After 6 years in the depths of anorexia, my eating disorder was a way of life. Starving had become my world. It was the way I dealt with anger, fear, hurt, frustration, disappointment, and every other even slightly uncomfortable feeling. I managed my weight to manage my life. Anorexia was my control, my way of communicating, and my way of avoiding, and it was the one thing I felt like I did really well. I was awesome at losing weight.
Of course, I lost a lot more than that. I lost relationships, trust, hope, happiness, and a good deal of sanity. Had it continued, I guarantee I would have lost my life as well. I gave recovery what I thought was “my all” several times over. “Rock bottom” came and went more times than I care to count. Through the years of intensive therapy and hospitalizations the light at the end of the tunnel looked rather dim, if even there at all. I was convinced I was going to spend the rest of my life hating my body and fearing food. Anorexia would always be my “Achilles’s heel.”
But then something shifted. The next “rock bottom” really did become my last. I remember the day I was struck with the crippling realization that as long as there was anorexia, I was going to remain utterly alone, until death. Eating disorders don’t like to share you, and more terrifying to me than death was loneliness, sheer loneliness. It’s the kind of loneliness that permeates your soul even when surrounded by loved ones. I knew I couldn’t live like that any longer.
Looking back on those hellish years, I’m filled with awe at how different my life is today. After my first episode of depression, post anorexia, it became clear to me that I was fully recovered, because I did not have a single desire to use any eating disorder or other self-harm behaviors to cope. It wasn’t even an option. This was partially why the depression was so bad, because I was feeling everything, for probably the first time in my life. When the depression lifted, I wanted to tell everyone who would listen just how amazing it was that I made it through on my own. I wasn’t sure if anybody could even understand the magnitude of my triumph, but I told them anyway.
I have reached a place in my recovery that is beyond what I ever thought was possible. I love myself. I love my body. Someone once explained it to me as reaching a place of discovery rather than recovery because the word recovery denotes a return to a previous state, and this is something so much better.
With my experience in mind, I want to share my top 5 helpful tips that made it possible for me:
1. Dump the scale. Having a scale anywhere in your environment is sabotage. As long as it’s there, the numbers will tempt and taunt you, even when you’re not on the damn thing. So get rid of it, sell it, smash it, give it away. Trust your treatment team to monitor your weight, because they’re the experts – not you. And while you’re at it, trash the tape measurers and any clothing that keeps you in the eating disorder mentality.
2. Fake it ’til you make it. Daily affirmations feel odd for a long time because you’re saying things out loud to your reflection that you certainly don’t believe, and you feel completely foolish doing it. But we are what we think. Somehow, my laughable “I’m-beautiful-just-as-I-am” affirmation became real after I rehearsed it long enough. Our brains are remarkably programmable. Trust me on this – I can’t explain any better how it works, but it does.
3. Take your medicine. Food is medicine. If you have an eating disorder, you’re sick. Sick people need medicine and time to heal. Medicine is given in specific dosages. Too little or too much can be harmful. Work with a nutritionist (preferably with experience in eating disorder treatment) to map out a meal plan that medicates you. You can cry and scream all you want (in fact, I encourage this), then take your medicine anyway.
4. Get creative. “If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.” This quote by Lord Byron sums it up nicely. Your eating disorder has been doing your communicating for a long time. You’ve got a lot inside of you, so get it out! Use your journal as an outlet. Write what you’re feeling, as you’re feeling it. Don’t immediately re-read your entries or try to edit them. Just let it flow. Not into writing? Try collaging. I loved doing this because I had a really hard time putting words to what I was feeling. Flip through magazines until you notice a word, an image, or even just a color that strikes you. You’ll be amazed with what you can subconsciously express.
5. Be a kid. Chances are, you’re your own worst critic and probably used to non-stop judgment from your eating disorder. That’s got to change. Know that recovery takes a long time. You’re going to stumble and fall – it’s part of the process. But when you do, think of a child you love. What’s your instinct when you see a child hurting? You’re kind, gentle, and encouraging. And kids are so resilient. It’s hard to keep them down for long. Remind yourself how hard you’re working, give yourself a hug, kiss your boo-boos and keep on keeping on.
So can you fully recover from your eating disorder? You bet you can.
© Copyright 2011 by By Josie Tuttle, MA, therapist in Beverly Hills, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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