~anonymous piece written by an individual in recovery from anorexia~
“Recovering from anorexia has, without a doubt, been the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Battling your own mind day in and day out is an uphill + exhausting fight. I am forever grateful for the support I have from family, friends and professional healthcare providers. Without all of these pieces, I know I would not be here today. I don’t talk to anyone about the eating disorder other than my treatment team and those closest to me. Even after all this time, I guess there is still a deep amount of shame surrounding the disorder. I don’t want my eating disorder to be what defines me, and I worry that being characterized as someone with a mental illness will make me seem weaker or less than, even though I know it doesn’t. I have realized through treatment that these are just ideas formed through an eating disorder lens. If anything, dealing with a mental illness has made me a more empathetic individual as I can deeply understand that you may never know a person’s level of suffering just by looking at them.
This recovery journey, particularly recovering from a relapse as an adult, has most definitely changed me from the inside out. It is still changing me..and a big part of that change is painful.
But it is also beautiful.
I have learned to embrace both. Being human is both painful and beautiful and that is the biggest lesson I have learned in recovery. There is not one without the other; to sacrifice the pain is also to sacrifice the beauty. My eating disorder served a purpose for me for a long time. Any time something difficult happened in my life (whether it was a minor difficulty or a bigger one) my eating disorder was there to pick up the pieces. Be it a bad day or week or a full blown relapse like the one I am currently recovering from, anorexia was always my friend in the background. It was the thing I could lean on when things got tough. And you know what? It worked. It numbed the bad feelings. It brought my energy and focus away from difficult emotions. It shrunk my world down so much until I just couldn’t feel anything at all. At times, I preferred it that way. This small world was something I could control. That being said, I also couldn’t feel anything good. I couldn’t experience life. One day blended into the next, consumed by eating disorder behaviors, until a month had gone by, then several months, then a year and I was still stuck in the same place. While I wasn’t forced to confront things I had avoided for years, I also could not experience the present. I couldn’t be fully in my life now as an adult which (thankfully) is filled with a lot of good, a lot of love, family, friends, a man I absolutely love and get to call my husband and so many more big and little things. Yes, it is also filled with stress, pain, discomfort and everything that comes with being a human. Some days I’m up. Some days I’m down. But there it is again – the beauty and the pain.
As I have progressed through treatment, one very clear realization I have come to is that there is comfort in my eating disorder. I feel calm there. I feel safe. But that is only because it is what I have known. It is what I have become accustomed to. The facts are that it made me sick both physically and mentally. Do I really want to live my life feeling accustomed to being sick? Everyone deserves more than that. But in order to get beyond that I needed to get uncomfortable. I needed to experience the pain. I needed to be willing to trust my treatment team when they insisted that pain and discomfort would not kill me but anorexia most certainly would. Here I am. I am alive. I have experienced pain and I am here to tell the tale. I don’t want to paint an unrealistic picture. There are days and weeks when I feel emotional pain and worry it will not subside. There are things I am uncovering about myself that I have let stay dormant for years. It is incredibly difficult. But that being said, I can also look at the man I love in a way I never have before. I can hold his hand and feel the deepest connection I have ever felt in my life. I can look at my family and friends and truly appreciate the love we have for one another. I can lay down to bed at night with a deeper understanding that this day is never coming back and tomorrow is never guaranteed. There it is again. The beauty and the pain. I’ve missed a lot of beautiful moments in my life in order to avoid the pain. Through treatment, I’ve been exposed to both. I’m still learning. I’m still getting accustomed to the discomfort. I guess I’m still pushing forward with a bit of blind faith. But a life without the beauty, even without the pain, wouldn’t really be a life at all.”