What Recovering From An Eating Disorder Is Really Like
Spoiler alert, it's not just about yoga and almond butter.
You hear it all the time.
They're getting better, healthier, stronger!
Look, they did it!
They're in stable recovery, everything is looking good.
It seems so common sensical when talking about something like a physical illness - something was broken, and now it's getting better. But when people hear about recovery from an eating disorder, a lot of the time their perception follows a really similar storyline that goes something like this...
So you start with a girl (obviously cause men don't have eating disorders in the always accurate eyes of the media). That girl is probably white, probably rich/spoiled, and probably in their early 20's/late teens. And that girl is nothing but bones, she sulks around, occasionally eating a piece of celery. But right when recovery hits you see a change! She starts meditating, doing yoga, eating peanut butter and avocados. You may picture a beautifully rich acai bowl topped with coconut and a fresh pressed juice on the side. And the second she hits an ideal weight, boom! She's cured.
And if that was the truth this would be a pretty shitty article because it would already be over - but the truth is that if recovery is like that I would have signed up for it years ago. She can really be a he, a young girl an old woman in her 60's, a working ER nurse, a poor woman, people of any ehtnicities and (this part is important), LITERALLY ANY FUCKING SIZE. Big, small, green, yellow, mellow - do I have to keep Dr. Suessing it here or what?
Going through different stages of recovery for years now (fake recovery, true recovery, relapses from recovery etc.), I really used to buy into that recovery picture, the yoga/green tea/peanut butter. But really I was just using that to make it seem like I was into the idea of recovering when really sticking to that stereotypical media conception of recovery was just another way to keep me attached to my disorder. And to be honest I sympathise a weird amount with any single person who is struggling with any type of mental illness because I know just how frustrating all these misconceptions can seem. Because even if you get to the stage where you accept your mental illness you get this idea in your head that you're doing it wrong. You start comparing your recovery journey to other people's and it becomes this dangerous cycle of who can not only recover first but better.
Ya, mental illness must have just taken 5 tequila shots because it is seriously f*cked up.
Trust me, I've been trying to shake this bitch off for years now - and if there's any way I can help other people do the same I'm going to try it. These some of the things that happen during real recovery, probably not a complete list because I can't truly say I've been in full recovery - YET (the key cliff hanger word there, sequel of me eating cake with a beautifully juicy ass to follow soon). But I want to try and dispell the myth (YOU'RE A WIZARD HARRY) of "actual" recovery, and the ideas that come along with it.
This is recovery;
1. It's not about eating Insta worthy overnight oat bowls and avocado toast, it's challenging yourself to eat the foods you had written off as forbidden.
I had this really odd idea going into recovery that all I would have to do is eat some very nicely laid out avocado toast in order to get back to "healthy eating", hahahaha (real world laughing at me). See, my idea of healthy eating was so messed up that I was absolutely stunned when I found out I would have to be eating foods I'd always label as unhealthy. Fries, burgers, pop tarts, sugary cereal, ice cream any kind of carbs, muffins - that was all on the menu. And it's because there is NO such thing as bad vs. good food - just food. Healthy isn't eating green/vegan/organic, but about moderation. And to get to that point I had to (and still have to) allow myself to learn that it's fine to have all foods, in moderation.
2. It's not just about gaining weight.
CAN I GET AN AMEN ON THIS ONE. This is the thing that literally I could climb a wall because of (because it drives me up the wall get it - but seriously). When I came out of my inpatient stay at a healthy weight a lot of people suddenly assumed that I was cured. IIn fact that's when the real work started. I worked hard so I could get my body back to a clinically normal weight, so because I looked okay people thought I was "okay". But actually, I still had to deal with all those thoughts that made me sick in the first place, the insecurities.
3. The food is only there as your medicine.
You need food so you can get to a point where you can actually start to be healthy enough to think. So you've scared the shit out of yourself daily and you are still doing it - whew you're don- oh wait. Food, for me, is literally such a small part of my eating disorder. Eating disorders are not about the food, food just serves as a means of control. It's a way to distract yourself from your real fears/issues and have some tangible thing in your life that is under your direct control. And lucky for people in recovery, eating usually equates a sense of losing control, punishing yourself, and/or raising your anxiety level 0-100 REAL quick. And conveniently, that happens multiple times a day in recovery, meaning your left to deal with those unwanted thoughts sans your handy (and deadly) coping mechanism.
4. You have to face your worst fears/issues every. single. day.
It's exhausting, I'm not going to lie. The things that I had been avoiding talking or even thinking about were suddenly at the forefront of my mind every single day. Fears you may not have even known you had, or things you never even realised were contributing to your eating disorder suddenly pop up like a weird game of whack a mole.
5. You'll get VERY crafty.
Getting back to a healthy weight meant limiting my exercise - severely. I could go from one end of the rehab facility to the other if I wasn't in a wheelchair. Being in recovery means taking time for yourself, which for me and many others was a totally foreign concept. I'd spent so long trying to help others or distract myself with running that I always thought self-care was just selfish and a waste of time. But when you are literally forced to sit with your feelings all day every day one of the best ways to deal with that is to knit it out, craft it out, colour. It's proven to reduce stress and honestly, it's never been a better time to embrace your inner grandma/2 year old.
6. You will meet some of your best friends and family because your darkest secret is already out on the table, and everyone has a variation of the exact same thing.
The thing that has been helping me the most in recovery is without a doubt the people I've met throughout treatment, along with talking publically about my disease. Anorexia and mental illness, in general, is such an isolating disease. I felt like an absolute freak/idiot for having the thoughts I did because I really believed no one else could possibly relate to what I was going through. But the second I heard that other people were terrified of pasta, or were scared of being labelled a "bad" anorexic, or how people truly know how hard it was for you to just admit your insecurities when they've literally never been anywhere other than your brain. Because trust me, you don't know what close feels like until you're making your best friends by bonding over common stories of time you've shit in public from too many laxatives. (Shoutout to my recovery family, I adore you all.)
7. You'll start to realise that there is a life beyond an eating disorder, and it is worth every single struggle a million times over.
Yes, this sounds like a hallmark card, but honestly, for a long time (and I'm still struggling to grasp this concept) I had no clue what my life would be like without an eating disorder. I couldn't fathom what it would be like not to think about every single thing that went into your mouth. Not to have constant tension going on with every single person you love because your eating disorder turned you into this different being. To not have to plan my entire day around food. To obsess over calories, exercise. To not have to compare my body to every person I passed on the street. To sit down for five minutes without feeling like I was about to blow up like a balloon. To not have to spend my sisters entire Birthday being a bitch because I was terrified of eating the cake. To not have to worry about what lie I was about to tell that day about what I had eaten to my parents. To not have to worry about constant anxiety, mood swings, and doctors appointments. To not have a hospital feel like the only place that was safe for me. And to not have to take time off school, work, plans with friends etc. To live instead of drearily exist?
It didn't seem real to me, this utopia where I could actually do what I, not the eating disorder wanted. It sounded a lot nicer, and I'm talking 5-star luxury resort with a shirtless Ryan Gosling serving my grapes nicer, than the shit so many people have to deal with every day. During my recovery process, I've gotten glimpses of what it's like not to be sick, and if that's what real life is? Then I'm going to keep fighting until I get there because it was nothing short of stunning.
Long story short? Does recovery suck? Absolutely. Is it worth it? Is the sky blue, is Prince Harry British, is one plus one two, is my dream of marrying Harry Styles still real?! YES.
Recovery. is. worth. it.
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