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What Nobody Tells You About Potential Obstacles in Eating Disorder Recovery

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Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

I can remember being in treatment five years ago as the result of my lifelong battle with a severe eating disorder. I was 22 and a recent college graduate whose life came to a sudden halt when my eating disorder finally caused me to hit a rock bottom that only treatment could help me recover from.

I had been in various levels of care for half the year at this point and I was no longer dealing with many of my previous eating disorder thoughts and behaviors. I had gone into treatment knowing what work I had been avoiding and needed to do in order to recover and I committed to showing up for it 100%. As I was preparing to leave treatment and return to my “normal” life over 1,000 miles away, I was highly optimistic and prepared to take on the world. There were few things I saw as an obstacle to living a fully recovered life … few things, except for my desire to have kids in the future.

As I discussed this obstacle — or irrational fear, as I now call it — my team affirmed that I should be cautiously optimistic about this eventual stage of life. I was told I would likely need to surround myself with a team of clinicians, that I would need to lean on others, and that postpartum would be the most challenging part of it all because it would no longer feel like the changes my body was experiencing were “productive.” I was told various other things as well, all of which only affirmed that I should fear my dream of having children one day, but since children were far-off in the future — I was single, 22 and had no desire to settle down anytime soon — I tucked away those fears, continued living my life and maintained being recovered.

Following this, I began a career in mental health and eventually settled into the eating disorder field. I moved from Vermont to St. Louis, to Boston, and finally settled in Denver before relocating to the Dallas-Fort Worth area (due to the baby that made this article possible). I started grad school, fell in love, got engaged and married all in the span of my first year in Colorado. I still had my fears about children, but they stayed tucked away because we had a “two to five-year plan” and pregnancy was not on my mind. I more-so feared the possibility of not being able to have kids due to lasting damage from my eating disorder than what would happen if I got pregnant in the future. Then, five months into the marriage, on the day before Thanksgiving, I found myself sitting with my sister-in-law with a positive pregnancy test.

The thing I feared most in my recovered life, that I had stored away in the back of my mind as the one potential obstacle that could derail my recovery forever, had finally and unexpectedly happened. And you know what? Nothing changed. My recovery was not derailed. Everything my treatment team had told me to fear and be cautious of didn’t magically happen. I was not instantly reaching out to dietitians and therapists after not seeing them for years at this point. I was not instantly insecure in my identity as a recovered individual. My career in the eating disorder field was not at risk of being lost due to a relapse or even a small slip. It would not have been bad if any of those things had happened — however, I had been putting so much emotional energy into fearing them that I forgot to do the most important thing that I had learned in recovery; I forgot to trust myself and my process. I forgot to let go of fear and embrace the discomfort of being present in my life for everything that comes my way. I had placed more value in the affirmation of my fears by my team than my own intuition which would have told me to never be afraid.

So, what did happen? I continued living — living recovered, present and willing to honor my physical needs and values in order to live my healthiest and happiest life. I had always dreamed of having a baby and I deeply value life and health, so I honored my body and my baby by continuing to eat intuitively, rest when I needed, and change my lifestyle in any way I needed in order to accommodate growing another human. It wasn’t always easy, but it wasn’t difficult because of my eating disorder; it was difficult because I had never been pregnant before and I didn’t know what to expect. Somehow, the thing I was most afraid of in pregnancy, my eating disorder, was actually the last thing I thought of or cared about.

Eventually, nine months later, I welcomed a healthy baby boy into this world and once again, the things I had been told to fear most about postpartum did not matter. It’s been several months since my son was born and my body is still adjusting and changing, and that is OK. My treatment team told me I would see it as “unproductive;” however, I see that the body I live in every day allows me to be a stay-at-home mom and live fully present with my son and my husband. It’s not a “perfect” body, but it is perfect for allowing me to live a life I am present for and enjoy living.

So while your fears, your friends and family, your treatment team or anyone else may tell you that you should fear possible obstacles in the future of recovery, what none of them tell you is that those fears may never become reality. No one tells you that those things that seem so big and scary in the far-off future may be just like every other day in recovery — a day in which you make the choice to honor yourself, your values and your body so that you may live your best life and maintain recovery. No one tells you that no matter what obstacles, changes or transitions life may bring your way, living in recovery or recovered remains the same; it is still the process of being present and connected to your life, yourself and with the people in your life to experience the highs and lows of living. No one tells you that fearing obstacles is taking valuable time and energy that can be better-used living and flourishing in recovery. No one tells you this, so let me be the first.

Photo by Michael Heuser on Unsplash

Originally published: January 14, 2020
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