5 Keys to My Recovery from Anorexia
Knowing that I have successfully recovered and reclaimed my life from an eating disorder people often ask me how I did it.
At times I find myself reflecting on this also. I try to figure out what the key was; so that I can wrap up my experience better for myself and to share my learnings so that others may inform their own path away from that struggle.
In reality, there is no magic answer. There is no formula to be defined and repeated over by other people. Another thing is that I do not have complete clarity about my journey of recovery from anorexia or how reclaiming my life was made possible.
What I do know is that there were many little things that added up over time and some other big things that held my hope and me together enough to get through and move beyond anorexia. Many built on other things that were happening and in isolation may not have had the impact that they did. Whilst I do remember clear decision points and lightbulb moments there are so many more that now escape me.
Here are five keys that have been critical to my recovery. They are skills and ways of being that continue to evolve and continue to be nurtured even today.
1. Taking Charge of MY Recovery Journey:
For a lot of my years living with an eating disorder, even when I seemed more committed to holding on to it than fighting, I still had the desire for a life free of it. Progress was easily halted by fear and uncertainty and seeking answers external to myself.
After some time it became clear that who and what was involved in my ‘treatment’ was not what I needed. Early on it was easy to disregard these reservations and stay in the turmoil. Whilst I knew what was not working and what would not work I was not sure what would work. It was incredibly difficult to work that out and get into a position where I was willing to trust myself and advocate for that. It didn’t help that people were questioning my decisions and reasoning, assuming that I was being ‘non-compliant’ or siding with my eating disorder.
In recovery circles they say that at some point you have to take charge of your own recovery. When I did that, with no desire to justify my actions to others for their sake, things shifted. I had tried different treatment options. I researched others. I thought long and hard about what I was willing and unwilling to do and my reasoning behind it. I reflected on the ideas I had of what I thought would be helpful to me at that time. I checked-in with my husband. I used my knowledge of the helping professions and the therapy process.
I backed myself. And I took action.
2. Letting the ‘Right for Me’ People In:
Once I determined what was no longer working for me I had the task of finding people with understandings and practices that aligned with my own. They had to be willing to believe in me and have the capacity to stick it out; over time and without distraction.
After research around my core issues I found someone who online seemed to fit the bill. At the first session I was able to articulate some of what I had previously found unhelpful so that our partnership could then proceed. And the thing is, in the 18 or so months I saw that person outside of getting an understanding of my eating disorder experience and history we never spoke directly about it.
My earlier experiences had shown me that when the focus became about food and weight and eating disorder behaviours therapeutic benefit ceased. This was my ‘right for me’ person and an approach that was right for me. I know that this is not what would be best for everyone.
Once I found this ‘right for me’ person and the right approach for me I was then able to confidently drop other treatments and people knowing it was for the right reasons and best for my recovery. They were a great addition to the strategies and supports that had been put in place at home by my husband and I.
Over time more and more people have become ‘right for me’ and serve different purposes. Common to all however is their trust and belief in me, their partnership and ‘real’ approach and the space that opens up between us. They enable me to explore all aspects of myself and by validating my experiences they validate me. My opening. My vulnerability. My connection. My transformation.
3. Surrender – In All of its (Bitter)SWEET Glory:
Once the relationship was built with my ‘right for me’ people they were able to challenge and invite me into new understandings of myself and ways of being in the world. An absolute therapeutic turning point for me is one that in the therapy room did not stand out. However the ripple effects were enormous.
Whilst exploring a particular topic I was asked ‘why don’t you just surrender?’ Pleadingly. Matter of factly. At the time it didn’t make much sense. In the week following though it did and I wrote a poem titled iSurrender (click the title to read it). That was the moment that I was able to speak my past, present and future in an integrated way; with clarity and resolve. It was a release and an opening to possibility; a foundation for forging ahead.
I now have surrender in Sanskrit tattooed on my foot with the warrior pose from yoga – when I feel strong and connected to myself. A visual reminder of my surrender and the strength to continue on, with every step I take.
My pain. My grief. My survival. My decision to continue … for me.
4. Finding my Voice and Speaking my Truth:
Through recovery I have been able to find my voice and speak my truth. This came with time and has changed in the way it manifests.
Initially I had to learn to be my own advocate in regards to the care I was being provided and accessing. I then gave words to my experience so that I could make sense of my world and myself. Further along I have been able to find a voice and share my experience more broadly so that others may benefit whether through validation, knowing they are not alone or for ideas on what they could do for themselves.
I speak with integrity and authenticity. I benefit from my lived experience both personally and professionally.
5. Love & Compassion:
Love has been present throughout, and has been integral to, my recovery. It is beyond the romantic type. It is richer and deeper than that and flows further. The love that has been important is an undercurrent that exists around and within me.
Over time I have had to learn to open myself to love. To allow myself to be loved. To be loving of others in and of themselves. To open myself to liking, accepting and having compassion for myself and my life. To loving myself. Not just my experience and struggles but of me as a person. To ALL of me; mind, body and spirit. In my own right. As I am.
All of this together represents parts of my lived experience of recovery from anorexia and reclaiming my life more broadly. It is the impetus behind an emergent life. It is understanding that is in line with my framework for understanding recovery from eating disorders and can easily be applied to overcoming and reclaiming life from other struggles such as illness, trauma and loss. It is a framework that equates recovery with reclaiming life, made possible when we restore our bodies and reconnect to ourselves.