I thought long and hard about what I wanted to share on my blog for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. And I didn’t think there could be anything more powerful than sharing a story of recovery from one of my clients. Enjoy.
Committing to recovery was a difficult decision to make. Not because I didn’t want recovery, but because it required of me a gigantic leap of faith that if I pushed myself through all the physical and emotional discomfort, the rewards would be worth the pain. I am not a risk-taker, and I have never felt comfortable staring down “the unknown.” In my ambivalence, I came face to face with the recovery paradox: I didn’t want to commit to recovery unless I had some reassurance that I would actually be happier. But, the only way to have access to the feelings of happiness was to honestly try out recovery…and to eat.
Food and hunger had been my enemies for close to a decade. How, I wondered, could they ever help me? The answer lay rooted in biology: if I ate enough, I gained weight. If I gained weight, I thought more clearly. If I thought more clearly, I could examine the real issues (because we know that eating disorders are never just about food!). And, dealing with the real issues often led to genuine feelings of confidence and competence as I realized I could actually handle life. Food was no longer what led me to my eating disorder—it was my ticket out of it.
As I ate and became physically healthy, I did some digging around what I felt were my key issues. Chief among them was my social anxiety: I had always felt out of step with my peers, somehow just a little bit different in a way I couldn’t name. I had been completely overwhelmed by the sexually charged social atmosphere in college, and my solution was to retreat—straight into the arms of anorexia. This was an amazingly effective short-term solution, as it took me right out of the social and sexual games. After all, nothing screams, “Hands off!” more than a starving female body. The downside was that when I was sick, I had no brainpower left to examine the roots of my social discomfort. This was work that could only be done at a healthy weight in recovery. Eating allowed me to reach a point at which I could think complex thoughts and truly unpack this issue, and what I found was that I didn’t have a “problem,” after all…I just hadn’t allowed myself to realize the truth: that I was a lesbian. This realization was a major turning point for me. Although it was challenging to process, having this understanding about myself opened the doors for me to begin living a more self-accepting, authentic life.
Today, recovery means being honest about my appetites—my hungers for intimacy, spirituality, professional fulfillment, and—yes—for food. I’ve discovered that although I am the quintessential introvert, I also have a deep desire to feel positively connected to other people. As I’m growing more comfortable with my sexuality, I’ve been experiencing for the first time what it feels like to be attracted to other people in a way that is exciting and energizing. Sometimes, all this intimacy business can get overwhelming, and I remember why I retreated from this aspect of life so long ago. But even when I feel that old fear tugging at me, I have never once regretted my decision to trade in my eating disorder in favor of fully engaging in the business of living.
I will not sit here and tell you that recovery is easy. But, I will tell you with conviction that recovery is worth it. In retrospect, I know I have gone through a lot of struggle to get where I am today. I also know that I would never want to give back what I have gained through this process. I used to go to sleep every night feeling as though it would have been a blessing not to wake up in the morning. Now, when I wake up each day, I know that the true blessing is to have another chance to participate in the human experience—the joyous parts for sure, but also the tough parts…because even having negative feelings is better than having no feelings at all.