Prior to 2011 National Eating Disorders Awareness Week had a different meaning in my life. It was one week out of the year when I more publicly attempted to help others understand the struggle I was facing, with the hidden hope that someone would rescue me from the hell that was my eating disorder. It was one week out of the year when I told myself, “This is when your recovery will begin,” only to learn that my proceeding choices would keep me so tightly wrapped in my eating disorder that any attempt to get well would end in tears and frustration.
For many years I worked toward recovery. I took two steps forward, five steps backward, three forward, four backward. I wanted to know life without my eating disorder, but I had a fear so deep that I simply would not fully let go. I didn’t know who I would be without it. I didn’t know how I would survive without it. I was convinced it was who I was and thought that if I didn’t talk about my eating disorder, I couldn’t talk at all. It was an all-consuming, yet (to me) a necessary, evil.
During my 18-year battle, I read book after book, article after article, about eating disorders. I wrote stories, poetry, blog posts, newspaper articles, etc. because I could not think for very long about anything else. I did my best to fill people in about what these disorders were; more so during NEDAwareness Week. Much like I’d seen people advocating for other diseases they were diagnosed with, I wanted to advocate for those with eating disorders. I didn’t know then that the eating disorder used this as a way of making me focus an even greater portion of my life on it.
By late 2011 I’d had enough. I was 29 years old, engaged to be married, beginning a career as a professional counselor, and moving away from home. I was ready to begin really living my life. This feeling of being “done” with my eating disorder was solidified that November when I faced the loss of my best friend to the same disorder. I felt done, but I was also grieving…not the typical timing for recovery to take off.
It was, however, the most beautiful sorrow I would ever experience. With this loss I was saved. I took a stand for Meredith and thrust myself full-force into recovery. I stopped using behaviors almost immediately and it wasn’t just because I wanted to. I also had this nudge inside of me to get well because it would have been what my best friend would have wanted…I know it without a shadow of a doubt. She told me in her own way many times while she was here.
Following that, the definition of eating disorders to me changed within a matter of months. My recovery was more solid than I ever thought possible and for the next six months or so, I didn’t want to read a book about eating disorders, talk about them, educate others about them. I simply wanted nothing to do with them. I wanted to immerse myself in wedding planning and building my career. But mid-2012 I decided to begin working with clients with eating disorders at the practice where I still work. I advertised subtly at first and allowed myself to explore other niche options until I felt ready to more effectively work with these disorders. One year later that feeling arrived. I began working on certification as an Eating Disorders Specialist and advertising more aggressively. After all, I knew more about these disorders than many practitioners. I’m still working on this certification and found it necessary for me in order to assure I was learning about eating disorders as a professional too. I’m now able to see eating disorders from both sides, furthering my ability to work with my clients.
Today ends the first NEDAwareness Week since my decision to work toward certification and the meaning of this week has shifted from a hidden desire for someone to rescue me to a true desire to assist others on their journey toward recovery. I want to help my clients and the public realize that among the many misconceptions about eating disorders is that recovery is not possible. BUT IT IS! I’m living proof! Many others are living proof!
If I have a message to those still struggling, it is this: Healing feels uncomfortable, even painful, at times. This feeling can push you further into the eating disorder because there is a doubt that it will ever get better; that this too will in fact pass. Beginning to eat or beginning to eat without using compensatory behaviors, or beginning to control your eating can bring you to tears. It can stop you from trusting your treatment team, from wanting to continue trying or from thinking you’re capable. You may lie to others because it’s what you think they want to hear. Letting go of ED can feel like you’re letting go of yourself – out of control.
IT DOES GET BETTER. THIS TOO DOES PASS. RECOVERY IS HARD, BUT WORTH IT. THE FEELINGS WILL PASS. YOU CAN DO THIS. YOU DESERVE TO LIVE YOUR LIFE – NOT ED.