03 Oct Stepping away from my eating disorder and into recovery
This blog is about recovery. I will not share the details of what living with an eating disorder was like or how it played out in my life. I do not want anyone to compare, feel invalidated, not “sick enough” etc. My intention in writing this is to let you know that I did something I never thought was possible; I started my journey of recovery from an eating disorder.
My goal is to share what it’s like to surrender to treatment and get your life back.
My eating disorder started when I was 17. I received treatment over the years which helped me to learn how to live life with an eating disorder. Living with an eating disorder in a “semi-recovered” state is like swimming in open waters during a thunder storm. You know there is a chance that you can get hit by lightening, but the thought of swimming in beautiful waters with rain falling on you outweighs the risk. Living in a semi-recovered state is taking that chance everyday. You know that you can regress at any point, anything can trigger you to want to go deeper into your eating disorder, but you do it anyways because you convince yourself that you won’t get hit by lightening and that it feels so good to live with the parts of the eating disorder that you have held on to.
Then the lightening hits you and you hit rock bottom.
You go from being “semi-recovered” (which I was for 15 years) to diving deeper into your eating disorder. You lose control and you give your power away to the voice in your head which is your eating disorder. It convinces you that it knows what’s best for you and that you NEED it. It convinces you that it is your identity. You lose yourself, again, in your eating disorder. I had very little awareness of this process as it was happening.
I was a compulsive exerciser. I spent many hours at the gym, running on my own, or practicing yoga. The culture we live in today sees that behaviour as admirable, strong, powerful. This helped to keep the denial going. I would tell myself that I don’t have an eating disorder, I am living an extremely healthy life. I would feel so strong after my workouts. I was seeking that “high” I would get from pushing myself beyond my limits. I believed I was so capable and so free. At the same time that I was convincing myself I was in the best shape of my life, my friends were worried about me, my weight was dropping, my husband was feeling helpless, my children were acting out, my parents were scared, and my mind was foggy.
In September 2018, after working as a psychotherapist with patients with anxiety and eating disorders for over 10 years, I started to accept that I too had an eating disorder.
I started to see my own therapist who specialized in eating disorders and after 1 month she said, “I am watching you get worse and worse every week, you need to get more intensive treatment.” She referred me to the Douglas Day Hospital program.
At this point, I had put my private practice on hold but it always remained a big motivator for recovery. Working with someone who has recovered from an eating disorder will show my clients that recovery is possible. The therapists I have met along the way who have recovered from an eating disorder have deeply touched my soul. If they could learn how to disobey the eating disorder, than so could I.
I decided to put all of my energy into recovery at the Douglas. The days were draining and I couldn’t stay up past 8pm. I was sure that I was doing everything right. I was eating what they told me to eat, and I was being honest with my recovery – or so I thought. Eating disorders make you into someone you don’t want to be.
My eating disorder’s values and my values were so different. I valued honesty, love, connection, family – yet the eating disorder valued manipulation, secrets, isolation and being thin.
So, as soon as I would leave the Douglas at the end of the day, I would exercise. On the weekends, I would restrict. I was not ready to fully surrender.
The team at the Douglas are a group of very caring people and it was very hard for all of us when they told me that I had to leave the program because I was not yet ready. I remember feeling like I failed at recovery. They told me that I would know when I was ready to recover. This ended up being the first step of my recovery and I wanted to give myself a chance to keep trying.
I started to work with a fabulous team at BACA while I continued to work with the Douglas outpatient team, and it was agreed that I needed inpatient treatment as I was unable to stop working out on my own.
In May 2019, after lots of anxiety in leaving my 5 children, I agreed to go to a hospital in Ontario. It was because of my team here, my family, my friends, and my husband that I was able to leave my life behind to create the life I really wanted for myself. My friends took over being mom to my kids and I had to explain to my kids that I am going away to learn how to take better care of myself.
It was a nightmare AND the best decision I ever made for myself.
I spent 3 months in this hospital that became like my home. The nurses and staff became my angels. The patients became my family. We spent 24 hours together and encouraged each other, loved each other, and supported each other. These friendships that were made will stay with me forever.
Here I was, a mother of 5, a psychotherapist, an athlete, and a wife in a hospital to treat an eating disorder that I still wasn’t fully convinced I had! With each day that went by I started to get more distance from the eating disorder. I started to see that that there was the eating disorder’s voice and then there was my voice and I had a choice everyday of which voice I would listen to. Some days, I made the wrong choice. However, those days became fewer as time went on.
There were many days that I wanted to leave. I missed my kids, I missed my husband, I missed my eating disorder. What I learned to do on those days was to not glorify the eating disorder. It was easy to remember all the “good” that the eating disorder gave me and let the eating disorder convince me that I needed it back. I had to fight really hard on those days to remind myself that full recovery was possible and that true strength wasn’t restricting and over exercising but it was NOT engaging in behaviours and NOT listening to my eating disorder.
One very special nurse told me “nothing that loves you would ever hurt you” and I remind myself of those words often. When you are deep into an eating disorder, you feel like it’s your best friend. When there is distance from it, you realize it never gave you what you really needed.
My current treatment team keeps reminding me that recovery is not a linear process and comes with a lot of fear and ambivalence. There will be mistakes, there will be slips, and there will be many opportunities to learn. What I know for sure is that I want full recovery and I believe that I can attain that with patience and a lot of self love and I know that the team believes it too.
A quote that I have embraced is “sometimes the fear won’t go away so you’ll just have to do it afraid.” Change doesn’t come from staying comfortable. It comes from taking risks, facing exposures, and having a lot of self compassion and gentleness during the process. It comes from knowing when to reach out when you need support and knowing when to reach inwards when you need to connect and trust yourself.
Freedom, strength, feeling powerful etc are now words that I use to describe myself in recovery. They were the same words I used to describe myself during my years with anorexia but now they have true meaning. Showing up every day to face your fears and to live a life that is aligned with YOUR values is the start of recovery. Believing in yourself and loving yourself enough to persevere is the journey.