What is recovery?
If you have ever suffered or supported someone who has an eating disorder, chances are you’ve asked yourself this question – over and over again.
I really didn't want to talk about this today.
In fact, most days I don't want to talk about this. I'm tired, frustrated, and quite frankly, bored talking about this. But this is a conversation that really needs to happen – because we live in a culture that perpetually shames, abuses, and harasses the bodies that inhabit it. And I can't afford to be sick and tired of talking about it, because the stakes are too high and we still have a lot of work to do together.
We don’t all work in an office that has a water cooler, but it’s a guarantee that these “water cooler conversations” are still taking place. These are the conversations you and your colleagues engage in when you’re taking a break from your work-related tasks. They take place in the lunchroom, your cubicles, at the printer, in meeting rooms, and the trip to grab your afternoon caffeine pick-me-up. They’re everywhere and they’re hard to avoid.
Calories have been in the news.
As of January 1st 2017, many major restaurant chains in Ontario are now required to post calorie counts beside their menu items, and perhaps not surprisingly, everyone seems to have an opinion about that.
At this year’s Emmys, one of host Jimmy Kimmel’s big jokes was to hand out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to the audience. Sounds great, right? Except that it was accompanied with a quick quip, "I know these award shows are long and you haven't eaten since Labor Day." The joke being that it is common knowledge that celebrities do not eat. Even if we look past the dangerous misconception of how eating disorders operate (i.e. the idea that re-feeding along will solve what is a complex psychological, physical, and emotional disorder), even if we forgive Kimmel’s delivery, jokes like this are cheap and unoriginal.
Navigating the road to recovery from an eating disorder is no easy path, never mind taking into account the world around us. Daily we are exposed to images that could be potentially triggering to someone who has experience within the realm of eating disorders, and no other industry is quite as rampant as the fitness and diet world.
In the depths of my eating disorder, I couldn’t imagine life without it. It was my lifeline, my constant companion. The first program I entered was on outpatient one at the request of my doctor and I reluctantly attended to make the people in my life happy. I said what I had to, to get through appointments and then I went home to my behaviours. My interest in recovering didn’t exist. 10 years later, with a deep desire to recover, I was still playing the same game. Attending appointments, crying about why nothing ever changed, and going home to my behaviours. My passive approach to recovery left me stuck, unable to move forward but too afraid to face the unknown.
For the past ten months, I’ve been a counsellor-intern at a college counselling center. To say it was an “education” would be an understatement. Although I’d been attending the same institution as a postgrad student for a number of years, I wasn’t really engaged in student life. It was only once I started hearing the stories and struggles of my on-campus undergraduate clients that I gained terrific (sometimes terrifying) insight into what life outside of my office looked like.
June 2nd was the first ever World Eating Disorders Action Day. On one hand, I want to be excited that such an important issue now has its own day, but on the other hand, I cannot bring myself to celebrate quite yet. Although this day will hopefully mean more activism, the fact that eating disorders have become a big enough problem to warrant their own day also means that we are not where we need to be.
A young girl places herself strategically in front of the mirror, sideways, so that the incoming light accentuates the hollow crevices between her ribs. Her frail figure barely stays upright as she sucks deep into her diaphragm, and each protruding segment of her rib cage reminds you of the human skeletal model that hung in front of your biology classroom — limp and lifeless.
I can tell you this right now. My eating disorder never looked like this.