It was flu season and it was far too easy to get sick in a dorm hall with 400 other college students in such close proximity. So one of my best friends and I had decided to get flu shots at Kaiser, just down the block from our school. We got in the elevator to leave the building when I received a phone call. It was the call from my treatment team saying that I had to check into an inpatient eating disorder treatment center within the next 48 hours. My entire life changed at that moment. It was the day putting recovery first was no longer a choice, but a necessity in order to continue living a life worth living.
It has been a year since that time now. It has been a year of treatment programs, therapy sessions, meal plans but most importantly, it has been a year of growing in recovery. I always wondered at the time what recovery would be like. Will I ever eat normally again? Will I ever accept my body? Is recovery actually worth it?
I am here to tell you from the other side that recovery is SO worth it. For quite a while, I was on a strict meal plan, counting exchanges and logging every meal/snack. But as my dietician had promised, there came a day where my meal plan was actually restricting my food and meal choices. I began the process of intuitive eating and now am able to eat balanced meals and snacks, without an exchange system in place. However, when I feel overwhelmed by food on an unusually tricky day, I simply go back to logging for a day or two to help me maintain consistent eating.
At the start of recovery, overcoming desires to engage in eating disorder behaviors seemed impossible and was extremely draining. But as time progressed, and as my toolbox of coping skills expanded, the time and energy spent needing to fight off an urge became more manageable. I consider myself in stable recovery, but not fully recovered. Therefore, I do experience urges, but they are not nearly as strong or overpowering as they once were. There are days where I feel like restricting, but very rarely do I actually act on them. Nowadays, I find pride in myself for being strong enough to act against ED’s wishes, whereas before it was the exact opposite.
When in treatment, I felt “sickly” with having so often to get my blood drawn, EKGs, vital checks, doctors appointments and therapy sessions. Truth is, I WAS sickly which is why I needed so much monitoring. But as my vitals stabled out, the number of appointments and tests/scans did decrease! I get my vitals checked every few months, instead of multiple times a day, and meet with my dietician once a month, instead of twice a week. Important to note that I have gained the skill of being able to ask for help when I need it. So when there are times where checking in with my treatment team more often would be beneficial, I am not hesitant to reach out to them!
One of the largest mental struggles I faced was related to body distortion and negative body image. Words cannot express how grateful I am that BODY IMAGE DOES GET BETTER! People assume that body image issues are “cured” as soon as weight restoration is complete. However, that is when the real work in practicing body acceptance comes into play. Body image is one of the later aspects to improve during recovery from an eating disorder. This is just one of the several reasons why recovery is such a strenuous journey. Why would someone want to continue fighting and overcoming urges to end up struggling mentally just as much as before? This is one of those times where trust in the process and trust in the treatment team is crucial. It’s that point where things get harder before they get easy. I wore sweatpants and oversized sweatshirts in the middle of summer, spent hours crying in front of the closet mirror in my room and avoided social gatherings due to embarrassment of my body…so yes, I understand how bad body image really gets. That said, I am at a point now where I am able to wear a bikini and go kayaking with my friends, happily try on clothes at the mall after a full meal AND dessert, or wear crop tops to class! This doesn’t mean that I am perfect or cured from bad body image. There are still days where I struggle, but those times are not NEARLY as often or as intense as before. I now use bad body image as an indicator that I need to pay increased attention to the other stressors in my life. The mood of the day or the tone of my week is no longer determined by the reflection I happen to see in the mirror.
I thought I would always have an eating disorder. But now, I have a renewed sense of hope. I believe that it is possible for me to one day forget the caloric values of foods. I believe that one day I can look at my weight on a scale and accept that the number is just a number. I have already come worlds farther in recovery than I ever could have believed possible. I used to think that eating disorder survivors were “in recovery” for the rest of their lives; but today, I wholeheartedly believe in “fully recovered”.