When I first went into recovery, I knew that it was going to be a learning curve, but one of the hardest lessons I had to learn was to do with exercise. There had been so much focus on my weight and eating habits in the early stages of my recovery that exercise was anything but in the forefront. It wasn’t until about a year into my recovery that I was faced with a difficult truth: exercise isn’t always healthy.
I’m very open about my eating disorder history. Something that has resulted in people coming to me privately and saying, “So how did you finally recover?”. I’ll start off by saying that I personally don’t think that you simply recover. I feel like recovery is more of a constant continuum.
But…do I really want to recover?
Throughout the past years filled with multiple attempts at recovery, it was always this same, tenacious thought that would throw me off the path. Knowing that you need to let go versus actually letting go of your eating disorder...
Last August, I experienced my first foray into the Looking Glass Summer Camp. This past August, I was lucky enough to attend a second time. Both years I got asked a lot of questions following the week at Camp. Friends and family were eager and excited to hear about the time I had. Last year, I tried to explain in detail how incredible Camp was and why. Somehow though, after these interactions, I felt some of the magic of Camp leave me, like I had somehow explained it away. Not wanting to repeat that experience this year, when asked how Camp had been, I would pause, feel my body ground into the earth, a solidity and peace washing over my body, a smile passing over my lips, and would say, “It was wonderful”.
I’ve been on the other side of my eating disorder for a few years now, but some of the insights and realizations I have gained about why I struggled with anorexia for so long are only just beginning to become clear. Fortunately, my understanding of how and why I am able to stay strong in recovery is also increasingly apparent to me. I’d like to share with you three key lessons that I have been able to internalize and master through my recovery process, that keep me healthy, positive, and resilient in times of stress.
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.
One of the most terrifying aspects of eating disorders lies in their ability to convince those struggling that there is nothing wrong with continuing to hold on to the illness. No matter how many stories circulate of heart failure, organ damage, bone loss, and fertility problems – among a myriad of other medical complications – that terrible voice weaves its lies, promising us our case will be different.
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.