Three Years in Eating Disorder Recovery

Sat in the car with Ben driving me to my first ED therapy session was the scariest day of my life, but it was also the beginning of my life. Sounds dramatic, well it was.

I sobbed the entire way, I yelled at him when we got stuck in traffic and the prospect of missing this appointment. The extreme reaction came from utter terror that if I missed this appointment I might never be able to re-find the courage that was leading me there and fear of starting the hardest battle of my life.

I had been to therapy before, when I was 7 and struggling with OCD and again a couple of times as an adult but I’d never talked about the eating disorder.

I remember the room and the welcoming demeanour of my then therapist who went about my intake assessment, I recall the paper questionnaire she had me fill, (EDE-Q) exploring my relationship with food body and mood. Distinctly I remember the battle in my head about how honest to be.

The room was cold and it was pitch black outside and I’d rushed from work, because I didn’t feel I could attend this appointment in work hours. At the end of the session I remember telling the therapist “please don’t label me”

She replied with a sentence that changed my life. “You have anorexia, restrictive type”

I felt a rush of complex feelings, Shame, disgust, denial and most prominent RELIEF. Relief I might not have to do this anymore.

Relief that now it was out in the open I couldn’t completely deny it anymore. Although at that very moment in time there was no part of me that felt “ready to give this part of me up” I also knew I couldn’t keep it up either.

The weigh in, which would become a regular feature of our sessions following, made the ED scream. I wanted to leave and not return for my second session but the present but quiet healthy voice would make me show up.

And three years on, that quiet healthy voice is now the predominant voice and I’m grateful to her.

I went back 3 weeks later and started CBT-E. It was the toughest and still remains the hardest thing I’ve ever done, hands down. I affirm it saved my life, in every sense. But 3 years on from that first meeting I wanted to share some hard truths.

1. Recovery isn’t a quick process. When I wrote a blog last “year- two years in recovery”, a large part of me hoped and thought by now I’d be saying I was fully recovered. In some ways this black and white all or nothing thinking kept me stuck. It was putting an unnecessary pressure on myself. There’s not magic crossing line.

2. You don’t always have to want to recover in order to do it. I mean when I reflect on that first appointment I certainly didn’t, but I started it anyway. There are days now, where the constant of my eating disorder feels like an easier option than recovering. But when it comes down to it, I hated my life with an ED far more than in recovery. Recovery will also not be forever, whereas an ED would be or a race for death. I don’t want to die and so even on the days where the ED comes knocking it no longer has as much power.

3. My definition/expectations of recovery have changed with time. Like I said, I no longer have a self determined end date for recovery. Instead it’s a commitment I make to myself over and over, with the hope and expectation that one day I will confidently exclaim I am free.

4. Slips, lapses happen. I’d be completely disingenuous if I pretended recovery has been linear. I’ve probably had more slips in the last 12 months than the 12 months prior to that, but each slip/ lapse has given me much needed information and education. I’ve gotten to learn so much about myself and it’s been generally easier to pull myself out of each one. It’s shown me areas of recovery that require my attention and focus to move forward and prevent the same slips later.

5. Self compassion. As a typical ‘all or nothing’ thinker and perfectionist tendencies it’s been one of my biggest challenges to learn to be self forgiving, to show myself kindness and compassion particularly in moments of struggle. But eating disorders feed on this inability to be kind to ourselves and practicing these have been by far one of the most powerful tools I’ve found in my recovery. This includes learning to talk back to the negative critic with kinder & gentler affirmations. Often, accepting what the eating disorder tells me and countering those thoughts with a healthy alternative. This continues to be something I work on. My journal is full of dialogues between my healthy self and the eating disorder voice and I gain insights to recurring themes or things that are keeping me stuck.

6. There are many beautiful things in recovery. My husband recently sent me a text “do you know what I really love? That the real Nikki is almost fully back, despite the shit that goes on in your head, the goofy girl that’s always been there is coming back more and more”

I screen shot that text and in moments where the ED is screaming at me, I read it and use it to motivate me to make the right decision. Finding something that can help motivate you in tough moments can really help, whether it’s a post card or somewhere you want to visit, an affirmation or a text from a relative can often empower you to fight back.

Now here’s where I highlight once more, I don’t always like recovery but if I want to stay that “goofball” my husband, family and friends love, I have to fight that voice, sometimes many times in a day. And this lends me on to another recovery tid bit.

Connection. Connecting with others in recovery, connecting with those that have trodden the path before you and connecting to your why’s is like an eating disorder recovery essential survival kit.

Connecting with people who ‘get it’ has helped me more than I can express in a simple blog. But if it’s something you’ve been reluctant or afraid to do, please consider it. Talking to people who ‘get it’ often without having to say what “it” is, really helps in several fronts; feeling seen, not alone or crazy. Not to mention the unwritten support and etiquette that most people in recovery show each other (I.e automatically knowing what Info is harmful, like numbers etc) without having to ask someone not to share things likes diets etc that is normalised outside of the ED recovery community. This can also lead to a level of accountability the “wanting to set an good example or help others” can inadvertently push you forward.

