It is no secret that lately I’ve really been struggling. I’m about six months into recovery, and where I’m at physically is a completely different place from where I’m at mentally. This is the most unfortunate truth of recovery: it’s easy enough (haha, nothing about recovery is easy) to undergo the process of weight restoration, but it’s another thing entirely to feel good about doing so. There have been a few moments where I’ve actually felt hungry and not been scared shitless about it and the occasional time where I’m somewhat able to enjoy what I’m eating instead of chewing it like a robot. But for the most part, I dread eating.
Part of why I’m having so much trouble is because I feel like I’m not moving forwards or towards better things anymore. I used to believe that weight restoration was the hardest part of recovery. Surely doing what seemed to realize my worst fears would be the most difficult thing, right?
Not so, as I’ve said numerous times. Weight maintenance is a thousand times more difficult. I feel like I’m stuck in the middle of the ocean with no sign of land anywhere around me. There’s no safety net to catch me. I just have to sit with having eaten and try not to panic about uneven weight distribution or bloating or any of the other innumerable uncomfortable things about recovery.
According to the copious amounts of research I’ve done, the median recovery time is about a year and a half. That’s a long year away, and that’s if I follow a statistical average to the letter. It’s far more likely that it will end up taking longer, especially considering how sick I was.
But I have made progress. I make progress every time I pick food up and so much as contemplate eating it. I make progress every time I go out to eat and scan the menu for something that will somewhat fit into my exchanges. I make progress when I have challenge foods like pizza or ice cream or chocolate. I make progress when I do something as little as wake up in the morning and decide to get out of bed.
So to prove to myself that my progress is real, I’m going to take you on a trip through my journey through recovery thus far. Warning: if you find images of sick people, or people at an unhealthy weight, to be triggering, please do not scroll any further.
Let’s start at the very beginning of my journey.
The first time I realized that I might have a problem was in December 2015.
Just a month later, I would find myself being rushed into an ambulance for the first of many times as my weight and blood pressure plummeted to dangerously low levels. My organs were starting to fail, yet I was consumed with the idea of eating less and less, even though I knew that this would result in the inevitability of death.
My face looks skeletal and emaciated. My arms look like you could snap them in half like twigs. I gave my phone to one of the very caring and understanding hospital nurses and asked her to take a picture. At this point in my illness, I was incapable of seeing how sick I was. Everyone else could see it as plainly as if it were written in bright, glaring letters that I carried around on a sign.
I’ll tell you a secret: sometimes I like the way this girl looks. And then I remind myself of the truth. She is wearing a heart monitor because the staff is so concerned about her orthostasis. Her arms still look as though you could break them in half with barely any effort. Her face is sunken and sallow.
But she is starting to fight. She is starting to tell her eating disorder that it will not defeat her. It will not kill her.
This is when things really started to change. I decided that I was sick of being sick, to put it plain and simply. I was done with letting my eating disorder rule my life. Sure, I was going to make mistakes. Sure, I was going to struggle. But I was going to try my damndest at recovery, no matter how hard it was going to be. I felt angry and defiant. How dare my eating disorder have tried to take my life away from me? How dare I have let it? I wanted to not only survive, but to thrive.
My first visit back home. I felt like a stranger in my own house. You can see the weight gain here, but my smile also looks more real than it does even just a month ago. Visiting home empowered me. I wanted to leave residential behind and be back in my own bed surrounded by the familiarity of what I had grown up with. At this point, it had been several months since I had last been in Bedford. I wanted to not only come back, but stay for good.
This is one of my favorite pictures. The girl in this photo looks confident and collected. Again, you can see the weight gain, but there are so many other intangible things that I have attained by virtue of trying my hardest at recovery. The biggest would be my freedom. I finally transitioned from residential down to PHP and then shortly after, IOP. This meant that much less of my time was spent in eating disorder care, which was a blessing and a curse. Sometimes I still longed to be that sick, fragile girl again. But I was able to stand up against that desire and commit to doing the best I could with what I had.
“No bad vibes” has become one of my mottos, along with “Just do it” (my friends from treatment will have memories of me saying “Nike slogan the shit out of recovery”). Despite the fact that my eyebrows are uneven (oh well haha), my smile looks much more assured and real. At this point, I’m managing to stay virtually 100% compliant and free of any other behaviors. There are a few slip ups here and there, but as I regain physical strength, I also, slowly but surely, begin to gain mental strength.
Fireworks! This picture was taken on the Fourth of July, which I spent with family. I never would have been able to do something like this just a few months ago. I have a real smirk going on in this picture, but look at how much more light and life there is in my eyes.
I saved the best one for last. Here I’m seen posing with something that reduced me to tears when I was in the hospital: ice cream. I still remember the first time they placed it in front of me at one of many dinners spent sitting out in the hallway with eagle-eyed staff watching my every move. They had to take it off the table for me to stop being hysterical, and I sobbed my way through every mouthful. I have come so far, and still have so much left to do.
Recovery is not easy. It is bar none the hardest thing I have ever done. It requires strength I didn’t know I had. But I do. And so do you. You can do anything you set your mind to doing. It’s just one step at a time. Eventually, you will look back along the path and realize just how far you’ve traveled down the road to recovery.