The Recovery of a Lifetime

Do you know someone with an eating disorder?

I hope you answered yes, because you know me. I am a survivor of anorexia nervosa for life. This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week and I hope you all have been bombarded by posts, news segments, and other materials about eating disorders. Kate has been doing some awesome informative posts about all types of eating disorders to break myths and bring awareness. I have been participating in Awareness Week since my first year of recovery, and this week is one of the most meaningful weeks of the year for me and my family. It is because of this week and the efforts of many organizations like NEDA that eating disorders have finally left the closet and people have started talking about it. So let’s talk.

Eating disorders are a mental illness, each eating disorder is individual and unique. Yes this illness shares similarities between cases, but no eating disorder is ever the same. I know a large majority of people believe that eating disorders are about appearance and dieting, but that isn’t the case. Those who develop eating disorders don’t necessarily want to be thin. It took me a long time past reaching my goal weight to recognize that this mental illness 1.) doesn’t go away just because I look healthy again and 2.) the reason for my obsessions with food, diet, and exercise were really just a way for me to deal with other life stressors. Turning to food and restriction and compulsive exercise was/is a way for me to block out the rest of the world, escape from things I wasn’t happy doing.

Now my eating disorder, or my life in recovery really, has taught me how to live my life for me- taking care of myself physically and mentally in order to live a healthy and happy life. I resisted recovery for longer than I would like to admit. Even when I had reached my goal weight there was still a piece of me that wanted to go back. You see, eating disorders take over your brain, they have a separate voice, and it is a strong voice with the potential to ruin your life if you aren’t strong. Recovery gave me strengthonce I accepted it. The day I chose recovery became the day I started to live again. I began to live a life that didn’t revolve around food. I started to challenge my perfectionism. And most importantly I began to see the real me again.

Because of recovery, I know who I am. I know how to deal with the stressful moments of life, and I have the tools to recognize when I need to ask for help in any situation. Recovery is more beautiful than any life in an eating disorder ever was. There is no perfection in recovery. There is fear in recovery. There is no escape from life in recovery, because recovery (the good and the bad) is life.

I have found hope in recovery and wish that for anyone suffering today. If you know someone who might be suffering or you are struggling yourself reach out. Don’t stay silent, because one more day of saying and doing nothing is another day you are not living.

For more information on Eating Disorders check out these resources:

Letting Go

I once thought I knew everything about eating disorders. Even before mine occurred, I had done school projects on them, loved their chapter in nutrition related books the most, and as I said last week always really enjoyed the TV episodes dealing with them (and still do). But the truth is I knew nothing about my individual eating disorder. I had know idea that it could be so hard to gain weight and keep it on, that there was a whole mental side that I would have to spend years figuring out, and that this disease would effect every relationship (friends, enemies, significant others) in my life. You give up a lot when an eating disorder takes over your life, and that doesn’t just change because you gain the weight back.

That last statement is something I am just comprehending today, tomorrow, and in the future. This post is about my recovery, the biggest accomplishment in my life. But I don’t fully understand my recovery yet. I have however made some huge breaking points in my life and recovery from this mental disease that took over my life when I was 16.

A little background.

I started seeing a nutritionist (not an RD) immediately once I broke down to my mom about my fear of eating. (that is also something unique about me, no one made me admit I had an eating disorder. I knew it but didn’t know what to do with it anymore.) This woman was so nice and sweet, but she had no idea what monster she was dealing with. It was her job to help me gain weight, but I managed to take everything she told me to do and turn it into a way to lose more weight. I was going down the wrong road with her. Unfortunately my visits with her only made my weight loss and mental stability worse. After almost 4 months my mom was about to give up on getting me help at home and throw thousands of dollars that were saved for my college into a treatment program. Did I want that? Yes and No… I did not want to leave my home, but I just could not let go of this ED. It was the most important thing in my life. We decided as a family to try one more time with a new professional who was a Registered Dietitian. Thank you Babs. Who knew this old lady could break me down to tears while telling me I must now eat 6-9 servings of grains a day, 5 servings of veggies, 2 servings of fruit, 3 protein sources (she never made me give up vegetarianism), 4 cups of milk a day, and what eventually built up to 11 servings of fat (which I called Omegas). O I cried, I brainstormed ways to not eat all of that, and I continued to leave lotsof what I called scraps on my plate. But guess what? Even I could tell by the look on my mom’s face on weigh days that the number was slowly going up. All of my efforts were failing, the weight was coming back. And one day I left my last scrap…

A person must choose to recover for themselves.

