This isn’t my first time recovering from anorexia. I had relapsed and recovered before, but this relapse was the worst, and it was the first time I ever sought treatment. I have done “recovery” on my own, but this time was different. Here are some things I wish I knew when I started treatment:
- Your body needs time to heal. Your ED didn’t develop overnight, so your body won’t recover overnight either. You’ve put your body through hell, and now it needs time to heal. I have been in recovery for 16 months after a relapse that lasted only 3 months. My body is still not finished healing. It’s not even close. There’s no telling how long it will take, but I do know that it takes time, and you cannot rush it. And yes, it sucks. My body is struggling to recover, and I know that’s only because I put it through so much for so long. It thinks that at any moment it could starve again, and therefore it’s reacting as if there’s a famine, even though I continue to follow my meal plan and eat 3 meals and 2 snacks a day. It’s hard, and to be honest, I avoid mirrors and wear baggy clothes, and try to hide. It’s hard. Your body needs time. A lot of time.
- Inpatient/ residential is the easy part. The hard part is transitioning into the real world. The hard work comes when you step down to PHP (partial hospitalization), IOP (intensive outpatient), and outpatient. That’s when you take all the skills you learned in treatment and apply it to your life. It’s hard. And it only gets harder. I know you’ve heard this before, but recovery isn’t linear. And some days you will want to give up. But I’m here to tell you that recovery is worth it. When things get easy, it only means that you aren’t challenging yourself and your ED voice. ED recovery is hard- it’s supposed to be. If you find you are comfortable in treatment, and if you think it’s easy, then you’re doing something wrong. Challenge yourself and challenge your ED voice every chance you get.
- You will meet amazing people during your journey to recovery. You will meet compassionate, intelligent, and loving souls and the bonds that you make in treatment can last a lifetime. My ED always tried to isolate me from my friends and family. In treatment, my ED told me to keep to myself because I thought that everyone was struggling more than I was. I didn’t want to burden others who were also on their path to recovery. But once I learned to open up to a few people, I saw that friendship is far more important that my ED and that isolation would only lead me deeper into my depression. Reach out to others you meet in treatment. They get it.
- Weight stabilization is hard, but necessary. You will be able to think clearer, love with your whole heart, and regain strength with every pound you gain. It’s hard. It’s hard looking in the mirror and seeing someone that you don’t recognize. But see point one: your body needs time to heal. Re-feeding is so challenging, and even though it’s necessary, it doesn’t mean it’s easy. I understand. I’ve been there. The thing is, I knew that when I entered treatment, I would inevitably gain back all the weight that I lost. I hated it. I didn’t want to gain any weight. But I knew that I would get close, if not reach, the weight I was at before my relapse. What I didn’t know was that I would gain much more than I lost- I would actually gain three times what I lost. I don’t say this to scare you or to convince not to seek treatment for your ED. I’m telling you this because it happens. It happened to me and I had no clue. I didn’t know what to expect. So if this happens to you, it is okay. You are okay. You are beautiful and brave and it will get better. I promise.
- Even when it feels like too much, don’t turn back. It will only reset the clock and take your body and mind even longer to recover. Your ED has probably made you a lot of promises. “People will like you if you are thin.” “People won’t be annoyed with you if you starve yourself.” “You can finally be pretty if you only lose 10 more pounds.” “You will finally be happy if you just reach your goal weight.” I’m here to tell you that no matter what size you are at, if you are living with your eating disorder, you aren’t living at all. You cannot have your ED and be happy. It’s impossible. What I wish I knew was that even after starting recovery, I wasn’t going to be instantly happy. Just like your body cannot heal overnight, neither can your mind. You’ve put your brain through a lot, and it needs time to heal. You might even be more miserable after starting your journey to recovery. You may gain the weight (and it might go all to your stomach at first- I know, the worst) and your ED voice will get even louder. It doesn’t stop. It keeps telling you that you are a failure, that you are fat, and that you will only be happy if you listen to it. Fight through this. It will get easier, but only after time. Lots of time. So if you are committed to recovery, and still find yourself unhappy, keep fighting. It takes your mind time to catch up with your body. Sometimes our bodies even heal faster than our minds. And my body is taking forever, so who knows how long it will take for my mind to heal itself. But whatever you do, don’t turn back. If you’ve started your journey, keep fighting. Stay strong and fight every day. It gets harder before it gets easier, but if you keep pushing through, you will find happiness and contentment.
I guess, overall what I wish I knew was that recovery is one of the hardest thing I will go through. And it gets harder before it gets easier. But that doesn’t mean you stop fighting. It only means that you need to devote more and more energy into your recovery. I know there’s no turning back now because I am so far into my journey. I don’t want to reset the clock and start all over. I want to keep pushing. I want to keep fighting. I want to recover. I hope you that you do too.
About the Author: Hope Virgo suffered with anorexia for 4 years before being admitted to hospital in 2007. She lived in the hospital for a year and since being discharged, has fought to stay well. Hope now lives and works in London, runs marathons and has a keen interest in exercise and maintaining good mental health. Her latest book Stand Tall Little Girl is available to order on Amazon.com