I’ve said it on my blog before that I don’t think sharing our eating disorders story is helpful, so that’s why I’ve vowed to never share mine. I think for many, hearing how sick other people were awakens the beast, which immediately starts telling us that we aren’t and never were ‘sick enough.’
Now, if you’ve ever had an ED/DE, you’ll know what I mean by the term ‘not sick enough.’ Eating disorders are terrible confusing illnesses that make you *want* to get sicker. It’s all super exhausting and counter-intuitive.
NEDA Awareness Week can be a time where our instagram and facebook feeds get bogged down beyond belief with triggering stories that scream out for validation. It can be really hard to not get caught up in the triggering before and after photos.
(side note: check out the @boycottthebefore instagram page!)
This NEDA Week, I choose to share a bit about my recovery, because that’s the most important part of my experience with an eating disorder.
I could choose to focus on how hard it was, and how hard it still is, but doing so takes away from the growth I’ve experienced over the last 4 years in recovery.
I’ve been asked before “when did you know you needed to recover?” And I honestly wish I could give people a specific answer. I wish there was one morning when I woke up and said “that’s it, I’ve had enough!” but it was never that clear-cut.
I’ve also shared before that I think recovery happens in stages; I think you go through different steps that eventually get closer and closer to what your life was like pre-ed. It may not happen that way for all people, but I’ve seen it in my own life and I’ve seen it in many of my friends in recovery, and the clients I’ve worked with as well.
I would say that I was forced into recovery at first, but that’s not exactly true. Even from the very beginning one thing was really clear to me: feeling terrible about myself was miserable.
I’ve learned a lot in my recovery, and most of it has been about myself. Recovering from my eating disorder was like starting with a clean slate: I got to get to know myself as if we’d been strangers for the first 17 years of my life.
A huge HUGE part of my recovery has been accepting myself, flaws and all. That’s not always easy, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of “being your own best friend.” My mom used to say this to me when I was little, and I feel like it’s recently taken a whole new meaning.
I was talking with a friend recently about this concept and about recovery in general, and I said to her: “I want to love myself like I love my closest friends. They have flaws, but I love them BECAUSE they’re imperfect. Who am I not to love myself like that too?”
I didn’t realize how deep it was as it was coming out, but it’d made me reflect even more on how much I’ve changed in my recovery.
THEN: I used to think I was way too talkative. It was literally something I wanted to change for a long time, I felt like I needed to be quieter. NOW: I love that I can be super social. I am always really friendly and I have an easy time in a room full of strangers. I will never be a quiet person, it’s just not who I am.
THEN: I used to think I was an extrovert BECAUSE of the above idea. NOW: I realize that I am an extroverted introvert. I really love my alone time and actually start to go crazy if I don’t get it. I like hanging out with friends, but I’m really careful about inviting people over to my house because then I feel bad about wanting them to leave hahaha.
THEN: I used to be a lot more open about my eating disorder/recovery, and I was a lot more open in general. NOW: I really value my privacy. I used to tell people that I was in recovery super soon after I’d met them, but now it’s something that doesn’t always come up with people. All of my close friends know, but I’m a lot more selective about what I share with people. I think part of that is age but I think part of it is just how I’ve changed.
THEN: I seriously used to think my worth was tied to my creative accomplishments. Music and theater was a HUGE part of my life before I got sick and when I was sick. NOW: I recognize that there are so many more parts of me than just my creative side, and I also realize that my accomplishments do not = my worth.
THEN: I used to think that I wanted to live a really extraordinary life. NOW: I am totally fine with ordinary, haha. I really just want a few kids, a house in the suburbs, and to keep living the happiest life possible. I want a successful career, but I’m very much okay with being an embarrassing mom for the rest of my life.
I really think that my recovery has been a rediscovery process. My struggle with anxiety and then my eating disorder almost kind of made me lose myself because I was so unhappy, and my journey to health has been a lot of “what do I like now? who am I now? What do I need now? What do I want now?”
I think a big part of eating disorders (and a lot of other mental illnesses) is not feeling “good enough.” We beat ourselves up for not being _______ enough, and we truly start to believe that we’re flawed and somehow less than.
I’ve learned in my recovery that you will never meet someone who’s never felt that way. Part of the human experience is feeling flawed, but a bigger, more important part of the human experience is feeling connected. When you start to realize that you’re not alone in your feelings of not being “good enough,” you start to feel more connected to those around you. And if you talk to others about this (as scary and vulnerable as it may seem), you feel incredibly connected.
My friend Charlotte and I talk about this type of stuff all the time. We really love to talk about our mental health and our feelings, and most of these conversations are fueled by a nice glass of wine and a tasty dinner. It’s become our weekly tradition.
My friendship with Charlotte has been incredibly healing because we can connect about our feelings, and it feels totally safe. It feels safe because we have both experienced the feelings we share. Hearing “I’ve felt that way too and it sucks” immediately makes a feeling less scary.
All of that being said, I think people turn to eating disorders when they feel disconnected from people. Raise your hand if your eating disorder started because you didn’t feel “good enough,” you didn’t feel like anyone liked you, you felt out of control with your emotions, your life, or you felt like you hated yourself.
I hope you all raised your hands.
But now raise your hand if hearing someone else was feeling the same way (and then being able to talk about your REAL, HONEST feelings with them) would have probably helped.
I hope you all raised your hands again.
My recovery has been a journey and a half. And it’s nowhere near done. Thus far in my journey, I think of recovery as a never ending process. Yes, you can be “recovered” in the sense that you no longer use behaviors to cope with your feelings and you no longer experience obsessive thoughts and behaviors surrounding food and your body. But I think recovery is about more than our eating disorders.
I think recovery means that you’re open to learning, and growing, and healing. I think it means that you embrace the icky parts of yourself even if you don’t love them, and you’re not afraid to show the world that they exist, because you know that other people have icky parts too. I think it also means committing to loving yourself even when it’s hard, because no love feels as strong as self-love.
I think recovery, as hard as it is, is the best thing that ever happened to me.