When You Hear Someone's Eating Disorder Recovery Story and Think 'That's BS'
December 14 marked six years in eating disorder recovery for me. I’ll say that again… six freaking years. It seems so hard to believe because it feels like yesterday I walked stumbled through the Carolina House treatment center doors.
I walked through hopeless, broken and tired. I no longer had the energy to fight the monster in my head, much less pretend like I had it all together. I wanted out. Out of my disorder, out of life. But somewhere, deep, deep, deep down, I wanted to believe there was more – that there was more to life than calories, weight, loneliness and empty pain.
There was nothing I wanted more in the world than to believe recovery was possible. I walked through the doors of the Carolina House with a willingness to become willing. I didn’t believe recovery would happen for me, but I trusted the extraordinary staff around me. I believed one day I just might believe I could live in the fairytale that was recovery.
I quickly learned that recovery was anything but a fairy tale. It sucked. It was painful. Even as I write this, six years later, my heart aches for that woman who thought there was no hope left. Tears roll down my cheeks thinking of how damn grateful I am to so many for walking by me on this journey, for giving me the tools to save myself.
If I could do one thing the rest of my life, it would be to sit with patients in treatment centers. There is nothing I love more than spending time with those in the depths of the eating disorder fight. While most patients welcome me, there are many who absolutely loathe me when I walk in the door. There eyes immediately scan me and disregard me. And I can’t blame them – I didn’t like me either years ago.
I hated speakers that came in and painted this rose-colored fairy tale picture of recovery. “It is all bullshit,” I would think to myself. I compared my journey to everyone around me – who was sicker, thinner and more deserving of help. My eating disorder kept me in a spiral of shame and hopelessness, not wanting to accept the treatment I desperately needed and deserved.
Comparison is not just the thief of joy. Comparison is the thief of recovery.
Comparison haunted me… and it still haunts me today. When I speak now, many patients only hear that I went to treatment once or that I was only there for three months. They look at me and see a life unattainable for them.
“You only went to treatment once; this is my seventh time in treatment.”
“You were only there three months, I’ve been here 11 months.”
“You didn’t have to do all the weight restoration.”
These are just a few things I have heard throughout my years visiting treatment centers. My reply is always this, “Yep. You are right.”
You’re right. I only went once. I was 29 years old and had been struggling for 15 years. Yep, three months. I was there three months because insurance dropped me two weeks in and we were paying out of pocket. My husband and I gave every penny to my recovery and so did my parents.
Nope, I did not have weight restoration per se, but I did have a body that was super “effed” up (that being the medical term) and had months years of gaining stability with my body and digestive system.
I’ve had older patients look at me like I am a young unicorn, flying through treatment just one time while sprinkling fairy dust on the world below. I have had men look at me as the “typical white sorority girl” who had an eating disorder “for attention.” I have spoken to rooms where every patient was under a blanket. I have met with children who can’t or won’t look me in the eye. And I have spoken to countless rooms filled with a community of angry patients, wanting to sit in the dark and not hear the message that recovery was possible.
And I get it. I’ve been there. Some days I am still that angry person who wants to throw in the towel on life because life is so. damn. hard. Then I remember just how much I have fought to overcome. I dig deeper past the anger. I, of course, call my therapist (praise baby Jesus for Mary) and remember that, yes, this too shall pass. However, nothing passes without a lot ton of work and determination.
I recently found myself up against a room of comparison patients. They were throwing every comparison question at me, until I finally responded with this: “Comparison is truly the thief of joy and your recovery. The more we sit and compare our bodies, stories and journeys to others, the less time we spend focusing on what really matters: ourselves and our own journey of recovery. Rather than say, ‘She wasn’t that bad’ or ‘my eating disorder is worse,’ use that energy to open your heart, find empathy and encouragement from others. You’re right, my story is different from yours and yours is different than the person sitting next to you. But that doesn’t mean we can’t find support in our struggles. It doesn’t mean we can’t lean on each other, provide empathy and support. You had a choice when you came into the room today: you could choose to listen with an open heart or you can choose to compare and continue to sit in hopelessness.”
It all goes back to a choice, an active decision. I can’t make anyone listen to me nor do I want to. I hated those speakers. (Oh the irony that I am one of them now.) But I showed up, I listened – and some days showing up alone is our victory.
So yes, I went to treatment once. Yes, I was not a marginalized, traumatized, underweight victim. I am none of those things. I am a white, blonde, female and yes, a former sorority girl, but those labels don’t define me or my story. I choose what defines me and that is my heart. I am McCall, an intelligent, brave, determined, creative, authentic, vulnerable and beautiful survivor… and so are you. Rather than compare labels, bodies and stories, can’t we all just see each other as brave?
Show up today. Be seen. Listen. And above all else, believe that recovery is possible. I am six years of living proof. Six years, y’all. Six years comparison-free and loving every minute of recovery, my body, my heart and yes, this hard and amazing thing called 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.
Thinkstock photo by Photodisc