What I Wish I Knew Before Starting Recovery

Well, it’s that time of year again: National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

If you’ve read my blog for some time, you will know that I am…lukewarm…on this whole week, and the promotion of it.

You can read my thoughts about it, here and here. But suffice it to say, this week almost feels like it’s glorifying the disease or it’s a platform for people to try and shock others with horrifying before-and-after photos as some sort of sick competition. And their “themes” — like “Let’s Talk About It”  with a smiling, beautiful, thin, girl holding a slice of pizza — felt borderline insulting.

But I digress.

What I want to share tonight, are a few things that I desperately wish I would have known before starting recovery. Things that I absolutely needed to know – but didn’t – that would have dramatically impacted my willingness to adopt recovery. Things that could have saved my life sooner. Things that could have helped alleviate my fears, and assist me in choosing life, and leaving the eating disorder behind for good.

So to the scared, eighteen year-old me: defiant, deteriorating and distant…this is for you.

1. Body image is hard. And it will be for some time. But making peace with the mirror will become a reality for you. And in fact, you will learn to love your body. The key is patience, separating your worth from your physical form and above all, remembering Who made you, and why.

2. People are going to say triggering things. Especially right out of the gate. I remember the first time after I saw my former GI doctor after inpatient (and after gaining close to 30 pounds), he walked in the room and said, “WOW! Looks like someone found McDonald’s!” I mean, you just can’t make this stuff up. But the fact is, with recovery comes a change in your physical appearance. NO – I’m not saying, “You’re going to get fat!” BUT what I AM saying is that, you’re not going to look like a walking, gaunt and lifeless skeleton anymore. And that is a good thing. The fact is, people care about you, and any blunder in their verbal reception of a healthy looking you, is just them showing their relief and love. It’s new territory for everyone, and they’re just trying to be encouraging. So when someone says, “You look healthy!” or “You look so great now!” they’re not calling you fat. But instead, showing you that they care.

3. Your eating disorder does not make you worthless, shameful or unlovable. Nor is it a guilt you need to carry around forever. This was quite honestly the hardest thing for me to learn. It literally took years, but the truth is, an eating disorder is not something that you choose. It is a disorder (and in my opinion, an offshoot of spiritual warfare) that gets a grip on you, that you’ve fought like hell to overcome. That victory is something to celebrate. You are an overcomer.

4. Accountability is really important in the beginning. We’re talking food. We’re talking exercise. We’re talking any other engagement in Eating Disorder behaviors. Having a support system in place — even if only one other person who knows your story and that you’re in recovery — makes a huge difference. The number one reason why I relapsed the first few months after inpatient, is because I went straight to college in Charleston where I knew not a soul. Accountability matters.

5. Love is possible, but first you must love yourself. Another one that, again, took me over a decade to learn. More than the weight, more than the body image, loving myself was the hardest aspect of recovery. And I only ever got to where I am today, because Jesus helped me to see myself through His eyes. You cannot love from an empty cup. And you cannot look for someone else to love you, for you. It is hard work that you must, day by day, work on through prayer. And what comes hand-in-hand with loving yourself, is forgiving yourself, and letting go of the shame and guilt you carry around from your past.

6. There will come a day when you feel safe enough to share your past with a significant other, and the right one will love you for it. I’ve written about it before, but having recently experienced this, I can honestly say that being loved by someone is the greatest, most beautiful aspect of life. And what’s more, is that love truly is the key that unlocks a full and total recovery. Because, in holding someone else’s heart in your hand, you realize just how precious it is. And you realize that that’s how you should have been treating yourself all along.

7. Weight gain is not something to be petrified by. And one day you will actually love your new body. Real talk here for a moment: coming from someone in love, who is thirteen years out from recovery and only now “blossoming,” if you will…having a woman’s figure is downright fabulous. Seriously. Coming from someone who had the shape of a 12 year old boy…I am loving finally looking like a woman! And speaking of which, I want to have children one day. And the damage I did to my body, living for years in such a dangerously depleted and malnourished state, I am on my knees, thanking God every day that I am mensturating. It took 13 YEARS into recovery for that to finally happen. So honestly, praise GOD!

8. Protecting your recovery should be your number one priority. Always. Doesn’t matter if you’re one, three, seven, thirteen years out. No matter how “bulletproof” your recovery is, you need to respect it and protect it. Meaning: don’t put yourself in situations where you will be seriously triggered or tempted. Now, I’m not talking living your life from a bubble. But for example: I was invited three years in a row to attend a New York Fashion Week runway show. Which – experience of a lifetime, right? But I knew that being around unhealthily rail-thin models, where people are oodling their bodies is not good for my recovery. So I declined the tickets. Every time. Recovery. Comes. First.

