Every day I celebrate freedom from my eating disorder. The freedom is sweeter for taking so long to get.
I’m a bit of a dinosaur in the eating disorder field – developed anorexia at age eleven in 1962, and transitioned into bulimia several years later – more than a decade before the wonderful Gerald Russell published his paper describing and naming the illness as bulimia nervosa (Russell, 1979). So it is not surprising, really, that my illness – flourishing in my brain in a rural region of south east Australia – went undiagnosed until the 1980s. By that time it had impacted on my mental, physical and emotional health for two decades and another two would pass while I worked on recovery. The day I ‘got there’, the day I got over the line and knew I had regained ‘me’ remains imprinted in my brain, heart and soul for ever. So I cannot let an invitation from writing colleague and dear friend , Carrie Arnold, go by unanswered. Carrie asks: “How do you define eating disorder recovery?”
Each of us who has recovered from an eating disorder has our own way of describing what recovery means to us.
My definition starts with my eldest grandson, who started school this week. He will be six years’ old in September. I look at him in amazement for he is my marker of recovery and freedom from not only my eating disorders but also chronic anxiety and depression. I have eaten three meals and three snacks a day, and required no anti-depressants, since the day he was born. Cuddles, kisses, love. Oh, a more powerful tonic man cannot make.
My eating disorders denied freedom to enjoy motherhood when my four children were young, so I am forever grateful for this ‘second chance’ – to be free to enjoy being a grandmother. To take the grandchildren (four of them now) to the the park to play, for joy rides on the train, to the zoo, to the shopping centre to eat sushi for lunch, to sit down and read a book (over and over again), to hold hands as we cross the road, to colour-in, go to the swimming pool, to provide company to the kindergarten and now, school. Together with three meals and three snacks a day, the grand children are my best medicine.
Out of curiosity, I looked up the computer definition of recovery, and this is my adaptation:
* a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength: yes, even after 40 years, this IS possible.
* the action or process of regaining possession and control of a sense of self, stolen by/lost in the eating disorder.
• the action of regaining or securing a LIFE lost or spent by the eating disorder.
• the amount of self recovered: including contentment, self-esteem, freedom to eat three meals and three snacks a day without feeling guilty or anxious, freedom to love and be loved, freedom to be true to oneself and freedom to explore one’s potential to the fullest.
• the process of removing a negative energy source and replacing it with a positive energy source that knows no bounds. For me, this translates into writing books and raising awareness so that others do not suffer from an eating disorder anywhere near as long as me. Every day I receive correspondence from beautiful people who are struggling, bravely, against the pull of the illness. The very act of throwing out a line of hope and saying ‘Come on, I did it, and I know you can, too’, helps me feel my life is worthwhile, too.
My deepest yearning, in the midst of my eating disorder, was to know the feeling of peace. I thought that if I could experience that feeling for just a day, if I could live one day without the horrid torment of the illness, I could die happy. Since the birth of my first grandchild in 2006, I experience peace and contentment every moment, of every day. The decades of suffering have served to enrich the joy of freedom.
I am a bit of a dinosaur (my grandchildren surely think so when they need to help me up from the floor after a playing a board game with them), but one that is young at heart, for I am busy catching up on life – my life. This is what recovery means to me. I love it.