By: Jacquie Rangel, Project HEAL Miami Co-Founder
Not everyone who has battled an eating disorder cares to remain an active advocate for recovery in their community. This is okay; some people choose to put that piece of their lives behind them and continue down another path of life.
In my case, after finding myself fully recovered, I chose to give back to the community that saved my life; the people who believe in the concept of full recovery. I got involved with Project HEAL, an organization that was introduced to me while in treatment. In 2011 I co-founded the Miami Chapter of Project HEAL, and my involvement has taken off since. This work appeals to me on a personal and professional level; I had wanted to pursue a career in psychology for many years now, long before the time I developed my eating disorder. While my time spent fighting my ED led me to question that dream, I have decided to see it through because I believe my interest boils down to is my innate passion for helping others. So, in my own version of recovery, I choose to help others Help to Eat, Accept, and Live.
Because of my involvement in the organization, I am confronted regularly by individuals in the midst of their own struggle. They are in awe of the distance I explain I’ve put between myself and my ED, much like I remember being in awe for founder, Kristina’s independent identity from her ED. I’ve even encountered people who tell me I’m perfect now, and that they want to be where I am one day. It’s true, I do feel very removed by the disease that once fueled every fiber of my being, and I have become a new person with interests, likes, genuine relationships, and hobbies (something my anorexia at one time made impossible). I would not, however, consider myself perfect by any means, nor would I encourage anyone to attempt to mimic the new life I’ve created for myself.
One point I want to make to these people is that my day-to-day may not be as perfect as they may think. Perfection is a standard we aim to disown in fighting an eating disorder. Why we should expect the same, impossible of the already recovered? While I don’t wake up consumed by the all-encompassing thoughts of food, exercise, and my body that are characterized by eating disorders, some of the thoughts do cross my mind from time to time. My eating disorder, just as anyone else’s, is the master of disguise; it will slip into my day in any way it can. The difference is that now, these thoughts are not thoroughly intertwined with my self-worth and do not dictate my actions. For example, if a friend makes a comment about the nutritional content of ‘x’ food item (something I already know because my ED made me into a fountain of nutritional knowledge) I may consider this for a moment or two; I may even find myself irritated. I will not, however, deprive myself of it because “I’m not good enough” to eat what I want. Instead, I resort to mindfulness and ask myself if I’m even hungry. Yes? Well is this the item that my body is asking for in this moment? If it is, awesome! I am entitled to item ‘x’ just as much as the next person. If not, cool- I’ll have it some other time when my body wants it. Simply put: Yes, I think about food, exercise, and how I look in my clothes or from absurd angles no one besides myself considers. I do not, however, live as a slave to these thoughts. Dissatisfaction I may experience from wearing a certain outfit won’t keep me from living my everyday life. I’ll either regroup my thoughts, catch my breath, and focus on something outside of my immediate self, or *gasp* change my shirt (once) and walk out the door.
My second point is, what works for me in recovery isn’t at all guaranteed to work for everyone else. I like yoga… A lot of people don’t! In fact, I know individuals in recovery who’s ED’s are strongly triggered by yoga. Some people like crossfit and some people garden or walk their dogs for daily movement. It’s a matter of trial and error in figuring out what brings the most balance to your life. Recovery is all about getting a new identity; your OWN identity. That means not only one that is separate from your ED, but special and particular to you and only you. It’s such a blessing to find the joy and liberty in being your authentic self, take advantage!
Life in recovery isn’t perpetual smiles, satisfaction and bliss… That’s another side of the spectrum. Life in recovery is the full range, but reasonable ebb and flow of emotion. THAT’S what I encourage people to strive for: Go out, define your own version of HEALed, and rock on with your recovered selves!