Recovery’s Dirty Little Secret

Before we get into tonight’s post — I forgot to mention that I made a video for last week’s post: The Plight of a People Pleaser! It got a lot of feedback – so you can watch it here:

Ok, onto tonight’s post!

To hear me read tonight’s post as a podcast, click here

There’s a dirty little secret they don’t tell you about recovery.

One that…seems to be conveniently omitted from conversations, if not deliberately swept under the proverbial rug altogether.

And that is how difficult it is to find peace in the environment where you were sick.

Sure, we’re quick to point out the abundance of life that comes with recovery — be it from an eating disorder, like me; or from any other “addiction” — such as alcohol, codependency, an abusive relationship, etc.

And rightfully so — there is so much good to be celebrated. You’ve reclaimed your life, adopted healthy habits, and freaking kicked an addiction that was surely leading to destruction — if not ultimate demise. Relationships can begin to heal and dreams can once again be chased as you journey down the lifelong road of recovery.

But what they don’t tell you, as you’re diving head first off the cliff into the unknown world of life without your addiction, is that it will be incredibly difficult to heal in the environment where you were sick.

This is not an easy post to write, or — I’m sure, read.

Because this truth is not pretty. It’s not an easy pill to swallow, but then, reality – especially when dealing with recovery – never is.

This past week, it seems like I’ve been confronted with this issue more than usual. And as a result it’s been really weighing on my heart. I’ve lost sleep, been completely distracted as I’ve been trying to work, and just overall unsettled, as this particular issue is not only something that impacts me, but my loved ones as well. Deeply.

So I figured, the only way to get clarity is to really get in the weeds, and go there – get messy. So I guess, welcome to my thought process. Enjoy your stay in the intricately messy world of my innermost brain. So…buckle up, people.

Home – is complicated. They say it is “where the heart is” — which is five hundred percent true. But what if it is also ground zero for something that nearly killed you?

And I don’t mean to hyperbolize that. During the depths of my anorexia, I had wasted away to 78 pounds. I was an 18 years old senior in high school with the beginning stages of osteoporosis. And my body was literally shutting down.

Imagine enduring the most traumatic experience of your life, and then prolong it for two straight years.

That does something to you.

That deeply impacts, not only your own self perception and world view, but also — you can never see the “scene of the crime” in the same way again.

The memories just haunt you. Scenes of outbursts flood your mind. Remembering past episodes that make your body just recoil. Sleeping in the room where you’d slowly self-destruct — seeing the memorabilia from high school, smelling the smells, coming face to face with old photos of your sick self – it is not good.

But more than that, it’s having to reenter a community that deeply stigmatized you. Especially with anorexia, you are literally wearing on your body the turmoil that’s going on inside. You’re a walking billboard for your brokenness. Everybody knows, not only because everyone is gossiping, but because everyone can see it.

During my disease, I was like an urban legend. I went from being homecoming court, Varsity soccer player — to the anorexic girl.

And as a result, even now — almost 13 years later — there is still this dark shadow that follows me around. I’ll run into people from my past, and I can almost see their eyes calculating how they remember me looking from 2007, to how I look now, in 2020 as a healthy young woman.

It’s a horrible feeling.

And it’s incredibly devastating because home is where my deepest heart is – my family is there.

And the truth is, aside from that period of absolute hell, I had an amazing childhood. I had the most blessed upbringing in a place that brought me so much joy – so much life, so much love and enrichment. Those precious memories are cherished in my heart and I’m literally in tears thinking about how beautiful my formative years were.

But the fact is, the people that I love most in the entire world live in this place that not only broke me once before, but continues to just suffocate me with shame, as it transports me back to that bleak and absolute worst time in my life.

What did I do about it? Well – I moved to New York City before I even graduated college if that tells you anything, and have lived here for almost 9 years.

But I’ll tell you what: not a day goes by that the pull of home doesn’t tug mercilessly on my heart, as I miss my family to my absolute break point every day.

Here’s where this post turns around, because – yeah, it’s been a little, shall we say, bleak.

The key to my recovery, was finding a place where I could truly come into my own. I had to find a place where I could be free of all of those stimgas and shadows of shame — and guilt — that plagued me and haunted me.

I needed a clean slate. I needed a fresh start. Somewhere that I could introduce myself as Caralyn, and have that first impression be of the healed and whole young woman standing in front of them, not the dying girl they remember me as.

That renewed sense of worth, sense of autonomy, sense of redemption — I can barely express how instrumental it was to my healing – and continued wellbeing.