9. Gratitude is a powerful perspective that keeps your recovery a gem of great price. Sometimes you’ve just got to stop, and take an inventory that: “I could have died from this eating disorder.” There is not a day that goes by that I do not thank God for saving me from myself. And let me tell you, living from the mindset that you were given a second chance…believe me, you take nothing for granted. Living on borrowed time will make you appreciate every relationship, every opportunity, every moment — even the hard ones in recovery.

10. Allow yourself to grieve the lost time. There was a time I was really bitter about the years I lost to my anorexia. The experiences, the time, the adolescent milestones I missed out on because I was enslaved to anorexia. Not walking in my high school graduation, missing out on social engagements, the extracurriculars I quit, the passions I dropped, the years I should have been thriving. Allow yourself to grieve that time. Because it matters. Yes, the eating disorder stole that time and those experiences from you…just like it stole your health, your hair, your bone density, your mental wellness….ED is a thief. So it is important to let that emotion out…grieve it healthily…and then move on. Put it in it’s proper place, and move forward with that perspective of gratitude that ED didn’t also steal your life.

11. Finally, there is an abundant life beyond the eating disorder. For many, an eating disorder is a huge “pause button” when one doesn’t want to grow up, or has set the bar too high, or feels stuck, or like they don’t know what to do with their life. But I promise you, there is goodness that awaits you. Friends. Laughter. Joy. Relationships. Peace in your mind. A healthy relationship with food. Enjoyment around holidays. Going out to eat and having FUN! Pursing passions. Having dreams and ambitions. All these things were so foreign to me in my anorexia, because my world revolved around food, exercise, calories, sticking to a rigid schedule and keeping up my web of lies. I didn’t believe a life outside of the hell I had created for myself was possible. But it is. God has a good and fulfilling plan for us, that gives us an exciting, abundant and beautiful life. We have to just choose to show up for it, unencumbered by ED.

And oh yeah….12. Bloating happens, but it’s not forever.

So there you go…it may not be “on theme,” but these are things I wish I would have know, before starting my recovery journey. God never abandons us, even during the times when we cannot feel Him. It is during those times that our eyes are veiled, unable to see that He is actually carrying us through.

I am grateful this week, and every day for my recovery, and for God’s unfaltering hand that saved me then, saves me now, and will forever going forward.

And if you’d like more of my recovery insight and advice, you can get a copy of my book, Bloom by clicking here!

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



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76 responses to “What I Wish I Knew Before Starting Recovery”

  1. Life is a journey, it is up to us to learn along the way. Reading this, you have indeed learned a great deal. Not only hearing and seeing, but taking to heart. Going a step further, by sharing this part of your journey, I know you will be helping others who are facing the same steps.

  2. An eye-opening and educational piece. I am amazed how God works in our lives. Your insight that “recovery comes first” is on point and deserves to emphasized.

  3. The promo’s you speak of sound like something designed by someone who’s never had ED. They mean well, but lack understanding of what they’re dealing with. It’s like my upper management making goals that simply show their ignorance of my sales channel.

    Body image – Would it help to focus on your eyes and not your body? I write this, because I remember meeting an elderly man once. For a moment I got past his gray, bushy eyebrows and wrinkles around his eyes I saw just his eyes, and they were young!! Do you think getting someone in recovery to focus on their eyes instead of body would be helpful? Just spit-balling here.

    Your ED doesn’t make you worthless – Do you remember when I wrote “Beauty and the (ED) Beast”? I saw this wounded young lady who I just wanted to hug and kiss her head. I think if ED sufferers could understand that people look at them with empathy and a fervent wish for them to succeed it would help. Of course, that’s probably a tough barrier to breach. Lookit me, talking from the cheap seats. And besides, look how valuable you are in your blog. Everyone is that valuable, each in their own way.

    Love is possible – I suddenly had this picture of a going home gift everybody leaving recovery should get; a collage of all their family and friends smiling at them with the words “Hey!!! We love you!!!” Hang it up in your room and see it every day.

    I read something recently that is a blinding glimpse of the obvious; take care of yourself the way you’d take care of someone else. Be that good to yourself.

    Maybe you weren’t “on point” tonight with the week, but you were absolutely true to your charter of speaking truth about ED!!!

