Submitted by Kristine Strangis, EPF Volunteer
What does it mean to be recovered? This is the ultimate question, right? When one suffers from an eating disorder, we tend to think in rigid ways; everything in our worlds is black and white, all or nothing, this or that, etc. But, what if we were to stop that unattainable train of thoughts?
We tend to think that our recovery stories need to have a beginning, a middle, and that perfect happy ending where we fly off into wonderland and scream freedom. But, what if we take that narrowed and perfectionistic thinking, and turn it into something more infinite and flexible? Easier said then done of course; but, in time, we begin to realize that in recovery, and life for that matter, there is no end to the story, but rather a life full of new beginnings.
Throughout my long, but enlightening journey battling an eating disorder, I have found recovery to mean that I am living my life to my fullest, enjoying every moment of the journey, and taking everything one step at a time. One of the most important lessons that I have learned is that life is a journey and that anything worth fighting for takes time, dedication, hard work, and hope.
Recovery is not a linear progression, but rather, a process that is full of ups and downs, twists and turns, slips and slides; it can be so confusing at times, and that is why we need to stop thinking so hard about it and just let it be what it is. Those of us with eating disorders tend to be deep thinkers and highly intelligent, which is why this simplistic thinking can be so hard for us to just do. But, the moment I realized that I could not think my way around the problem and needed to take action against my eating disorder was the moment when I finally started to get it. All that I had to do was love, let go, and live.
Love. This was hard. Relationships have always been tough for me, especially since I am an introverted person, but they are crucial to recovery, and that is why it is so important that you have a support team in place and multiple people that you can trust to turn to when your eating disorder gets loud. My support system consists of my family, friends, co-workers, fellow volunteers and advocates for mental health rights, and my online recovery support groups. I keep trying to add on to the list because you can never have enough support. Throughout my recovery, I slowly started letting people into my life again and, once I started opening up to them about my struggles, nearly everyone that I reached out to was compassionate and wanted to help. Every now and again you will get someone who leaves, but that just means that they were not a good friend in the first place. You will never know until you try, right? As I opened up and accepted others back into my life, I started to accept myself and, eventually, learned to love myself for all that I am.
Live. This is an important one. Once you have learned to love others and accept yourself, you need to start exploring life outside of your comfort zone. The eating disorder is so manipulative and controlling and it will feel like it is your whole identity, but it is not. There is a beautiful person inside just waiting to break free, you just have to give him/her a chance to shine through the darkness of the eating disorder. I did this by continuing to explore all of the things that I thought I would be interested in; for example, I tried to bring some of the hobbies that I used to love doing back into my life such as playing the drums, kickboxing, writing, journaling, and reading; I also tried new things such as knitting, nail painting, drawing, yoga, volunteering, and meditation. Some of these things took hold right away and others did not, but the point is that I tried each and every one. Recovery is about exploration, and the only way that you are going to find yourself beyond the eating disorder is by finding what it is that you are passionate about and grabbing hold of it.
Let go. I know that this sounds nearly impossible, believe me, it took a long time-seven years!-for me to get to this point, but eventually I learned to just let my eating disorder go. Eating disorders are all about control; it creates this illusory sense of control over food, exercise, weight, etc. that, ironically, leaves us feeling powerless. Well, in order to overcome your eating disorder, you must let go of control and give all of it over to the experts-your treatment team. I know that it is going to be extremely hard to trust them, but no one said that recovery was easy. In fact, it is probably going to be the hardest thing you have ever done, but think about who is really in control here, the eating disorder, not you, and therefore, you need to let it go.
Overall, recovery is a journey. I believe that recovery is an individual process; you will know when you are there when you start living your life, not the eating disorders, not the one that anyone else tells you should be, but your life. To me, being recovered means living in a place of balance, not that fantasy happy ending where everything is all rainbows and sunshine, and not a miserable life with an eating disorder, but rather my life. I am recovered because, even when I struggle or slip, I keep choosing recovery, I keep choosing to live in the moment, continuing to do the next right thing, even when I slip.
Life is a journey, and I am choosing to live mine.