Reflecting on Recovery

I am generally feeling pretty down this evening, but I’ve been wanting to write a positive post regarding Eating Disorder recovery, so I figured I may as well do that tonight.

I consider myself to be recovered from my eating disorder. Despite the fact that I was not sick for very long, there was a time when I thought I would never say that. I remember once asking a healthcare provider, “What if I’m stuck like this forever?” I can still feel the desperation I felt in that moment. I remember how trapped I felt when over and over and over again, attempts to stop restricting lead to bingeing which lead to purging and recommitting to restriction. And I am so happy not to be feeling those things anymore.

I won’t re-tell my entire eating disorder history here, but I’ll give a rough timeline of my illness and recovery for context. I exhibited disordered eating patterns off and on during my teenage years, but I would say my disorder began in September 2013. (At that time, I had Bulimia Nervosa, but this would later abruptly morph into Anorexia- Binge/Purge Subtype) My illness began consuming my entire life in Summer 2014. I half-assed my way through a Day Hospital Program Winter 2014/2015, relapsed immediately upon discharge, and gave my best effort when I was re-admitted in Spring 2015. Despite beginning to relapse in June 2015, and slipping many times later, I have more or less maintained my recovery since that admission. Over the course of months, my slips went from 3 weeks long to 1 week long to 3 days long, and they were happening less and less frequently. My eating disorder made it difficult to regain the weight I lost last Fall as a result of depression, but it did not manage to suck me in the way it had before. And today, I feel the healthiest I have been (food-wise) since my disorder began.

It has been a year and a half since I have been seriously unwell, so I often fail to notice the subtle changes in my thinking that I never thought I would experience. But every once in a while, I am amazed and incredibly grateful by the transformation that has taken place.

One thing that has surprised me is the way I view my disorder differently as I gain more distance from it. I used to have an unbearable urge to become sicker before I recovered, to show the world how much weight I could lose before “giving up” by getting healthy. I thought my eating disorder wouldn’t matter unless I ended up in a hospital bed with a tube in my nose. In essence, I thought losing more weight would make me finally feel “sick enough to recover”. But the strange thing is, what finally made me feel this way was recovery itself. For one, the amount of weight loss that seemed trivial to me at the time now feels somewhat shocking. But also, living with the freedom to eat according to my body’s wants and needs has made me realize the extent to which I used to be imprisoned by my thoughts. I have memories of wanting so badly to eat, but feeling physically incapable of doing so. I remember crying over a plate of Shepherd’s Pie, while “This is against the rules” repeated in my head like a punishing mantra. I remember feeling too embarrassed to be in public after my first day in treatment, because I thought everybody could tell I was gaining weight. As I sit here writing about these days, I am thinking “What the actual fuck.” I feel so far removed from that world of obsession and delusion. And that validates my struggle more than further weight loss or an increased level of care ever could have.

My biggest surprise though, is that I am actually starting to love my body.

I feel hypocritical saying that, because there are still days when I think I am fat, and I still let my desire to numb my emotions hurt my body when I self-harm. But whenever a friend says I have a nice butt, (an occurrence that once contributed to a relapse) I respond with “Thank you; I know.” I came home from the gym one day last week and told my roommate, “My legs are great”. I sometimes flex my biceps in the mirror like a douchebag. I thought that losing more weight, on top of validating my suffering, would make me like my body more. And yes, there were a couple milliseconds sprinkled throughout the time I spent unwell where I felt “skinny”. But 99% of the day, I felt tired, depressed, and most importantly, “not thin enough”. I remember riding the train to my first day of treatment (Round 2) at my lowest weight, and thinking my thighs looked fat. I realize now that my unconscious goal was to make my body disappear, something I could never have fully achieved. No matter how sick I got, my body would still have some mass, and my legs would still be there. I looked down at my thighs and hated the space they took up, so making that amount of space smaller would have never satisfied me. Now, I am no longer wishing my body out of existence. I see the way some clothing accentuates my curves, and I feel beautiful and feminine. I look down at my thighs and, while I do see fat, I also see muscle I have worked hard to build, and I see pieces of a human being who is allowed to exist and take up space.

I can’t explain in words how profoundly grateful and surprised I am to be in this place I didn’t think I would ever be. I so easily forget the progress I’ve made when depression and anxiety continue to affect my everyday life. But I get to work on these issues with my fully functional, well-nourished brain, and then go home and eat Reese chocolate peanut butter spread like I give a fuck, and then do my abstract algebra homework somewhat-efficiently, and then spend time with friends because I have the energy for it. Focusing on my current struggles is important, but it’s also nice to look back on the progress I’ve made and feel proud and thankful that I have gotten this far.

Sarah

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