    • Hi Jeff! Yeah the promos are really out of touch if you ask me. Yes! The eyes are my favorite part of the body. I think they’re the window to the soul. That’s a great idea. And yes!! Oh my gosh that piece was so touching. 🙂 I love that idea of the going home gift! I actually have something just like that – my fridge! It is covered literally every square inch to the floor with photos of my family and friends. Love is a powerful thing. And that’s a powerful adage – it’s been wild to see how I care for another person’s heart…to think that I should have doing that for myself all those years… makes me a little sad. But then…I allowed myself to grieve that and then move forward, pledging to do that from now on! Aw thank you Jeff. It is so incredible to me, how, even though EDs aren’t something that has personally touched your life, you are so a) able to relate and offer such powerful insight/advice/perspective and b) your generous willingness to “go there!” It just strikes me how great a friend you are. Grateful for you! Hope you and your girls have a wonderful weekend! Hugs xox

      • As always, I’m glad that my comments work for you. You have been a real blessing to me also. I love the pictures on the fridge “poster.” And although those years seem lost, isn’t true that your wounded self NEEDED those years, that PATH to finally emerge as you are now. It was the time needed to get to where you are. Kind of like a boxer who gets tagged really hard. He needs time to get his legs back. Thank you for your prayers! I continue to pray for you and Steven. Enjoy your weekend!

  4. Take a bow dear lady, it takes great courage and love to follow a path that asks you to believe in who you are…the real you, not the one the world tries to push onto you out of fear…their fear 😀 ❤️ 🙏🏽 🦋

    • Oh wow, mark I am so touched by this. Thank you so much. Love casts out fear! 🙂 Hugs and love xox

  5. very well constructed, it is always good to remember, the ancient lessons, if you are ever confused or stressed, The Lesson of God’s Revelation of the Spirit, or Jesus and those he hung around with, he traveled the world the others only could comment on, in a nutshell, there is gold in the dirt, and your experiences, though painful, has led you to a new world of understanding, where you are never alone, stay blessed, amen, your experience is a foundation, amen

  6. Thank you for this very encouraging post. It is so much more helpful for me to identify with than any other ED related thing I have ever seen. Regretting lost time–so true–and feeling like this thing hangs over you all your life. You offer so much hope to those who are still in it, that there is a life waiting for them. You also talk from experience and are a living example to them. I’m sending this to my cousin who has much worse times than I ever had.

  7. She’s back! Well, maybe she’s never been gone… but this post feels like the old Caralyn -with her important heart-felt tips for those who need to learn from her experience – is back on the scene. I love it… and I love your transparent sharing. It’s why so many people follow your blog, even those of us who have never experienced an eating disorder. You tell your story so honestly. No holds barred. God bless you! And thank you! <3

  8. Very true. I’m relating to you, even though I had another addiction du jour. It’s challenging to find balance when my addiction is a behavior that continues to be a necessary part of my life, don’t you find?

    Sexual addiction has been my row to hoe.. Sex, as a married woman, needs to be a healthy part of my life. But I am still able to walk in purity in my mind, you know?

    I find that so much of addiction involves MY THINKING. I depend on the Holy Spirit to help me. Some of my triggers are very subtle in the beginning, which is when I want to catch my addiction. #easiertofix

    I just have to STAY in the Bible every morning. That’s part of my recovery.
    Anyway. I should turn this into a post. #helpful
    Thankful for you
    New York lady.
    From western Oregon,

  9. Do you feel your faith had anything to do with this? It is considered a pious act to fast, and a book read long ago, they have a saint who they deemed as being celebrated for anorexia due to living on three seeds a day.

  10. Your story is as beautiful as you are. What a testament you are to your faith and your health journey. You’re transparency and honesty are both so inspiring. Thank you for sharing your story. Praying for your continued good health and for those who need to find your story will be led to this blog!

  11. There are many people who have nothing better to do than to destroy others who are not like them or not doing what they think they should do. You are a positive force, and you have a man who will benefit from it.

  12. My heart just explodes with happiness for you! You have taken everything you’ve been through and not only learned, not only used it to help others, but to create a beautiful, meaningful life for yourself. Hugs and cheers for you.

    • Hi Amy! oh my gosh THANK YOU!! I am so touched by your generous words of encouragement. God will always use everything for good! i fully believe that! have a wonderful day! Hugs and love xox

    • Hi Penny! thank you so much – gosh, if God weren’t at the center of my recovery, i would HAVE no recovery! He is so good and my rescuer! 🙂 hope you have a wonderful day! Hugs and love xox

  13. Always remembering “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” ! Corinthians 6:19-20
    This goes for not glorifying one’s appearance with false enhancements, starving oneself to look thin, or indulging in overeating. Although the context shows it to be much more than just taking care of one’s health (it’s about sexual integrity), it certainly applies to anything about the body. And of course, sexual integrity IS taking care of one’s health, too.
    We can and should admire without vanity how we look in a mirror, the same way we would admire a building we had built. We look at it with Father’s eyes, and say, “It’s good.” In the words of Will Sonnet, “No brag, just fact.” 😉
    love and prayers for you and Steven. ❤️&🙏

    • Oh i absolutely love that verse! 🙂 amen – we were purchased at the most precious price. And you’re right – may we see through the Father’s eyes! thank you for stopping by! Hugs and love xox

  14. Interesting how a lot of what you said could be rewritten and apply to so many traumatic issues we face. It’s also interesting that it is just this moment that it occurred to me that I never have talked to anyone about the eating disorder and exercise addiction I had years ago. I am gonna run right out and do that now. It’s not really that I have been avoiding talking about it, it’s just been so long and so many other things have happened since that I had to deal with emotionally. But now, as I sit in a safe and more educated place, maybe I should reflect and share. As always, thank you for sharing your thoughts and your heart!!

