When I began to recover from an eating disorder, I often found myself in close company with anger. I felt I was thrown into a pool with no instructions on how to swim. There were many moving pieces around me, yet I had little information. Upon reflection I realize this was mainly because, at the time, I had limited capacity to process information. My doctors and family were acting in my best interest, yet I still felt stranded.
Oftentimes people talk about recovery as if it is ultimate euphoria. In the beginning of my recovery, I had hope that it would be euphoric but as days went on, I began losing hope. I thought that once I made the decision to commit to recovery and engage with treatment that my life would do a complete 180. Doctors said that recovery would be hard, but my courage would take precedence. What they didn’t say was how uncomfortable recovery would be. Physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Recovery beat me down, and when I stood back up, it beat me down again from a different angle. I wish someone had been upfront with me when I started recovery. At certain times, pieces of information are more detrimental than beneficial. However, I have some things I would like to share with anyone starting their recovery journey.
Keep in mind that my view is seen through a white, female, restrictive anorexia lens and is not one-size fits all. Everything I discuss is learned from my personal experiences. Keep in mind that your experiences, whether they differ or align with mine, are valid.
Recovery usually involves weight restoration and/or increased food intake. I was obviously aware of this prior to being hospitalized but I did not know how much changing my diet would impact me in an immediate sense. Weight restoration is extremely uncomfortable, especially in the beginning. (There are a multitude of medical reasons why this is true and to learn more you should contact a physician).
When I began to be physically sick due to food intake, it was easy to demonize food. I was eating more– it made me feel ill–therefore I decided food must be bad. This is only one example of a very skewed thought. It is hard, when refeeding, to have a clear perspective.
You must not let your eating disorder use this discomfort as fuel for resistance. This is easier said than done. My body’s intense reaction to food was alarming. I didn’t understand why I was in unbearable pain because of having sufficient nutrition. There was nothing I or anyone else could say or do to ease the pain.
Refeeding sucks and it’s uncomfortable and makes you want to quit. But recovery is about jumping over hurdles that seem too high to clear. Think of this as a grace period, a time for your body to readjust. And hey, all medicines have side-effects; food is no exception.
As my eating disorder progressed, so did my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). At the time I was not diagnosed with OCD; all I knew was that I was living in my own personal hell. My main motivator to begin recovery was to figure out what was going on in my head and get the torment to stop. Repeating thought patterns and repetitive behaviors were soaking up a significant portion of my time.
At this point I could recognize that if my eating disorder was playing a major or minor role in the perpetuation of these thoughts, it was the only factor that I had the ability to change. I think this can apply to a multitude of things.
You can recognize how estranged your relationships have become and connect that to your eating disorder. Or maybe you find an old sketchbook and realize that you haven’t been engaging with your hobbies as a result of your eating disorder. I think that everyone has at least one outside factor that they are hoping will change by recovering.
My point here is that recovery is intersectional. You cannot just be someone with an eating disorder.
You are a multifaceted human being, but your eating disorder strips that away from you. Eating disorders are selfish, in that they must always be front and center.
The illness makes it hard for you to see how much your life is being affected. When I began recovery, I wish someone told me how much this journey would change my life. Sure, I knew that the goal was to battle my eating disorder, but I thought I would return to my ‘old self’.
As time went on, I began to realize that this goal was unrealistic. The person I was before my eating disorder was naive. You cannot go back to your old self when your wealth of knowledge has grown so much. I felt disheartened by the realization that I would never return to the romanticized version of my younger self. I wanted a chance to retry. I wanted to have a ‘normal’ high school experience instead of spending it in treatment.
I felt like my prize for recovery would be getting time back when, in retrospect, I realize my prize has been getting the opportunity to move forward. While recovery does give you another chance, it does not change the constant movement of time.
As much as I wish that I could be, I will never be 16 and 17 years old again. Those two years were not what I was expecting them to be but that does not negate their importance. You must move forward. Going through recovery changed me as a person. If I never went through recovery, I would probably be left silently hating myself until the day I die.
The relationship I now have with myself is something that cannot be undone. The compassion and values I have discovered within myself, will never be silenced. I can no longer walk this world with the same perspective, but perhaps this is my greatest gift ever.
I consider myself to be a strong, independent, and (sometimes) stubborn person. One thing I was not ready for when beginning recovery was how fragile I would become. When I use the word ‘fragile’ I am referring to my emotional being. I have always been a deep thinker, but rarely showed my emotions or became overtaken by them.
Over the course of my eating disorder, my ability to regulate my emotions degraded with time. I spent many hours crying over things I was unable to explain. Small inconveniences or unplanned events sent me spinning into a frenzy of anxiety. At the time I did not register that this was a direct result of my eating disorder. I had become excellent at controlling everything and when something went ‘wrong’ I felt deeply unsafe.
As I entered recovery, many daily decisions were being chosen for me by my team of doctors. Instead of feeling a weight lifted off my shoulders, I felt panicked and out of control. The only option I had to move forward was to develop radical acceptance (see Further Reading). When I developed the ability to use radical acceptance, it allowed me to put more focus on what I could do personally to spark change in my life.
Radical acceptance means acknowledging that something is not in our control, acknowledging how it makes us feel and what emotions come up, and acknowledging that the best thing to do is move forward. Now, do not let me fool you. I did not conquer the mountain of radical acceptance until long after leaving treatment. (If you can even say that I have conquered it). I spent most of my time in recovery, feeling angry. At the world, at my parents, at my doctors, and at myself. The thing I hated the most was the feeling that I put myself into this situation. I came to another breaking point with time.
I could not change what happened, or where I was, or what was happening to me. The only thing I could do was my best. I had to make the decision to change my mindset and accept the unchangeable. I could either use my time and energy to be angry at the fact that I could not change these things, or I could face the fact of something being unchangeable and focus on what I can change. What I could change was my attitude, my effort, my intentional choices, and thoughts to which I gave time and attention.
When in recovery, it’s easy to feel extremely isolated and lonely. I get it.
The best way to combat this is to seek connection. One way to do this is by resuming favourite interests or hobbies. For example, my favourite pastimes include photography and hiking. Read articles here on The Diary Healer find online groups run by an eating disorder professional, follow recovery-focused social media accounts, and most importantly, speak your truth. Nothing gets better if you hold it in. Take a deep breath and move forward with intention.