A long time.
I mean, if I stop and take into account my life, there are four distinct eras. I’ve got childhood memories, this black abyss of darkness during the eating disorder that I’ve actively tried to forget, a period when life was really hard as I was getting used to life in recovery, and then the current season I’m in…where — please don’t take this as a brag — but I’m thriving and life is the best its ever been.
Which, when you think about it in a broad sense — I think that’s similar for a lot of people to a certain extent. We all have painful periods we’d like to forget, or a distinct separation in our memory of “Before [life altering event]” and “After [said life altering event].”
But as I was doing my research for last Thursday’s post about TikTok and Instagram Influencers, I had to spend a lot of time on those apps. And a lot of what I saw in the recovery community…it made me really sad. Because I saw a lot of myself in these young girls, as they either began their recovery journeys, or were fighting through the most difficult season of their young lives. One that, most likely, none of their friends could relate to, hence…they turn to the big, wide Internet, where surely there will be someone else to either relate, or encourage them…both positively and negatively.
For example. I saw videos of girls, trapped in anorexia, saying how much they wanted recovery, and yet for the last 3 months, as their body would shrink and shrink, the message in their videos remained the same: “I want recovery so bad.”
There are videos of girls in recovery that have just shifted their disorder to another form of an eating disorder: now being completely vegan, or getting into body building, or becoming a binge eater and now suffering in a different way.
There’s a lot out there. But then that’s TikTok for you – the algorithm knows you better than you know yourself, and will keep feeding you content until you look up and realize that 2 hours have slipped by in the blink of an eye.
But anyway, I saw a lot of myself in these videos, in all stages, in all sizes, in all the accompaning emotions. I had been there. And thank God that there was no TikTok equivalent around at the time, because — sheesh — I can’t imagine adding the emotional complication of getting “views” or “high engagement” on posts where I’m clearly struggling. “Shock porn” if you will. Because let’s be honest: emaciated girls on TikTok talking about their struggles with eating disorders — it garners a lot of viral views. Think of what that does to the girl. I know personally, my eating disorder…the “Voice of ED”… would have used that notoriety to spur me on, saying something like “Oh, keep getting worse, it’ll just make your following grow.” What a scary thought indeed.
So. Tonight I wanted to just share three things that were actually “nuts and bolts” helpful for my recovery. Things that I wish I would have known starting out, that would have made a huge difference.
1. EMBRACE ACCOUNTABILITY
Life is easier when we share one another’s burdens. Period. They knew that all the back in Jesus’ day, and it hasn’t changed.
I’ve written about this before: but after my three month stay at inpatient, I refused to go to their residential aftercare program for another two months where I’d transition to “normal living,” and continue gaining the final ten pounds I had to gain. Instead, in my pigheaded glory, I returned home where I then left for college 3 weeks later, and relapsed right back into full blown anorexia.
I needed supervision. I needed accountability. Not because I was weak, or incapable, or a “flight risk…” but because when you are still underweight, you don’t think clearly.
That’s something they don’t tell you, because it can be a hurtful thing to say, but you’re not “firing on all pistons” when you’re so nutritionally depleted. And though I was eating adequately and restoring my weight, I was “fuzzy” in the mind, and not having sound judgement. It was sure a heck of a lot better than when I was 78 pounds and the fat pads in my brain had deteriorated (because my body was in survival mode and consuming my own muscle and fat stores, therefore leaving me in a perpetual state of brain fog)…but I still was not at full mental capacity.
I mean, this happens even when you’re not suffering from an eating disorder. How many times have you done something absent-mindedly when you were hungry. Like, I don’t know…you leave your cell phone in the fridge and then have to spend the next thirty minutes looking for it.
Thinking that I could do it “on my own” — and not going to my therapy or dietician appointments, going off to college far away from home, not continuing with aftercare…that was a grave error that cost me years of relapse and continued suffering.
Embrace the people that are trying to help you. That is numero uno.
2. FOLLOW MY MEAL PLAN. (AKA: EAT THREE MEALS A DAY)
Again, you may be sensing a theme here: I thought I knew better than my dietician/prescribed meal plan. I wanted to do it on my own. And I thought I could. (And this is why I don’t support the Minnie Maud method of recovery.)