    • Hi Lindsey! thank you so much for your encouraging words. It’s true – every trauma, every situation, every trial — the “healing” or remedy is always the same….Jesus. He is the healer of our wounds, no matter which form they take. I’m so glad that this resonated with you so personally. I am so happy for you that you’re going to take that step to talk about it. It’s crazy how, even though we don’t realize it, by not “emotionally dealing with it,” and putting it in a bottle of sorts, tucked away in the farthest point of our mind, our inner spirit still has accounted for it. I only say that because I know from experience. And pressure in those bottles builds and builds. I’m so so happy for you to be “unearthing” those parts of your past and choosing to free the emotion bottled inside. I will be keeping you close in prayer as you do that difficult — but incredibly rewarding — work. Sending so much love and hugs! xoxo

  15. Detailing your innocence helps us all. Innocence (some call it ignorance) can bring crushing results, but you seem to have gained wisdom from it. Thanks so much for sharing. I can relate.

    I have one question for you. What about someone who has the opposite problem? I know a young girl who desperately wants to find a soul mate, but she weighs at least 300 pounds. Nobody seems to be willing to commit to helping her lose that. Even as a little girl she was morbidity obese. Her face is pleasant and she is smart, but lonely..

    • Thank you Beth for your kind words. You’re right – God will always bring goodness or a new perspective from the pain or trials we endure. That’s a really great question – I personally believe that all eating issues — or any other sort of disordered behavior — all stems from that “God hole” in our spirits that we’re trying to fill with this or that. And in the end, it is until we surrender that hurt or that wound to Him to heal, we will be stuck in that cycle of destructive behavior. I would definitely encourage her to seek professional help, and to simultaneously reach out to a spiritual advisor or mentor to help her grow in her faith, and give her the tools to embrace GOd’s love for her, so that she can in turn, love herself. i hope that helps! Hugs and love xox

    • Thank you so much Oscar, that really means a lot! Recovery is a lifelong journey! Hugs and love xox

    • Hi Teresa! Oh gosh thank you so much for your kind words! God is good! Hugs and love xox

  16. I’ve so appreciated all of your posts. Thank you for being so honest about your illness and recovery, it has helped me to look at my own past and think about things in a different way, as well as have hope for things I think I had given up hope for long time ago. Thank you and blessings!

    • Thank you so much, friend. I’m so glad that my journey has given you hope!! That is literally the exact reason why I started this blog. Thank you for your kindness. Hugs and love xox

  17. “Look to this day.
    For Yesterday is but a dream;
    And tomorrow is but a vision.

    For today well lived,
    Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness;
    And every tomorrow, a vision of hope.”

  18. Thank you for speaking your truth so honestly. In June I will receive my 5 year chip. I work my recovery tools daily to have victory over my eating disorder. Everyday I have to intentionally make choices that support my healing, some days are better than others but it’s a battle. I am so grateful to God and to those who help me along my journey. Keep shining light on the darkness!!

    • Thank you so much for sharing your heart! and oh my gosh that’s so great! celebrating with you! i’m so glad you too know the beautiful freedom of recovery! Hugs and love xox

  19. The “stinkin-thinkin” which comes as a bi-product of any/all addictions is difficult to break free from but I have always admired your genuine transparency and the heart-space you open up to all of us. You’re a modern day She-ro and I am grateful for your willingness to help others through your own life-sharing. Hugs & blessings to you, dear one!

    • You’re on a reading roll my friend! 🙂 a She-ro! oh my gosh you’re too kind, and also – I’ve never heard that term, and i love it! hahah thank you again!!! Hugs and love xox

      • I gave myself permission to hit the pause-button on my day and immerse myself in blog-therapy! 🤣 It was such good “medicine” for my Spirit to get caught up reading some of my favorite bloggers…. And Of course you’re counted amongst them all!💕

    • oh Amanda, i’m so sorry to hear that you’re struggling right now. I’m praying hard for you and believe in you! recovery has lots of ups and down, and it is always a journey, but the important thing, is that no matter how big or small the step is, they’re always forward. Every little decision you make for your recovery — even if its just choosing to take a moment to breathe and acknowledge the emotions you’re having, is a small victory. and those victories add up and keep you going. hang in there friend. you got this, i believe in you! one moment at a time! Hugs and love xox

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