3 Essential Foundations of My Recovery
By Brooke Farrington, MSW, LCSW, CEDS-S
When I was asked to write an article on “three essential steps to my recovery,” it was daunting. There were so many critical steps to my healing, how could I narrow down the hardest struggle I have faced? As I began to explore the elements of my recovery, I asked myself what was most valuable in my journey. I realized that there were three foundations in my life that were monumental in my healing and have led me to be the person I am today.
Foundation #1: FAITH
“Once an eating disorder, always an eating disorder.” Those words ring clear in my mind more than a decade later. As a graduate student who had recently felt God calling me to pursue a path in the field of eating disorders, I was interviewing eating disorder specialists for an assignment about a career in the field of our choice. After a decade of battling an eating disorder and compulsive exercise, I approached the interview from the perspective of a recovered practitioner and was surprised by the feedback I received. Would I forever be identified as the girl with an eating disorder? After all, I had been fully recovered for nearly 4 years. As a therapist in training, I felt defined by the disorder, not as a woman that defeated the beast that held me captive much of my young life. How could sufferers have faith in themselves if others did not? That is when I fully experienced the purpose of my own battle, to share my faith in all the possibilities.
While faith has always been a part of my life, it is not easy. According to Merriam-Webster, faith is defined as “firm belief in something for which there is no proof”. Being someone who asks a hundred and one questions until I feel I understand something completely, this is no easy feat. My brilliant husband often reminds me that I do not have to understand everything. Perhaps it is not mine to understand.
And here is the kicker: Faith is not about knowing anything. It is about hope, belief, and surrender. It is about stepping into the unknown and believing in something bigger than you can imagine. In my recovery, I turned to my faith in God to break the dangerous cycle of placing my worth in the eating disorder and the external world. God blessed me with a family that taught me unconditional love. He used others to show me His love, that I was lovable and enough. In the depths of my eating disorder, I borrowed faith from those who loved me. My faith in God, while different than faith in human beings, paved the way to faith in others and acceptance of their faith in me. This, in turn, helped me develop faith in myself.
In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy found herself far away from home with no knowledge of how to return. She had to trust Glenda the Good Witch and others on the journey. Those with eating disorders have become so distant from their true selves that they may not be able to see the way home. Clients often share a lot of fear of what they might encounter there. Dorothy did not know what to expect on the journey to the Emerald City, let alone what she would encounter when she arrived. She had to take a leap of faith that there was something beyond the dark scary woods. And without the journey into the unknown, she would not have believed she had the power within herself to return to Kansas.
The same was true for me in recovery. I had originally planned to become a play therapist. I had no intention of working with eating disorders when I began pursuing a career as a therapist. God did not plant that seed until I was ready. I had to be open to seeing that there was purpose beyond the suffering and be committed to cultivating it.
I am grateful for my eating disorder. God had a plan for my life beyond what I could have seen without it. In the depths of my eating disorder and the path to recovery, He molded me for a greater purpose. My faith in God gave me the strength to have faith in others and the faith I had to develop in myself to heal. My faith has made me the person I am today.
Foundation #2: GRACE
I started college still fully engaged in compulsive exercise disguised as a committed college dancer. Perfectionism has been a judgmental companion most of my life. A “perfect” grace was something to which one aspired on the dance floor. However, giving myself true grace was a foreign concept.
I had to learn to stop taking life – and myself – so seriously. Laughter is restorative. Until I was able to laugh at myself, the reigns of the eating disorder still had power. Giving myself the grace to make mistakes, learn from them, and find the humor instead of burying myself in shame in the process was imperative. That is freedom.
I was 18 when my older sister got married. I had been doing behavioral recovery and was moving into a new body. I had to have my dress altered just weeks before the ceremony to make room for this new physique. I was very self-conscious and uncomfortable in my skin. As I made my way to the stage of the sanctuary of the church, surrounded by picturesque décor and hundreds of sets of eyes, I fell up the stairs. Yes, the maid of honor all but face planted at the altar just as the bride was preparing to walk down the aisle.
I oh so elegantly picked myself up along with my floor length dress to take the final step up the stairs. Yes, I neglected to pick up my dress and tripped on it. While I possessed this valuable knowledge, that day it escaped me. My cheeks turned red from embarrassment. But then an amazing thing happened. Instead of going to shame and self-criticism about my body and overall worth, I laughed. I dared to make eye contact with a few observers, smiled, shrugged, and thought, “note to self: when walking upstairs in a floor length gown, pick up said gown so you do not wipe out in front of hundreds of people.” An important life lesson learned. I was told by those who dared to speak of the incident that I fell “so gracefully.”
I am still a perfectionist and have learned to embrace the tenacity that comes with it. I have had to learn how to turn the judgement of perfectionism into perseverance and a strive for excellence. Aristotle said, “The ideal man bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances.” I choose to continue a lifelong determination for learning and growth, striving to be the best version of myself.
Foundation #3: PASSION
When I started taking dance courses in college, my soul work began. My professor pushed me physically, technically, emotionally, and spiritually. She taught me what it truly meant to be authentic and express myself through movement and to use my passion with purpose. Dance became a metaphor for life. When life became a dance, freedom was inevitable. I found passion again, the passion that the eating disorder had hijacked for so many years. My passion for dance became my passion for learning, for connection, for life.
Being uncomfortable was a key to my healing. If you have ever had an operation, you know that healing can be painful. Without discomfort, I truly believe growth cannot occur. Pushing outside my comfort zone in movement and expression allowed me to accept discomfort in other areas of my life. During choreography class one day, my professor gave each of us a specific challenge to explore in movement. She was pushing us outside of our individual safety zones. My challenge was to not use my arms, but to focus on the energy in my core.
This was the most vulnerable I had ever felt. I felt raw. I had to move from my core, my heart, my soul. It was not graceful. I cried. I stomped. I thrashed. I convulsed. I fell. And I was real. According to Martha Graham, “movement never lies. It is a barometer telling the state of the soul’s weather to all who can read it.” All the hidden pain, sadness, fear, and anger, the heaviness I had carried since I was a child, began to be released. It was not pretty. But it was beautiful.
This experience taught me the truths I strive to instill in my clients. I learned that I could express the darkness I had been carrying and still be accepted and loved. I learned I could work through the pain instead of burying it deep inside. I learned I did not have to hide anymore. I learned how to heal.
Through faith, grace, and passion, I am growing to fulfill my purpose in this world. These foundations were not merely monumental in my recovery but have become fundamental in my life. In my rawness, insecurities, and sensitivity, I am enough. And so are you.
About the author:
Brooke Farrington MSW, LCSW, CEDS-S is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Her practice, Farrington Specialty Counseling Inc., specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, compulsive exercise, and body image issues for males and females of all ages. Farrington Specialty Counseling offers outpatient, group, and intensive outpatient (IOP) levels of care. Prior to opening her practice, Brooke worked at a Residential/Inpatient facility where she directed the outpatient and intensive outpatient programs and led dance and movement groups in the residential program. She speaks frequently in Northeast Indiana as an eating disorder expert and has spoken on the national level. As well as being a therapist, Brooke also teaches dance. She is a professional member of the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (iaedp™) and the Academy of Eating Disorders (AED). She is chair of iaedp™’s Connection, Outreach, and Mentoring Committee and an iaedp™ Approved Supervisor. She was awarded iaedp™’s Member of the Year in 2016.
Aristotle, Ross, W. D., & Brown, L. (2009). The Nicomachean ethics. Oxford: Oxford
Faith (n.d.) In Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/faith
Graham, M. (1991). Blood Memory. New York: Washington Square Press.