And although my weight was going up (at a minimal rate) I was only doing it because I saw how much I was hurting my family. I figured I could recover for them for a little while and then just go back once I was on my own. That is not recovery. I chose recovery at an IHOP in Williamsburg, VA (Read it!) because I realized that I knew so much about this disease, and that I could do something with that knowledge other than unintentionally take my own life. I could use my recovery to help others. It could be my platform in pageants, and I could start to live again. After that night my weight increased every week and I became invested in pushing this invader out of my life. I can honestly say that junior year of high school was the best yet. I made the decision to stop going to Governor’s School, I was able to start exercising again, and on February 14, 2009 I reached my goal weight. But was I done with this? I thought I was close I really did. Until I decided it was a good idea to leave my school and city to go to Virginia School of the Arts in Lynchburg, VA. I felt anorexia coming back… and I fought it. It took me 6 weeks to finally say I was unhappy and had made a big mistake going to VSA. But because I did eventually realize that mistakes happen and we all make bad decisions, I went home. I went home to complete what was to be a pretty fantastic senior year. I loved my classes, I had a social life (even a boyfriend to go to prom with), and I won the title of Miss Hickory High School (a dream of mine since I first saw the pageant in 2007!) O and I was both accepted and wait-listed at a few colleges. I owe a lot of credit to my therapist who I didn’t start seeing until my senior year. I had seen someone initially but he had no background in treating eating disorders (he did his best and did help me cope with accepting recovery). My new therapist has allowed me to more than cope. She has showed me that what happened to me can be a tool to help me in life. Because of her I see that my recovery has been more than just gaining weight, it has been about discovering who I am, what bothers me, what makes me happy. Most importantly she has helped me to realize that I can deal with bad situations successfully. I can turn a curse into a blessing. So thanks to her and my own efforts I can honestly say that in my senior year I was not consumed by an eating disorder every day. For anyone who has had an eating disorder, you know how BIG this is.

Life throws some nasty curve balls.

Freshman year of college was amazing. Who was this girl with friends and tons of people who liked her? She was going to all of the football games, handling changing majors one too many times, attending military balls, and having a great time without thinking about the next meal! I was living and learning and stepping out of my comfort zone every day! I wish I could say that all of this lasted. but it didn’t and my sophomore year is now over and I lost a lot of the friends I was close to because I stopped being outgoing and got stuck in a rut. I got comfortable and refused to break from my routine. It was working right? Straight A’s, a best friend, keeping my weight steady… But I lost a lot too. I gave up time with friends, Hokie football games (which you just don’t miss!), and new experiences because I was scared. Scared of what? I don’t know. but I can name a few things like failure, not being accepted by others, and gaining weight. I lost balance in my life. And boy did it hit me this summer! I realize now that there are still some things I need to discover about my eating disorder.

The road is ever changing

Does the fact that I went a little backwards mean I am back where I started? OMGsh NO! The differences between this past year in college, and me when I was 16 are huge. For one I do not want an eating disorder. I want to live a life where I do not think about food and my next meal, or if I worked out enough for that day. I had no idea what was happening to my life this past year, no idea that I was losing important aspects of my life! But I figured it out and wanted to change it. This goes back to being at a healthy weight doesn’t = recovered. What does = recovery is never wanting to go back, and living a life that does not revolve around this disorder. I am almost there, I can feel it. I am searching for that piece of me that got lost when it was pushed away by the eating disorder many years ago. And I will find it.

Sometimes I feel like I am lying when I say I am recovered. But then I remind myself that if that weren’t true I wouldn’t still be living and accomplishing so much! The only way I would be lying was if I stopped recognizing my red flags, and stopped trying to dig deep into the roots of my ED. I am able to recognize my eating disorder and fight it. It took some pretty smart people to help me see that to be true.

Everything in it’s own time for that individual.

There was a time that I needed to be in pageants to recover from this. Now that isn’t true, I have a lot of other reasons to keep climbing in my recovery other than a crown, and a platform I love. There was also a time that I believed I could never be a dietitian because it would only hurt my recovery. That changed too and my goal to help others with this struggle only continued to grow. There was also a time not too long ago when I imagined my future as a dietitian as one who only treats eating disorders. That is beginning to change too. I believed that in order to stay in my own recovery I had to surround myself with eating disorders while helping others overcome them. This is still a life goal of mine, but my goals continue to grow and expand beyond eating disorders. I now realize that at one time I had to hold on to eating disorders to keep my recovery going strong. Now I see that there will be a time when I will let go. I will never forget, never stop fighting to educate others about this mental illness, or stop lending my hand to help others recover. But it doesn’t have to be my whole life.

This is where I am now. Working (and looking forward) to my future. And parts of that future include my passion for recovery and helping others do the same, but another part involves letting go and discovering the other passions in my life.