By Arielle Lee Bair, MSW
We hear a lot about eating disorders. Sometimes they are glamorized. Other times they are sensationalized, characterized by upsetting images and horror stories. But eating disorders aren’t glamorous and they’re not about shock value. They are real. They hurt. They kill.
When it comes to eating disorder recovery, there are many different kinds of people. There are those who believe in full recovery, those who believe in full recovery – but not necessarily for themselves, and those who do not believe in it at all. I think full recovery is possible for everyone. Will it happen for everyone? No. But is it possible? Yes.
There are a lot of factors that influence a person’s ability to recover, but real recovery from an eating disorder happens, and it happens every day. It’s not a matter of beating the odds, but of beating the eating disorder.
When influential folks say that full recovery from an eating disorder is unlikely, I get angry. When they imply that full recovery will happen to one in a million (or some equally incomprehensible number), I get upset. When they focus on all the people who have NOT recovered instead of those who have, I get emotional.
It’s difficult to promote recovery to those struggling with eating disorders when they are constantly being told that the odds are against them. Trust me, I know – promoting recovery is my life’s work. Why bother trying at all? If you are already deemed to be (and doomed to be) a statistic from the start, what’s the point in paying money for treatment/care/counseling or getting support from friends/family/services? Isn’t it all a waste?
The short answer is: NO. Not only is recovery completely possible, it’s also worth every effort. Whether you’re involved with a whole treatment team, simply seeing one therapist, using an alternative support system, or going it alone – recovery is possible, real, and wonderful.
I know this, because in addition to being an MSW, seasoned recovery blogger, and dedicated eating disorder support group leader, I’m a recovered individual myself. It wasn’t always an easy path. I worked hard, used support, created support I didn’t already have, and kept climbing.
I’ve been fully recovered for several years and I’m happy and healthy in body and mind. I live my every day, a woman who is transformed from the girl she used to be. I am here in the moment, unafraid to live, unafraid to actively be ME. And you – or anyone you might know – can do it too.
The length of time isn’t what’s important. It can take 3 years or 30 years. The goal is to get to the point where you can say, “I’m free” and mean it. Don’t give yourself a deadline. Don’t berate yourself for slip-ups. JUST. KEEP. TRYING.
Understand my main point: being “recovered” isn’t about always being happy 100% of the time—it’s about knowing what to do when you’re not.
A recovered life is…like any life. That’s the beauty of it. It’s no longer defined by an eating disorder, or even by a constant effort to make recovery stick. It just IS.
I have a goal I’ve had for a long time and that goal is fueled by hope. My goal is to be an example—to cause people to say, “If that’s what recovery looks like, sign me up!”
That’s it, plain and simple. From the beginning—from the start of my descent into an eating disordered life—I always knew I wanted to stop. I didn’t want to have an eating disorder any more than someone wants to have any other disease. I knew it was unhealthy and I knew I needed help. Before I told anyone about my struggles, before I was confronted, and before I had even come to terms with my issues, I went to see a counselor. I remember making the appointment; it all seemed so surreal.
I was your average girl who watched TV and saw girls with anorexia on talk shows, skin and bones, crying their eyes out in front of the camera. I never thought I would relate to the girls on those couches, talking about their fears of food, their preoccupation with weight, and their distressing disease. But suddenly, almost before I knew what was happening, I was on my way to anorexia myself…and it wasn’t long before I was diagnosed with the very same disorder I had often heard about on television.
At my consultation appointment at my college campus’s counseling center, I recall explaining my daily habits, my calorie counting obsession, and my way of fasting for days. I could hear myself saying the words, knowing full well I had a serious problem or at least the beginnings of one. From that point, even though I sought help, was confronted by my best friend, and told my parents, I ended up getting worse before I got better. Sometimes I even got better only to get worse again.
Things weren’t clicking in my head. The constant struggle became so normal to me and so strangely comforting. I used anorexia to cope with stress, to deal with change, to help me feel special. All the while, I still hated it. Even as I got better and better, managing to eat enough to be considered physically “okay,” I still constantly struggled with mental aspects of my eating disorder. Sometimes I was even annoyed because I thought everyone around me assumed I was fine again simply because I was no longer starving. At times, I was the furthest thing from fine.
I was always someone who could put on a happy face—who could smile even when hurting, consistently concealing the emotions at battle inside. In a way, it sometimes helped not to talk about it. I liked trying to forget, be able to have a good time with friends, if only for a few fleeting hours.
It was sad, because something always seemed to fall. I always seemed to fall. I wanted to enjoy myself, to be happy with my friends, to let my mind free itself of numbers and perfection, but I could never enjoy myself completely.
It was like I was at a party, having a blast with a big smile on my face, but there was someone in the corner, wearing dark clothes and looking at me with a scary expression. My eating disorder, my inside pain and dissatisfaction, was that dark, scary someone in the corner. I could still have a great time, could still make great memories, but I was always being watched by something that wanted to take it all away.
When I think of times like this, I am reminded particularly of a few nights out with my college friends when we’d have a good time dancing and laughing…and on the way home, when alcohol had loosened the strings around my turbulent emotions, I’d start to cry relentlessly. It’s kind of embarrassing even now, but I was much more of a mess than I let myself or anyone else believe. Tears typically accompany a mess.
Everything seemed to come crashing down after having fun. It took me a while to learn that I’d never really be able to be happy again unless I fixed myself first. Until I took care of what was making me hurt, any fun or happiness was temporary.
I knew I didn’t want to live like that. After all, who does?
Looking back, nights like that feel like a turning point, or several of them. I knew my entire life was going to be like that if I didn’t change something. If I hadn’t had the support I did, I would have fallen into a sad little hole and stayed there until something drastic finally pulled me out…if anything pulled me out at all.
This realization came after years of unhappiness and what can only be described as hell. This realization came after a freshman year of college that makes me cringe to this day. After days and nights of worrying my friends, of sleeping in the daytime for hours at a time, of letting my past of a being a straight A student fall into the trash as I used all my effort to even make it to—and through—classes. After tedious meals in the dining hall, whole Biology classes spent incessantly tallying my food intake, and one distinctly frightening night when I attempted to measure my dwindling waist by fastening a belt around it—then trying to measure the belt with a ruler—only to be stopped by my roommate and my best friend, who both had to hold me down on my bed while I thrashed around and essentially freaked out. After counseling and eating again only to make my sophomore year a near repeat of my freshman year, after group therapy and fainting spells, after screaming matches with my parents. After seeing a frighteningly low number on the scale and hating the sick euphoria that attended it. After obsessive term papers on eating disorders in an attempt to teach myself to stop what I was doing.
After all that came those fun college nights that ended in tears.
And after that came the realization.
THAT. I. DIDN’T. WANT. TO. AND. COULDN’T. DO. IT. ANYMORE.
So I set out to learn myself and discovered a lot. It has to start with you.
It has to start with YOU.
But most of all, it has to start.
You may also be interested in these articles about eating disorders
Video: EDNOS: Most Dangerous, Unheard of Eating Disorder
You may also be interested in: