It’s finally here! Today is my last day in treatment. This means that after today, I will officially step down from any level of eating disorder treatment and move to outpatient. I will continue to meet with my outpatient dietitian and therapist, but I will no longer spend any time in a program.
And I’m nervous as anything.
It’s sort of what going to college felt like: suddenly, I’m forced to leave behind the familiar and strike out on my own with a new beginning. I have to be really careful and accountable; this isn’t to say that I can’t ever make a mistake, but I have to make sure that I don’t start moving backwards. That’s a one-way ticket back to where I’ve come from.
It’s been a long time: virtually seven months. I’ve been through every level of treatment there is. But I’ve never been on my own. I’ve always had a community of people who are struggling with the same type of battles around me to support me and remind me that I’m not alone in what I’m going through.
I’ve always been amazed by this. Eating disorders are inherently very lonely things. You don’t want anyone else to know how much you’re struggling, and you know that letting someone in would be tantamount to asking for and admitting you need help. And you’re convinced that you can handle what you’re going through on your own. They’re also very shameful diseases. There is no pride in saying you have an eating disorder.
But to find out that there are actually others going through the same things I’m experiencing, people who can relate to the trials and tribulations I face on a daily basis, is incredible. And the idea of leaving that behind is very scary.
It’s all about realizing that I’m not in this by myself, however my eating disorder might like to make me think that I am. I have the most amazing group of supports anyone could ever ask for. You’ve been there for me since the very beginning, and you’ve encouraged me to keep moving forward when all I want to do is give in. You’ve been there when I’ve succeeded, and you’ve been there when I’ve failed. To know that I have such an incredible network of family and friends behind me is so reassuring.
However, I’m still frightened. I know that I’m much farther along physically than I am mentally. I still deal with urges to use behaviors multiple times every day. Every bite, every moment I sit with the discomfort of eating and taking recovery for all it’s worth, is a struggle. My desires to restrict and overexercise have barely been dulled at all. Of course, this is only natural. It’s been well documented that the mental piece is the last to fall into place for those recovering from an eating disorder. The physical healing is of much more immediate need. This doesn’t make this any easier to deal with, though. Sometimes I get really frustrated with myself. Why can’t you just accept yourself as you are? I ask myself. Why can’t you just let your disorder go?
I wish it were so simple. I wish I could tell everyone going through the same battles right now that it’s easy. That it’s painless. That it’s simple. But it isn’t. It is so ridiculously difficult. There are bound to be slip ups. There are bound to be times where you wonder why you’re even bothering. What’s the point? you’ll question yourself. Wouldn’t it be easier just to give in?
And maybe, yes, it would be. There is nothing about having an eating disorder that is glamorous or fun. They are destructive in every sense of the word. But they are also fulfilling in an extremely sadistic way. For me, my anorexia was a means of filling in the void that my depression and anxiety left behind. I felt broken, and I resorted to a means of attempting to heal myself that was far more harmful than it was beneficial. And now I can look back on that time and see just how sick I was. Back then, I was blind to my illness. You can’t have anorexia, I would try and convince myself. You’re fine. There’s nothing wrong.
But of course, in reality, everything was wrong. My life was spiraling out of control. That’s the worst part about eating disorders: they make you feel like you’re in control. Every time I used a behavior, I got this weird sort emotional high that made me feel like I was accomplishing something. Like I was finally doing what made me happy. Not using behaviors felt wrong. It felt scary.
It was only after I had a massive panic attack because I hadn’t had the time to go to the gym that day that I realized I truly needed help, and needed it desperately. I found myself sitting on the floor in the hallway, sobbing uncontrollably and unable to formulate a coherent sentence to explain what was wrong. It was then that it became apparent just how dangerous what I was doing was.
I wouldn’t call it an epiphany. Because it wasn’t a straight shot from there. I bounced between levels of care for a while and really grappled with behaviors. For a long time, I was stuck in this sort of destructive spiral. But one morning while I was in residential treatment, I opened my eyes and looked out the window that was across the room from my bed. It was snowing outside in the middle of April (thanks, New England).
And as was standard practice, I put on my gown and wandered into the room where they checked our vitals and our weight every morning. My hair was messy and I had no makeup on; I probably resembled a zombie more than I did a person. As I stood up, I noticed something that hadn’t happened for a long time.
My thighs brushed together.
And instead of feeling disgusting, I felt proud. Because there was an irrefutable sign that I was beating my eating disorder. One of the things that made it most difficult for me to engage in treatment was the feeling that I wasn’t going anywhere. That I was just stuck in this sort of perpetual, awful loop, where I always felt horrible. But this was different. I finally felt a ray of hope. Standing there in my little hospital johnny, shivering a little bit from the cold and wishing I could just jump back in bed and yank up the covers, I finally felt like I was making progress. I wanted this feeling to happen again. So I started doing the incredibly difficult work that was necessary to keep moving forward: eating and not exercising. Giving into recovery as it truly is meant to be.
Recovery is not easy. It is not all smiles and rainbows and sunshine.
It’s more the exact opposite. It’s torrential pouring rain and excruciating pain. It’s deciding to do the thing that hurts the most, even though every fiber of you is screaming not to.
But again, I’ll use this opportunity to share an inspirational quote with you, because they’re something that’s really helped me along on this journey. It’s my favorite quote, actually. I’ve used it before, but I’m gonna use it again because I can and because it really is amazing.
For a star to be born, one thing must happen: a gaseous nebula must collapse. So collapse. Crumble. This is not your destruction. This is your birth.”
Recovery means breaking down and surrendering yourself. It means having this blind faith that everything is eventually going to work out, even though 99.99% of the time, it seems impossible that it will.
But as I prepare to transition to outpatient and leave treatment behind for the first time in months, I know that I am doing what’s right. I want to live. I want to be happy. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life tied to my anorexia. I want to be free.
So while I’m terrified and nervous, I’m also extremely excited.
I can’t wait to see what life brings me next.