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What Demi Lovato’s New Song Reminded Me About 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 guess I’m mastering the art of starting over.”

Demi Lovato‘s new album “Dancing With The Devil… The Art of Starting Over” — which follows her latest documentary, “Dancing With The Devil” — is full of deeply personal tracks chock-full of references to Lovato’s struggles with addiction and mental illness. But “The Art of Starting Over,” one of the titular tracks off Lovato’s April 2 release, is more than just a song about new beginnings — it also beautifully describes the tenuous process of eating disorder recovery.

The moment I heard Demi powerfully describe how she’s unwittingly mastered starting over, I immediately connected with the emotional struggles of beginning again (and again and again) in recovery — unknowingly mastering “the art of starting over.” My own recovery from anorexia nervosa has forced me to return to square one time and time again, even when I’d rather keep verging down a dangerous path.

The first time I entered eating disorder treatment wasn’t fully my own decision, so I arrived resentful but determined to conquer my harmful behaviors. I had given up everything to be in treatment, so I was determined for it to be effective in order to return to the life I knew as soon as possible. Unfortunately, treatment was far more challenging than I anticipated and forcing away my eating disorder symptoms caused my anxiety and depression to mount, which ultimately hindered my progress.

Once I left treatment, I attempted to get back on my feet, but it wasn’t long before my eating disorder symptoms reared their ugly head again. My other mental illnesses seemed manageable, but the complications from my eating disorder forced me back into treatment not long after I left. I had to leave the life I was beginning to rebuild for a new life in treatment, and I was frustrated that I couldn’t live on my own terms.

My mental health and eating disorder continued to run in a vicious cycle. When I actively worked on my eating disorder, the lack of control I felt over my body would cause me to slip into depression. When I did everything in my power to stave off my depression symptoms, I’d relapse in my eating disorder. To make matters worse, every time I felt like I was nearing the end of my “treatment tug-of-war,” I’d either fall into suicidal thoughts or begin engaging in eating disorder behaviors again. Nurture, slump, relapse, start over… over and over and over again. I worked hard after every setback, but I was never deemed clinically “safe” enough to start over in the way I truly desired, gradually working my way back to my pretreatment life.

What I failed to realize, though, was that every unwanted new beginning became gradually easier to cope with as time went on. Like Demi Lovato, I unflinchingly conquered each frustrating setback with as much grace as I could muster.  Every time I believed I had returned to the starting line, I vowed to use my new “blank slate” as an opportunity to take myself further in recovery than I’d ever been. When I felt like giving up in eating disorder recovery, I reminded myself that I truly wanted to stay alive. And when I felt free of my suicidal thoughts but tempted to succumb to my eating disorder, I reminded myself that eating disorder behaviors would not contribute to my happiness.

As the months wore on, nurturing my body no longer felt quite so mentally agonizing and leaving eating disorder treatment put me in less danger of a relapse. However, I still feared that I would repeatedly relapse and “start over” in treatment settings for years to come and never again live the seemingly “normal” life I used to have — complete with a job and a boyfriend and a comparatively carefree approach to life.

“New beginnings can be lonely/Thank God I got me to hold me.”

Whenever I thought about the life I was missing as I worked through treatment or listened to my friends regale me with tales from their 9-to-5 jobs, I felt isolated and envious. My friends were carving out careers and futures, but I was simply fighting to keep myself alive and nurtured as I bounced from treatment to outpatient to treatment again. I felt loved but misunderstood, like no one in my circle would ever fully be able to connect with the struggle of being a “professional patient.” My solace came from the glimmers of hope that someday I would be healthy enough to start over outside of treatment… and finally stay out. Whenever I felt hopeless in recovery, I held space for my emotions and tried to envelop myself in what little self-belief I had left.

“I let the darkness out.”

Three months ago, I left eating disorder treatment for (what I hope will be) the last time. I returned to life outside of treatment feeling like I had lost absolutely everything from my pretreatment life, but I had never felt so free. Finally, after long hours of treatment and mastering “the art of starting over” along the way, I could create a new life on my own terms. I spent the longest time shrouded in darkness, but the moment I left treatment, I “let the darkness out” — just like Demi Lovato.

Since my time in eating disorder treatment — and the countless new beginnings along the way — I’ve felt more fulfilled than ever before.  Not long ago, I worried every “fresh start” would follow a relapse and a stint in treatment, but while my recovery isn’t perfect, I feel like I’m firmly on the other side of the “mental illness tug-of-war” that kept me stuck in place. Now, I’m confident in my ability to start over and fight my way out of the darkness — the same resonant message that shines through in Demi Lovato’s “The Art of Starting Over.”

Starting over repeatedly in eating disorder recovery can be overwhelming, exhausting and painful, but Demi Lovato’s newest song, “The Art of Starting Over,” reminds us that with time, embracing a blank slate in recovery will strengthen us and carry us into the light. Lovato’s powerful lyrics reassure us that beginning again is natural — and we’re not alone in constantly slipping backward and starting fresh in recovery.

Image via Demi Lovato/Instagram

Originally published: April 3, 2021
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