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The ‘Lie’ That Actually Helped Me Recover From My Eating Disorder

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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.

My eyes blinked back frustrated tears as I cradled my head in my hands. “They lied,” I thought. “They told me I could go back if I wanted to, but I can’t. I just can’t.”

Let me backtrack. About four years ago, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. After about six months of treatment, ranging from outpatient to inpatient and everything in between, I found myself stuck. For those of us familiar with eating disorders, we know the allure they can bring. Don’t get me wrong — they are a living hell, but they also provide a distraction from life’s struggles. My disorder mainly took the form of restriction and overexercise, both of which I clung to like a security blanket. I knew I did not want to maintain a life of calorie counting and planning my entire schedule around my running routine, and I could see that my real priorities — such as my family, friends and a teaching career — had fallen by the wayside. Yet, I could not bring myself to stop these disordered behaviors. On the surface, I feared my weight would go “out of control,” a fear rooted in both familiar pressures as well as a weight-stigma world. Underneath, however, I feared the unknown. How would I cope in the world without my eating disorder? How could I feel that same sense of achievement?

That’s when I heard the phrase, “Just try recovery. If you don’t like it, you can always go back to the disorder.” Something about knowing I could go back if I wanted to really helped me push back against the thoughts that were keeping me in quasi-recovery. After all, if I didn’t like recovery, I could go back. If I really wanted to, I could use restriction and exercise. I was willing to give recovery a real try, just so long as I could return to the eating disorder if I wanted to.

For months, my life truly began to feel like my own again. There were definite moments of discomfort, but there were also moments of triumph. I began to fully separate myself from the eating disorder and fall in love with the life recovery was giving me. Body changes were difficult, but I began to see my body more for what it did, rather than what it looked like. I began to truly feel happy again.

That is until life stressors cropped up. A change in my job had made work become more demanding and to top it all off, my parents announced they were getting a divorce. All of a sudden, I found myself attempting to go back to the eating disorder. I desperately wanted the distraction. The problem was, it wasn’t working. I couldn’t use restriction because I knew it was only harming my body. I also knew this feeling of control was fake. It was not what I actually wanted or needed. I felt betrayed that this coping skill, no matter how dangerous or harmful it was, was taken away from me.

Through much help with my therapist and the support of my loved ones, I began to really lean on the coping skills I had practiced. I wrote out my feelings, and slowly, I began to miss the eating disorder less and less. I also let myself cry. A lot.

The truth was, I needed that lie so I could take that step forward. I needed to know I could go back in order to even attempt to leave. Yes, I felt anger, but I also recognized that I realized the disorder wasn’t going to solve my problems. It was not the safe haven it once was, and any temporary relief I now felt was shattered by the realization it was a disorder.

Now, I can’t speak to everyone’s experience. Relapse is also a very real part of recovery, and it should be taken seriously. It is very possible to fall back on old behaviors, especially in times of struggle. The truth is though, no matter how far you fall, you can’t unlearn what you have learned. While this lie initially hurt, it also helped me realize just how real recovery could be. It’s not that I couldn’t return to my disorder; it’s that I no longer wanted to.

Photo by Ionut Coman Photographer on Unsplash

Originally published: February 20, 2019
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