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When Eating Disorder Recovery Is One Painful Choice After Another

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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 was never told how much recovery would hurt. Nobody warned me about the night sweats or the extreme hunger that would come at me with a vengeance after starting to reintroduce my body to regular nutrition. They didn’t say how hard it was going to be to choose between vanilla and hazelnut creamer (because one of them surely must be more calories than the other) for the amount of coffee we were allowed at breakfast. They didn’t tell me I likely wouldn’t have a normal bowel movement for at least three days after admissions and that I would have a month-long bruise from the 7 a.m. blood draws. The physical components of early recovery and refeeding hurt but my God, it was nothing compared to the emotional pain that was to come.

You see in my experience, when you have an eating disorder, you become very skilled at turning things off. You begin to use your constant cycles of starving, binging, purging and exercising to build a fortress so mighty, so encompassing, that it cannot be penetrated by anyone or anything. You become nothing; nothing but the shell of the person you were before your disorder took control. You rarely fear pain. You never feel excited. You experience fear, but it is the fear of someone challenging your armor. The eating disorder creates a stoic and disconnected version of yourself because that is how it survives. 

Here’s the thing, though: when you start eating again, that fortress begins to crumble and all of the things that were waiting on the other side come charging in. Full. Speed. Ahead. And it hurts. I don’t think I can string together a sentence that accurately describes what it’s like to start feeling things again when you’ve been numb for so long. Facing your demons head-on with nowhere to go feels like breaking every single bone in your body, one by one. Nobody told me that there would be times I was sobbing in my therapist’s office, begging her to tell me how to stop my heart from hurting, thinking about all the things I had lost to my illness. I did not know that white knuckling through a challenge snack would leave me more exhausted than the first half marathon I ran during grad school. I never expected to be struck with debilitating fear because I had no idea who I was outside of my eating disorder. Nobody prepared me for the brokenness I would feel when I told my parents, “I am sick and I need help.” They did not warn me that in order to heal, I would have to fall apart completely, day after day.

Recovery is one painful choice after another. It is choosing the full-fat yogurt over the 1% because even though you don’t fully trust your dietician, you know you cannot trust yourself when it comes to this. It is admitting to your relapse in support group because you’ve heard countless times that secrets keep you sick and you think you might like to try not being sick for once. The pain of recovery is walking past a mirror and coming to a halt because body dysmorphia, shame and self-hatred hit you like a bullet train. Recovery does not feel good. It is not a one-size fits-all. And it never ends. I will be recovering for the rest of my life because I know if I am not recovering, I am dying. Recovery is exhausting and infuriating and if you ask me, it hurts much more than my eating disorder ever did. I wish somebody told me that recovery is the growing pains of choosing to leave your illness behind. I know now that I am hurting but I am growing.

Image via contributor.

Originally published: October 11, 2019
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