Eating Disorder Awareness Week
I didn’t know eating disorder awareness week existed until I went to treatment. Treatment changed me, opened me up to ideas, movements, advocacy, and hope. It showed me the army of people fighting on the other side of this disease, which is an illness I convinced myself for many years I didn’t have. This week gives me, as well as all those who have struggled or know someone who has struggled with an eating disorder, to share their stories. If there is anything I have learned in my fight for recovery, it’s that sharing my story is my greatest weapon against darkness because it gives me the opportunity to connect. With connection comes community and with community comes healing.
This eating disorder awareness week, I am writing my first post on a beach in Cambodia. I am on a remote island off the southern coast that doesn’t have roads, ATM’s, or modern conveniences Westerners are used to – like hot water or toilet paper. Last night I was reading a memoir about all the pain the Cambodian people have endured from the genocide that ravaged the country in the 1970-80’s. Then suddenly I got sick, like really sick. I was on the floor shaking, cold, clammy, with a twisting stomach. I blamed it on the water, yellow with rust that I brushed my teeth in earlier, but part of me wondered if it the sickness was not brought on by empathy. Empathy and heartbreak for a people so broken, hurt, and traumatized. I look out at the beautiful crystal clear waters and can hardly conceptualize the juxtaposition between the beauty and the horror of the people. It makes me feel sick.
I feel the same way when I think about mental illness. In using Thailand’s slogan, the two are “same, same, but different”. I don’t know genocide. I don’t know war. I don’t know outward inflicted starvation. I do, however, know epidemics. I do know internal war. I do know self-inflicted starvation. People all over the world are experiences hardships that tear them down and bring them towards the brink of all they know.
Nevertheless, it’s eating disorder awareness week and I feel obligated to reflect on my own journey, but this year I don’t exactly want to. Instead, I want to reflect on recovery. Recovery is not following a meal plan to a tee, or exercising the exact amount allotted to you by a dietitian. It is not eating one slice of cake on your birthday or adding cream one time to your coffee. These are all steps towards recovery because each small step leads us in the direction of recovery. But, at the end of the day this isn’t recovery. I feel as if I have the right to say this because I used to believe these actions equaled recovery. Maybe they do for some, but I have come to uncover a whole different meaning of the word.
New year’s eve of 2017 I made a choice. I drove myself home to Chicago, all alone in a car, confused and heartbroken, but determined to never allow my eating disorder to overtake my life again. Now, I have had moments of recovery epiphanies where I am elated at the idea of getting better and moving forward towards health, but this was different. This was a tired, beat, and surrendering moment. It was a lone decision, a quiet determination made by a very emotionally stricken girl. Yet, here I am over a year later and I can say with confidence that my eating disorder was not a part of the last year and two months. There were hard days, but never more than that. Emotions were tumultuous and I was sad and confused at the beginning, but recovery was what I decided to achieve so recovery was where I was headed.
Generally people who have eating disorders are incredibly intelligent and determined. We are stubborn and strong-willed, detail oriented, and fiercely compassionate. All of these traits, when channeled in the right direction, can powerfully propel us towards complete freedom – if we are only to switch the goal from shrinking to freedom.
In the past year I have accomplished little in societies eyes, but that’s not the point. The point is how much I have accomplished internally, how much happiness and freedom have I been able to channel. So as I think back on all my adventures of scuba diving, yoga teacher training, country hoping, dating, falling in love, and eating good food, I’d say that I am in recovery. I have reached a point that I never dreamed was possible. I mean I had coffee with icing in it at breakfast today and Pringles and Oreos for breakfast yesterday – if that says anything.