Frankly, I don’t feel like talking about my story or the darkness that consumed my life for 6 years; I’d rather share about life and lessons from the other side, giving hope to people reading this. I’ll include one excerpt from my journal in 2003, during the beginning of my illness: “It may take years more, but I do believe one day it won’t be like this…I will be free.”
Three lessons that recovery taught me…
1. That complete recovery is possible.
I never really believed that my eating disorder would be my death sentence. What I didn’t realize was that it didn’t have to be a life sentence either. Throughout my treatment and recovery, it was often stated or implied that I would struggle, to some degree, with my eating disorder for the rest of my life (i.e., how alcoholism is often described – you’re always an alcoholic, even when you’re not drinking; you’re always an anorexic, even when you’re not restricting).
One night, after 6 years of physical, emotional, and psychological torment and self-abuse, I simply got tired of it. I finally became more afraid of missing out on life than I was of living without my eating disorder as a crutch. At that moment, I fully grasped that it wasn’t about the food—no amount of restriction or weight loss was ever going to make me happy or solve my problems. The real problem was that I didn’t love myself, and I was ready to change that. The eating disorder was simply not serving me anymore. So I let it go. I cried, and I prayed, and I took a deep breath; I knew I was done.
The next week, I flew to France for four months. I explored and got lost every day; I treated myself to whatever I wanted in the patisseries; I spontaneously traveled to other parts of Europe. I felt alive and at peace for the first time in my life, and I have spent every day of the past eight years looking forward instead of backward. Since letting go, I have not engaged any disordered thoughts or behaviors, and I don’t struggle with it at all.
Today, I am not anorexic. I am not in recovery – I am recovered. It’s over. Most days, I don’t even consciously remember that I was ever anorexic, much less consumed with disordered thoughts for every second of every day for six years. I didn’t think it was possible to take all of the hateful thoughts and nutrition labels out of my head, but the trick is making the conscious decision to instead fill your mind with love, gratitude, and living in the present. Our minds and willpower are incredibly strong and resilient when we believe in real change.
No two stories are the same, and I’m sure many people don’t fully recover in one specific moment that they can pinpoint – but I want people to know that it is possible. You don’t need to settle for believing that you will be stuck in the grip of an eating disorder for the rest of your life.
Becoming anorexic was not a conscious choice – it was an addiction that spiraled out of control. Once I realized how trapped I was, I often thought about how much I wanted to “be normal again.” I wanted to be able to eat “normal” food like fries and pizza. But here’s the deal (that I’m embarrassed it took so many years to understand): we live in a country where over 65% of the population is overweight or obese; “normal” clearly is not working. While most of our family and friends may not meet the DSM’s criteria for an eating disorder diagnosis, they likely don’t have healthy relationships with food either.
So I don’t regularly eat fries or pizza, unless I really, really want them. I don’t eat any of that tasteless, processed, “diet” food either. And I don’t miss any of it because my body gets what it needs. On a day-to-day basis, I focus on eating the most nutrient-dense foods I can. I’m sure that from the outside, people may perceive my food choices as restrictive, but it’s actually quite the opposite. To me, it’s about what I can give my body, not deprive from it. After years of abusing my body, I want to take care of it to the best of my ability. I spent enough time physically feeling like garbage in a state of chronic exhaustion; I want to be energetic and feel genuinely good – which, sadly, is not the norm in our culture. I never imagined I could feel empowered in my body rather than imprisoned in it. By letting my body do its job and listening to its needs, my mind is free. Food is not a way to reward or punish myself – it is the fuel for a life that I can love.
3. That the journey is worth it.
The choice to seek recovery is hard, but every step forward (even though you’ll probably take a step or two backward now and then) is worth it. Even in the darkest parts of my journey, I knew that my eating disorder and the fight to survive it were actually the best things to ever happen to me.
Opening up about my struggles, both now and along the way, has been painfully difficult but vital to my progress. During my last backslide into my disorder in college, I chose to hold it all in. I kept it a secret because I held onto a lot of guilt for how my disorder had already affected those close to me. That may have been the biggest mistake I made, because honesty is one of the most important steps in healing. I always rationalized that people wouldn’t understand, and maybe they didn’t, but they always shocked me with their compassion. Becoming vulnerable and sharing is incredibly tough, but it is life changing.
Even if I had never fully recovered, the journey would still have changed me and shaped every part of my life. I learned to live with hope instead of limiting expectations. I learned to look forward to opportunities for adventure. I became conscious of appreciating moments of joy. I learned to believe in miracles. I became strong enough to fight for what I want in life. I learned how to express myself openly. I learned that fear isn’t real and that I have the power to face it. I learned that nothing in life is worth falling apart over. I realized that I could survive anything.
I would go through it all over again to be the person I am now. In the early days of my battle with my eating disorder, I’d wish for my old life back, but I ended up with a bigger, more fulfilling, beautiful, and blessed life than I could have ever imagined because of my eating disorder...and mainly because I chose to fight back.