Three Essential Steps to My Recovery
By Miriam BC
I have been recovered from anorexia nervosa for over ten years. I say “recovered” and not “in recovery” because, contrary to the pervasive ethos that I repeatedly encountered while in treatment during my teenage years, true and complete recovery is possible. Recovery does not have to be a lifetime struggle or a forever process.
While in the throes of my eating disorder, I often wondered whether the imperfect vision of recovery that was preached to me by countless doctors and therapists was really worth it—why strive for a purgatorial state with no true endpoint to the suffering? But one doctor eventually told me that a different concept of recovery was possible: I could be free from my eating disorder, not merely asymptomatic while fighting a daily battle. I reached that point some time between 2008 and 2009, and today, when I look back at the time of my life prior to realizing complete recovery, it is like looking at a different person. I don’t recognize the thought patterns, behaviors, and pathologies because they are no longer a part of me. I am recovered, and I firmly believe that you can be too.
When asked to delineate three essential steps to my recovery, I initially struggled with the concept. Recovery is complex and personal, and for me, there was no “aha” moment—it was an ongoing process, until it simply wasn’t anymore. Still, in reflecting on that period of my life, the three essential steps that stand out most to me are: (1) accepting the pain and difficulty of the recovery process; (2) appreciating the power of my body; and (3) a desire to embrace the life that I could and would lead without an eating disorder.
- Accepting the Pain of Recovery
The recovery process is hard, especially in the beginning. Eating disorders are coping mechanisms for the most painful emotions that all human beings face: anxiety, depression, loneliness, self-doubt, troubled relationships. For me, focusing on food, exercise, and weight covered up these painful feelings, granting me the false belief that if I was skinny enough, I would magically become happy and the other emotions would just float away. During my first inpatient treatment, I was terrified of the feelings that flooded over me once I was forced to eat, gain weight, and engage in intensive therapy. It was only when I acknowledged to myself that the recovery process would be emotionally draining and painful that I began to view it as a challenge: something that I was strong enough to take on, rather than run away from by going back to my eating disorder. Most importantly, once I believed that this painful road had an endpoint—that one day, the daily struggle would cease—engaging in the difficult work to reach that point seemed worth it.
- Appreciating My Body
When I first entered inpatient treatment, I went from being obsessed with the scale—weighing myself dozens of times a day—to being terrified of it. I never looked at the number as it crept up. I didn’t think I deserved to take up space. A turning point in my recovery was when I began to look at the number on the scale and process the meaning of having a larger, healthier body. In doing so, I found a feminist rage at a culture which expects women to take up less space than men, physically, audibly, and professionally. Why should the ideal woman take up so little space? Why do other people try to control women’s bodies to the point that they resort to eating disorders as an apparent means to reclaim control? I allowed myself to feel that rage, as I grew toward an appreciation of my body itself.
I also learned to appreciate my body by seeing myself as an athlete again. I had grown up spending countless hours on the playground, running through the streets, and playing every sport possible. At the time of my eating disorder, I was a competitive high school soccer player and middle distance runner. My eating disorder had taken those passions away from me. Once I reached a healthy weight and was permitted to run again, I appreciated my body for what it could do: take a beating on the pavement and still bounce back for me the next morning run; develop muscles in the places that serve it best on the roads and trails; cover 26.2 miles on foot. The human body—especially the female body—is an amazing machine that I eventually stopped taking for granted.
- Embracing an Eating Disorder-Free Life
The most important step in my recovery was embracing the life I would lead without an eating disorder. My eating disorder developed in high school, in part, out of a fear of growing up and facing the perils of young adulthood; anorexia operated to keep me both physically and emotionally childlike. Ironically, though treatment was essential to my recovery, the bizarre world of hospitals and treatment centers also operated to prevent me from experiencing the real adult life that I feared. I finally went from recovering to recovered when I went off to college and began to recognize that real life was not as scary as I had made it out to be in my mind. I had a supportive group of friends, a community of my own miles away from the anxieties of home and high school, and a growing self-confidence that I could live on my own and do this adulthood thing. Trying out real life and facing it head-on, rather than dwelling in the alternate universe of my eating disorder or the eating disorder treatment world was what truly let me break free of my eating disorder.
I am a stronger, more self-reflective and emotionally intelligent person because of my eating disorder recovery. I am proud of my recovery and consider it the greatest personal achievement of my life. Complete and true recovery is possible, and I urge all those currently suffering to believe in it.
About the author:
Miriam is a lawyer currently living in Portland, ME with her husband, Dan, and her four year old super-mutt, Bowie. She graduated from Amherst College in 2011 and Yale Law School in 2018, where she studied civil rights and housing law, the intersection of feminism, race, reproductive justice, and body image, and criminal justice reform. She has been recovered for over 10 years. When not seeking justice in the courts, you can find her running marathons, hiking with Dan and Bowie, vigorously following local and national politics, and attempting to visit all the breweries in the greater Portland area.