7. Connecting to my why. If I was to share what my why was three years ago, it would be very different today. The only thing I knew then was I couldn’t live that way any longer. Now, my why remains dynamic but is also much broader. I’m no longer a one dimensional figure where my life revolves around food and exercise.

What has recovery taught you?

That’s it my reflections on the last three years in recovery, who knows what I’ll find in the next 12 months, but I know one thing I’m letting go of the pressure of setting myself a recovery deadline and I’m just going with it.

Journaling #1 ED recovery

Journaling can be a game changer in eating disorder recovery. It has been for me.

Your journal can become one of your most powerful allies, it can become a well honed tool from your ever growing recovery toolkit. It’s versatile and you can scribble anything you like anywhere. There’s no right or wrong way to journalling. Journals can be sculpted to wherever you are at in your recovery. Journals can be used for outpouring your thoughts or completing specific activities.

If you’ve not tried the whole journaling shizzle out yet, I highly recommend you give it a go.

Why?

Journalling gives us a safe space to churn our thoughts on to the page in all their ugliness or beauty depending how you view it. Thoughts you wouldn’t otherwise exorcise.

The journal itself can be used as a recovery tool, through various journalling exercises and practices you can solidify some of the groundwork from therapy sessions etc.

Sometimes the journal can be as simple as your listening ear when your struggling with an urge. Often the time it takes to write out the thoughts and feelings around a behaviour or an urge is long enough for the urge to pass and you’ve got written evidence of what led to the feeling or thought to help you next time it occurs. Win. Win.

We often take progress we’ve made for granted, but re-reading journals can really help you see each tiny step you’ve made even when you feel like you’re stationary.

I’ve never been a “big sharer” of my thoughts or feelings (until I was well into recovery and now I write a very un-private blog with all my craziness laid bear). However journalling helped me to share some of my most shameful thoughts, fears and emotions without judgement. Part of the eating disorder problem is the inability to share, or express difficult emotions or the feeling that what we have to say is wrong etc. It’s this rhetoric that keeps us locked in. Journalling releases a lot of this and makes it easier to begin to talk outside of the pages.

Keeping a journal can help us to identify recurring themes, thought patterns, processes especially those that occur around our eating disorder “self”.

Although my eating disorder is not your eating disorder we all share some common thoughts patterns that make us similar, which is why I write this blog in the first place. If it resonates with one person I’m glad I write. I find reading about what has helped others in recovery not only inspires and motivates me it actually strengthens my recovery. I remember reading about journalling on NEDA and completing some journal prompts from the “8 Keys To Recovering from eating disorder recovery workbork” and they really helped get me started in journalling in early recovery. Now journalling is part of my daily routine. Mostly in the form of gratitude practice, but I will elaborate on gratitude later.

Once I have written the thoughts out on to page, it becomes so much easier to see them for what they are; THOUGHTS. Just because we have a thought does not make it true.

For example, an old entry of mine in June 2019:

I couldn’t make a single decision about what to eat for dinner, I stood in the kitchen for ages agonising over whether to add oil to the pan, all I could hear was how fat I’m becoming and how unhappy I will be

I reminded myself restricting has never resulted in happiness, I was not able to add the damn oil tonight, but I know I am capable of making hard choices and I will find the courage to do it”

After writing thoughts like this out on paper over and over, I began to believe my healthy voice again. Restriction doesn’t make me happy, neither does endlessly pursuing “skinny” They are just thoughts and my truth is I can be happy living an unrestricted life at any size.

My next post I’ll share some journal prompts that have helped me.

But for now, perhaps try and think about if you were to go to bed and wake up recovered ( I know I wish right?!) what would that look like, what are some of the things you would do and feel as someone without an eating disorder? How would your life be different?

Can you scribble somethings you have learned this week? What is helping you, what’s holding you back. What have you discovered about yourself?

Two years in recovery..WAKE UP CALL

TW and this may be difficult to read.

Yesterday a memory came up on my Facebook feed.

A trip we made to Sri Lanka in March 2019. My final wake up call before seeking help for my eating disorder.

It was not the wonderful experience that it should have been, or our pictures from our travels captured. They say “a picture paints a thousand words’, but most of what you see is what my eating disorder did for years, fake an exterior. It was this trip that I for the first time in 15+years, began to see how much of an issue my eating disorder really was.

For years my eating disorder had concealed the negative impact it was having on me.

