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I've had a few good moments with blogging. The first time someone shared my blog on Facebook was pretty cool. The first time I got more than 1,000 blog hits in a week was really exciting. But the best blogging moment I've ever had was after I wrote Breadth: Thoughts on Being Big, about my eating disorder and recovery. I got a message on Facebook from someone else in recovery, saying that my post encouraged her to start counseling after she had been avoiding it for months. That was an honor I don't think I'll ever forget.
Her words come back to me every once in a while. I remember what it was like to fear therapy so much that I would do almost anything to avoid it. When people talk about recovery, they never talk about how hard it is. Eating disorder narratives make it sound like this: you realized you had a problem, you started therapy, and then everything was fine. They don't mention how harrowing, and discouraging, and sometimes impossible it feels; especially when you're not even sure you want to get better. When life with an eating disorder is all you've known for the last few years, it becomes comforting. It can give you a feeling of power and safety, even when, in reality, you're out of control.
The worst part is when you finally do realize that you want to get better, and then you're told that it'll never really be over. That you'll always be in recovery. That this will always be a part of you.
But even if that's true, I want you to know that it gets easier. Today I'm writing about recovery for those of you who have been there, or are still in the thick of it, fighting a battle that sometimes feels hopeless. I'm sharing my experience because I want you to know that even though it's difficult, it's worth it. It may feel impossible, but it does get better. The burden becomes lighter. And one day, recovery and self-love will feel natural. I promise.
Even if, in the beginning…
Recovery is lonely.
In the first week after I was diagnosed, I took five days off school and spent most of my time at home. I wanted to lean on my friends, but I didn't know how to explain what I was going through. I didn't know anyone who had been in my shoes, so I had no one to talk to. I felt isolated and alone.
Recovery is uncomfortable.
From one day to the next, my parents found out that their little girl had a problem. Though their actions came from a place of love, I constantly felt like I was being evaluated and checked-in on, just when I was at my lowest and most vulnerable.
Recovery is painful.
Hashing out your thoughts and feelings with a therapist, nutritionist, friend, or parent can be exhausting and excruciating. Especially in the beginning, it only ever made me feel worse, not better. In hindsight, those first few months were like the first few minutes of cleaning your house: it gets a lot messier before it gets clean again.
Recovery is exhausting.
In addition to school, work, family, and friends, I had a slew of new appointments to add to my schedule: doctors, therapists, nutritionists. Weekly or monthly check-ins. When it began, I felt so overwhelmed, as though my life, time, and choices weren't my own anymore.
Recovery is a relief.
Eventually, it was such a relief to share my burden with others, whether they knew first-hand what I was going through or not. And even if they felt overwhelming, my appointments let me know that I was on track to getting better. I knew I was loved and in good hands.
Recovery is powerful.
When I was at my lowest point, not eating made me feel strong. Eventually, taking care of myself is what made me feel powerful. I learned to find strength in making the choices that were best for me.
Recovery is joyful.
As the little milestones started to pass – milestones like being able to eat a meal without guilt – I started to find small amounts of joy in the journey. I learned to appreciate the little things, like being able to talk openly about my experience, or go to the beach with a friend, or eat oatmeal in the morning. Those small steps were making big changes in my life.
Recovery is liberating!
After the first year or so, I finally started to feel free. Free from my eating disorder and the guilt, restrictions, and self-loathing that came with it. I rediscovered joy and beauty in the world, and in myself.
Wherever you are in your journey, I want you to know that-
Recovery is possible.
I've been where you are. I've lied to my therapist because I didn't want to get better. I've wondered whether all of my effort and hard work was making any difference. I've wondered whether it was worth it. And I've come out of the other end, with love and patience for myself.
And most of all,
Recovery is worth it!
I never imagined, four years ago, that I could be where I am now. I never imagined that I would feel comfortable being photographed in a bathing suit, or stepping into strapless evening gown, or changing clothes front of someone else.
I never imagined I would feel comfortable saying – on the internet, of all places! – that I love and accept myself the way I am. But I do. I do all these things, and I do them with joy and an appreciation for my body and the things I've overcome. Recovery may sometimes be lonely, uncomfortable, painful, and exhausting, but it is also so, so worth it. It has made my world brighter.
It has made me a stronger and more compassionate person.
It has taught me how to live again.
For inspirational examples of what recovery means to different people, please check out the Recovery Is project.
If you think you or a friend may suffer from an eating disorder, please seek help. You can start at http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/information-referral-helpline