At age 13, I decided I wanted to eat less at parties, which turned into a diet, and that spiraled quickly and dangerously into anorexia. For much of the next decade, I shunned my anorexia diagnosis and the idea of “recovery.”
Due to undiagnosed OCD and an invalidating environment, I had spent my entire life feeling shame for who I was and how I acted. My new eating disorder label felt like a scarlet A. It felt like a visible, shameful sign of my inadequacy. Despite accessibility to treatment during the years that followed, I did not find lasting recovery.
When I was 21, I was in a place of dangerous relapse once again. I was a month away from college graduation and in the process of applying to several graduate school programs.
“Your whole life is ahead of you. Don’t waste it being sick!” I heard variants of this message around this time. However, in the midst of this “exciting” time, I was miserable. I felt undesirable, unlovable, and worthless.
I was told to recover for my family, friends, or education, but that wasn’t enough for me. I was 21 and hopeless about my future, no matter what high GRE scores or promising graduate school choices would indicate.
Less than a month before I was set to graduate summa cum laude from my undergraduate studies, I entered residential treatment after being (involuntarily) medically withdrawn from school.
As much as I hated my school administration for their decision, I was relieved in some way, and now I realize that decision might have saved my life.
Before I left for treatment, a family member said about my faith, which has always been a life source for me, “If God would have worked for you, he would have worked for you by now.”
I received messages of being a chronic, hopeless, and frustrating patient not only by family members but also treatment professionals.
My Time in Treatment
In residential treatment this time around, I chose something different. Although I still didn’t feel motivated or happy about my life, I decided chose to lean into the discomfort of making good food choices and act as if I could get better.
As my weight restoration took place, I discussed my deep shame and emotional repercussions of my anxiety. Moreover, for the first time in my life, I felt accepted and loved for who I was and not who I believed I was supposed to be.
I felt unconditionally accepted in my most raw, vulnerable moments. Internalizing this love was a turning place in my life and my eating disorder recovery.
My recovery journey over the last eight years has not been static, as I have had slips and struggled over the years.
Physical recovery was a necessary precursor to delving into the deeper emotional wounds of trauma I carried.
I can’t point to a day when I realized I was past my eating disorder. The process of moving on came in seasons and waves.
Early on in my recovery journey, I felt the loss of my eating disorder, and in the last few years, I’ve felt the painful loss of my eating disorder recovery identity.
Imagining My Eating Disorder Recovery
In this time, I processed through what it looks like to be in eating disorder recovery without having this experience define my entire life.
Another long process has been letting love into my life. Feeling seen and understood at treatment felt like water in a desert. I met my now best friend Janine in treatment at Remuda in 2009.
After we returned to our respective countries (she is Canadian), our friendship deepened. We experienced many high’s and low’s of life together, and it was a no-brainer to have her serve as my maid of honor last September in my wedding.
My husband has been another abundant blessing only possible in recovery, as back in my days of sickness, I never would have allowed such a gentle, accepting, loving person into my life.
It took years of trauma work and recovery for me to internalize the ability to choose a healthy, life-giving relationship over an unstable, invalidating one.
When I got married, I wanted to honor my eating disorder history by having a symbol of eating disorder recovery in my wedding pictures, and in my case this was Ensure. Over the years, I have probably kept Ensure in business.
Although I would not have wished my eating disorder on my greatest enemy, the journey toward wholeness through imperfection, love, and hope that resulted is not something I would ever change, either.
Charlotte Sandy is a social worker, Christian, blogger, wife, and dog mom. She struggled with an eating disorder starting at age 13 but has been in recovery for years. In her professional life, she works in a managed care setting. In her personal time, she enjoys her native state of Michigan, friends, family, writing, serving, church, and reading. By writing about eating disorders/ mental health and participating in eating disorder advocacy, she hopes to show others recovery and healing are possible.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published on November 27, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 27, 2017.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com