And more than that, it allows me to let the people into that part of my past who I deem worthy. I can choose to share that most intimate part of who I am, with the people I can fully entrust it with.

Because, as I’ve been learning over this season of my life — my past is nothing to be ashamed of. I’m embracing the beautifully broken road that made me who I am today. And I’m accepting the fact that my past has made me strong. Resilient. And I have learned to be grateful for the lessons I had to learn the hard way.

I haven’t given up on Ohio — not in the slightest. I think I needed this season to heal – to come into my own and rediscover the essence of who I am — the light that was snuffed out by the eating disorder.

I know this is getting long, but I want to just close with this:

During inpatient, I was given the assignment to create an art project that shows how the anorexia impacted me. And I made out of construction paper, a black coffin. And inside, I put a bunch of confetti — all different colors of paper, with different textures, and glitter. All to show that the eating disorder killed my colors. It suffocated my vibrant spirit, and completely wiped out the goofy, fun loving, joyful, happy-go-lucky personality that I was known for.

And instead left me hollow. Void of life. Isolated and cold.

I needed to find a place where my colors could return. And being in an environment that not only had written me off as the later — but prohibited me from sloughing off that colorless existence — it completely impeded my healing.

Now, living in vibrant color – returning home is becoming easier and easier. I no longer am pressed down with shame or haunted by past memories, and I can fully live in the joy of the present moment with my family. And I’m excited to one day share that with the man God brings into my life to spend forever with.

I guess that’s part of the healing journey too: letting my past dictate my present is another way the eating disorder “wins.” And that, in itself, is an obstacle to overcome, too.

Which just goes to show — the recovery road is never finished. I alluded to it before, but it is a lifelong commitment. Another aspect of recovery that they don’t often highlight: but recovery is for the rest of your life.

It is this beautiful, complicated, and intricate evolution of self. And I guess that’s no surprise, because with God as the source of my recovery — He is constantly shaping me into the woman He created me to be.

Looks like I’m in good Hands.

“This is what the Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.” Ez 37:5

A big thank you to my foundational sponsor, BetterHelp Online Therapy. I cannot begin to express how beneficial therapy was for my recovery from anorexia.  Speak with an online therapist. Or check out content about eating disorders from BetterHelp.


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104 responses to “Recovery’s Dirty Little Secret”

  1. Carolyn I feel exactly the same way about my own situation. I know for me part of it is fight or flight kicking in. On the whole if something reminds me of my own experience, I have thrown it out. Just about the only major exception is photos.

    • Thank you so much for sharing that – I’m glad this hit home with you – You’re right, fight or flight kicks in — that gives me a lot to think about. big hugs to you friend xox

    • yeah — she is an incredibly strong woman. I’ve shared this before, but she spend every night at church in the adoration room praying for me. her heart is just so amazing, and i am so grateful for that woman. thanks again for stopping by! Hugs and love xox

  2. Very Good! Seeing truth is always best and even if our own personal truth has a dark side or an ugliness it is all good if we get from it what God wants the take away to be; as you are in His hands not really your own if you have unabated faith in Him! Then and only then are you able to let Him shape you to become the best you can be! Your faith is evolving through all of this and that is the best part. Amen.

    • thank you so much Lawrence! you’re right- God will use those dark moments to bring about goodness. thank you for the encouraging words! means a lot!! Hugs and love xox

      • Caralyn, so often we humans think this life is our own to just do what we please and it’s all about our plan or designs! But, when we are truly honest with ourselves and face reality or the ultimate truth, we become aware that we have nothing; no control or self-produced plan that would amount to a hill of beans, because it will all be dust in the wind when all is said and done. The sooner we can awaken to that truth, and see that we are really lost and without purpose unless we have our Creator fully embraced in our hearts allowing Him to show us what He has planned, the better off we will be, along with those around us; so we can serve His will and make our lives a precious gift and instrument of His glory and love! We really aren’t here for anything other than to Love and Serve God our Father in Heaven through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior through Whom all things are made possible and Who brings us closer to Him each moment we can abide in that truth! Amen

      • Lots of powerful food for thought here, Lawrence! I do believe He has a plan for all of us!! Hugs and love xox

      • Take that food and digest it over time through genuine prayer and full commitment to our Lord and His purposes; then you will see all He wants you to see allowing Him to guide you through your life! Thanks be to God!
        Side note, I was thinking and praying about sending out a best message of concern and I see the pieces or dots connected, telling me once again, God had it covered 100% just by how perfectly things unfolded! Not to worry, when he is our Pilot. Amen

  3. People from the past are checking you out, and it’s tough to be that object of…curiosity? Go back to your acting roots! Opposites! Don’t recoil however slightly with shame. Smile openly, warmly, invitingly. Don’t shrink from their “inspection.” Welcome it! Let, even encourage, them to peruse the new SAVED you! Don’t shrink, but throw your shoulders back and chin up. Open up for “business.” Relish the anticipation of seeing them recognize the recovered you, colorful and vibrant once again.

