By: Danielle Michaud, Project HEAL Social Media Intern
Upon contemplating Project HEAL and its mission, I realized today marks exactly a full year from the date on which I have been committed to attaining full recovery. I have been battling anorexia since early adolescence and have been receiving treatment for the past seven years. I suppose indicating an exact, finite date at which one’s recovery began is difficult. In my case – like other sufferers– the path in emerging from an eating disorder is not clear-cut or linear. Rather, it is a gray area with inevitable ups and downs, twists and turns, ebbs and flows.
Then, had I been in recovery for the past several years? What defines being in recovery…versus not? I believe a hard and fast definition is irrelevant, as opposed to the desire and willingness to take baby steps in a journey toward a better life. Regardless, I must admit I think the term “recovery” is somewhat of a misnomer if taken literally. If I were to “recover,” per se, I arguably would be returning to a prior state. I regret the time I have lost to my eating disorder, but I have no desire to return to my pre-teen state. As stressful as adulthood is, I embrace being 27 years old. So I prefer to think of the process as discovery. And part of discovery is creation (which on its own is a topic for an entirely separate post) – creating our own meanings and definitions.
Accordingly, prior to this date a year ago, I had been in a pattern of wanting change (especially in moments of crisis), only to slip back once the immediate danger dissipated – or the guilt and anxiety of eating grew too much to bear. But after a doctor’s appointment, I took a hard look at myself and where I was. Did I want to be in this place in a year? Is this what I wanted my life to be like? In short, I made a commitment to minimally do what I needed to allow my body to function normally. My eating disorder made me feel trapped, but my physical body also felt like a cage. I was so undernourished that I was too weak to do much. Outwardly, I maintained a semblance of functioning, like I always had. I went to great lengths to seem like I had it “all together” – I worked and completed coursework, but I was dragging myself through the days on fumes.
As much as I “wished” to keep a foot in both worlds, I had to face a difficult reality: Point blank, an eating disorder is incompatible with life. Did I really want to continue to further ruin my body and greatly endanger my ability to engage in any of the “mundane” activities I was taking for granted? How much self-abuse can a body take? Was it worth it to keep pushing the envelope to how far I could go before falling off the edge? At the crux, the answers were inarguable, but an eating disorder frankly does not care; it is merciless. Having an eating disorder was not my choice – as much self-reproach and “what-ifs” surrounded my lived experience of it – but I had to take ownership of my path: the seemingly simple yet daunting act of eating.
“White knuckling” would be an understatement to describe my process. I strongly advocate for people to get the treatment they need, as much support as they can, and to use whatever resources are available to them to further their recovery. However, I was determined to pull myself out of the “swamp” without a higher level of care. I was tired of being in and out of hospitals when I wanted to be in the “real world.” But moreover, I needed to prove to myself that I could get back on track without needing the intervention of a higher level of care.
I counted hours, days, because I felt so unsteady, on a tightrope with no foundation beneath me. This sense was technically untrue, since I had learned skills and gained insight from the help I had received in the past. But all of the gains I had made in developing a better understanding of myself would not make a difference alone if I did not harness all my resources in enduring the process of learning to eat again. I had to use many metaphors (because somehow, I believed at some level, that I could subsist at this weight), imagining the food feeding my cells to rebuild my body. Other people shared “gaining weight is gaining life,” which in some respects, is true. This statement did not particularly resonate with me, because a) eating disorders occur at all weights; weight alone is not indicative of a severity of an eating disorder b) eating disorders are mental in origin.
Furthermore, I could not wrap my mind around an expanding body as “gaining life.” Doing so represented most what I despised. However, I had to accept it as a condition that my body is the home for my soul, the vehicle through which I experience the world. If I destroy it, there is no turning back, no do-overs; it is the only one I have. I spent days upon weeks with that as a mantra, using every bit of (stubborn) tenacity I had to keep going as if it were the only option.
If it were the only option? It is the only real option.
The road has not been smooth or perfect, and some days I have my doubts about recovery, since I am still very much learning. At the bottom of everything, I choose to believe in the value of the process, even if the rewards are not necessarily obvious or immediate. Aside from weight, a few gains I have made: Being more open and honest with other people. Being in the moment. Laughing and meaning it. More decisiveness in making choices. The list goes on. A year later, I can more easily reframe my thinking to: is reclaiming my life worth it? And the response to that is an empathic yes.