Contributor: Kira Olson, AMFT, APCC
Will I ever get better? Who am I without the eating disorder? How did you get to where you are today?
These and similar questions are commonly asked by those I mentor, clients I work with, and friends struggling with eating disorders and body image concerns. The beauty of recovery is that everyone’s journey is their own.
What worked for me might not work for you. But I do know that recovery is possible: in fact, I believe that full restoration and healing is possible. I also believe that we are all in a lifelong process of recovery from something – from compulsions, distorted thinking, emotional dysfunction, addiction, pride, selfishness, codependency.
I feel strongly that although no one chooses an eating disorder, recovery, though long and arduous, is a choice. It takes surrender, commitment, honesty, vulnerability, a willingness to “fail,” self-compassion and self-love, grace with oneself, and embracing one’s uniqueness.
“YOU Without the Dark Cloud”
Who you are without the eating disorder is YOU without the dark cloud creating a film over your experiences, without the controller that is controlling you. It’s you with the freedom to do the activities you might still be doing yet without full joy and fully being present, or to do the things you once loved and have stopped doing.
It’s experiencing all of the beautiful emotions you were designed to feel. What I’ve realized is that emotions are what make us fully human and able to experience life to the fullest – the goods, the bads, and the growth throughout.
You is your core identity – what you believe, how you think, how you feel, and your values and interests. The eating disorder has served a protective purpose, but you need it no longer. Instead, it can be used as a warning signal, much like the oil light in your car, reminding you that something in life is out of balance and that you’re due for a checkup.
In a way, the eating disorder’s remnants are a gift – for you and for others who you can help and encourage.
I’ll never forget the moment my parents intervened by admitting me to a residential program at 15 years old. I had become a shell of the person I once knew and in fact had become a completely unrecognizable being, characterized by anger, deceit, negative thinking, guilt, shame, and loneliness.
I was depressed and hopeless, regularly contemplating how to end my life and the nightmare I was living. When the medical staff strongly advised me to use a feeding tube, I realized I had two options – to continue down my path, which had led to chaos and despair, or to choose the unknown.
Though the latter involved giving up control, trusting others and God, exploring emotions, and discovering myself, the unknown, though frightening, was the most logical path. I committed to eating, to intensive therapy, and to walk forward one step at a time.
“It is a Starting Point”
Another reality is that residential treatment is not a quick fix: it is a starting point. My parents and I expected that I would return home with tools for coping and weight restored, ready to resume normal life. Confronted with former surroundings with a lack of proper transitional programming in place, I relapsed.
Relapse, or whatever one chooses to call it, was one of the most important parts of my recovery. I learned that I could do what I needed to without 24/7 supervision, that God was more powerful than the eating disorder, and that I could actively choose to use the skills and tools I’d been taught to battle for my life.
I chose to embrace my identity in the Lord, rather than in appearance, accomplishments, relationships, or possessions, and to treat my body as God’s creation, wonderfully made and dearly loved. I moved out of labeling or evaluating where I was at on the recovery journey or what “normal eating” looked like.
Over the years, I have developed a partnership with my body, owning my choices, joyfully listening to hunger and fullness signals, eating sometimes for pleasure and sometimes for energy, and using movement as a means of gratitude, worship, and self-care.
I enjoy not having my size, behaviors, or feelings define me and instead, focusing energy and attention on loving God, loving others, and living fully. These are the traits and activities I want to make my legacy.
Hold on to hope. Recovery is real and possible.
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” –Isaiah 41:10
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 a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on August 16, 2018
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com