    From another perspective: both my parents are dead. I’ve let go of my sisters, because of…too much crap to go into here. My childhood home caught fire years ago. Now there’s only an empty lot without the slightest hint of anything I might recognize.

    If your heart wants to return to Ohio, let it. Before what you love there is gone and unrecoverable.

    My two cents.

    • object of curiosity for sure. Thanks Jeff – i always appreciate your two cents…this is such a powerful perspective, and thanks for sharing that. I’m so sorry about your home, that breaks my heart. You’re right – i have a real blessing in the fact that I still have a home to return to. And that is something to never ever EVER take for granted. Oh Jeff, you never cease to shift my perspective and open up a whole new horizon. Grateful for you, my friend. Hugs to you and your girls. xox

  4. I think I know what you mean.

    I grew up in New York, but have lived in Southern California, Indonesia, Bangkok, The Philippines and now China for the second time.
    The only place I ever dream of when sleeping as being home is the bedroom in New York I grew up in. Never Jakarta or Shanghai or Manila. “Home” Is the crucible in what make us, both good and bad.

    • Thanks Marc, for sharing that – what a powerful thought – it is the crucible in what makes us both good and bad. Wow powerful! Glad you stopped by! Hugs and love xox

  5. I do hope and pray that you will find the guy that you can completely trust with your story. The one that will embrace every part of you including all the wounds. I’m glad though that you are back to your joyful, goofy self!

    • You’re so right about that – and that peace is so important. Thanks Jack for stopping by! Hugs and love xox

  6. Caralyn, recovery and life in general is a process. No adult is the same person they were at age 18. As you overcome being a people pleaser, gossip will not bring you down. You have made great strides. You have overcome an early death and are enjoying life. Your story inspires others to continue and not give up. You are an overcomer that is catching the updraft and soaring like an eagle. No one can take this from you unless you allow it! Soar, Caralyn, you are are not a chicken scratching in the dirt. Love and hugs 🤗

    • That is such a great great point, thank you for that perspective : no one is the same as their high school self. Thank you for your beautiful encouragement. I am truly so touched by your kindness. Soaring like an eagle – amen!! Have a lovely evening! Hugs and love xox

  7. I so admire how you open up about your situation. Let me share about a chap I met early in my walk with Christ — which was less than 20 years ago. He was a “street person”, an alcoholic living in shelters downtown. My kids and I were going to a healing service at a new church, and my daughter, who was 10 (going on 25) at the time, said, “Let’s bring him to church with us.” So we did. There was a series of healing services that week, and Gil asked to come back the next night. When he did, he went forward and declared he wanted to be set free from alcohol. the ministers prayed over him. He came back the night after that and listened intently to the Word and declared he had taken his last drink. He moved in with my family. Cooked for us. Did odd jobs. Was definitely turning around. But two things went awry. One, I didn’t really know about discipleship — walking with someone through those baby steps towards a new life. Two, he had to go back and show off to his “friends” that he was clean and they should be — and could be — cleaned, too. Of course, they all told him he’d be back with them sooner or later … and they were right. He fell — hard. The last I saw of him, he was back in the same area, panhandling, hoping to get enough to get out of town. (It didn’t help that a street pastor I talked to said, “Well, I didn’t think THAT was going to last!” Truly, as you say, it’s near impossible to find peace in the environment that created the problem.

    • Hi Drew, thank you so much for your kind words and for sharing this powerful story. Wow! What a beautiful thing to have him move in with your family. I’m sorry to hear that he fell back into that same pattern. You’re right – the environment plays a huge role in healing. God bless you and your family. Hugs and love xox

  8. I didn’t have an addiction, but I do struggle with my past in a lot of ways. Living in the same town as I grew up in, I know all too well what it’s like to see people and have the judgement just pour out of their eyes. I can say it’s gotten easier as I continue to walk closely with Christ, but in much the same way, it’s a process that will never end. Thank you for sharing. You’re openness can help inspire so many people.

