I vividly remember the days leading up to my first treatment stay at Eating Recovery Center. I flew to Denver with my mom and my luggage didn’t arrive with me. Panic ensued.
I was about to surrender to a treatment center for my eating disorder, and the one thing that I felt like I would be able to control — the things that I had brought with me in my suitcase — went missing. I was already frightened and overwhelmed about the difficult days ahead — and my missing luggage was a tipping point.
I didn’t know what to expect when I walked through the doors of Eating Recovery Center, but I certainly didn’t understand the magnitude of the transformative experience I was about to have.
In retrospect, I think my missing luggage helped me with my pre-treatment jitters – as silly as it sounds, it gave me something tangential to worry about during a time when I felt like my world was spiraling downwards. If I had the opportunity to talk to that panicked girl standing at baggage claim in Denver International Airport, this is what I’d tell her about the days, weeks, months, and years ahead:
1. Recovery cannot be done perfectly.
I entered treatment with the expectation that I was going to be the perfect patient. I wish I hadn’t held myself to that standard for as long as I did, because there is no such thing as “doing recovery correctly.” Recovery is a messy process, but you will learn so much about yourself throughout it. Recovery will allow you to see your world through an entirely different, and much clearer, lens at the end of it all.
2. Self-care is not selfish. It is necessary.
Eating disorder treatment is exhausting. Sometimes it feels like all you are doing is eating and going to group therapy and that takes A LOT of emotional energy. Give yourself some space to do things that you enjoy: journaling, crafts, coloring, reading, or even watching TV. And please know that you are not being lazy. You are not being unproductive. You are taking care of yourself so that you can continue the exhausting path of recovery. It is okay to rest and take it easy. Self-care is essential.
3. There will be good days ahead - but there will be hard ones, too.
Recovery from an eating disorder doesn’t mean that life is without stressors and problems. Recovery helps you learn how to make it through the hard days using healthier coping mechanisms, so you can embrace and enjoy the good days ahead. I still use some of the tools that I learned in treatment when I’m in a stressful situation at work or am feeling anxious about something in my life. Stress and anxiety are going to appear from time to time. Practice healthy coping skills so that you have them available when you need them.
4. Recovery is not about the food.
I thought that I would be “better” once I conquered my fear foods and could follow my meal plan. However, once the refeeding process happens, there is still so much healing to be had. I was afraid, for a long time, to allow a therapist to actually know what I was thinking. I thought that, somehow, sharing those yucky thoughts about myself and my world would make them more true. I was so wrong! Allowing myself to explore my emotions in a safe space and to talk about what I was suppressing through restriction and exercise is what catapulted me forward in my recovery process.
5. Recovery is a commitment that you must make each day.
I thought that entering treatment for the first time was going to be the biggest commitment that I ever made in my recovery. While that was certainly an important step, I quickly learned that recovery was a commitment that I was going to have to make every day, forever — regardless of what the eating disorder voice was saying. The eating disorder is not going to like what your treatment team is asking you to do at times – your mind may become a battlefield between your healthy voice and the eating disorder voice. Fight as hard as you can to make the commitment to recovery each day, each hour, each minute, each second.
6. Everybody’s recovery looks different.
You will meet some incredible, brave, and resilient people while in treatment. These people will actually play a key role in helping you make it through each day, because they can understand what you are going through. However, try not to allow yourself to get caught up in comparing your recovery or treatment to anyone else’s. Recovery is unique to each person. Support other patients and be partners in recovery, but don’t lose sight of the main goal – to put your recovery first and get well.
7. Relapse does not mean you have failed.
Don’t fear relapse! It may happen, it may not. If it does, that is just another step on your path and means that you have more to learn. The most important thing is picking yourself back up and doing the next right thing. If you slip up, that’s okay. Don’t punish yourself, but rather, forgive yourself and make the next step towards recovery.
Don't give up
When my luggage went missing, again, a few years later, it put a smile on my face; life comes full circle and thankfully, now, I know that recovery is absolutely possible.
It is not easy to admit that the eating disorder has taken full control over your mind and actions, and that you need help finding yourself again. Entering treatment for an eating disorder is one of the most courageous things someone will ever do.
And I believe that you can do this.
Anna Z. is a member of the Recovery Ambassador Council at Eating Recovery Center. Throughout her recovery, she has learned that her voice and speaking her truth is an incredibly powerful tool. She hopes her story will provide a message of hope to those struggling and help to continue education and awareness of eating disorders and recovery.