I have heard it all before- “an eating disorder is a life-long sentence”. “It is something you will always have to deal with.” “You will always have to fight it.”
I used to believe it. Dread it. In treatment, there were women well into their 40s and 50s, who battled an ED for most of their lives. Seeing them there really frightened me. Would I be back in another 10 years? Will I always have the voices in my head, waiting to come out at just the right time?
I’ve talked to people who say that once you have an eating disorder, you will always be “in recovery”, never “recovered.” And honestly, I get where this mindset comes from. Once I reached a healthy weight, I was still battling the voices every. single. day. Years after leaving treatment, I still had to practice calming myself before going to an event where I didn’t know what kind of food would be served.
But then Jenni Shaefer, author of best selling novel “Life With Ed” visited my university, the University of South Carolina, to speak to us. She was there promoting her latest novel, “Goodbye Ed, Hello Me.” She shared her story with us and I felt connected to her on many levels.
She said something in her presentation, however, that really threw me. In the midst of her presentation, she stated “I am recovered.” Wait, what? How is that even possible? If this is a life long sentence, how did she get out of it? She claimed that she decided to choose recovery and in her book, she encouraged me to do them same.
The thing about staying “in recovery” is that my ED remained my identity. Even if it didn’t have control of me- it was still my illness, my weakness. I could blame disappointments and challenges that felt too hard on it. It was the reason I still equated my worth with my weight. It was the reason I let myself say no to challenging foods. Staying in recovery allowed me to hang on to my ED, even if it was just with one little finger that desperately clung to it.
Being recovered, on the other hand, meant that I could not identify with my ED-related behaviors. It meant that I wouldn’t have an excuse to not be a normal eater. It meant that I would have to be 100% me without the identity of a recovering anorexic hanging above me. It meant that I would have to completely surrendered myself to God. It meant that my eating disorder was a part of my past. It meant I would have to be brave and make big changes. And as I left Jenni’s presentation, I knew that she had something I really wanted.
Now, a few years later, I will proudly say “I am recovered.”
I don’t panic when a food that is less healthy is on the menu for my dinner. I don’t find an excuse to not eat it either.
I don’t feel triggered when I see someone restricting. Instead, I feel sad that they are still in chains.
I am angry for the way eating disorders destroy the lives of so many- not envious that it keeps them “in control”.
I eat what I want when I want. Most the time it is healthy, sometimes it is not.
I see myself as more than a survivor- I see myself as a capable woman who wants to accomplish many things- things that don’t require me to remain a size 0.
The hardest thing, I believe about choosing to be “recovered” was rediscovering the me without the ED. Jenni’s book title “Goodbye Ed, Hello Me,” is perfect. It was challenging sorting through what was the genuine me and what was the eating disorder, but it was so worth it.
I’m sharing this because I want anyone else who suffers from an ED to know that you can CHOOSE to be recovered. It is hard, but I believe in you. The world wants to know YOU- the you underneath the layers of what your ED has made you believe.
I’m linking up with Amanda today for Thinking Out Loud Thursday.