EDAW 2015: I Had No Idea

I am so pleased to share with you another phenomenal post written by Rachel. She speaks to the Eating Disorder Awareness Week theme “I Had No Idea.” In this entry she shares both the hard and hopeful realities of eating disorder recovery with incredible insight and resilience. I know you’ll enjoy it. Rachel is an elementary educator who has been in recovery from her eating disorder for 10 years. She draws strength from spirituality and writes a blog incorporating Judaism and themes of recovery. If you like what you read here, I highly recommend you read more of Rachel’s inspiring words on her blog.

When I was a senior in college, almost eleven years ago, I finally decided that after struggling alone with an eating disorder for nearly four years, I was ready to get help.  So I took the fall semester off from school, packed up my dorm room, and drove directly to a residential treatment facility where I was immediately admitted.  I had never had any prior treatment, and there were no intermediate steps–no partial program, no individual therapy–just, BAM:  from nothing, to three months of a 24/7 therapeutic program.

It’s safe to say that when I arrived at residential, I had no idea on what kind of process I was embarking.

First and foremost, I had no idea that recovery would take so long.  It’s probably good that I didn’t know, because staring down the trajectory of my actual recovery process would have been overwhelming at the very beginning.  It has taken me years of work to get where I am today, and the truth is that I want to go even farther…which means, more work.  In the beginning, my focus was all on food and weight gain; no one told me that even once I had that under control, I’d still spend years wrestling with the actual issues underlying my anorexia.  But, working on recovery no longer feels like a discrete skill–it’s not really about food and body anymore; instead, it just feels like working on life, like getting myself to a place where I feel more confident, satisfied, and connected. And, that takes a long time.

I also had no idea that my recovery trajectory would be so…circuitous.  Sure, I often heard that “recovery wasn’t linear,” but I sort of assumed that I would be the exception to that rule.  After all, I was used to achieving goals in a linear fashion:  I studied, and I got A’s; I applied to graduate school, and I was accepted; I worked to become a teacher, and I got my first teaching job.  Linear successes, all of them.  Recovery was not like that.  I made progress and then I relapsed; I’d discharge from a treatment program only to be back in it a few months later.  At first, I viewed every regression as a “failure,” and as someone who had never really failed at anything, I found it devastating because I was supposed to be better than that. It helped me to remember that even when I’d had a setback, I was never back at square one.     And the truth is, a non-linear path to recovery is the norm for a reason:  it’s the hardest work you’ll ever do. 

Finally, I had no idea that working on recovery could add so much positivity to my life.  For a long time, it just felt hard.  But from where I now stand, I am able to see that the process of going through recovery has made me a better version of myself than I ever would have been otherwise.  From working on recovery, I’ve learned how to enjoy relaxation, I am more able to feel compassion for myself and for others, and I’ve become more available to make meaningful connections with other people.  I’ve discovered a lot about myself and this deeper understanding of who I am has enabled me to interact with the world in a more authentic way.  I’m also able to view the constant societal chatter about food, exercise, and body for what it is–just noise–rather than let it inform decisions that I make about my own life.  None of those gains has been easily won, but they’ve all been 100% worth it.  

In the end, recovery has been harder and taken longer than I ever thought it would–but it has also been more worth it.  For those of you reading this who are still in the thick of it–stay the course!  Dig in, grit your teeth, and don’t give up.  When the dust settles, you’ll look back and realize that all the time you invested went toward the most worthy cause imaginable:  a better, more fulfilling life for you!