    • Thanks for sharing that Brandon, I’m glad this resonated with you. You’re right – it’s a process!! So very grateful for your kind words! Hugs and love xox

  9. You covered a lot of ground in this one and made me think of a couple interesting tangents. For fear of missing the forest for the trees, I will set them aside and only say this: God gives us the grace we need to get through Today. There is no extra, to be saved for tomorrow; there is no less, to be made up on our own. He gives us the grace we need for today. What has more-or-less captured my intrigue with your blog is the unique dichotomy you represent. You embody a kind of unfettered confidence in telling–and owning–your story. The kind that plants a flag and says, “This is mine, now.”

    And then there’s entries like this that are very vulnerable and show you are still processing everything.

    And I think that’s what I’m taking away from this, for my own life and my own struggles. It’s OK to process. There will probably never be a moment where I never have to think about my struggles again, where everything is fine and “healing” means “not thinking about it anymore”. It’s a part of who you are. And That’s OK.

    It’s something I needed to hear.

    Thank you, as always.

    • Hey Scoot! I’m so glad this hit home with you. Oh my gosh I love that about His grace! You’re right!! He gives us the grace we need today. Wow what a powerful truth!! Thanks for the encouragement. You’re right – that’s okay 🙂 so glad you stopped by! Hugs and love xox

  10. It will be a little different when you marry. You become one in love with each other and God. Home is within you and where you go to heal each other. When I had my Quintuple By-pass we were always together especially during the healing. When she learned she was dying again we were together. We nursed each other. We are still one and feel each other’s presence. Home is where we have to be as we heal. Ruth’s words “whither thou goest, I will go, and where thou lodgest, I will lodge. Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.” says it all especially during the recovery.

    • Thanks for this wonderful encouragement and perspective. You’re right – when God is in the center of the relationship it really makes a huge difference. And thank you for sharing that about your wife. I am always so inspired by your heart for her. It is so beautiful. Glad you stopped by. Hugs and love xox

    • Hi Brian, I am humbled by your words. Thank you so much my dear friend. I’m glad this resonated with you. Sending you big hugs xox

  11. I have a complicated relationship with home.

    First of all, I never went through what you did, so it’s different. But my childhood was full of being the victim of bullying, not being understood by my parents, and being seen as a problem by my teachers. I went to quite a few different schools, because my parents raised me to learn that dealing with bullies by running away was healthier than confronting them or building up my self-esteem, and the few school friends I had I never saw outside of school because I didn’t live near them and I was ashamed of the reason why I didn’t go to school in my home neighborhood.

    But I completely understand what you say about having a fresh start. I went away to school as a freshman, and that was the fresh start I needed to start growing. I knew that there was nothing for me back home, and I needed to break free from that in order to become an adult. I still visit for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and once every June. My mom and dad are still in the house where I grew up, and my 99-year-old grandmother still lives there, but my future isn’t there and never will be. I don’t really come face to face with the toxic people from my past when I go home, and I’m fine with that.

  12. I really loved the way that you highlighted your personal journey and I too am in recovery and as you have said it isn’t easy and sometimes you need to find your own space and time to heal.
    Then continue your journey and make progress each and every day.
    Well done on getting to where you are now and I wish you every continued success in the future.

    • Thank you so much friend. I’m so glad this resonated with you! I appreciate your kind words! Cheering you on in your recovery! Hugs and love xox

  13. My Friend: Thank you for being transparent. That is part of the process. So many want to sweep the bad under the rug and end up with a mountain of troubles. You are right on God’s schedule, and His timing is impeccable! He is revealing your true purpose. For it has been in you since before the foundation of the world. God has placed abilities in you to make His promises come to past. You’ve always possessed something that can give birth to the impossible! Many times what may look like a dead end is simply a new direction. As God invokes His brand. By the development of greater levels of faith in you to manifest that ‘something’. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) You have to go through a test to have a testimony and you will be able to bring many out because of yours. Keep on keeping on and above all things hold onto your faith! Be and stay blessed.

  14. I never realized that I am quite blessed that “home” is A. Far away on another continent and B. that there is no reason to go there. (no family) — It is truly a no-go zone for me.. the memories are way too radioactive and I don’t expect that will ever change. I do give you a lot of credit.

    • Hi Cindy, thank you for sharing your heart. I’m sorry that this resonated so personally. Sending you so much love xox

  15. I have learnt to say NO a lot in the last year, more for self care than anything else. Like yourself I hate to let people down but my mental health was more important and I had to put myself first through a lot of hardships in the last few years.