Because when recovery is so fresh, and you’re like a little bird learning to fly (sorry, cheesy)…it’s really super easy to slip back into old habits. Why? Becuase recovery is hard. Really hard. You can’t revert to the coping methods that got you into that position in the first place. Your body is changing in ways that you’ve been afraid of for years. You’re having to face foods that you never thought you’d eat. You’re carrying so much guilt about what you put your loved ones and friends through. And the kicker, is that at the end of the day, no one trusts you – because you’ve spent the last year or so — aka, the entirety of your eating disorder — lying to, deceiving and manipulating your loved ones. So yeah, you’re being watched like a hawk. People are terrified to say anything “wrong” — and they eventually do, though well meaning — and you’re just constantly having this internal battle with yourself every single morning, and throughout the day about existing in this new “normal” where everything is scary and your body is disgusting to you.
Wow, that was a lot, but I think I struck my own nerve.
All that to say: follow your meal plan. Oh, this would have saved me from terrible, terrible seasons where my life was literally ruled by food. Either eating too much in secret binge eating episodes — that season lasted way too long. Or eating only one huge meal a day. Or only eating vegan food.
Your meal plan is your safety net. Because, yeah – initially your hunger cues are going to be out of whack. You’re going to be bloated and not feel like eating. You’re going to have moments of weakness where you’re going to want to engage in old destructive habits. The meal plan is your lighthouse in rough waters….and they will get rough sometimes.
3. DON’T JUMP INTO A RELATIONSHIP RIGHT AWAY
This is something that I actually did follow. (Not that any guy would have wanted to date my still-underweight, fresh from rehab butt)… But leaving inpatient, my therapist told me — as is told to every patient — to refrain from dating or getting into a relationship for at least a year.
And I always thought that was a strange piece of guidance. Who is this guy to tell me about my love life?
Sure, all you’re focused about during your eating disorder is food, and it literally occupies every thought of every day because you’re literally starving to death.
But still – I was an 18 year old girl, and having just been broken up with with my boyfriend of three years in high school, weeks before I went to inpatient…that could have been something I could have fallen easily into: obsessing over that relationships, spiraling at the ups and downs of romance.
But now, sitting here 13 years later, having gone on quite the journey when it comes to love in a grand, big picture way, I can finally understand why.
You see, part of the reason why I am thriving now, and living the best life I literally could never imagine during my eating disorder. It is so full and so abundant because of love.
And yes, of course, a large part of that is thanks to my handsome gentleman…but that is definitely only part of the story.
My journey with love, that coincided with the firmness of my recovery, came in three parts.
The first, was when I embraced love from Jesus. This happened at inpatient, on day three. I’ve written about it before, but it is what initially allowed me to adopt recovery in the first place. Prior to that I wouldn’t even admit I had an eating disorder. It was this huge “come to Jesus” moment — in a literal sense. My knees buckled, I cried, I sobbed, I laughed, I smiled for the first time in two years. And it was because for the first time, I let His love and forgiveness into my heart and that was the thing I needed to start believing I was worth recovery.
The second was when I embraced love for myself. This one took quite a bit longer. And by “quite,” I mean like… ten years later. I never loved myself. I saw myself through a filter of guilt and shame…hating what I had done. Ashamed of my past. Carrying this insurmountable weight that I was unworthy of love. From myself, or from another. And that belief (which was a lie from the pit of hell) – it colored how I saw myself. How I saw the world. And it took a really, really long time to forgive myself of my past, to heal those wounds, and to slowly begin to embrace the redeemed young woman I had become.
And once I did, I embraced love from another person. Once I began to love myself, I realized — very quickly — that I absolutely was worth loving. And that needed to include other people. And let me tell you — the joy that is found in loving another person, and letting them love you in return, it is something so incredibly beautiful. Life changing, dare I say. And God really did me a “solid” by bringing this particular man into my life, who loves me with such patience, and grace and understanding, and acceptance of who I am. I am humbled every day that he loves me.
But I would not have been ready for that relationship fresh out of inpatient. I needed time — and a lot of it — to grow into the woman I am. God needed time to work on my heart. Slowly, slowly turning my heart of stone — calloused and closed off from such a season of atrophy and hardening — into a heart of flesh: open, vulnerable, and accepting.
God works miracles, but not always at the snap of a finger. It’s not some “pumpkin into a carriage” type thing. The big things take time. But the most dangerous thing we can do is doubt that He is, in fact, at work.
He is. And the outcome is better that you could ever imagine. That’s what I’d tell myself, when I was crying myself to sleep, post-recovery, in limbo and feeling terribly alone.
It is worth it. You are worth it. Recovery is worth it. And it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
Fight on, warrior.
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