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.
“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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