  16. Thank you for sharing! Your strength and story is so amazing! God said he would give us beauty for ashes and He is doing that for you – in you and through you!! Your journey (strength and transparency) is a Blessing so much others❣

    3 John 2

    Blessings, Georganna 💛

    • Thanks so much Georganna 💛 gosh I am so touched by your affirming words. God is good and I’m so grateful for His healing power in my life! Hugs and love xox

  17. I think you’ve wisely hit upon an aspect of addiction that rarely gets attention. The past will haunt your new life no matter how successful your recovery. It’s yet another reason to head off any potential obsessive compulsions that start affecting your life BEFORE they take over. We all must be acutely aware of what we’re getting into at the outset because the repercussions are serious and long-lasting. Great post.

  18. HELP! That is all we all need when we choose not to remember what is important. I will honest. I think you a fine young woman and like your Mother, will appear young for many years, Do not let the World be a factor with that which lights your path. Much Love and continue on. You are the greatest.

    • yes!! in His glorious light! and what a blessing that is! thanks for stopping by! Hugs and love xox

  19. Oh Caralyn takes me back to my recovery from alcoholism now some 33 years ago. The walls, the sounds, the people all made me feel like I wanted to go back to that place that was familiar. Not that it was a comfortable place but predictable and I was willing to consider putting up with the pain because that too was what I knew. I learned that new is not bad scary and uncomfortable but better. You really continue to be so helpful to others who struggle or who need a reminder from where they – I – have come. Recovery is great but not everything is all roses. Important to remember. Good job again. You witness to your growth your recovery and the only God there is. Impressive will never stop reading or listening I am 67 so there will come a time but not now. Thanks. John

    • Hi John, oh thank you so much for sharing your story – i am cheering for you in your recovery. 33 years– that is so incredible, and really something to celebrate. you’re so right– not always roses but definitely worth the fight!! Hugs and love xox

  20. I love the idea that recovery is more than a moment but a continuous process that leads us to new discoveries about a healthy self and new heights of restoration and joy. The idea that there is more good to discover is quite an impetus to keep going.

  21. Well done. The past can be incredibly painful but I’m glad you’re able to share how it pushed you to become who you are today!

    Thanks for sharing and encouraging, I’m sure it wasn’t easy but people will be blessed by it.

    • Thanks so much Jim – yes – I am incredibly blessed to have such a supportive family. Very grateful for them. Hugs and love xox

  22. Thank for opening up about your recovery. It’s a difficult journey, and a story you probably feel you should sometimes keep in that dark place. But your story is part of you, and you should be proud of who you are and what you have achieved.

  23. Appreciate this very much. This insight from your experience opens understanding that is helpful. God bless you for sharing.

  24. Excellent article and so true. Recovery is a life long journey. I think recognizing that was one of the biggest factors in my recovery from sexual addiction and overeating. As was removing myself from the environment. Thank you for sharing.

    • Aw thank you Charlotte! Amen – a life long journey. Thank you for sharing your story. Cheering for you in your recovery 💛 Hugs and love xox

  25. First, forgive me for not keeping up on your posts. Second, you are an inspiration.
    It is awkward to “step back” as it were to a different you. Thank you for the bold honesty.
    With all our tough exterior and bravado, most men are intimidated by those who can face there past with honesty and strength. Bravo pretty lady! Look forward to more good posts.

    • Oh my gosh thank you Bert – I appreciate your kind words and the insight!!! Hope you’re having a great week! Hugs and love xox

  26. For those of us who’ve not been through your experience this is an eyeopener, and for those who have it will be immensely helpful to know someone else understands their pain. So in a sense you are fulfilling a ministry through your writing. It just occurred to me that this blog has a parallel in the spiritual realm too. I was a power seeing pleasure addicted young person until God in His mercy figuratively hit me on the head to make me see which way I was heading and gave me the choice to change course. Praise the Lord for the happy and fulfilling life He’s given me since that day. Maybe I don’t have a huge bank account just enough to get by and a little bit more though I have operated at high levels of organization around the world and acquired many talents as a result of His grace and mercy. I’m so glad He raised you up for the ministry you are doing so well.

    • Hi Ian, thank you for sharing your story. – amen to that, He has blessed me with a second chance and for that i am so grateful! big hugs xo

      • I am soooo disappointed in you for not handling unreciprocated affection quickly! Only kidding. Maybe your Dad was right, sooner the better. In recovery though and in life don’t we commit to practice not perfection! Another angle as well, you have a right to postpone an instant decision and the x-flame has to own being prepared for rejection in the moment or delayed rejection. In some cases it is even a compliment to not immediately be turned down. At least she gave it some thought he may think! Respect as adults allows us time to consider things, and you needed space to consider his feelings. Many reject an admirer softly with yeah let’s do that sometime and provide the other the escape of not face to face rejection. Ugggh. Courting can be confusing.

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