This was originally published on the blog for the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), an organization that supports individuals and families affected by eating disorders, and serves as a catalyst for prevention, cures and access to quality care.
It’s interesting that something so good for you can be downright terrifying. The early stages of ED recovery are filled with a flood of emotions and daily challenges, but also the promise of liberation and new life. Sometimes, it can seem as though the process is impossible; maybe you feel that you’re too far into your disorder or that you don’t even deserve recovery in the first place.
A huge component of the recovery process includes those early stages in which you’re blindly navigating your way through the abyss in the hopes of something better. Speaking from experience, I can say that before you step into the light, you need to take that initial leap of faith. Here are three important lessons I’ve learned from those early stages of recovery:
1. It’s scary as hell.
Recovering from an eating disorder was the most difficult thing I ever had to do. In those early stages of treatment, I became aware that I was killing myself, yet I was stuck in limbo. What did I love more: myself or my disorder? Coming to terms with my own mortality and the damage I had done to my body and mind was like staring a demon in the eye. In order to face that demon, I needed help, and that’s where my support system, my faith and my will to live came in. Recovery is scary, but most things worth fighting for are.
2. They’re the stages of greatest transformation.
That means you’re going to have to adapt…a lot. When I was just starting my own recovery, I felt like my world was being flipped upside down. I was so accustomed to the rules imposed by anorexia. Sure, my eating disorder was extremely controlling and rigid, but I felt safe in it. However, once I turned to recovery, the foundation that was my ED began to crumble rapidly beneath my feet. I had so many things that I had to change and adapt to: meal plans, meetings with therapists, my treatment program and of course, sitting with my feelings. (Note: remember that “fat” is not a feeling.)
The early stages of ED recovery entail taking everything you know and believe and challenging it with new and terrifying (yet healthy) behaviors. There were many times that I just sat in front of my meal and cried while forcing myself to eat. There were successive days of feeling uncomfortably full and gross. The months I spent gradually restoring my weight were agonizing, to say the least, but…
3. It’s worth it.
Recovery allowed me to discover the pleasure, joy and camaraderie of food. Recovery opened up my social calendar and helped me repair my friendships. Recovery meant I could go shopping for new clothes that made me feel good about my new, healthy body. Recovery gave me a body that could move and hug and sit down without feeling weak and sore. Recovery gave me a second life, one that I intend to live to the fullest.
The fact that you’ve chosen recovery is the biggest step of all, and you should be getting better for yourself first and foremost. The long path to recovery includes plenty of twists and turns, and it varies by individual, but the destination is incredible. Sure, there will still be crappy days (this happens to everyone, regardless of a history with ED). Yet, every day in recovery is another step toward a life of freedom, meaning and fullness in the best sense of the word. A recovered life is a full life: one filled with joy, peace, confidence and gratitude for another day to celebrate a healthy you.
If you need help with your recovery journey, visit the NEDA website to find resources and support groups near you or call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 800-931-2237.
Kaitlin Irwin is a recovered anorexic who spent her college years struggling to hide her illness. She hopes to use her love of creative expression to spread positivity and love to others.
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