Emily Weinig is the founder and president of Recovery Is Now and the author of the recovery workbook, Recovery Planner, available at www.recoveryisnow.com. In her free time, Emily loves spending time with friends, enjoying the outdoors, and expressing herself through art. She painted this picture called “Movement” during her own path to recovery.
I have never been more wonderfully overwhelmed with surprise than by my experience in recovery. Recovery has managed to sweep me off my feet and I’ve become completely enamored. Life outside my eating disorder has proven to be more incredible than I ever dreamt or imagined. It’s rejuvenating and invigorating like taking a deep breath of fresh air as though you’d never breathed before.
When I first faced the reality of my crippling eating disorder and its relentless control over me, I only sought to be free from the shackles of endless misery. I sought to be merely unhappy, in hopes that unhappiness would be more tolerable than the constant emotional and physical torture I experienced every minute of every day.
My eating disorder had come to completely rule my life. When I smiled, it was forced. When I laughed, the sound echoed with sadness in my head. When I tried to enjoy myself, a dominating entity in my mind screamed that I was forbidden to be happy. I was, however, required to act happy. I was required by my eating disorder to be outwardly more put together than anyone else in appearance, demeanor, and success. I became an expert actress in demonstrating flawlessness and simultaneously concealing every aspect of my lifeless existence. Despite putting on a show of perfection, a shattered soul existed alone and terrified on the inside.
I grew so accustomed to a life of agony that it seemed impossible to live without it. My eating disorder devoured my freedom and became my existence. If I were to travel into the past and tell my younger self “You have the power to free yourself,” I would have been a combination of incapable and unwilling to believe it. Even when my eating disorder was quiet, the glimmer of hope was discouragingly faint and my faith had been exhausted to the point of nonexistence.
It was only after realizing how overwhelmingly unhappy I was despite success in many areas of my life that I decided that there must be something I had overlooked in the formula to achieve happiness. I tried to drown out the voice that demanded I stay unhappy as I scoured my brain in search of some sort of solution. Ultimately, I reflected on a series of countless dangerously depressive episodes and concluded that I should try attending a residential program to identify the cause and address it. I figured that I couldn’t possibly feel any worse, so I had nothing to lose.
The first month or so of my residential stay was, simply put, tortuous. Prior to admission, I knew next to nothing about eating disorders or that I even had one. I didn’t know that I had anxiety or PTSD, although the symptoms were rampant. The idea of recovery had never been introduced to me and I knew nothing about it. I could only infer from the way staff and residents talked about it, that recovery was some sort of magical place that seemed too good to be true. Knowing precisely zero about any of this or about treatment at all made my admission to inpatient treatment feel like I dove into freezing cold water.
Of course, residential treatment was only the very beginning of the massive endeavor in my life that is my recovery. I began exerting an enormous amount of effort into things like intimately understanding the complex inner workings of my mind and coping with difficult feelings in newly acquired healthy ways. I learned what food rituals were and then proceeded to eliminate them from my eating habits. I taught myself to voice my needs and accept help from others. I forced myself to engage in enjoyable activities that my eating disorder forbade, such as piecing together jigsaw puzzles, playing card games with friends, and painting. I gradually began to open up, let people in, and trust. I came to relentlessly pursue recovery with more dedication than I had committed over the course of my life to my education, career, and passions combined. I trudged forward, sometimes needing to give myself a new reason to recover every few minutes.
After two and a half months of inpatient treatment, I returned home feeling confident. In the five months that followed, I attended day program, spent time in the hospital, quit treatment entirely, struggled immensely, started seeing a psychiatrist, desperately attempted to regain my footing, relapsed, and returned to inpatient care. If my first stay could be described as unfamiliar and terrifying, my second would be described as cognizant and determined. I arrived with a page long list of objectives to address in treatment before my thirty days were up and I needed to return to work. I fought for recovery with gusto and challenged myself in ways I hadn’t before. With great hesitation, my treatment team approved my drop from residential to outpatient care, with my commitment to attending four appointments per week. I didn’t let anyone know that I was terrified of going back home. I felt unprepared and vulnerable in my recovery, and trapped by my need to return to work. I hoped beyond all hope that the four appointments per week would not allow me to slip through the cracks and relapse yet again.
My outpatient care was exhausting and my progress was slow and messy. I became discouraged, overwhelmed, and frustrated. I was unhappy and worried about imminent relapse. I desperately searched for a resource to keep me on track. I visualized a tool that would inspire and motivate me, keep track of my progress, help me set and meet goals, and encourage me. I couldn’t find anything like it, so I set to creating the tool myself. I wrote and designed what I called Recovery Planner and eventually printed and published it as a spiral bound agenda workbook. I used it incessantly and finally began to make real progress in outpatient care. I tracked everything from food intake to symptoms to feelings. I graphed my progress over time to pinpoint triggers and trends. I set goals and reached them. I started each day with an affirmation. I ended each day with listing what I’d accomplished. Recovery Planner made my treatment effective and made my recovery mindful and meaningful. I began to feel in control of my wellbeing for the first time.
Recovery was finally mine and it blew me away. I continued using Recovery Planner and began cooking meals without a shred of anxiety. I transitioned to mindful eating and prioritized self-care. I laughed with friends and could finally focus at work. I shrugged the controlling voice that used to determine my every move and gained confidence and freedom. I trusted more and worried less. Life became an experience filled with promise and opportunity and when negative situations arose, I was able to instinctively cope healthily.
Recovery is not about pretending that your eating disorder never existed. Recovery is taking your past experiences and growing into so much more. Recovery is discovering yourself, learning what food actually tastes like, and expanding your comfort zone. Recovery is treating yourself with kindness and compassion, riding the wave of emotions, and embracing your feelings. Recovery is taking things as they come, enjoying yourself, and actually living.
There would be no point in travelling into the past in an attempt to encourage my younger self that would not let herself be encouraged. I would love, however, to travel into the past to thank the Emily that decided to pursue recovery. And if I were able to do so, this is what I would say:
Thank you. Thank you for anticipating a brighter future, for giving up everything to give me a chance to live. Because you were right. There is something better out there. It’s called recovery and it’s more amazing than your wildest dreams. I can’t wait for you to experience it. Your life is waiting for you.