It is for this reason that the act of choosing the date for a recovery birthday for someone with an eating disorder is personal. I chose the day I left treatment for the third and final time. Since then I have discovered a great many truths and, each year, on this day, I reflect on them.

1. I still spend a lot of time at the doctor’s office.

I really thought this part would end after I left treatment, but my struggle with anorexia had medical consequences that I will have to deal with for the rest of my life. For example, every year I have a DEXA scan done. This entails sitting in a waiting room populated by individuals much older than I am. It means that a technician will look at me, and then at my file, trying to make sense of the number that is my age in relation to my last T-score. These appointments serve as reminders as to why I need to remain vigilant in my recovery.

2. Life is triggering.

I can attempt to insulate myself from triggers, but they are everywhere. They come in the form of comments, photos, films and even songs. Rather than avoiding them, I now gather whatever support I can find and confront that trigger head on. If I don’t, it will surface again and again.

3. Self-care can be wonky.

The things I do to protect myself don’t make sense to everyone. For example, for a long time, I did not have any mirrors in my house. I did not even have one in the bathroom. This is something people commented on whenever they came over. Sometimes I explained my lack of a mirror, other times I didn’t. Recovery is worth it and I must be willing to do whatever it takes to maintain it, no matter what anyone else thinks.

4. Think outside the box.

Nearly two years passed after I left treatment before I wore a swimming suit in public for the first time. When I did, it was at a pool during a lap swimming session. Everyone, with the exception of me, was 55 years of age or older. No one in the pool cared what I looked like in my suit. This was liberating. I have had the most success overcoming challenges in unlikely places. Consequently, I now push myself to be creative as I think of ways to move forward in my recovery.

5.  Do not rule anything out.

After having been sick for as long as I was, I didn’t think I would ever have a child. My daughter turned 4 last spring. She is the love of my life. Last February she sat in the audience as I celebrated the launch of my first book. She has since traveled with me as I have given recovery talks, led workshops and done readings. I am now a writer, a mother and a teacher, three things I would never have become had I remained sick.

Recovery has been nothing like I thought it would be. It has been more challenging and more fulfilling than I ever thought possible. I hope to celebrate many more recovery birthdays and will embrace the truths that each one brings.

Follow this journey on Catherine’s blog.

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 petrunjela

Originally published: November 5, 2017
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