As I listen to women in midlife struggling with eating disorders I often hear them say,
- “It is too late for me to get help.”
- “At this age, I cannot change.”
- “It is not worth the work and effort to become well.”
- “I just do not have the strength to work hard in recovery.”
- “No one understands my needs as an older woman in recovery.”
I really do understand all of those statements. I had all of those thoughts, too, as an older woman who sought treatment for my eating disorder at the age of 42 — after decades of living with its rules, rigidity, and lies.
If you are having the same thoughts above, I want to say that I see you, I hear you, and I understand you.
To the women over 40 with eating disorders
In our culture, many of us have absorbed the belief that we older women are not to look after our needs… to do so may be selfish.
We may wonder if we deserve good things. We may find ourselves caring for aging parents with ailing health. We may still have children at home. We are often the ones others lean on — in our careers, our communities, our schools and our churches. And, yes, this work is all happening at the same time.
Even though we are tired and overworked, we tell ourselves that we are too busy to ask for help. Or we feel too ashamed to ask for help. Many of us feel the weight of the work and also, possibly, years of deep hurt, loneliness, trauma or depression. We wonder, is it too late to live in freedom?
When I turned 40, my life started to unravel, and my eating disorder no longer hid in the corners of my life. My health suffered, and I was no longer able to stay connected to the life I was living. All of the shame and hurt I had tried to bury for so many years began to infect every area of my life. The eating disorder and the alcohol that I had often turned to could not hide it anymore. The depression that had been in my life from an early age became heavier. These things all whispered that perhaps I did not deserve to be here anymore.
Why I chose recovery
One day, the weight of this reality brought me face-to-face with the truth. I was with my children, listening to their laughter and excitement as they told me about their day in school. I had spent the day in bed, too tired and weak to accomplish anything that day. It was then that I understood this: if I didn’t reach out for help, I would most likely not be alive to be their mom much longer.
I let the love from my children and my love for my children fuel my willingness to ask for help even though I felt so ashamed about being an older woman needing help.
The years ahead of me did not have to be the same as the ones in the past spent in my eating disorder and addictions.
My age did not have any bearing on my worthiness
Once I said yes to recovery as a 42-year-old woman, and even though I KNEW I needed help, I still felt intense shame in treatment. I had been in treatment hospitals three times in my 20’s. The stakes seemed much higher, now, as an older woman — than when I was younger. I did not just have myself to consider and take care of — I had a family.
I soon realized that without the willingness to try to do life differently I was going to remain in the ugliness of my eating disorder, addictions, shame and depression. When I began my recovery journey, I had to be willing to consider that nothing would change without my willingness to:
- Believe I did not have to be strong all the time. I could ask for help.
- Believe that eating disorders do not just wreak havoc in younger women’s lives; many older women suffer also. I deserved recovery as an older woman.
- Rely on others to help with family responsibilities. Let go of my control.
- Consider what it means to work to become well…not just better.
- Open my heart and let others see the things that I was so afraid to show, listen to my treatment team, and know that the way I had lived for many years was not working.
As I moved tenuously ahead in my recovery journey I came to see my age as an asset, not something to be ashamed of. The very thing that almost kept me from reaching out for help turned out to be a huge benefit. Over time I began to see how being older was one of the factors that was important to my success in recovery.
Midlife in eating disorder recovery
I am passionate about sharing my recovery journey, especially with older women who are still struggling. I know well the difficulties, shame, and fear involved in reaching out. When I decided to become willing as an older woman to seek help, I found a new wholeness and an authentic, fulfilling way to live life in recovery.
Here are some of the realizations I had regarding how being “older” would serve me well in recovery:
- I had many life experiences that I could draw from. I had a wisdom that comes from age and time on this planet.
- Being a mother and a wife gave me added motivation to work hard for wellness.
- As my mind started to process things better I was able to better define my goals and my values. I had a clearer picture as an older woman of what was most important to me.
I will say that recovery has not been an easy journey. I have had my ups and downs, but it has been so worth it! I am an older woman, now 52, living with contentment, peace and joy. Shame and fear no longer call the shots in my life. Ten years ago, I could not have imagined living the life I do today. Today I am so thankful I was willing to reach out for help. I am forever grateful to the people in my life who have walked this road with me.
So, to the older women struggling: Remember that you are not alone, you deserve a fulfilling life, and if you are willing, you have help on this journey.
Recovery is possible at any age.
Kelli lives in Parker, CO, is married with two children, and loves hiking, backpacking, music, and spending time with friends. She is a member of the Recovery Ambassador Council at Eating Recovery Center, and has a passion to share with others that living a whole, fulfilling life in recovery is possible.
To read more of how Kelli's faith impacts her own eating disorder recovery check out Redemptive Recovery at Kellievans.com