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Where to Look for Hope When You've Relapsed in Eating Disorder Recovery

According to Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, even with treatment, only 60 percent of people diagnosed with an eating disorder recover.

Without treatment, up to 20 percent of people with serious eating disorders will die.

These are pretty dismal realities to come up against as an individual in the midst of a battle with a raging eating disorder. Where, then, does a 28-year-old that has found a rewarding job, is fighting through a seizure disorder, recently married her prince charming and is pursuing another master’s degree (to build her own nonprofit), go to find hope and recovery?

I wonder how many people realize the extraordinary challenge of recovery is for someone who cannot simply eradicate the substance being abused. Imagine telling an alcoholic they need to drink a glass of wine each night to survive. For me, my eating disorder is an addiction, and we have to find a way to safely coexist with the very thing that sent us spiraling into our demise.

The messaging surrounding eating disorders is detrimental to those suffering from them, and the media’s normalization of eating disorder behavior is even worse. The glamorization of extreme dieting, coupled with the controlling idea that eating disorders are exclusively the rebellious behavior of teenage girls, makes it difficult to find support, or to ask for help. But what I find the most difficult to swallow is how much shame is thrust upon a group of individuals who are suffering from an extraordinarily dangerous disease. Our minds are already inundated with the negative thoughts created and perpetuated by the disease, and now, we’re surrounded by a society that tosses them back at us, if we dare to reach out for help.

There is hope, of this I have to be sure. Without hope, it’s so easy to fall into despair and to look at recovery with bafflement, distrust or sadness. But, with the 40 percent that do not recover from the eating disorder, there are 60 percent that do. 60 percent that live full and healthy lives, and more often than not, are able to use their experience to help others in their journey towards recovery. Those brave individuals are the hope we can find in the chaos of an eating disorder; they not only were able to enter into recovery, they were able to find the courage and altruism required to face those afflicted with the same gnarly disease, and help them find their way out.

As someone who cycles in and out of recovery, I can say in a world that shames us into silence, speaking up and talking about the feelings that result in a relapse can be nearly impossible. But activating our voice is the hope that is always present in our fight. Bravery is not the absence of fear, it is the recognition and understanding of it. Eating disorders offer to us a process that mystifies our feelings, converting them into bizarre rituals that will destroy us. Working to recognize and own those feelings through compassion allows us to search out that horrible thing that our eating disorder feeds on.

Of course, there is no easy fix to the eating disorder, and unearthing that unspeakable thing can take a very long time. This is because you are the eating disorder — it lives inside you, and it will probably fight to do so for the rest of your life. Don’t let it. Don’t let your fear, sadness, hurt, anger or pain hide behind the eating disorder anymore. Call out the monster, make it face you. Know you are strong enough, because you have fought such a hideous illness, to beat it. Know you are strong enough.

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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