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What the NEDA Week 2019 Theme Means to Me and My Recovery Journey

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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.

If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

National Eating Disorder’s Awareness Week 2019 is February 25 – March 3. Each year, the National Eating Disorder’s Association (NEDA) selects a theme for the week, and this year, the theme is “Come as You Are.” I wanted to take some space to write about my own experience in learning to do just that.

I’ve been struggling with my eating disorder for over 17 years. Within that time frame, I’ve often questioned whether or not things would ever get better and why I was still holding on and fighting for something that seemed so elusive. Why continue re-admitting to treatment when I just kept relapsing? Despite my best efforts, I felt so unable to hold onto change. I was, and often still am, so tired.

For a long time, the only thing that kept me going was the possibility that, maybe someday, I would recover: the belief that as long as I was able to keep myself alive, there was a chance, and that, if I recovered, the rest of my life would also just “be better” and would feel worth sticking around for. My best friend, who also struggled with an eating disorder for many years, ended her life when I was just 19. I struggled a great deal following her death. As I sank deeper into my illness and my life continued to unravel further than I ever could have imagined possible, I remember thinking often about how she had opted out of all this pain. Why was I still here? What was I staying for?

I came close to ending my own life on several occasions, primarily only held back by the fear: “What if I end things and there was still some chance, somewhere down the line, that this could have been different?”

One of the hardest things for me to come to terms with following my friend’s death was the devastating reality that it was really “over” for her; there was no longer any chance that things might get better. And while I so desperately wanted to give up and end my own pain, I couldn’t let go of the small part of me clinging to the question of “what if?” So, I continued to hang on, just for the possibility that maybe, someday, I could be free of my suffering.

Several years ago, during a round of inpatient treatment that felt particularly discouraging, I remember sitting across from my dietician with a “super smoothie,” crying that I just didn’t see the point in continuing. I saw the treatment process getting “easier” for many of my peers, but I was still so stuck. What if it never got easier?

She responded with, “Maybe it won’t. But you have to decide if your life is still worth fighting for.”

At the time, I remember thinking there was no possible way I could live my life like this. I needed there to be a clear “end” to my struggle. That was, after all, the sole reason I was there in treatment to begin with; that was the whole point. But I drank the stupid smoothie. And I kept trying. And, fast-forward three years to now, I can honestly say I feel very differently.

I still have an eating disorder. I am in recovery, but I still struggle with it to some degree every single day. And I still hope, more than anything, that this won’t always be the case, but I have also accepted it might be. And I can allow room for that possibility because I also have a life I love now — a life I believe is absolutely worth fighting to stay for, regardless. I made the decision following that treatment to show up for my life “as I was,” rather than continuing to wait and hold on for the hope that maybe, someday, I would be better. I didn’t give up on the possibility of recovery, but I committed to staying regardless, just as I was.

I moved across the country and discovered my passion for the outdoors. As my world expanded and become bigger, so much more than just my struggle, I learned to love being alive again. I started to feel grateful for my existence despite the fact the struggle was still there. And in doing all of this, I discovered that while my eating disorder was and is still a piece of my life, I am so much more than it, and I always was. My life is so much more than just an eating disorder. And that’s what motivates me to keep trying, to keep myself here on this earth.

I have learned my life doesn’t have to be free of pain in order for it to also be full of joy and meaning. And I think that’s a valuable truth for all of us, disordered or not. It’s really what shifted everything for me.

While I can’t go back and tell my friend all the reasons I’ve found to stay, I hope, if you’re reading this and struggling, I can somehow do that for you. You are needed and wanted and loved. You belong here. There is so much to stay for. Even if your pain never goes away, there is more and you are more, just as you are.

Photo by luizclas from Pexels

Originally published: February 25, 2019
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