My eating disorder was slowly killing me. If you are starving, you’re slowly dying. My friend if you need this sobering reminder, people die from eating disorders. We forget this when we are dancing with the devil. Or perhaps, we no longer care, when it’s painful to sit, or our body is covered in fine hair because we can no longer keep ourselves warm. We ignore message after message from our bodies until, if we are lucky we WAKE the FUCK up. It’s not just us that our eating disorders impact upon. Truthfully when engaging in behaviours and driven by the numbers, I didn’t worry about the effect each action could have on my partner, parents, brother, friends. But our actions do matter, If I had have continued I would have likely ended up as a stark statistic. Remember, YOU matter, your life matters and you affect many people’s lives. Please wake up.

That trip I felt completely lost and trapped in my relentless behaviours that had been by my side for years. I had no idea how I was ever going to step outside of the grips my eating disorder held on me. But I knew something needed to change or I would slowly but surely die.

What made me wake-up?

I realised I wasn’t living. If I wasn’t living, what was I? It became so obvious to me on this trip because Sri Lanka is full of beauty, but I felt nothing but cold.

I was done with the comments from peers and concerned looks. I hated it.

I was done with feeling nothing but bone cold, ALL OF THE TIME. Even in 30 degrees heat. I wanted to see past the brain fog and constant chatter.

I didn’t want to live like that anymore. I couldn’t live like it anymore.

This was not the first time I had had a moment of clarity, a few years prior I knew things were far from in control, but I didn’t seek help. I thought I could fix myself by eating a little more. Things got better for a time, but without support things soon descended back to the familiar chaos and calm of my eating disorder.

But this trip was different. Something needed to alter. I had reached “rock bottom” and I had to crawl out.

I wanted to be present, to share the experience but my eating disorder bled into everything. It was all encompassing. I was afraid for the first time. I was scared this was either going to be my life, or it would take my life.

It was the first time I realised how much stronger the eating disorder voice had become and how buried I was. I feared I had lost myself forever, I couldn’t recall when I was last in the driver’s seat of my thoughts. This was a sobering moment, at the same time I felt powerless to do anything about it.

These moments of clarity would pass again, and my eating disorder would begin to fool me once more that I was in fact fine, convinced me I wasn’t “sick enough” or that I even had an issue. However my healthy thoughts, were desperate to be heard and me listen. And so, it was this trip, I shared with my partner some of my story, although by this time it was hardly a secret.

Even though this trip was incredibly painful, I remain grateful for it, because it was like a wake up call and it kickstarted my true recovery process. Seeing pictures of the trip makes me sad for memories and experiences my eating disorder stole from me but I’m so thankful to be where I am now. Writing this.

If you’re in this dark place, THERE is always hope, It is never too late to seek help. And, you don’t have to go at it alone. You don’t have to have answers. Choosing to reach out of help is the biggest step, the rest will follow if you trust in the process and take that massive leap of faith.

There are stages we go through prior to starting recovery and then during recovery itself. I think we flip flop between them whilst we go to war with the two voices in our head. But we can all win, it is possible.

To me the stages look something like this:

◦ The “I’m fine. I’m just super healthy. I’m totally in control” stage.

◦ “Something’s not quite right with what I’m doing, but it’s ok right? I know I can stop if I want to. But I don’t want to” stage.

◦ The “Shit, I can’t stop. Well better just keep going. It will pass. It’s not that big a deal?” Stage

◦ The, “Ok, I think this is probably a problem. Not sure I want to do anything about it. But not sure how long I can keep going on like this” stage

◦ “Ok, I’m so done with this, I can’t keep living this way. But I don’t feel I have any control. I’m not sure I can stop” stage. This is the point I got to when I sought recovery. It’s one of the scariest decisions I’ve ever made.

◦ “Let’s try this recovery malarkey out. What do I have to lose? But I’m so scared of the thought of change”. Stage

◦ The, “Oh my god, this is way too hard. I’m never going to recover. Why even bother trying” stage. I think it’s common here, we often resort to old behaviours intermittently whilst making small changes in recovery. But the small changes matter and count.

Then something clicks/ it’s like a switch. Recovery becomes easier. It’s still bloody hard but it’s less of a monster than the one that’s been dictating your life. This stage, you start to question your eating disorder thoughts, your own thoughts start to become clearer and in the foreground more frequently.

It doesn’t take much for your ED to lure you back, a slip or relapse happens. But you learn from them and each slip you get wiser. Recovery gets stronger, you get stronger.

◦ Now you really want this, recovery feels achievable . You begin to see who you really are, what your life can be without this hitchhiker. You remain vigilant and know how recovery can look and you make it your mission to not go back. You’ve got this. Your actions and thoughts are all protective of your recovery, you have worked harder than anyone will ever know to be here.

Recovery is always possible, no matter how deeply trapped, lost or afraid you feel. Wake up, and rejoin the world, you deserve a full life and the world deserves to have you in it.

Check out the links below for seeking support/ starting the conversation:

  1. https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/recovery-information/tell-someone
  2. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/toolkit/parent-toolkit/how-to-talk-to-a-loved-one
  3. https://www.ed.org.nz/getting-help/what-to-do/