What it means when I say I’m in recovery from an eating disorder 

First, let me set one thing straight: I did not choose anorexia. Anorexia chose me. I didn’t know what an eating disorder was until I had one. This leads me to believe that in my case, anorexia is a manifestation of screwed up chemicals in my brain, random events that may have happened, and genetics.

Anorexia is a living hell, of a sort. Even after being diagnosed as anorexic, I never felt like I actively chose to have an eating disorder. Of course, years ago I was so wrapped up in my symptoms and depression, that I wasn’t trying to get better. I hid food, making my parents believe I was eating it. I over exercised, to the point where I hated it, but had to move to feel OK. 

Anorexia makes having a social life difficult. Many holidays or events revolve around appetizers, meals or desserts. It’s extremely awkward to be the person who refuses the food that is being offered. Sometimes I would tote along my own food (a pita sandwich at Christmas, it embarrasses me even now, and yet I can see how easy it would be to slip back into this mindset of only eating “safe” foods) or pretend to eat the small portions on my plate, when all I was really doing was moving my corn and mashed potatoes around in circles on the fine china.

Even now, eating in front of company can be very difficult. Don’t take it personally if I can’t muster the courage to eat with you, it’s not you its me.

My memory can be quite selective sometimes, it’s easy for me to block complete months or years out of my recollection. But I can’t let myself forget. Not completely, not if I want to keep progressing.

I am in recovery from anorexia. This is a serious mental illness that takes lives. It looks like dieting taken to the extreme,and exercise addiction often accompanies the strict food “rules” and suicidal behaviors.

But what does recovery look like? It looks different for everyone, though paths often converge. What works for me may, or may not work for the next person. 

For me, recovery has been a weird experience. I now strive for health and wellbeing, whereas before, my goal was to slowly fade away. Changing my thoughts and actions has been, and still is, a daily struggle. I often find myself wondering if I will ever fully recover.

Recovery is feeling really great one moment, and lie a complete mess the next. I like to keep my coping mechanisms hush-hush, but the truth is, it’s very easy to slip back into an undeserving, hateful mindset. It is easy for me to feel horrible, and depressed and turn to momentary and “band-aid” approaches to quell the pain. 

Recovery isn’t always pretty. Countless times, I have become a sobbing mess because things aren’t going right, or I feel uncomfortable. Sometimes I shut down, and my walls go up. In the long run, I know I’m hurting myself and those who love me, but my mind feels like a hamster wheel over a lake of fire, going, going…it feels more dangerous to hop off than it does to just keep going.

Some days recovery feels easy, I feel good in my body, and I don’t obsessively think about calories or how big my thighs might be getting. These days are wonderful and carefree, and they help the hard times feel a little bit easier to cope with. I know I’m always going to have days that aren’t so great, days when I struggle to feed myself and use my mindfulness in a positive way. What matters is getting through these rough patches and not succumbing to them.

Recovery has meant growing out of lots of my clothes, and having frustrating moments of tugging a pair of jeans on, only to find I can’t button them anymore. This can be a triggering and healing experience. On the one hand it reminds me of the way my weight has changed, but in the other it helps me come to terms with the fact that I don’t have to be a certain size to be happy, though the media would have us believe otherwise.

Recovery is knowing your limits. There are times when people did not listen to me because of my mental illness, believing the words can’t out of my mouth were the words of the eating disorder. A doctor tried to force me into the eating disorder unit at a nearby hospital, one that I have not heard positive things about. I fought tooth and nail, and to this day I still feel traumatized by this instance and feel confident in my choice to refuse inpatient treatment. I am in a much better place now mentally, and I’m proud of the hard work me, my family and my treatment team has done. I’ve even give some thought to residential treatment, and I can honestly say that if I don’t feel capable of reaching full recovery working outpatient, I would seriously consider an out of state institution with positive outcomes. I’m not saying outpatient is right for everyone, by any means. It’s not a decision to be made lightly though. And I don’t believe a doctor who doesn’t even know me should feel like she is in a position to commit me.

Recovery is a process. One that takes commitment and support. Once I began to show I was serious about recovery, my family stepped into place beside me and helped me make positive decisions. It was still up to me to put in the hard work, but it made things so much easier to have a support hub.

Recovery is not perfect, and I don’t expect it to be. I often choose foods that aren’t in my best interest, and I have discovered a weak spot for ice cream and other sweets. I accept these things as a part of the learning process, and move on. I’ve also realized that some things must come before others in life, and that I can’t rush things. It is what it is.

Recovery is naps, good food, buffets and vacations. It’s taking time for myself, and making time for others. It’s hugs and kisses and letting others in. It’s facing fears and past wrongs, forgiving and holding on. It’s being lazy and happy, sitting in fierce depression and realizing I’ll be OK. It’s accepting help, and love. I’ve found it’s all about the love. Recovery is loving yourself enough to heal for you. Placing enough value on yourself. Because you are worth the effort. And so am I.

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