Someone should hang a sign in ED recovery groups: “The Highway From Hell is Paved With Good Intentions. Just Keep Walking.”
Recovery is a process, not an event. ‘It’s about the journey, not the destination’ is a real thing for any recovery process, from any addiction or disease. I did not just wake up and eat a normal three meal day with snacks. I did not magically find my body’s happy weight. It sucked.
I did Renfrew Radnor Day program in May of 2008. Because of my eating disorder, I missed out on a study abroad opportunity. So fuck you, eating disorder. I can’t say that Renfrew saved my life. Renfrew is one of the top eating disorder treatment centers in the country (they have sites all up and down the Eastern Seaboard). They save hundreds of lives daily and their work is honorable. For me, it was not the right fit.
I floundered through my senior year of college, moved back in with my parents for a few months after graduation, got sicker, and then started seeing a therapist in Philadelphia. She saved my life. I say this clearly and without any hesitation. She saved my life. I saw her steadily for a year and on and off for a year after that.
Am I better?
Am I well?
Am I recovered?
Am I in recovery?
I don’t know that I will ever consider myself permanently free of the eating disorders’ clutches. The first time I remember thinking I was fat I was eight years old and I was in a swimsuit in a shower with my cousins. I stuck out my belly and my cousin said I looked pregnant. I started manipulating my food intake and using food as a punishment/reward for myself when I was twelve years old. I began a binge/restrict cycle in high school. I began restricting only in college, followed by about seven months of diagnosable bulimia, followed by two years of restricting.
I began to try and recover six years ago this spring.
I consider myself two years in recovery this month. I’m come to terms with the fact that I may never love my body. I may always reach for my eating disorder first in times of personal crisis. I spend several days every week convincing myself to eat even when I am not feeling hunger cues because I know I must eat. I may never be an intuitive eater. I may always be a very picky eater with strict food rules.
And I’ve decided that’s okay. Because I eat. I eat in front of other people. And even though I know the calorie count off the top of my head for about every food I touch, I do not count calories. I haven’t stepped on a scale in ages, haven’t owned one in years. I don’t know my weight. At the doctor’s office, I ask them not to tell me and I step on it blind (back to the number). I cut the tags out of my jeans so I don’t know what size they are. There are three different size jeans in my drawers and all of them fit depending on the week and I stopped worrying about that.
I can identify and hold on the days that I am worried about my jeans size, the width of my thighs, and whether someone can see my stomach is slightly rounded that day that really, I am anxious. I am anxious about any number of things. And it helps to say, “I’m not worried that X will think I look fat today. I am worried that my date won’t go well.” Or whatever.
In treatment, they tell you, “Fat is not a feeling” and I always joke that it is a feeling. You can feel fat. As long as you know that fat is just a placeholder for whatever you are refusing to name. The knowledge and self-awareness that fat is a placeholder word, just like thin, is the most important part.
In treatment, they give you affirmations or positive statements to use when you’re having trouble having positive body image or staying recovery focused. One time, in an unfinished manuscript, I had a character rewrite them for the MC on her mirror.
So today, I give you positive affirmations that are less warm and fuzzy and more Real. Because real is good. Real is here. Real is you.
“I’m fucking awesome.”
“I’m made from the shit stars are made from.”
“I learn from my fuck ups.”
“With all the batshit loco shit in my life, I will try to be patient.”
“I will rise above the bullshit in my life.”
“I am worthy. Them bitches ain’t.”
You are fucking awesome. You’re made from the shit stars are made from. You are worthy.
Thank you for hearing my story and for tolerating this overshare (I feel anxious, I feel exposed, I feel afraid people won’t or don’t care) this week.
A few years ago, my therapist said to me, “I don’t think you know how much pain you are in.” And a few months after that, she said, “I don’t think you know how hard you are working.”
I’m in less pain than when I started with her. I haven’t stopped working hard. Every single day, I work hard because the eating disorder sits in the back of my mind, whispering constantly, suggesting that if I just lost a few pounds (just five, to start, the eating disorder says) everything will be better. I no longer believe those lies. Losing weight will not solve my money woes, get me into grad school, or finish my book. Losing weight is only the beginning of the end.
I want the beginning of the beginning.
Today I turn twenty seven years old. I am happy to be alive. I am proud of the work I have done to get here.
And I’m telling you—yes, you, the one thinking, but recovery, that’s not for me. she did it, but I can’t–it’s worth it. Keep walking.