1. No matter how much time has passed since you were in the trenches of your sickness, some things will still be hard.
There will be foods you still can’t stomach, as tiny waves of deep-seated fear and aversion close your throat to them. Loud, sudden noises will shock your system as they bring you back to the nights when your heart monitor sounded an alarm, assuming your too-slowed heartbeats meant you were dead. You will still catch yourself reflexively glancing towards that hospital as you drive past it on the highway, seeking out the window to the room you were confined to. The day after your birthday will simultaneously be the best and the worst day of the year, as it reminds you just how triumphantly far you have come, while also recalling how low you were able to sink into that darkness, when you almost gave into it.
These are the aftershocks, the unshakeable things that imprint themselves on you for the rest of your life. It will get easier as the years go on, but do not be ashamed if some things never quite leave you, if you still can’t bring yourself to put butter on toast, or if you still cry sometimes on that day after your birthday. You can lose your resolve, your determination, and your mind holding onto the things that you think make you weak, still a prisoner of this disease. You have already conquered so much, though; and those triumphs, no matter how small, are worth celebrating a hundred times over the inconsequential things you believe make you weak.
2. There is no catch-all, textbook cure to this disease.
There is no traditional sense of finality in escaping your eating disorder. Every day that you do not give in or give up is a victory in and of itself. Every day that you refuse to listen to that ensnaring voice in your head is one part of the kaleidoscopic cure that is recovery. And if you slip, that is part of your journey too. Mistakes are many; relapses are common. It is all a part of the journey. Don’t let the bastard of the eating disorder get you down.
3. In that same vein, there is no clear-cut, predetermined, direct road to recovery.
There is no one holding a sign reading, “This Way To Health and Freedom and Recovery!” Everyone’s journey is different, every story has different plot twists, and every person has their own means of embracing recovery. Just as there is no cure, there is no step-by-step guide to outline a recovery. Recovery is a messy, confusing road to wander. You create the story as you go, forging your manuscript through the stumbles, the easy days, the pitfalls, and the triumphs. Your recovery is your own and no two stories will ever be the same.
4. You have to want recovery for yourself.
Let me say that again: you have to want recovery for yourself. You can’t want it for your never ending stream of doctors, to passive-aggressively shuck your ever-watchful parents off your back, or to do it because impatient societal standards say that you’re taking “too long” to get better, which only serves to augment the guilt you feel in being seen as a burden. It took me six years after my initial hospitalization to finally reach that place where I no longer went through the motions of what was expected of me as a “recovered” anorexic, where I passively acted in what were seen as “healthy behaviors.” I spent too many years numbly detached from my recovery, while still slyly engaging in those practices that nearly killed me. I didn’t want it for myself. Hell, I didn’t want recovery at all.
I wanted the idea of what it stood for: the ease of being left alone; of seeming normal; of escaping the incessant watching and judging and whispering. I was still stuck in that place where nourishment is perceived as weakness, and frailty becomes a sign of strength. It is easy to stay there if you have no real desire to leave, other than the doctors forcibly dragging your kicking and screaming self to a healthy BMI. There was no seen-the-light, come-to-Jesus turning point for me; I simply got tired. I got tired of lying, of hiding, of being perpetually starved, of living a half sort of life. For me, it was a matter of wondering if I wanted to keep living my life enslaved by this thing that was destroying me, or finally, finally choosing to find a way of freeing myself from it. It may not be an easy choice to make. It’s usually the hardest choice you’ll ever have to make. But nonetheless, it’s a choice. You have to fight for it. And you have to fight for it yourself.
5. Your eating disorder does not define who you are.
But nevertheless, it has made you into the person you are. It is simultaneously empowering and heartbreaking when you realize this.
6. You will find that some people will never truly understand what it is to have an eating disorder, and even less so what it means to recover from one.
They are lucky, those whose lives haven’t been touched by this disease. They are lucky, but in that most blissful of ignorance, they lack a true sense of empathy. They won’t understand why you still can’t easily talk about your time in the hospital, choking on the memories when asked about them, even almost ten years later. They won’t know any better when innocently asking why you can’t just ‘get over it’, as if this is a break up or a bruised ego. They wonder aloud why you still can’t find the will to eat, as you sit there, screaming internally with a thousand reasons explaining why. They will never know the depth and the destruction that an eating disorder can really have on a life — the ironic, all-consuming nature of this disease that is defined by its emptiness. Wrapped in their ignorant innocence, though, they are just another hurdle to overcome, an admittedly oblivious adversary you will encounter in this war of yours. Use them as a means of consistently pushing through your own doubts that they seem to represent. Show them just what it does mean to recover, and to recover on your own terms.
7. The past is the past.
It is hard not to dwell there at first, to not slip back into the tantalizing tricks of the trade, to give into what seems like the relief of relapse. You will come to recognize the past as a building block, as the means of measuring just how far you have come from beyond those days and months and years. Let it serve as a lesson to be learned, not a lifestyle to be relived.
8. Recovery is not easy.
That is the one truth that holds universal in the upside down and warped realm of eating disorders. It is not a simple thing to come back from the brink of nearly killing yourself, of rewriting survival instincts, and painstakingly rewiring your own brain. It isn’t easy, but it is worth it. As so many have said before, nothing that is worth having is come by easily — least of all the reclamation of your own life. Recovery may be hard, but it can never be said that anyone regrets recovering. As heartrending and painful and torturous as it can seem some days, recovery is always worth it. You are worth recovery.
9. At the very beginning of this terrifying journey, you will think that you can’t possibly survive without your eating disorder, this deceptively alluring monster that you have somehow mistaken for salvation.
You will think leaving the world you created for yourself in this sickness is impossible, that you can’t abandon this way of life that only makes you starve and bleed and hurt. I promise you, as so many other survivors also would, that you can. You can do it. Do it for the satisfaction of both making it through, and making it beyond this devastating disease. You can do it for the sake of being able to look back, nine years to the day you nearly lost your life to this disease, and to then look forward to the rest of the life you have yet to live. Don’t let this destroy you — turn around and destroy the disease itself instead. You can do it; you can choose this; you can survive this.