Stories of Recovery
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
How it all began: I have a sincere interest in eating disorders, body image and self-confidence-boosting – because I suffered for almost 30 years with anorexia, bulimia and, in later years, serious alcohol abuse.
Looking back, while it seemed my eating-disorder behaviors began when I was about 22, it all really started, that is, many of my thoughts and feelings that preceded those behaviors, when I was very young. I can recall feeling unsatisfactory, ill developed, clumsy and generally uncertain about myself for as far back as I can remember. When I would lay me down to sleep at night, I would think about how much better everything would be for me if I could just be prettier, skinnier, smarter, nicer and more willing to help out around the house. I think I tried even as a child to perfect myself, and I seemed to consistently fail.
When I was graduating from BGSU, I was pregnant with the first of my 3 daughters and so carefully watched what I ate that I gained very little weight! Once I gave birth I was at a lower weight than I’d been before getting pregnant. After my daughter was born I got many compliments regarding the great shape I was in, especially for having just given birth – and I loved that, wanted more if it and worked hard to get it and maintain it. I exercised increasingly and continued monitoring my diet, became even slimmer and got in “better” shape physically – while getting in worse shape mentally. I kept thinking if I just lose more and look better, I will feel and look better, everything will be better! Those thoughts were always with me, always guiding my behavior. The eating disorder had taken over my life – it WAS my life, it became what I did, who I was and dictated my every move.
A divorce and remarriage, and 2 more daughters later I was deeply entrenched in my illness, aware that I did indeed have a serious problem becoming a vague reality. My oldest daughter had, on several occasions, “discovered” me in the act of purging and was horrified by my behavior and fearful for my health. She told me on several occasions since those days that she feared I would die. For whatever reason, the degree of seriousness of my condition did not sink in. I tried therapy, I talked and read and made superficial efforts and promises to myself and others that I would stop – but I didn’t realize that without a strong commitment on my part and the right kind of help, I would be unable to stop.
When did I decide to get help? The decision to make a change, to get healthy and to allow the chance for a better life comes differently to everyone. And you won’t be able to make that decision, and follow through toward your goal of healing, until you are ready. For me, it took many years of deterioration in relationships, in awareness of the world around me, in my physical and mental capacity to cope and an auto accident in my daughter’s car and salvation from a cop to avoid a DWI. Before I made the life-changing statement to myself: “I can’t live like this anymore.”
What finally made me take that step? I had been seeing Dr. Bowling for several months and we had talked about what kind treatment I would probably need and one day I woke up with the sun streaming in the bathroom window, me looking at my ragged self in the mirror and I made the life-changing statement to my reflection: “I can’t live like this anymore”. I had finally come to the point where I knew I needed to give treatment a committed effort. So, with Dr. Bowling’s help to get me into an in-patient program, and with the help of a wonderful staff at The Renfrew Center in Philadelphia, PA, I have remained in recovery since July 12 2006.
How I define recovery: Spiritually, I am at peace with myself and about my purpose in life; I feel there is a power or presence that is stronger than I am, watching over me and guiding me to live in such a way that my life has meaning, that my suffering during the eating disorder had to happen in order to make me the person I am becoming. I have hope that my life will continue to get better, that I will continue to stay in recovery and that if I do fail in my efforts at times, it does not mean that I am a failure.
Mentally, I am much more confident in my everyday activities, in facing people, in talking about myself and sharing my thoughts and feelings with others – I know I am just as valuable as anyone else around me. I feel clear-headed and have little trouble concentrating or making decisions. My brain is no longer filled with thoughts and worries regarding food; I eat my meals because I am hungry and need nourishment and then go on about the business of living.
Emotionally, I am more stable – I am less concerned with comments regarding my appearance or weight, and if I do hear some that are “negative” I do not allow them to define who I am. I am more conscientious and present when I am with other people, and more interested in what they have to say. I am more “in the moment” rather than several steps ahead, thinking about moving on to the next comment, the next activity. I pay attention to my feelings and allow myself to experience them. If I am sad or confused or angry, I feel that and deal with it in a constructive way: writing, taking a walk, and removing myself from the uncomfortable situation until I am calm and over the worst of it. I am better able to empathize with other people when they are feeling things, because I have felt them too.
Physically, I will be in good health – I will be well nourished and feeling good – full of energy and able to sleep well. I will recognize when I am hungry and stop eating when I am full. I will be able to tell when I am feeling the need to control my eating because I am struggling with an emotional issue. I will exercise to keep fit but I will pay attention to my body and avoid pushing past my comfortable limits. I will accept that as I age I will be less toned and less well-proportioned than I have been or am now, and that I will have a few more pains and that I will be somewhat less able to perform some physical activities. I will accept that the way my body looks and feels does not define who I am or my value as a person; but I will do all I can to keep it healthy because my body is the house of my soul.
Because I lived with an eating disorder for so long and have been able to recover, I feel there is hope for those of you who are looking for a way out of the dark tunnel of your suffering. You just have to want it bad enough. You have to want it for YOU, not for your family or friends or your boyfriend, not for your doctor or therapist. If you aren’t doing it, seeking help because YOU want a better life, the help won’t help. Because if you want to get better bad enough, you have to face some pretty uncomfortable emotions, you have to learn to feel things that you may never have felt or allowed yourself to feel, before – and that is going to be really hard. In the past when sad or scary or confusing thoughts crept in I could just push them away with food or no food, I could hide in my bottle of wine. When you commit to recovery you can’t hide – you have to face the feelings and learn new ways of managing them when they get to be too much for you.
One year after I returned from my inpatient treatment facility I have a support group in my area that I run along with my therapist. We both agreed that we needed something for people near where I live, as the need to travel a great distance can be a significant deterrent to seeking and continuing treatment. Our group is called COPE – Coping and Overcoming Problematic Eating. We welcome anyone with a concern about food, body image and self-confidence issues. Please visit our website at: