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Say It Brave

Reflections on Four Years in Recovery

By Colleen Werner
My eating disorder is largely a thing of the past. I’ve been able to turn the traits that once fueled my eating disorder, like attention to detail, determination, and persistence, into positive things that fuel my happiness. There are certainly still days where I struggle with body image like any human, but it no longer consumes my life. Being able to turn my pain into power and a passion for helping others lights up my soul.

This September will mark four years since I started recovering from my eating disorder.

While my days deep in the throes of my disorder certainly contributed to who I am and are part of my story, that’s not what I want to share with you today. The internet is filled with eating disorder “war stories,” and while I commend folx who share those stories for having the bravery to be so vulnerable, I don’t need to justify my sickness or share the intricacies of my eating disorder struggle to share with you the power of recovery.

Through recovery, I’ve truly been able to redefine myself and reclaim my life. Prior to recovery, my relationship with food and my body filled up so much of my headspace that it was hard to have many hobbies or close relationships. My life pretty much consisted of school, dance and my eating disorder.

Early in my recovery, I had so much shame around my eating disorder. I viewed it as a choice instead of what it really was – a mental illness and a coping mechanism. My eating disorder was trying to protect me from things like my trauma, anxiety and depression – and that’s why its grips were dug so deeply. It wasn’t until I learned to work through that shame and show myself self-compassion that I was able to really move forward in my recovery. When there were slips or lapses, I was able to notice it with love and care instead of berating myself.

With time, my eating disorder grew weaker and allowed me to see glimpses of the woman underneath. I was doing Dialectical Behavior Therapy with my therapist, and one of my ongoing homework assignments was accumulating positives by doing something enjoyable each day – preferably something new. I started to learn hand lettering and watercolor. I also reclaimed the love for writing that I had from when I was a little girl but had let go to the wayside while I was struggling with my eating disorder. I realized how much more interesting and dynamic my life was when it wasn’t only focused on one thing.

It was also in recovery that I realized I wanted to become a therapist. The clinicians in my life helped me find my own innate capacity for healing, and I hoped to be able to provide that for someone else someday. I’m now in my second year of graduate school getting my master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and I’m starting my journey as a clinician as a master’s-level therapy intern at a private practice specializing in eating disorders, trauma, anxiety and depression. It’s so incredibly rewarding and fills me with pride to know that I’ll have the honor of walking alongside brave recovery warriors in their healing.

My eating disorder is largely a thing of the past. I’ve been able to turn the traits that once fueled my eating disorder, like attention to detail, determination, and persistence, into positive things that fuel my happiness. There are certainly still days where I struggle with body image like any human, but it no longer consumes my life. Being able to turn my pain into power and a passion for helping others lights up my soul.

If you’re reading this and are struggling with an eating disorder, I want you to know that you’re not alone, and I’m holding so much hope for you and your recovery – even if you can’t hold it for yourself right now. I also urge you not to compare my journey to yours; everyone is so unique, and no matter how long you’ve been on this road, you can get better and reclaim your life.

Here’s to continuing to celebrate freedom from my eating disorder and all of the light and learning it brings my way.

 

Colleen Werner
Written by

Colleen Werner

Colleen Werner is a dancer, writer, public speaker and therapist-in-training based in Nashville, Tennessee. Her personal experiences with an eating disorder, anxiety, depression and PTSD led her to want to turn her struggles around to both inspire and help others with similar struggles.

Colleen is also passionate about social justice and the Health At Every Size paradigm, and she aspires to create an eating disorder treatment program for dancers. Her work has been published by HuffPost, The Mighty, Mental Health America, Project HEAL, the National Eating Disorders Association, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Follow Colleen Werner on Instagram.

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