Like many, my eating disorder recovery story consists of several different chapters. The story began decades before I was diagnosed with an eating disorder.
When I came to Reasons, I was in my mid-thirties and had been diagnosed only ten days prior. I was referred to an eating disorder program for an intake interview. Just a few hours after my interview, Reasons had secured a bed for me at their treatment center. I was very sick and my body was barely able to support itself anymore. For most of my life, I never thought I had an eating disorder, because I didn’t meet the “criteria” that, I thought, made up an eating disorder.
I grew up in a weight-centric home. I remember a time when a padlock was installed on the refrigerator to prevent unsupervised snacking. The household placed a spotlight on cholesterol, beginning when I was eight years old. Cholesterol was making the news for its role in cardiovascular health. We all had our cholesterol tested during our yearly check-ups. The results were mixed but since my parents feared the worst and didn’t want only one part of the family on a “diet,” we all endured a new diet together. Nutrition facts and the number on the scale were regular conversations. Weight seemed tied to success or failure. Manipulating my food was second nature and a behavior that my parents instilled in me. It couldn’t be bad if was coming from my parents, right?
Up until my admission, I didn’t think I looked “sick enough” to be diagnosed with an eating disorder. I thought that there were only two behaviors associated with an eating disorder: starvation or binging and purging. At times, I admittedly flirted with an eating disorder. Even though I believed I was always in control, I also believed I didn’t have the willpower to maintain any type of disordered behavior. In the months leading up to an appointment with my psychiatrist, I abruptly closed several browser windows filled with “Symptoms of Anorexia.” There was no way that I had an eating disorder, despite meeting all of the criteria. Within the first few hours at Reasons, I began to realize how jaded and inaccurate my assumptions about eating disorders truly were.
My official diagnosis moved very quickly and eating disorder treatment was all new to me. I didn’t know what a “process group” was, or why we started every day with deep breathing. I didn’t even have a therapist or dietitian outside of Reasons yet. My career was put on hold and I left home, thinking I’d only be gone a week, maybe two. My first and most repeated question was, “When do I get to go home?” and the answer I was met with was, “We’re not sure right now.” It’s hard for me to not have a deadline and sit with the unknown. I started planning my escape about two hours in. Not in the jailbreak sense, of course. My inner perfectionist would not allow it. I believed that I didn’t need the higher level of care and I simply needed to convince my program therapist of the same. She saw past that thinking. With the help of my treatment team, I eventually acknowledged the need to be fully immersed in treatment. That is when I truly started to heal.
It took me about three days to realize that I wasn’t being punished for my eating disorder; I was being treated for my illness. Instead of viewing treatment as a situation to endure, I began to focus on my gratitude for the opportunity to receive much-needed treatment. I thought I chose this eating disorder, much like choosing a TV show. I also thought that I would be able to change the channel and seamlessly go about my life. I was very, very wrong.
So much of what I learned in the first few days became the foundation for my continued recovery and transformed the way I frame my thoughts. I learned to set small, realistic goals to make treatment manageable. I focused on making it through a meal, then the day, then the week and before I knew it, the weekend was here again. I celebrated each week as a victory. There were hard days and they were hard days for a reason. I needed to be stripped of everything that was comfortable to allow me to focus on myself.
As I learned to focus on myself, I gained new perspective and explored new passions. I strengthened my mind/body connection through yoga, which I learned during my stay at Reasons. That “deep breathing” that I didn’t understand in the beginning has become a tool I use daily, especially in stressful times. One of my biggest takeaways was the ability to use my voice – through advocacy for my health and therapeutically, through writing. After I was discharged, I continued writing as a means to organize my thoughts and find answers. My writing chapters my triumphs, defeats and everything in between. It has been liberating and has become my passion. I’m not sure that I would have ever realized this love had I not admitted myself to treatment.
I have just celebrated my 5th year in recovery. Is everyday perfect? Absolutely not. There are days where I struggle. On the flip-side, I am able to push back against my eating disorder and feel strength and pride in those moments. Having an eating disorder stinks – it is hard on the mind and body. I have asked myself, “if I could erase all aspects of this eating disorder from my life, would I?” The answer is, “no.” My recovery journey has truly made me a better person. I am now a person who advocates for myself. The level of compassion for myself and others has grown beyond anything I can describe. I was isolated in my thoughts when I walked through the doors of Reasons and had no idea so many others shared in my struggles. My life has taken on new purpose in the way of bringing awareness to eating disorders by sharing my story.